When it's time to hire a new employee, especially early on, many business owners turn to family members. And while hiring a sister, uncle, nephew or other family member can be a great way to grow the business while providing a job for a family member, there are times when hiring a bad apple off the family tree can actually hurt your company. From slacking off to abusing his or her power because of a shared bloodline with the boss, the bad behavior of family employees can grate on other staffers and hurt morale.
"If you don't have a good plan for hiring family members and dealing with problems when they arise, you're going to have issues," says Mike LaRosa, founder of Wayfarer Advisory Group, a family business consultancy based in Fairfax, Va. LaRose offers several strategies for dealing with toxic family members.
1. Start with a job description.
Too many times, a business owner will bring a family member onboard without a clear vision of what that person will be doing. That leads to confusion and frustration on both parts, LaRosa says. Whether you're hiring for a new position or already have your relative onboard, sit down and create a clear job description that includes tasks, performance expectations, and how that person's progress will be measured. This gives each side a clear understanding of what is expected, he says.
2. Address concerns.
Don't dodge issues because you're concerned about conflict. If you have a problem with your family employee, it's important to address it just as you would with any other employee. Failure to do so may leave the rest of your staff feeling like your kin get preferential treatment. That could damage your credibility and leave employees feeling like the workplace is unfair, LaRosa says.
"You have to find ways to be able to calmly address your concerns without bringing the family connection and baggage into it. That could mean actually saying, 'I'm speaking to you as your boss now and not your brother or,'" for example, he says.
3. Use a third party.
If it's possible, have a non-relative employee who supervises the difficult family member. That may provide a useful buffer while showing your problem family employee that there is a hierarchy in the company that must be respected. In some cases, LaRosa says using an outside board member or consultant who is not related to the family can provide an objective voice to mitigate problems.
4. Fire when necessary.
Sometimes, family employees just don't work out. If you've tried to address the situation and it’s just not improving, don't keep holding on because the person is a family member, LaRosa says. It's best if you can discuss your expectations and the consequences of not meeting them before the family employee is hired. However, if that's not possible, find a private place and explain your decision, making sure to state that it's a decision for the business and that you don't want it to affect your personal relationship.
"If your family member has been warned repeatedly and isn't improving, there's probably something going on there. You might be surprised to find that they actually want to leave the business, but don't want to disappoint you," he says.