Keeping It In The Family - Employing Family Members

Peninsula Team

January 29 2010

Before you consider employing any family members you should decide if your family is more like the Waltons or the Simpsons. If you’re leaning closer towards big yellow then you will probably find that employing relations can lead to you saying “D’oh!”

Never mind Mills & Boon, you don’t want to be anywhere near a situation where you have a husband and wife working together and then the wife sacks the husband’s secretary for having an affair with him. This escalates when the husband reinstates her, after all he had no problems with her performance, and the workplace suddenly becomes ground zero for a live re-enactment of Kramer vs. Kramer.

Leaving aside the potential for the work place to become involved in a messy relationship breakdown there are difficulties that can occur in less apocalyptic situations. There is a common misconception that family members will get on and that will pull together but that is not always the case. There is also the added complication of placing one family member in a senior position over another, especially if they are siblings. Sibling rivalry is rarely a pretty sight and it is not something you want played out within the workplace. Think Cain and Abel if you need an example.

The main problem with family members working together, particularly if one is more senior to the other, is that they are treated differently due to the family relationship. There is always the risk that they will be treated more leniently than they should be because they are family or, conversely, are treated more harshly in order to overcompensate for any family relationship. Family members can have difficulties in adapting to a change in the dynamics of a relationship; with parents have difficulty in treating their children as colleagues and adults. It can be very difficult for people to adapt to taking instructions from someone who they see as a junior, particularly if they can remember what they were like when they were five. It can be just as hard for a family member to adapt to a position of responsibility over their relatives, especially if it involves putting a sibling, parent or child through the disciplinary or capability procedure.

Family members are vulnerable to accusations that they have only got or kept their position because they family. There can be a reluctance to raise issues of concern about the behaviour or performance of the owner’s family because of a belief that the family will close ranks and protect its members.

From a practical perspective, one of the most overlooked problems can occur when there is a family holiday or event, such as a wedding, and you can end up losing a fair chunk of your workforce.

Hiring family members can be a positive step for a company but it’s a step that should be taken with your eyes wide open to the possible pitfalls along the way.

If you are looking at employing family members or have a problem with a family member currently working for you, call the Advice Service on 0844 892 2772 and one of our trained advisors will be available to help.

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