Anti-nepotism rules in the workplace seem to be going the way of rotary telephones and manual typewriters. They're being replaced by policies that go beyond being family-friendly and actually encourage the hiring of married couples and relatives.
The first married couple to integrate into Jade Systems Corp., an IT solutions provider in Long Island City and Cold Spring, New York, were the owners. After president and CEO Debbi Milner, 41, founded the business, her husband, John, 41, came on board and is now the COO and CFO. Today, of their 150 employees, 20 people are married to someone in the company and another 15 are closely related to somebody on staff. According to Debbi, it was a natural evolution.
"John had been helping me nights and weekends for many years, then left his career [to work for Jade full time] when I went on maternity leave with our first child," Debbi says. "I couldn't find anybody I trusted more to take care of our customers." The husband-wife team worked so well that when their general manager suggested hiring his wife for an administrative position, Debbi and John couldn't think of a good reason why they shouldn't consider the idea. Today, she's the operations manager, and Jade's pattern of hiring couples has continued.
"Good people are attracted to good people," Debbi explains. "That's why we have so much success, not only with spouses and family members, but also with friends bringing their friends into the company."
Debbi and her husband drew on personal experience in creating a work environment that would nourish and support close family relationships. "We structured the company from the very beginning to help [employees] understand what it means to work with your spouse," Debbi says. "The rules are pretty fundamental. The individuals in the couple are viewed as individuals. They have to perform, and they are judged on their own merits."
What about the risk of relationship problems interfering with the job? "The rule is, business is business, and personal is personal," Debbi says. "Sometimes it's a difficult line not to cross, but [our employees are] professionals and very dedicated to the company. Also, they have a vested interest in our success, because they've trusted us enough to put all their eggs in one basket."
As for benefits, married couples who work together can assist one another in managing their professional and personal lives, says Debbi. "If one spouse has to take care of the children, the other one will make sure to communicate what needs to be done so business flows as usual." Another plus involves insurance savings: "We have reduced medical costs," she continues. "Instead of paying medical coverage for two families, we only pay for one [for each married couple]."
Of course, married employees typically want to take their vacations (or personal time off) together, but Debbi says that's usually not a problem if you have strong internal communications and cross-training programs in place. What's often more of a problem is that couples sometimes focus too much on work and neglect their relationship. Debbi offers this advice: "Make sure they continue to 'date' each other."
Check with your local school board or adult-education agency for details on programs available in your area. Many workplace ESL programs can be customized to meet the needs of your specific industry and business goals.
Jacquelyn Lynn left the corporate world more than 13 years ago and has been writing about business and management from her home office in Winter Park, Florida, ever since.
Jade Systems Corp., (914) 265-3798, www.jadenet.com