How to maintain successful working relationships with family members while running your small business

It’s likely you’ve previously been warned – that hiring family members to work in your small business could be one of the worst possible moves you can make. But you’ve done it anyway. Now, of course there are all sorts of benefits to working with family, but like most of us in this situation, you’re probably facing a few challenges. Let’s explore what steps can be taken to maintain successful working relationships with family members while running your small business…

1. Keep it professional by keeping your emotions in check

Our family tends to know us better than anyone. They’ve seen us at our best and our worst. Plus, we’re incredibly comfortable around them. These factors combined make it incredibly difficult to maintain our professionalism with them, or in their presence, when things don’t go to plan or when we feel frustrated. The best solution takes some practice and discipline, but it works. Think of your family members as being unrelated to you; at all times, offer them the same respect, time and open communication that you would expect yourself to provide any other employee of your organisation.

2. Be fair and define boundaries, or risk the consequences

Just as you expect your family members to do their best work, they too have the right to expect the best out of you, as they would any other employer. This includes providing them with a formal employment contract, training opportunities and the potential for advancement where possible. It’s also important that you never let work bleed into every corner of your life. If pillow talk with your significant other, or breakfast with the kids become consumed by business talk, then you have created a big problem for yourself. Remember to nurture quality relationships with family outside of your business. By demonstrating fairness and defining clear boundaries, you are showing their role within your business is valued. In turn, they’ll feel encouraged to match your efforts by helping your business succeed and grow.

3. Don’t let things get click-y

If you have a mix of family members and non-family working for you, you’ll likely need to take deliberate steps to ensure that an “us and them” culture doesn’t emerge. The risk is if those related to you are seen as getting special allowances, leniency or favours from the boss. Even the perception of special treatment can cause major damage to the culture of small business, resulting in gossip, reduced productivity or high turnover. To help create a sense of unity amongst your team, try holding a weekly team meeting with an agenda that gives all staff the opportunity to share a little about their current workload, ideas and recent successes, and where you highlight your priorities for the week ahead.

4. Don’t be afraid to part ways if it really isn’t working

If things are really not working out, despite your best efforts, it’s likely the issue is related in some way to professional or cultural fit. If your family member feels obligated to contribute to your business, but their heart isn’t in it, or they’re unsuited to the type of work you’re giving them, then a conversation needs to be had. Take time to understand the root cause of the issue, and have an open, honest and non-confrontational talk about what the ideal outcome might be.

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