One of the challenges that Vineeta and I have faced over the past few years is how to manage the conflict of being an employer while also wanting to be friends with the wonderful people that our business employs. People have advised us that we should never become too close with our staff, and likewise, that we should never hire friends to work in our business because it could get awkward.
True enough, there have been times when we have felt that our roles as employers and managers have conflicted with our roles as friends. Similarly, there have been times when we have felt that even if we open ourselves up, our staff will never truly let us in because they will always want to keep some distance from us as their employer. All of this is natural and shouldn’t come as a big surprise because we all want to protect ourselves emotionally. Working with friends, employing friends and becoming friends with your employees or employers is arguably a recipe for disaster, on both a personal and a professional level.
But that is quite a pessimistic point of view. Having worked over the years with my wife, my brother, some close friends, and having become close friends with people that work for our company, I have experienced both sides. I’ve now seen how dangerous it can be and how it can damage friendships and teams, but I’ve also seen how wonderful it can be when it works.
Now I have some clarity that when people advise us not to mix business with friendship, they’re giving us solid advice on how to minimise emotional risk. The thing is, that all of the best things involve taking some risk. Playing it safe guarantees mediocrity, which is sometimes okay, but if you aspire for more in life then you have to be prepared to take some risks. I now believe that, contrary to the advice that I’ve often been given, we should aim to mix business with friendship. If we can pull it off then it will be a beautiful thing. We get to spend more time with our friends, share more experiences with each other, support each other better through the hard times and be stronger as a team because we truly have each other’s best interests at heart.
The biggest risk is that our role as colleagues could damage or even destroy friendships and that is something that we need to take very seriously. However, I believe that we can manage this most of the time by acknowledging the risk up front, reminding ourselves of it regularly, talking through issues openly and agreeing that whatever happens we must put our friendships first. We will not always succeed, but I think it is worth the risk because when we do succeed the rewards are truly priceless.