Working with friends and family members can be totally cool (even awesome!) when you do it right. In an ideal situation, it’d look like how CEO and Cofounder of Infusionsoft Clate Mask has it; he’s managed to successfully mix family and business to build a company that does $60 million in revenue annually, all alongside his brothers-in-law and cofounders. His tight-knit team found success by knowing how to separate business and pleasure and when to prioritize each. And at an even simpler scale, working with a friend or family member that you already get along with can brighten up your days at work that might otherwise be boring, lonely or challenging.
But let’s be honest, it doesn’t always turn out that way.
Working with family or close friends can be totally awkward too, because what you might realize is that that friend or family member isn’t as great a coworker as you might hope they’d be. And then … this could leave you feeling 1) annoyed over the fact that they’re terrible coworkers or 2) guilty for having negative feelings about someone close to you, or 3) just resentful that your personal life is bleeding into your work-life in a not-so-enjoyable way.
While we don’t have the ultimate answer as to whether working with friends and family members is good or bad, we DO have some things to think about if you run into this situation – what we refer to as “rules of engagement.”
If you’ve been recruited by a friend or family member or are considering recruiting someone you care about to work with you, these rules of engagement are essential if you’re not sure what you’re getting into:
1. Never (never, never) take a job that would require you to directly oversee a friend or family member
This landed at the top of the list for a reason. Disciplining someone you know personally can be hard and firing them can be even harder. Doing either can destroy your friendship or relationship, and failing to do either when their performance isn’t up to par can result in discipline or termination of your own employment.
2. Never take a job that would require you to report directly to a friend or family member
You won’t get the transparent feedback you need to be successful and when you are successful, you won’t get the credit and respect you deserve from colleagues, who may credit your “ins” rather than your grit.
3. Don’t allow your personal relationship to distract you from work
Having a friend at work is a great perk, but letting it impact your performance or productivity is a bad idea. Choose your wording carefully to protect your friendship while still taking ownership for your own performance. Try this: “I can’t wait to hear more about it! I don’t want to miss this deadline; can we visit after work?” or “Wow, that’s great! What time are you taking lunch? Maybe we can finish this conversation then.”
4. Use a third party to avoid conflicts of interest
If you have to make a business decision that could personally benefit your friend or family member and colleague, always step out of discussions and allow the decision to be made by a neutral third party to avoid conflicts of interest.
5. Know the policy
The Society for Human Resource Management recommends that employers have an Employment of Relatives policy in place, and many employers do. Understanding what’s allowed and what’s strictly off-limits is critical before moving forward with an arrangement like this. Common rules include no direct report relationship between relatives and avoiding conflicts of interest in business decisions.
When you follow the rules of engagement, working with friends and family members can actually turn out really cool instead of totally awkward. Some of the great benefits include working alongside someone you like, having camaraderie at work, and sometimes even personal benefits like the ability to carpool.
Linda Le Phan is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at kununu US, a place where job seekers can get an authentic view of life at a company and where employers have a trusted platform to better engage talent. When she’s not creating content about the modern workplace, company culture, and life & work hacks, she is probably going out to get an iced coffee (even in Boston winter), raiding the snack drawer, or jamming to kununu’s Spotify playlist.