Family members are attracted to the family business for a number of reasons. Most of my clients are thrilled to have their offspring involved in their businesses and many have high aspirations for their children. The truth is, family members can represent a profound asset especially if they enter the business with humility, adequate training, and meaningful prior work experience. These individuals tend to be a delight to have around and are relatively easy to manage. Conversely, entitlement, arrogance and a less-than-stellar work ethic can be problematic. So what happens when a family member does not carry his or her weight?

Managing this situation can be quite daunting to parents and also those asked to mentor and manage a rebellious family member employee, as the following story reflects. Harold, a senior executive, made the following statement:

“This is really frustrating! He comes in late, leaves early, is not following through on his assignments and I do not know what to do next. If he was not a family member, I would have fired him already. The worst part is, I am not sure how to handle this situation since he could be my boss in the future.”

What a tenuous situation! As a non-family manager, providing objective, honest feedback to a family member employee can be difficult. 

Though situations like this occur more often than you might imagine, the parents of the employed child are responsible for reconciling this sort of situation. Parents basically have two choices: support the manager by holding their child accountable (and be willing to fire their child if coaching and redirection prove unsuccessful), or turn a blind eye to the situation. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place! The fact is, both choices have implications. From a parental perspective there is a risk that family relationships will suffer if accountability is enforced. It can be difficult, awkward and uncomfortable for parents to be mom/dad and boss at the same time. Avoiding the issue of a less-than-productive family member employee can reinforce the child’s immature behavior, impede the child’s professional development and also frustrate managers/employees. Indirectly, morale and business productivity can also be impacted. 

Fortunately, there was a happy ending to this story but the outcome did not come without much debate, fear, anguish and trepidation. The business owner in this case had worked diligently to develop and implement policies for Family Member Employment and Expectations prior to employing any family members. Additionally, the parents communicated this critical information to all family members in an effort to avoid situations such as this from happening. In short, everyone in the family clearly understood the prerequisites and expectations of employment in the family business. This child was simply testing the boundaries. While there was an opportunity for the parents to cave, the business-owner parents chose to enforce the policies and support the manager, which in turn sent a powerful message to both the actively employed child and also the organization: entitlement attitudes and patronizing family members is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. 

  • How would you have handled this situation if you were the business owner parent?
  • As a manager in this situation, would you have had the courage to provide objective, honest feedback and put yourself and potentially your job at risk?

If you can’t answer these questions for yourself or your managers and you have children in your business or children potentially coming into the business, perhaps it’s time to consider policies for Family Member Employment and Expectations. Having clearly defined expectations can minimize emotions and establish protocols when it comes to dealing with family member employees. Trust me, it can save you a lot of heartache and assist in preserving family relationships. 

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