Can you be friends with your staff?

Larissa Ham

When you run a small business, the boundaries between work and leisure can become very blurred, and when you’re working with a tight-knit team, so can your relationships.

If staff turn into friends – or existing friends join your payroll – there’s the potential for more than a few awkward situations to arise.

So how can you manage your mates in a way that’s best for your business, while keeping your friendships intact?

Stephen Penman, executive director at social enterprise Open Health, says the main challenge in this situation is that people are “inherently emotional beings” who can’t always see things objectively.

He believes it’s crucial to make the boundaries clear to everyone from the start. “For example, how do you separate things you know or share personally from your professional relationship?”

I think the core of managing this is that both people understand that they have two concurrent roles: one professional, one personal.

Penman says that when it comes to work friendships, every situation is different, depending on factors such as the seniority gap and whether you were friends outside of work first or became friends later.

“I think the core of managing this is that both people understand that they have two concurrent roles: one professional, one personal.”

He says a great way to set expectations is by openly acknowledging or discussing potential problem scenarios, as he did recently when he employed a family member for three months as an intern.

“The first thing we did was chat about all the things that could go wrong over coffee and ran a few hypotheticals: What if you hate working for me?  What if I don't like the standard of your work and don’t know how to tell you?

“It went really well, but that conversation was instrumental in making it work as well as it did,” says Penman.

Facebook adds another set of boundaries for small business owners to navigate.

Penman says he believes Facebook boundary issues can be managed if you’re willing to monitor Facebook’s constantly changing security settings to find a balance that feels right for you.

“People use Facebook in different ways, and I’d rather not be Facebook friends until after the employment relationship has ended, but that hasn’t always been possible,” he says.

“There is some functionality in Facebook to sort your friends into groups and doing that might help target your posts a little better, but it is time consuming trying to maintain these groups. I just don't post anything that I wouldn’t be willing for the world to see.”

Larissa Ham

Larissa Ham is a Melbourne-based freelancer. She write for publications including The AgeThe Sydney Morning Herald, The New Daily and Forge magazine, and also shares money saving tips at Hey, Little Spender!