How to Avoid the Perception of Favoritism
In today’s episode: We discuss the pros and cons of becoming friends with your employees. How the perception of favoritism will consume your other employees and what you can do about it.
Here are the Show Notes from the Episode:
**keep in mind that show notes are raw and only highlight what is in the episode. Listen to the show for the full content**
Episode 45 – Should You Hang Out with Your Employees After Work?
The Local Small Business Coach Podcast
Today we are going to discuss….. Should you Hang Out with Your Employees After Work?
Howdy Ho, welcome back for another episode of the show. Today might seem like an odd topic but an important one never the less. It actually is a topic that is a little bit more controversial than you think. I’ve had many healthy debates through the years on this one.
The question for you today is.. Should you hang out with your employee after work? Some of you probably immediately thought, of course you should and others will think, heck no. You might not have an opinion either way. Today, I’d like to take a few moments to discuss the pros and cons of this practice.
Before I dive into them, I should explain what I’m referring to when I define “hanging out”. This could be as simple as a group gathering after the store closes and having a few beers in the parking lot or at a local bar to going to the movies together. Might be as simple as having lunch together or watching the football game. Heck, your best friend might even work for you.
For some folks, it might just be holding events off site with your team. For example, taking them to a ballgame or having a company picnic. You get the idea, big group events. However, these are less frequent in nature.
When I think of these, I actually put the picnics and ball games in a different category. As long as they are open to all employees, these gatherings are usually about celebrating your team and their accomplishments vs the former which is more about have a great “buddy to buddy” time which is more what I’m talking about today.
The hanging out that I’m referring to are more one on one or these after work beers. These are the interactions that are the most susceptible to interpretation and the other cons we will be discussing on this episode.
First up, let’s discuss the cons. What are the reasons you should think long and hard about before extending your arm of friendship? What could possibly go wrong?
THE PERCEPTION OF FAVORTISIM
As you know, there are groups of people that will look for every reason to place the blame on others as to why they are not successful. They are constantly the victim of something. So when these folks see others who are your “friends” getting promoted over them, it just has to be due to the friendship. They have a bond with you and these folks don’t. They will not look at the qualifications these folks have nor the hard work they have done, they will only see your buddies getting promoted and they are not.
I guarantee you, this will happen. Odds are strong you will promote your friends above these others. I can already hear you defending yourself saying you would never do that. But hear me out.
We have a tendency to surround ourselves with people just like us. We become friends with people we have things in common with. So, it is no wonder that you will end up friends with employees who are go getters and like to kick butt just like you. It will be no wonder that they will naturally float to the top. Since they are aggressive and good at what they do, of course they will get promoted and will probably deserve it.
So here is your dilemma. Do you promote them risking this perception of favoritism or do you hold them back to avoid this perception? It isn’t fair for you to hold them back so you end up promoting them and creating this perception that only gets worse as people start to feed into the “why not me” syndrome.
FRIENDSHIP & PROMOTIONS
I learned this lesson early on in my career. As a young assistant manager, I became friends with someone that for the most part, everyone at the store liked. I saw the potential in her that others didn’t. So I tried to mentor her and we ended up friends as well. When she earned a minor promotion that she worked her butt off for, all these folks that normally liked her and supported her, turned on her and felt she only got the promotion due to our friendship. Even though I knew deep down she busted her butt for it, no one else could get past our friendship.
The longer we stayed friends, the more people would scrutinize every move she made. She no longer could make the same mistakes a new leader would, for if she did, it would be thrown in her face that she only “got away with it” due to our friendship. Little did anyone know she was still being held accountable just like any other person. It was none of her business but that still didn’t stop any rumor mills.
Not only did I have to deal with the backlash, so did she. She was under constant scrutiny that the others in the same position didn’t have to deal with.
I learned a valuable lesson from all of this. One that playout out once more when once again I ended up friends with another go getter. He was someone I bonded with right away and he had so much potential. However, this scene played out again. He would take so much crap for our friendship. I came to realize, this is what we put our new “friends” through. I knew, I had to make a crucial decision that I would carry with me for the next 20 plus years. It was after this that I adopted a rule… I made a vow not to hang out with anyone that worked for me. I just couldn’t put these good people through this.
ONLY YOU HOLD THE BULLETS
Now this might seem like an extreme response but it would be one that saved me a lot of headaches and problems down the road. Sure, I was bummed that I missed out on some great friendships with some amazing people, but it also helped me down the line when people wouldn’t get the promotions or increases that they felt was ‘owed” to them.
I would be accused in the future and would often laugh them off. I had one store manager ask me when I was a district manager why I never seemed bother by it, I told her that as a leader, people will always want someone else to blame for their lack of promotion or increases. Rarely do they look in the mirror at what they need to do, so they look for someone else to blame. And who better than the “boss”. The boss only like certain people and gave promotions and raises to people they liked.
