Job Doc

Do Family Friends Make for Fair Employers? Elaine Varelas addresses

Working for a family friend can seem like the best of both worlds – a job working with the people you love. However, mixing personal and professional lives can cause tensions to rise between these newly implemented hierarchical roles. Elaine Varelas addresses employees feeling taken advantage of due to their close connections to employers.

Ask the Job Doc.

Q: I work for a family friend’s business and he has started using his connection with my family as a way to pressure me into working when I’m off the clock. Is there a way to navigate getting him to stop taking advantage of my time, or is it time to move on?

A: One of the benefits of having a family friend who runs a business is having the opportunity to work for that business. One of the negatives is what you’re facing here, where there’s a blur in the relationship line. Are you a friend? Are you an employee? Are you part of the family? Families in family businesses talk about business all the time. There is no blur. You’re an employee, and how you react to those blurred lines will impact your relationship with your employer and family friend, as well as your ability to build personal boundaries so you are not on call 24/7.


If your employer approaches you at a casual event and starts asking you questions about work, you can certainly answer one or two as long as the answers are not long and involved.  After that point, you should be able to say to him, “These are really great questions. I’ll make a note of them, and as soon as we are at work, I will call you so that we can get these questions answered. Does that work for you?” If the person says no, then clearly there’s some urgency, but my guess is, he will agree and recognize that there’s a boundary issue he is crossing. You may have to do this a few times before the message is clear.

When you’re working, you may also want to tell him, “I appreciate that you are always focused on the business, and I understand that. But some of the questions that you’re asking are actually confidential and I’m uncomfortable talking about those kinds of things in front of non-staff. So it would be best if we could really keep work questions to work hours.”

Again, you need to recognize that this is the business of a family friend, and that they’re dealing from a different level of relationship in terms of how they see you. As such, you can’t play the extreme hourly employee card and still maintain a family friend relationship. You can draw a gentle boundary so that you’re not taken advantage of, and try to help them recognize that they’ve put you in a difficult position.


If you’re feeling resentful, which it sounds like you are, then it may be time to move on. The ideal would be for you to help them find a replacement who may not be a family friend, and ensure that SOPs are written and up-to-date so you don’t leave them in a negative position.


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