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How to work well with friends and family

4 Sep 2023

Workplace politics can be tough enough without having to factor in family fights or friendship cliques. Here’s how to keep things professional.

It’s not uncommon for people to work with their life partners, siblings, in-laws, friends, children or parents, despite the fact conventional wisdom says you should always separate work and life. But sometimes it’s not possible to do that or it makes perfect sense to go into business with your partner or friends. It can be done, and working with family members doesn’t necessarily have to look like something from Succession, the TV show about the squabbling siblings of the Roy family and their Machiavellian father.

Working with family and friends can be a positive and lucrative experience for everyone involved, especially since there is more likely to be an element of trust and familiarity there to begin with. That said, there can be disadvantages and difficulties also. Even if you get on most of the time, conflicts can be difficult because there is additional pressure if you have a personal connection with someone you’re having a work-related disagreement with. It can be easier to avoid conflict and therefore risk an issue piling up. Or people with personal connections can sometimes air their dirty laundry, so to speak, in front of other co-workers, making things awkward for all concerned.

Embrace moratoriums

So, how should people handle some of these issues that can arise from working with someone they know personally? The most obvious answer would probably be to insist on a ban on work talk outside of work and a ban on personal talk during work. There’s no need to ignore your pal’s birthday in the office or pretend you don’t know your own partner, but conversations about who is going to inherit the house or who forgot to put the bins out last night are best not done in front of other colleagues.

Likewise, you shouldn’t be constantly talking about balance sheets on a Sunday evening over dinner, so keep work talk to an absolute minimum unless you want to risk burnout and fallouts in your personal life. If you find it hard to separate the work talk from the person you know, you should both have a chat about it and come to an agreement that works for both of you. This way you can keep your boundaries in place and know that there will be space eventually for you to discuss work or personal issues as the case may be.

Don’t play favourites

If you’re working with your close friend, of course you’re going to have a closer relationship with them compared to your other co-workers, but it’s important not to exclude people. Remember that if you’re at work it is not very professional to sit in a corner with someone and ignore your other colleagues. They will view you as cliquish – and they would be correct. Make an effort at work to include other people and keep the conversation light. You can hang out with your buddies during your downtime.

If you’re running a family business, playing favourites with family members is an absolute no-no. It’s understandable that your children may inherit the company but treat them like they are at work and don’t undermine other workers in front of them by favouring them.

Do what’s best for you

Working with a personal friend or relative can be incredibly stressful – especially if they are taking advantage of their relationship with you in the workplace. If you notice someone you’re close to abusing the fact they know you, you need to nip it in the bud fast. If they are just using a very tenuous link to you to get ahead in their career, be sure to clarify that you don’t endorse them or approve of their behaviour. Likewise, if they actually do have a very close relationship with you and aren’t doing their job, don’t be afraid to point this out – although you’ll have to tread carefully to avoid a lasting fallout. The bottom line is don’t let your relationships damage your career and if that means keeping work and friends and family completely separate, then do that.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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