Back when I was an undergraduate in college, I got a speeding ticket and needed the assistance of an attorney (yes, I was really speeding). So I hired my cousin, a lawyer, and he ended up representing me quite well. To be expected, I later received his bill, and it was, in retrospect, both fair and appropriate. But at the time I was dumb and made a stink about the bill — “but we're family!” I whined.
The whole mess eventually got cleared up, but I will say that years later, when I practiced law myself, I remembered my youthful mistake and made it a point to avoid representing family members.
So this then begs the question: Should one work with family and, if so, how do you do so without going crazy? Some people love working with family members while others can’t bear the thought of it.
Let's consider both sides.
On the positive side of the ledger, one of the best things about working with family is the familiarity you have with one another. There is a connection that you have with family members that you do not necessarily have with the world at large, and when you get along well with that person, that can really work to your benefit. Plus, working with a family member you like can really be fun.
By the same token, family members know your strengths and weaknesses, and that too can come in very handy in the workplace, especially if you work with a family member who has different strengths than you. That give and take can save time and hassle.
Another great thing about working with family is that you have someone around whom you can really trust. Not that you cannot trust your regular employees or partners of course, but there is just something about family that kicks that to a higher level.
Now let's consider the downsides.
The first is that mixing business and family can hurt both entities. On the business side, if things don't work out with the family member, having difficult conversations regarding performance (not to mention if it leads to a firing) can result in a very difficult situation. Similarly, your loved one may not show you the level of respect that you deserve and need in the workplace. They may see you as jolly Uncle Joe at work instead of their boss. And that, in turn, can either hurt morale or invite similar disrespect among others in your small business.
In fact, family members may feel that the normal rules do not apply to them. They may resent your authority, goof off or not understand when you can't or don't give them a raise. Or what if they miss too much work, or call in sick when you know that they are not sick? Of course you will have to take action, and that is when working with family becomes an issue. Family relationships can be difficult to mend after a rift at work.
So what do you do about all of this? How do you work with family and make it work? The answer is three fold:
- Establish uniform hiring criteria: The rules you use to hire every other employee should be the same for family. And they need to know that.
- Establish workplace policies: Apply them equally across the board.
- Create rules for discipline and discharge: These rules should be – yes, you guessed it –uniform as well.
The bottom line is that, unless you have an incredibly solid professional fit, and everyone understands and complies by uniform policies and guidelines, working with family could lead to damaging relationships if things go south. And, unlike a disgruntled employee who leaves, a disgruntled family member will be around for the long haul.
Have you ever worked with family before? Do you have any lessons learned that you could share with the SBOC community below?
About Steve Strauss
Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.