Many small business owners look to employ family members – seeing it as an easy solution, given the difficulties and time that it takes to build a quality business team and the fact that family members may be unemployed.

Is this a good idea?

Many experts advise not hiring family unless they possess a specialized skill that is hard to recruit – feeling that business and family needs to stay separate.   On the other hand, proponents state that family members are usually more trustworthy and more committed to the company.  You know them, they know you, and you get to work with someone you like.

The point of this blog is to not to advise for or against…that is a decision left to you, since you are the only one who truly understands your family dynamic and your business needs.

Unfortunately, there is no guidebook (with 5 easy steps) that you can use as a blueprint when hiring and managing family members in the workplace.  Communication and the establishment of common goals are the basic tenets in this process.

With those two things in mind, if you do hire and work with family, here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Hire based on merit. Your #1 priority in hiring employees should be to find the best person for the job.  Before making a hiring decision, consider the criteria you would use to evaluate any job candidate. Then, see how your family member compares.   If the only reason you would hire them is because they are “family”, you might want to re-think your decision.
  • Establish boundaries, goals, objectives  and work protocols early.  The best time to establish the parameters for any relationship is when the relationship begins. Establish how everyone (including yourself) should be addressed, management hierarchies, reporting structures (have the family member report to somebody other than you), grievance procedures, etc.  Do this early on so that behaviors and attitudes are directed towards meeting the company’s goals and mission.  Remember, any statement of goals/objectives that you create must be specific, measurable and achievable.
  • Continue talking and refining these goals throughout the employment period.  Have meetings every 6 months (or so) to (re)align these goals and minimize any misunderstandings.  Feelings of unfairness or preferential treatment can be deadly, harming not only company morale but family relationships.  Note, however, this is something that should be done with all employees…not just family.
  • Put everything in writing.  Any business relationship should be put in writing.  There is no difference if the business relationship is with family.
  • Be honest with other employees about your familial relationship.  In many cases,  the relationship may not be clear.  Nothing can be more uncomfortable than when an employee feels that information has been withheld and he/she has been working “blind”.
  • Differentiate and establish clear boundaries between work and personal life. Keep work-related issues at work; do not bring them to family functions.  No one wants to talk about (or listen to) warehouse inventory issues while sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table.

In dealing with family members in a work environment, the tenets are basically the same.  Setting ground rules, communicating openly and honestly about expectations, and providing feedback are key to managing a business.  They are also key for a healthy familial dynamic.  In the same way you work with your employees to focus on the company’s goals and objectives, work with your family on those same goals and objectives.   Good luck!

NOTE:  A full-color, downloadable, PDF is available.