How to work together without killing each other

When bringing family members into your business, discuss touchy issues such as salary, schedule flexibility and reviews up front. Then put it all in writing.

Having trouble hiring for your small business? Don’t know where you’ll find workers? Well, as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz might have said, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” Perhaps the best people to hire are those in your very own family.

Whether it’s because of the “Great Recession” or the “Great Retirement,” according to a survey by Verizon, 60% of small businesses have had trouble filling open positions. Graduations and summer are coming, and many family members may be ripe for hiring.

There are lots of good reasons to work with family members. You trust them (usually). You know what their skills and talents are (more or less). They’re easier to recruit than strangers (mostly).

There are tons of pitfalls, too. If you still want to be talking to one another (without cursing) by the time the holidays come around, keep these eight keys to successfully working with family members in mind.

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1.  Develop clear job descriptions

In a small business, typically everyone wears several hats. It’s still a good idea to make sure you spell out everyone’s primary role – whether sales, administration, financial management, whatever. If you’re trying to groom the next generation, you may want to rotate jobs from time to time, but give each person an area of responsibility, a job description and title.

2. Be clear about working hours

Your husband has to pick up the kids at 3:00? You have yoga four days a week at 10 a.m.? Your brother-in-law is going to take a month off for his annual fishing trip? One great thing about working with family is the ability to have flexibility, especially on working hours and vacations. To avoid resentments, discuss working hours and vacation time BEFORE you begin to work together. 

3.  Agree on pay

Money is always a touchy subject, especially between relatives. NOT talking clearly and definitely about pay with a family member who works with you is a sure way to create an untenable working relationship and probably lifelong tensions. Discuss pay well before you begin working together. Be clear about when salaries and bonuses can be renegotiated. 

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4.   Put it in writing

Whatever the job description, whatever the hours, whatever the pay, make sure everyone involves understands. The best way to avoid miscommunication and conflict? Put these decisions in writing.     

5.  Discuss where you’re going to work

Are you sure you want to work from home with your spouse? Really? That’s a lot of togetherness. Can you really share an office with your brother, son, mother for 40 hours a week? Sometimes the best way to work with a family member is to have at least a little bit of “social distancing” at work.

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6.  Decide how you’ll make decisions

 Having a clear and fair decision-making process avoids lots of fights and bad feelings among family members. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to make all decisions by consensus or by a vote – as the owner, you may want to retain all critically important decisions yourself. Just be clear about what types of decisions others can make, then let them make them.  

7.  Figure out how you’ll give feedback

This is where working with a family member gets really tricky. If your son resents you telling him to clean up his room at home, he’s not going to enjoy having you tell him how to improve on the job at work. As soon as a family member comes on board, let him know that there will be a performance review after the first 30 days and every six months after that. Be objective and constructive – not critical. Do this at the office, not at home. And leave anything that happened outside the office out of performance reviews.

8.  Keep family dynamics out of the workplace and workplace dynamics out of the home

Keep it professional when you walk through the office door. If you’re the parent, listen to your kids’ ideas. If you’re the kid, don’t write off your parents’ ideas as old-fashioned. Try not to bring negative old patterns of family interaction into the workplace, and when you’re at home or family gatherings, try not to talk too much about work. 

Avi Adkins

Avi Adkins is a seasoned journalist with a passion for storytelling and a keen eye for detail. With years of experience in the field, Adkins has established himself as a respected figure in journalism.

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