Objectives The present study was designed to determine what staff consider when asked to respond to the Friends and Family Test question. Methods Over 300 health service staff responded to an online questionnaire exploring whether they would recommend treatment at their organisation to friends and family (Friends and Family Test). Results Staff identified staff attitudes and behaviours, the busyness of the health service and quality of care as themes that affected their recommendation. A considerable number of staff also identified factors largely outside the control of the health service as influencing their response. Conclusions Majority of respondents based their perceptions on personal expectations, with smaller numbers citing personal experience and hearsay. Staff would need to see changes both in the quality of care and management practice to amend their recommendation on the Friends and Family Test. What is known about the topic? The Friends and Family Test is seen as a useful tool to gather the opinions of patients and staff on the patient experience, yet there has been little validation of this question. What does this paper add? The present study suggests that, as currently worded, the question does not reliably report staff perceptions regarding patient experience. The study illustrates that the relationship with the organisation and perceptions of effective management are linked to staff responses. What are the implications for practitioners? The Family and Friends Test question may need to be more clearly focused to gather the desired information. Improvement on this indicator is only likely to be seen when management teams are meeting the expectations of staff for good management practice.