Pressure to hire family members


As your business grows you might find your parents and other people asking if you could find a job for your brother, cousin, aunt, friend of a friend. You’re hiring people all the time so surely it wouldn’t be hard for you just find them a little something?

But, as much as we all want to help and support those around us, you and I both know that it’s a slippery slope – especially if the person in question has absolutely nothing to contribute and would be more of a hindrance than a help. However on the other side of the coin, there could be some real talent amongst your relatives and you don’t want to risk missing a trick. There are also situations whereby the family business can be a great place for someone to flourish who might otherwise have been overlooked. Perhaps a family member with learning difficulties or a disability. Or a young mum nervous about returning to work. But it’s a fine balance and you need to find a fair way to tackle it.

The first challenge with being asked for a favour for a family member is that it can immediately cause friction and put a strain on family relationships. If you say ‘sorry no, I don’t have anything’ you’re seen as uncaring and above your station but if you give in and create a job for them and they turn out to be completely useless, you have to fire them and that will cause all sorts of tension.

The second problem is your current employees. Nepotism - which basically means favouring people because they are family - can be a dangerous thing and could cause you all sorts of problems. No doubt you will have staff who have been with the business for many years - they’ve been loyal, hard working and dedicated as they work their way up. So imagine how they’d feel if someone came waltzing in without the relevant qualifications, skills or experience just because they share the same name as you. Not only does it show a complete disregard for all their commitment, you will also lose respect as a leader very, very quickly. What’s more, creating a job for someone that you don’t really need will come at a financial cost. You have a responsibility as a business owner to the people who work for you – you have their mortgages on your shoulders and nothing should risk your financial stability as a company.

Lastly, if you do take someone on, they may find it very hard to work FOR you. You will have gone from being their brother or cousin or nephew to being their boss. And this can be tough for lots of people who aren’t used to such a dynamic. They might feel entitled to special treatment or privileges. What if they start taking advantage because they think they can get away with it? Are you going to start disciplining a member of your own family? How will this play out when you’re at home in a family environment?

But fear not! There are many simple things you can do to stop this becoming an awkward issue and keep the family harmony.

ONE – have a very clear recruitment process. Make sure everyone, whether they’re family or not, has an equal chance to apply. To get ahead of any awkward conversations, why not circulate any job vacancies to your family as they come up but be explicit that if there isn’t a vacancy, there isn’t a job. If you are involved in the recruitment process then it’s probably best if CVs are filtered by someone else first so they can be more objective and then pass them onto you. Every candidate must go through the same system, creating a level playing field.

TWO – write very clear job descriptions. Be specific about the qualifications, skills, experience and character traits you’re looking for. If a family member fits the bill then brilliant, if they don’t then you’ve got a genuine reason for not being able to help them progress further. If you’re ambiguous about what you’re looking for and you leave it open to interpretation then not only will you be bombarded with lots of rubbish applications, you’ll also find it hard to say no to a family member because you haven’t got a defined criteria to judge them against.

THREE – review your employment policies. If it turns out that a member of your family is in fact the best person for the job then it’s crucial that they, and the rest of your employees understand that they won’t be treated any differently or receive privileges just because their name is above the door. Make sure you cover things like salaries, pay rises, promotions, behaviour, redundancies etc. Work with an HR expert to make sure you have everything covered. It also helps to take the emotion out of things if for any reason you have to let them go. If you’re black and white about what’s expected and they fail to live up to that then you can stand tall knowing that they had exactly the same opportunity as everyone else.

This is a tricky one, isn’t it? Family businesses are loved because they are warm and friendly and very often give opportunities to people who might otherwise have been overlooked. If there’s a way we can help a family member by giving them an equal chance at a job as anyone else then fantastic. But we must be careful not to risk the trust of our existing staff by letting nepotism sneak in.

Of course there are always exceptions to the rule and our hearts will guide us if and when these come up but otherwise, sticking to these three things will help you –

ONE – have a clear recruitment process. Every gets an equal opportunity whether they’re family or not.

TWO – write very clear job descriptions. A defined criteria will allow you to say yes or no with ease, regardless of who the candidate is.

THREE – review your employment policies. Leave no room for interpretation and take the emotion out of any difficult situations.

So as you go away to try some of these things, I’ll leave you with one final thought – the more successful your family business, the bigger your family’s impact.

Author: Amalia Brightley-Gillott, MD & 2nd Generation

Family Business Place


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