My Spouse is My Boss: Should I stay or should I go? I left my Marketing Manager position at another company to be the V.P. of Marketing in my husband’s business that he own. I have been with the company for a year, and I pretty much never do marketing, and am always asked to fill in for any administrative or human resources fires that arise. I left my executive status position to do the work (and get the respect) of an entry level administrative assistant. Also, my husband can be very critical of the work that is not even suppose to be part of my job. I suggested him hiring an assistant but he won’t do it because I can’t afford to right now. I am worried this is going to really hurt our relationship. Is there a way to make it work, or should I quit and try to get my old position back?
Signed, Feeling Unappreciated
My Brother is My Worst Employee: I think I have to fire my brother because he is my worst employee. Perpetually absent, does everything on a superficial level, and avoids responsibility like the plague. He is super pleasant to work with until you ask him to do anything hard or solve a problem, and then he is argumentative, defensive and sucks all of my time, and makes me look ridiculous in front of the rest of the staff. A month ago my Manager quit and my brother seemed to be between jobs and was looking to get out of sales and into management. We had always gotten along, so it seemed like a great opportunity for both of us. Now I am wondering if firing him is my only option?
Signed, Ready to Blow
Both of these situations are far more common than you might think. The trouble brews in family business much earlier than when the sparks start to fly. The family business woes are actually born when you first agree to work with family, and not laying the groundwork as thoroughly as you should. No worries though, it’s never too late. Follow these rule for engaging in family business without ruining the family.
- Due Diligence – In my experience, the main underlying factor in family business trouble is that everyone feels they are doing someone else a favor. In “My Spouse is My Boss” the wife thinks she is helping out her husband out while cash flow is tight, and she sacrificed her professional position to do so. The husband may feel the V.P. position is a step up, and he is giving his wife a promotion opportunity she might otherwise have so quickly in her career. And, in “My Brother is My Worst Employee” the owner thought she was offering her brother a chance to change professions and show him the ropes, and the brother thought he was putting out a major fire for his sister’s business for a salary lower than he would make in sales. Before jumping to a family business relationship be sure you look objectively at least 10 other options so you are realistic about how your family option compares. So interview at least 10 people before hiring a family member or look at least 10 other jobs before agreeing to work for family. This activity will shine a light on the truth. Do you really want to work for the family business, or are you really escaping something else? Do you really feel the family member you are considering has the best skills for what your business needs or are they just in the right place at the right time and seem like an available choice.
- Well Defined Roles – Once you have decided to explore the family business relationship define roles carefully. Be as clear about title, organization chart, job description, advancement opportunities, expected hours, vacation benefits, and everything else that you would negotiate with any other employment relationship. If partnership or profit sharing are involved it should be laid out in writing ahead of time, and even in a legal document crafted by an attorney in regards to partnership, so everyone knows what they are agreeing to. When defining the roles be sure to discuss a broad range of things like will the job duties ever fluctuate, what happens when your kids on are school break, do the hours change, and what are the anticipated most challenging parts of the job. One of the big sticking points is often performance reviews. It’s never comfortable to review the performance of a family member, or to receive that review. Be sure you discuss how this will go, and what will be the areas that are reviewed. If you forged ahead and roles were not defined well at the start, put it on the agenda for your next “new year” or strategic planning time.
- Thoroughly Understand and Value Everyone’s Talents – If you are the boss, then you need to truly understand the strengths and weaknesses of who you are hiring so you be sure you are able to utilize their talent and they will feel valuable. If you are the employee then realize that your boss’ role is whatever their role is, which may not be your personal trainer. Loss of respect is one of the biggest risks in this relationship tightrope you are walking, so it is important everyone keeps in mind what we value about each other, and maintain respect at all times.
- See Something, Say Something. When working with family it can be hard to communicate when you are unhappy about something but it is important that you do, and do it early. Building up pent up frustrations can lead to explosions, and people taking work feedback personally.
- Keep Work at Work, and Home at Home – There are to be no side-digs about careless errors at Thanksgiving dinner. In fact, even positive talk about work should be avoided in a home environment, because that can open the door to negative work conversations. Bending these rules can sneak up on you. Like when the owner has a great work idea at 7:00pm and taps into family member’s personal cell phone to discuss it. Or when family member employee has exhausted their share of vacation time, but asks for extra days off because they have a great opportunity to take mom somewhere. Or, family member employee revealing way too much information about his intestinal problems and excessively requesting relief from deadlines. When you notice that professional-personal line being blurred change the subject and get things back on track.
- Get While the Getting is Good – When work stresses get too much ask yourself if this is still a deal you want to make. Don’t keep the deal going just because it’s comfortable. Ask yourself if this was another job, or another employee would you keep the work arrangement? If the answer is no, then part ways before your relationship dwindles.