When Cronyism Backfires at Work

No One Wants to Fire a Friend (or Can a Cousin)

If your pal or next of kin passes those litmus tests and you do decide to bring them aboard, save yourself the potential headache by steering them toward another department or branch, rather than working with them directly -- or worse, managing them. Then, give them the "no special favors" speech.

"Emphasize that you're thrilled she'll be joining the ranks, while making clear that she'll be treated as any other employee," Levit said.

Robert Holton -- who waltzed into his first sales position with Milwaukee employment agency SourcePoint Staffing in 1997 because his dad owned the company -- knows that speech all too well.

"I was placed in a geographically separate office from the corporate office and reported to the vice president," Holton said. "From the outset, my father made it clear that the VP had complete control over my training, development, and had the authority to fire if needed."

Still, that didn't stop Holton from trying to pull a few strings with Pop six months into the gig, when the vice president asked him to step into the role of recruiter, a demotion in Holton's eyes. True to his word, his father did not intervene.

"He made it crystal clear that I either take the role the VP had offered or I did not have a job," said Holton, who chose to stay on, and has since worked his way up to vice president of sales and market development -- on his own merit.

Cronies Deserve Honest Feedback, Too

But what if, despite your best pre-emptive efforts, you find yourself in Christie's situation, with a friend or cousin you recommended complaining or behaving badly on the job?

Gritting your teeth and telling them they're doing a "heck of a job" doesn't help the situation any. You'll still be aggravated, your colleagues will still be angry at the show of favoritism, and your crony will continue to fall short of expectations. In some ways, it's like passing the kid who can't read on to the next grade.

Likewise, none of us wants to have to tell a friend or relative that their job (and our respect for them) is on the line.

Fortunately, Levit says, there is another option.

"Tell him you heard through the grapevine that people think he only got the job because of you, and recommend that he take immediate action to counteract that perception. He'll probably shut up and get to work, as nobody likes to feel that they got something they didn't deserve."

This work is the opinion of the columnist, and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist, author and former cubicle dweller. Her books — "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube" and "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" (October 2008) — offer an irreverent take on the traditional career guide. More tips on career change, flex work and the freelance life can be found on her blog, Anti9to5Guide.com

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