Jerry Osteryoung: Keep your friends and staff separate

July 26, 2013 

When I find myself fading, I close my eyes and realize my friends are my energy. -- Anonymous

Everyone - or at least most people - wants to have friends, but managers should never be friends with their staff. They should always be cordial and kind to them, of course, but not friends.

Why? Because being a manager requires you to be fair and objective, and it becomes very difficult to remain that way when friendship blurs the line between working and personal relationships. Even if you are actually able to maintain impartiality, the perception of fairness goes out the window when other staff knows you are friends with some of their colleagues.

I believe hiring friends is nearly always a critical mistake as disparate treatment can easily occur. For example, I know of one manager who hired her friend to work with her. It was a small office, and outside of the manager and the friend, there were only a few other employees.

This manager did not even try to hide her friendship, and she let her friend get away with behavior that was not tolerated from any other employee. Obviously, morale got worse.

Blind to the fact that she was causing the problem by giving special benefits to her friend, the manager kept blaming staff for the failing morale. Eventually, the manager's boss saw what was happening and, after numerous warnings, let the manager go. She just could not let go of the friendship.

Another reason friendship should remain outside the workplace is staff cannot tell when you are talking to them as their friend and when you are talking to them as their boss. This kind of ambiguity in the workplace just is not tenable. Additionally, if you ever have to let a friend go, you will lose the friendship as well.

Case in point, on a recent episode of "Deadliest Catch," Capt. Elliot hired a bunch of his friends to help him run a fishing boat up in the Bering Strait. They eventually mutinied on him as he was treating them like his staff when they thought he should be treating them like his friends.

Ultimately, Capt. Elliot lost some very close friends as a result.

So many young managers think it is important to hire friends because they want to be liked and think this is the way to make it happen. However, being liked is not what business is about. It is always about the bottom line.

The bottom line is not concerned with who is friends with who, but rather who is contributing the most to helping it grow. The best contributors are always employees who respect their managers, but do not cross the line into friendship.

Jerry Osteryoung, a consultant to businesses, is the Jim Moran professor of entrepreneurship (emeritus) and professor of finance (emeritus) at Florida State University. He can be reached by e-mail at

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