Friends, employees don't mix

Author Keith Jennings
August 22, 2019 - 12:15pm

One of the great things about owning a machine shop in America is to hopefully create a thriving business, whether large or small, and do it your way. Regardless of size, however, it’s wise for owners and managers to refrain from the personal lives of those employed.

As I’ve learned over the years, employees will request loans and special times off and even expect you to hire friends or family members who “just need a chance.” These scenarios can place managers and owners in an awkward situation, for once a precedent has been set, the requests become more frequent.

The best tactic is to keep your distance and avoid conversations about personal lives. This can be difficult at a small machine shop where you know everyone. Unfortunately, when you listen or console, an expectation is created that management is willing to help. However, when personal problems arise, it’s not the company’s or management’s responsibility to fix them.

This summer, my son’s 20-year-old friend visited my house and informed me he had become unemployed and was interested in any opportunity, even temporary work. At the time, our shop was swamped with several big projects and needed labor, so we hired him.

But soon, he was contacting my son after-hours and discussing business issues, internal operations and management decisions, even though my son wasn’t responsible for them and didn’t want to hear the opinions of a Monday morning quarterback. The friend’s conversations became excessive, and eventually my son confirmed that hiring a friend wasn’t wise. Within three months, the friend quit anyway as the work was challenging and he was over it.

Ultimately, the decision to hire my son’s friend was mine. There have been similar examples over the years. Personal connections to our family can compel people to constantly tell us their ideas, situations and observations. Sadly, I had to let my son know that while our intentions may have been good, business is business and reality is reality. We’re not in business to take care of employees’ personal issues, which would establish a precedent of impossible expectations.

I don’t mean to dissuade from helping humanity. Not all experiences are bad. But hiring friends and family comes with a set of circumstances and risks. Although our caring sides may dictate some decisions, employing personal contacts can jeopardize the family peace and put you in uncomfortable positions. Perhaps you could provide referrals, reference letters or plain old good advice. But putting people on your payroll should be handled carefully, especially if they visit you at home or have your cellphone number.

As it turns out, my son’s friend is still unemployed despite the advice I gave to him, though his issues don’t impact our business anymore. And my son has learned a valuable lesson about employment and friendship. After trying to help many people, we can only hope they learned something worthwhile from their experiences.   



Manager's Desk Columnist

Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, metal fabrication and metal stamping.