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Beyond The Pass | Friendship For Hire

Beyond The Pass | Friendship For Hire

“Hey, do you know anyone looking for work?”

That’s my version of a job ad. And look, you might not like it, and you might think it’s a bit unprofessional, but it’s quick, it’s cheap, and if you hire a mate of your barista’s, it already comes with a built-in reference.

There are so many benefits to this particular brand of nepotism (and if you’re on the right side of it, nepotism in general). Besides appealing to my lazy nature, it takes away most of the negatives around hiring: no pile of CVs to wade through, no time-wasters, skilled workers, and probably the most important of all, your new hire’s going to be aligned with your workplace culture straight away.

Indeed, when it comes to recruitment, I’ve found laziness and nepotism to be the best HR I could ask for.

Now, let’s dispel some myths, right off the bat.

Hiring friends is bad.

Okay, but why?

They’re your friends, and I’m not sure about your mates, but if I can figure out a way to hang out with them all day long, relatively guilt-free, I’m gonna do it. 

I’m not saying you should go out and hire your mates regardless of their skill set, but I know a lot of my friends via hospo. We’ve worked at the same places, or at least somewhere similar. I know how they operate, how they respond to criticism or praise, and I know how to motivate them.

They’ll probably care more about the success of your business too. Think about it, if your best mate opened up a place tomorrow, and hired you to work it with them, wouldn’t you have a bit more stock in it? Wouldn’t you try a little harder to make sure things were done right?

Finally, working with an old friend is definitely easier on those long, slow days. No forced small talk, no awkward boss/worker dynamics. Just two mates, shooting the breeze.

So, now we’re warmed up a bit, let’s try another myth.

Don’t make friends with your workers.

This one is the biggest red flag for whether or not a business owner has the emotional maturity to handle the responsibility of being a boss.

Why do I think this? Because I’ve lived it.

If you start every relationship with your workers, and the possibility of friendship is completely off the table from day one, there’s such a low level of respect flowing both ways. Think about it for a second, if you can’t respect your staff enough to even consider the potential for any kind of lasting relationship (like friendship, for example), that dynamic of boss/worker is only going to grow bigger, and that’s not a good thing guys. 

Here’s why.

If I was working for somebody who saw me as lesser than them, purely because they were the ones who paid my wages, do you honestly think I’m going to put in 100% on shift? I mean, sure, I’d do my job, but nowhere near to the levels I would if that person showed me the respect of welcoming me as a friend. They’d get the bare minimum required.

And that thing they’re mistaking for respect is called tolerance.

If a worker gets chewed out for every little thing their boss perceives as wrong, their behaviour alters to avoid it happening again. The emphasis is on the discipline. If they respect you, on the other hand, they’re much more likely to understand why you’re upset, and their behaviour will change based on empathy.

It creates a siege mentality, a genuine ‘Us vs Them’ scenario, when, as a team, you really ought to be all pulling in the same direction.

And I made friends with all of my staff. That’s what the most successful people I worked for did, and it made everybody’s world a better place.

Making friends with my staff

Are you really going to be spending most of your time with these people, and not even consider becoming friends with them? There’s something quite chilling about that, wouldn’t you say?

I invited my guys to everything. My birthdays, my son’s birthdays, barbecues, football games, everything.

Hell, the first person to meet my son after he was born (besides me and the wife, and the midwives) was my barista. He came with me to the hospital the day after, because we were friends (still are, love you Dan DV), and he cared about my life.

I even made friends with my customers, because why not? Spread love and make the world a nicer place.

You’ve got to be smart, and well-groomed!

What is this, Crufts? Let your staff be themselves.

So what if they dress differently to you, or their hair is a bit wild, or they’ve got an unruly beard (Dan DV, it’s a glorious beard mate). It’s their choice, and it’s what makes them feel most comfortable. And in a working environment that can get quite uncomfortable at times, why pile on any more?

If you’re worried about losing business because someone working your floor has visible tattoos, or facial piercings, or is wearing scruffy clothes, odds are that the staff aren’t the problem. I mean, have you ever seen a pair of hospo shoes? They’re borderline radioactive.

The fact is if your product is good, most customers won’t care what your staff look like, as long as their hands are clean, and they’re happy. 

And this can even extend into fine dining.

There’s a beautiful bloke in Hong Kong with a Michelin-starred food stall. It’s got hand-written signs made out of scrap cardboard and a Sharpie, a bunch of delicious dead things hanging in the open, and a line that’s 2 hours long. Honestly, Google it, click on ‘images’, and have a look at just how little appearances matter if the product is good.  

But enough about hiring, what about retaining staff?

Again, this is where that two-way respect thing comes into play.

You have to understand that whilst your business is probably the most important thing in the world to you, to your staff it’s just work, regardless of how good a mate they are.

I always gave my staff set rosters. I knew they had social lives, and I helped them continue living them. I’d let them book time off, if they needed to be somewhere, or just wanted a break. I’d request it in writing (more to do with my terrible memory than any kind of bureaucracy), and trust that they’d give me enough time to cover their shifts, which they mostly did. If it was short notice, I made them aware that I was very busy too, and they’d have to arrange cover themselves, which again, they mostly did.

I always tried to create a culture in my business where my staff knew that they could rely on me, just as much as I relied on them. And it was little things that got this point across.

I’d never ask them to do something that they hadn’t seen me doing. We all chipped in when it came to cleaning the dishes, or the toilet (separately, of course), or taking out the bins, or working the busy sections. I made sure that if I was ever to ask them to do something, I knew exactly what it took to do it, first hand.

And if there were ever any rude or aggressive customers, well, that was my bread & butter. Even if I knew they could handle it, there was no way I was going to let them cop any kind of abuse, not on my watch!

And after a long week, or a gruelling weekend brunch shift, I’d go across the road to the bottle-o, and buy everyone some beers. We’d put some tunes on, kick back on the couch (something you can’t do if your fit out is all 2×2 tables), and decompress a little.

Still being friends with my staff

And this feeling of having each other’s backs went both ways too.

If I was having one of my breakdowns, they’d step in and let me take a beat. Same if I was hungover. That’s what mere tolerance won’t get you.

And look, I know there’s downsides to all of this, I’m not an idiot (jury’s probably still out on that, if I’m being honest).

Hiring friends does make it harder to dish out some good, old-fashioned discipline, if it’s necessary. The flip side of that is, there’s usually a lot less call for it, because they care more.

And sure, they might feel like it’s a bit easier to ditch work and go partying, but again, if they’re your friends, you’re probably invited to the party too. Plus, with a good system in place for booking time off, this is rarely an issue.

And look, if you do have to fire them, it sucks way harder than if you had to fire somebody you weren’t friends with, and didn’t respect at all. But this is a very rare situation if you hire mates, not so rare if you don’t.

So, if you’re reading this and you’re wondering how to wrangle an unruly staff turnover, or how to motivate an unmotivated team, why not sit down, and talk to your staff, and let them tell you how it is coming to work for you every day? It might be difficult to hear in parts, but you’ll come out of it with a better understanding of your staff’s needs and desires.

Oh, and pay them a living wage, of course.

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More of this topic: Beyond The Pass