You’ve raised your children, seen them through school, and watched them become good, gainfully employed people. Suddenly, a job opens up at your company, and you know exactly the right candidate—your son or daughter.
Whether you’re in a family-owned business, closely held company, or even a large corporation, hiring family members can be fraught with potential issues ranging from accusations of nepotism to morale issues caused by perceived favoritism. However, there may be times when your son or daughter is a strong candidate and would be an asset to the company. What do you do?
Large, well-established companies typically have formal policies around hiring and supervising family members, but mid-sized or smaller companies may be navigating new territory, says Tom Hubler, founder of Minneapolis-based family business consultancy Hubler for Business Famiies, Inc. Encourage your child to apply through the proper channels and meet with the appropriate personnel to ensure that the hiring process is fair.
When Foster Mobley, EdD, considered hiring his daughter at FMG Leading, the San Diego-based management and leadership consulting company he founded, he wanted to ensure that she was the right person for the job, and for her to have the best chances for success. He says that people know their child’s strengths, but they also remember the weaknesses, acts of defiance, and other personal interactions. He sought out the advice of a consultant who works with family-owned businesses. He advised Mobley to "have her carry water for a year"—in other words, to work at jobs that would allow her to learn the business and ensure that she was knowledgeable about the company and well-suited for her role.
Hubler says you have to be clear about expectations and have a common understanding about the role your son or daughter will play in the organization, as well as factors such as career plan, leadership development, and compensation. "It’s just like in a baseball game. If you get to any Major League Baseball game early enough, you’ll see the managers and umpires get together at home plate to go over the ground rules so they have a clear understanding of what’s going to be fair and what’s going to be foul before they even start playing," he says.
For a variety of reasons, Hubler says it’s best if your adult child holds one or more jobs at other companies before working with you. First, it will prove to both of you that he or she can succeed in a workplace on his or her own. The experience will also show him or her how other companies operate, make decisions, and cultivate their culture. In addition, your adult child will learn new skills and insight that could ultimately benefit your company.
Tom Crowley, founder and CEO of MBX Systems in Libertyville, Illinois, hired his son and daughter for summer jobs while they were going to school. When each joined the company full-time, he put up a few professional barriers. He appointed other managers to supervise them to reduce any appearance of favoritism. He encourages managers to be forthright about issues or concerns. He makes it clear that he welcomes that feedback, because it’s going to help everyone be more successful, he says.
Hubler says it's a good idea to have people who are not family members supervise your son or daughter to ensure that he or she can operate within the company structure as other employees do. He also advises having third parties involved in hiring evaluations and performance evaluations, too.
Mobley says that hiring his daughter changed the way they communicated. They set boundaries for when they would speak at work, and when they wouldn’t. Mobley couldn’t—and didn’t want to—get involved in every work challenge his daughter was having, so he had to willfully stay out of some situations where she was struggling, even when that was hard, he says. They were able to reach a level of candor about work and boundaries that preserved their personal and professional relationships, he says.
There can be a temptation to be informal when hiring family members, but that’s a mistake, Hubler says. Being too informal about vetting and hiring your son or daughter can lead other employees to feel like the workplace is unfair, and may hurt morale. At the same time, being cavalier about your child’s job role, training, and career path isn’t fair to him or her and will likely lead to dissatisfaction later on, he says. Institute systems of performance appraisals and training so your son or daughter can progress appropriately based on his or her skill, experience, and knowledge.