Is Friendship & Work a Dangerous Combination?

Is Friendship & Work a Dangerous Combination?

By Karin Eldor

Monster Contributing Writer


Partnering up with a good friend might sound like an ideal scenario, right?


You know each other well, you trust each other, and you enjoy each other’s company.


Just look at former classmates and friends Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who founded Google. They beat the odds – a far cry from famous friends turned rivals (turned friends again years later) Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Their famous spat and eventual rivalry became the subject of many movies and documentaries. And just read about the history of Facebook to learn about Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin’s falling out as partners (or check out the awesome movie, The Social Network).


So should you go into business with a close friend or not? 


Status: It’s complicated.


The truth is, although you love hanging out with your buddy, laugh for hours on end, and “get” each other’s humour, once you throw business into the mix, it can become a toxic situation. 


Find out why mixing friendship with business can be a bad idea, and how to ensure you make it work if you do decide to go this route.


The cons: why it might not work


Whether you’re going into business with a friend or joining a company where your pal would be your manager, there are several factors that can contribute to shaky grounds.


It’s bound to get personal

Because you feel comfortable with your friend, you might leave your professional etiquette and decorum at the door. This can become uncomfortable if others in the company notice, as it looks bad for both of you. (You look disrespectful, your friend looks like a pushover).


Also, because you are friends and have a history together, disagreements might get heated if there’s extra baggage or any grudges involved.


Can they fire you?

Here’s a lesson I learned when applying for a job, in which I would be placed on a friend’s team. During the interview, he leaned over and asked me: “Karin, realistically – would you be able to deal with me as your boss? We go way back!”


He saw that I was thinking about his question, and then said this line that has stuck with me ever since: “I’ve learned to never hire someone I can’t fire.”


This is relevant no matter which side of the table you sit on: you want to be able to fire someone who isn’t meeting the job’s expectations, and if you’re not happy in your role, you want to ensure that it’s not awkward if you decide to leave.  


We all have different personas

I’m referring to your “professional” side and what I like to call your “Facebook” side. Kind of like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation. You know, Dr. Jekyll is the person who is always composed and poised at work, doesn't swear, demonstrates leadership qualities, and gives his all to aim for a promotion and success. But then there’s also his more “unfiltered” side that creeps in. This is the side that’s best to remain “private” on his Facebook page – meaning, no boss should see what goes on! 


If you’re working with a friend that you met outside of work, meaning you were “friends first”, then he has likely already seen your two personas. And some things are better left unseen. 


You might take each other for granted

This can hinder your performance at work, because you might not be motivated to perform at full capacity, knowing your friend “has your back.” This can mean rolling into the office late, or not putting in as much effort as you normally would in order to excel. 


How to make it work


For a shining example of successful people making it work, look no further than Warby Parker’s four founders, who made a pact to maintain their friendship – no matter what (as explained in a Fast Company interview with co-founder and co-CEO Neil Blumenthal).


The idea for the innovative eyeglass e-tailer (who now boasts some standalone store locations and shows no signs of slowing down) came about in the fall of 2008, when four Wharton Business School friends had an “a-ha” moment at school. While discussing launching the business, they made a pact to maintain their friendship, no matter what.


Part of their agreement includes implementing monthly 360 reviews between the four of them, where they can be honest about what habits or actions they like and don’t like.


If you launch a business with a friend, here are some other quick tips to help make it work, inspired by the founders of Warby Parker.


  • Speak up
  • Be transparent
  • Collaborate


Your friend becomes your boss. Now what?


So what happens when you and a friend are both at the same job, and your friend gets promoted?


There can be jealousy 


It’s natural to feel the sting if your co-worker -- who has become your friend and confidant over the years -- gets promoted over you. And also becomes your boss. 


It can actually be the most awkward of scenarios, right?


Here’s how to deal:


Keep your ego in check

Remember that business is business – it’s nothing personal. So leave your ego at the door, and learn to admit when you are wrong or need help. If your manager / friend critiques you or delegates tasks to you, try to get over it and realize that it’s all for the good of the company.


Look inside / check yourself

Try to be self-aware and ask yourself why you were passed up for the promotion. Admit the opportunities for growth that you can work on, to ensure you develop professionally too. Look at this as the motivation you need to change and grow. It can be tough to swallow your pride, but these events can serve as reminders to break out of complacency and try harder.


Deal with it

Be gracious with your new manager (a.k.a. your friend). If you look jealous and bitter, it will only prove that you don’t have the professional maturity to be promoted in turn.



Friends forever?


Mixing business with pleasure is a tricky thing, but it’s possible to come out unscathed and successful.


Make sure to keep your emotions out of it and keep your eyes on the prize, and you’ll all come out winners in the end.


And if you’re going to start a business with a friend or two, ensure you all agree on the rules on the game.