Should You Hire a Family Member to Work at Your Small Business?
Have you ever thought about bringing your brother or sister on board as an employee at your small business? Maybe you intend to groom a son or daughter to take over for you one day. Or perhaps you’ve partnered up with your spouse, adding a professional element to your marriage.
Many people at businesses big and small hire family members to work for them. However, it’s fair to say the results are a mix between smashing success and deep disappointment. Some parts of having a family member there to help with your business are great, such as loyalty, familiarity, and comfort. Still, working with family members isn’t without its perils. If the professional relationship sours, it puts severe stress on your familial bonds.
Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons of working with family members, and a few things you should always do before telling a relative, “You’re hired!”
PRO – Loyalty, friendship, familiarity and trust
Assuming you already have a decent relationship with the family member you hire, that person probably cares about you and your success a great deal, much more than any stranger is likely to. They’ve heard all about your business from the time it was just an idea in your head up to the moment it became a reality. They want to help you grow and develop your brand, and can generally be trusted to stick with you, instead of leaving if a better offer comes along elsewhere.
Familiarity can also be an asset when considering whether to hire a relative. In most hiring scenarios, you don’t know a great deal about the applicants, unless they can provide a reference you truly trust. With family members, you don’t need to ask questions to learn about their skills, strengths or weaknesses, because you probably already know them all.
CON – Familiarity can blind us to flaws, and relationships can get frayed
Things can get messy when we work with family members. Sometimes, the relative doesn’t turn out to have the skills you thought they did, or lacks the drive and energy required to get the job done properly. What might have looked like a great match can become a disaster if you fail to recognize a family member’s flaws and shortcomings.
In some cases, family members expect preferential treatment from bosses they’re related to, figuring they can get a free pass for showing up late, skipping work, or failing to finish an assignment. Other times, a relative will feel they deserve a higher salary than other employees, even those with better skills.
Disciplining a family member who works for you, or denying their pay requests, can be extremely difficult, too. If the two of you don’t agree on things, the relationship can get ugly, and fast, with unprofessional bickering an uncomfortable problem for fellow employees and customers alike. If the relationship deteriorates to a point where you no longer feel good about having the family member as part of your staff, you may be forced to fire someone you care about as a relative, which is never easy, and can cause lasting damage to your relationship.
PRO – Some customers appreciate the tradition and legacy of family-run businesses
For some businesses, being family-run is a badge of honour that’s proudly shared with prospective customers. It’s the reason so many businesses advertise the number of generations that have led them. For many shoppers, there’s pleasure to be gained in supporting a local business with longstanding family ownership, rather than giving their business to a faceless company that lacks local roots.
CON – Potential lack of perspective
Having a close family member around to serve as a sounding board for your business ideas might sound super, but it’s not always the best thing for a business. In some cases, family members share common beliefs and styles, meaning they tend to have similar approaches when it comes to problem-solving, planning, and so on. In this regard, small business owners can often benefit from having more inclusive discussions, soliciting new and fresh ideas from staff or consultants who have different backgrounds, cultures and viewpoints. If you do hire a family member, encourage them to challenge you to look at things in new ways, rather than letting you get stuck in a rut.
The last word: Before you hire a relative…
The best way to make sure a family relationship doesn’t get damaged after it becomes professional is to set guidelines and boundaries right off the bat. If you’re considering hiring a family member, think long and hard about the person, particularly anything big or small that might prove problematic over time. Even something as minor as an annoying habit can grow into a big issue. If you’re confident about going ahead, sit down together and come up with a job description that clearly spells out duties and expectations, as well as consequences.