So while these people would always be pointing a gun at you, the only person that could provide them the bullets was you. If don’t give them the bullets to use against you, you will remain safe.
SWITICHING BETWEEN THE FRIENDSHIP HAT THE LEADER / EMPLOYEE HAT
When you are friends with someone, I bet you have that conversation. You know the one, that hey, work is work and home is home. We need to make sure that we don’t bring the friendship to work conversation.
Now, the problem with favoritism is, it isn’t about how well you both do this, it is up to the perception of the others.
Another problem that happens is, while you might be good at switching between these two hats, you are making an assumption that the other person will be just as good. You will find that when your buddy gets in trouble, it is tough not to make excuses or want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Trust me, it will get in your head. You understand them so well and start to justify their behavior vs their action like you would other employees.
Think about it, if it is hard on you the seasoned leader who knows better, how hard do you think it is on them? If you have other managers or leaders who want to hold them accountable, trust me, this employee will look at you for understanding. “Dude, You know me, help me” will come from their mouth or their eyes.
Swapping between hats just isn’t easy.
DISTRACTION WITHIN THE TEAM
The final con that I want to quickly discuss is the distraction that it causes on your team. Time and energy is spent on the entire subject. Even if there is no favoritism, even if there are no promotions, the gossip mongers will still want to talk about your friendship and speculate.
They will talk about what they get away with, they will talk about what you two did the other night and they will wonder if there is more to your friendship. Especially if you are the opposite sex, heck even the same sex. People just love to wonder and put in juicy details that aren’t even there.
This distraction is not something you need. You want your team focused on your customers and your business. Not on your friendship with Johnny or Suzie.
So, with all that you might be wondering if I think there are any pros to being friends with folks that work for you? Of course, there is at least one pro and that is the life long friendships that could be discovered.
LIFE LONG FRIENDSHIPS CAN BE DISCOVERED
Have you ever met someone and just clicked? You just know you are meant to be buds? I think most of us have. Let’s face it, if you spend 8+ hours a day with people you will discover some awesome folks you enjoy spending time with. Maybe you have things in common, maybe you make each other laugh or maybe you build a slow bond over tragedy. Who knows. Most of your best friends came while doing something where you saw them over and over. Think about how many BFFs come from meeting either in school or at work. So it would be natural for you to meet a lifelong friend in your business.
I actually have a funny story on this. The problem with a hard rule like I took a long time ago to not be friends with folks has had some pros and cons. While I’ve never had to worry about someone having the bullets to the gun they would always point at me when they didn’t get their way, the con was, I missed out one some awesome friendships.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting some great folks through the years. I remember one time I had an entire family I really enjoyed work for me. The husband, wife and mother in law all became assistant managers through the years. One day I got a promotion and moved to another state. Then one day they are in my front yard. I had to laugh when they purchased the home right next door. OMG, the panic that hit me in that moment. They could see it in my eyes. Then they looked at me and reminded me it was ok, they didn’t work for me anymore.
They would always invite me over and we would help babysit but man, it was the most awkward thing for me. I had denied a friendship for so long, and here I was sitting in their house. While they technically didn’t work for me, I just couldn’t help protect them and myself since you never know what the future holds. But we did have fun. Matter of fact, I will always remember the year they took me out with them on a family tradition of cutting down their Christmas tree.
You might be wondering how they ended up next door. When I was looking to move to Washington I knew they were from there and had asked them what city I should live in. They were always talking so highly about their home town and I ended up buying there. Six months later, they had no idea I was going to be their new neighbor either. A small world it is.
SHOULD YOU OR SHOULDN’T YOU
Look, I don’t want to deny you a great friendship. All I’m trying to do is make sure you avoid the headaches that it can bring your business. Do I expect you to adopt a hard stance like I did? No, I had a different situation with a lot of employees and I was responsible for a lot of hires and promotions. My choices were always under scrutiny. Yours might not.
However, I do want to keep your eyes open the potential. Keep an eye and ear out for folks that might use the friendship against you. It might not be your employees but even the new friend who will eventually want special favors. I had to deal with claims where they felt they didn’t get a promotion or raise because they were friends with the manager. They were being taken advantage of. You can’t believe the stuff that happens. So just use caution. That is all I ask.
When the employees meet to have beer afterwards, have one and leave. If you feel the need to take someone to a ballgame, then take 2-3 people. Enjoy your employees and their friendships just don’t go in blindly. I want you to have a thriving business, one that isn’t caught up in drama and gossip.
Which leads into what I always say. I realize being a local small business owner can be a lonely gig at times. But you don’t have to do it alone. Just know, I’m always here for you.
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Bye for now…..
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Two Great Books to Help You With Your Small Business:
Highly Recommend all Local Small Business Owners Read the eMyth by Micheal Gerber. You will learn some critical things about running your business.
The second book is one I wrote based off a popular example I always use when folks are trying to understand their role as a leader with their people. Check it out.