| Careless whisper: Putting in a word for your friend at your workplace may not always be a good idea |
A reader writes: I just found out that a friend who was hired by my employer in part at my suggestion is not working out and may be terminated. I feel really bad for the obvious reason (personal friendship) but also because I did not come clean to our supervisor during the hiring process.
He believed he discerned signs of what I will call excessive emotionalism (for want of a better term) during the interview process. When he asked me about this, I said I had never seen this behaviour. In fact, I had in our personal relationship, but thought she would have better sense than to display it in a work context. Apparently not.
Certainly, I will be very wary of recommending a friend for any job in my workplace in future. And the irony is I was once on the wrong end of one of these hiring decisions (recommended by a friend for what turned out to be a bad fit) and it killed a 10-year friendship. Any advice for getting through this period at work?
The response: I dont think that the lesson you should glean from this experience is that you should be wary of recommending your friends for jobs. Rather, make sure that your judgement about whether the person fits the job is not clouded by your desire to help give him or her a break. If your friend has a tendency to become overly emotional, then perhaps your principal mistake was not in playing down her faults to your supervisor, but rather in recommending her for the job to begin with.
In general, I also question the wisdom of seeking to work alongside close friends in the same department or team. Working with close friends will tend to make work more personal, and this will lead you to respond with less discernment to ordinary workplace issues. It is hard enough to face the prospect of a colleagues termination. It is quite another thing to know that your good buddy might lose her job at the hands of your supervisor.
Your question was how to deal with all of this. It is unclear to me whether you learned of your friends possible termination from her or from some other source. If your friend does not know that she might be fired and if (and only if) you can trust her not to betray your confidence, then you should tell her where she stands. This will give her a chance to find another job before being fired and compounding the damage to her career. If you cannot trust your friend to keep quiet about the news, then you have no choice but to keep it to yourself and plan to be there for her as a support if she is ultimately let go.
The best posture for you will be to remain as neutral as possible. You can amply support your friend, in other words, without disparaging your employer. Whatever becomes of her, you still work there. So you need to make sure that you conduct yourself throughout this process in a way that does not damage your reputation as a loyal employee.
Which brings me to your relationship with your employer. It is no doubt conspicuous to your supervisor that your friend is behaving with excessive emotionalism when you specifically denied that she has such tendencies. This disagreement between your recommendation and the empirical data might cause your boss to question your judgement, or he might just assume that, like any good friend, you were trying to cast your friend in the best possible light. Your credibility as a source of referrals has been compromised. However, as long as you remain a solid employee, I would not worry too much about how your friends departure might affect your relationship with your boss.
If your friend is fired and you feel a desire to do something to smooth things over, I would recommend approaching your boss to tell him how much you regret how things turned out. You can do this without putting down your friend or admitting that you had your doubts about her ability to succeed. Again, neutrality is paramount.