Ever hear the saying “Never work for friends. Never work for family?” If you have, you’ve probably faced an opportunity to work with someone you know well.
The question of working with those you know comes up frequently these days. I believe several factors contribute to the growing topic of working for those familiar faces in your life. As you get older, you’ve been around the block a time of two and you get to develop long-term friendships with some incredible people. You work together on important projects, hang out at meetings, or chit-chat in the “meeting after the meeting” all in an effort to make sense of all you face at work.
Another reason people may consider the option of working for friends and family stems from the nature of work these days. With layoffs, mergers, and hiring trends impacting our work life, the idea of leveraging your personal relationships might seem appealing. After all, you already know or worked with these friends. Your family knows you and can tell detailed stories about you without even using notes. In the midst of today’s dynamic corporate culture, there’s an attraction to the possibility of working for those you already know that’s worthy of our attention.
Here are four things to consider before deciding to work for or with your friends and family:
1) Your Friends & Family Know YOU in a Different Context
No matter how far back you’ve known each other, the fact that either one of you can say, “Remember that time you…” will always be there. We’ve all said stupid things. We’ve all done stupid things. And all this stupid stuff sits somewhere in the dark recesses of each other’s minds, just waiting to surface. Like a poker player with a “tell” or an athlete who telegraphs their move to the opponent’s advantage, we’re both in the know about each other’s hot buttons.
However, a non-friend/non-family employer knows nothing about those little things that eat at you, those silly stories about your quirks, or that time you embarrassed yourself years ago.
2) You Know Your Friends & Family In A Different Context
Not only do they have this on you, but you know which past situations and activities resulted in your shared friends getting the short end of an awkward moment. We all know those sayings about payback and karma. Yes, there are times you’ll get the last word. But, do you really want to work in an environment where you and your Boss could potentially place your existing relationship in jeopardy?
The bond you have with friends and family is special. You built these strong connections over time and when you initially start talking about the prospects of working together, things are generally tight. Within the context of a friends and family relationship your alliance can’t be easily broken. But can it withstand the harsh realities of business?
3) Consider The Structure of the Friends & Family Relationship
When deciding whether or not to work alongside either your sidekick or sister, consider how the existing connection is arranged. If you went to school together, which one of you was considered the leader or follower? Who ranked highest in academics? Did you work together on projects and what were the results? What was it truly like to work together?
If you became friends later in life, it is much different than someone you attended class or a teammate on sports team. Was your friend your peer at a previous company? Was she your Manager? Was your friend someone you ran into at a quarterly meeting and hung out for just a few days at a time? Did you share a cubicle? How well do you truly know this person and will this relationship be maintained while working directly for them in this specific company? Lots to consider here!
Likewise, your blood relatives provide a unique set of considerations. Where do you fit into the birth order? In family situations, how did they generally play out? Have you worked together before and how did it go? Since “blood is thicker than water”, what will the business relationship be like when outsiders join the company?
4) Can the Friendship/Kinship Withstand the Business Side of Things?
All of this stuff matters. How you deal with this will dictate how calm or turbulent the future becomes. Choices will be made that you may disagree upon, tough decisions will test and stress the relationship, and what brought you together will be challenged by the nature of business. Are you ready for that?
For some, creating a firewall between friends and family and business might be the best option. Maintaining a huge gap between business and family and friends might be the best option for you. Relationships are complex associations built on trust and common bonds and/or events you share that ideally bring you closer to one another. Add business to the mix and anything can impact the relationship in unexpected, surprising, and startling ways.
So, when considering the idea of working with friends and family, the most important question in my opinion is this: Is it worth it?
Have something to add to this article? Share your advice below.
Charles "Chazz" Pratt III is a former U.S. Army Captain who made the Military-to-Civilian career transition in 1994. In his book, The Fort Living Room Transition Course, he shares valuable tips and tricks to help you succeed. Since his transition from the military, he's worked in sales and marketing in the medical field. When not working or writing, Chazz enjoys spending time with his wife and kids as well as playing the saxophone. His goal is to provide unique perspectives on what happens before, during, and after the military-to-civilian career transition.
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