Lara Mulawka

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Challenges of working with family members and how to solve them

Working with family members is commonplace, whether it’s in a capacity of a partnership or a boss/employee situation. And it can be a rewarding experience to work with family members but there will likely be challenges and complications involved. With a few strategies implemented and actions taken, however, solving these challenges will not only be doable but will also contribute to a more effective work environment for everyone – the family members, other employees and even the customers themselves.

Here are six common challenges of working with family members. Each one is paired with a solution to help achieve a more harmonious work environment.

  1. Not treating family members differently

    Working with family challenge: One could argue the single most important rule when working with family members is to keep things consistent and fair by treating family members no differently than you would another employee in the same position. For example, if a company rule exists that all salaried full-time employees get two weeks of paid vacation a year, than that needs to apply to family members as well. If say the family member was given three weeks, well, it’s not difficult to foresee problems over the lack of fairness and the appearance of “special treatment.”

    Solution: The same rules need to apply to all employees, family members included, if you don’t want your other employees to develop animosity.

  2. Keeping personal matters personal and business matters business

    Working with family challenge: When working with family members, the line between one’s work life and personal life can get blurred, causing friction in both places.

    Solution: A surefire way to halt this is to keep your family life separate from your work life. Sure, this is not easy to do, especially if the family members who work together also live together, but regardless, it’s very important to establish boundaries between the two worlds and hold to them. Bringing your personal baggage to the workplace will only cause problems for everyone – including those who work around you who should not be put in the position of having to take sides or hear about their coworker’s/boss’s personal affairs in the first place. Be aware of the boundaries you set and stay true to them.

  3. Not allowing for nepotism

    Working with family challenge: Nepotism occurs when a relative or friend is given special treatment because of their relationship with a person in a position of power or influence. When this happens, others in the workplace take notice and grow resentful of such special treatment.

    Solution: One sure way to discourage nepotism is to only work with family members qualified for the position they are granted and then additionally not treating them any differently in that position (see Challenge #1.) To make sure your family member is qualified, do your due diligence like you would any other hire. What are their skills and qualifications for the job they are applying for and do they fit? Remember, making exceptions in this department for those you are related to will only cause strife in the future for yourself and the company.

  4. Getting it in writing

    Working with family challenge: Often times family members agree to something verbally or with a handshake and while that’s all nice and good, at the end of the day, it doesn’t amount to much in terms of legally protecting yourself.

    Solution: While everyone wants to think family members won’t go back on their word, why take the risk? Wouldn’t it be best to lay out the facts clearly in writing so everyone involved can accept responsibility and make the commitment properly. Taking the time to do things legitimately will help ensure that should things ever go sour, you’re protected and who said and agreed to what will be clearly defined.

  5. Leaving familiarity at the door

    Working with family challenge: Family members typically know one other better than most others do and while knowing the history of someone isn’t inherently a bad thing for the workplace, it can certainly be problematic. Suppose you work with your significant other. Displaying affection in the office can make others you work with uncomfortable and is not appropriate for the setting, even though kissing and referring to one another as ‘Honey’ feels natural. Familiarity can breed an over-casual tone in the workplace.

    Solution: Being vigilant to keep relationships professional at work will help others from feeling uncomfortable.

  6. Clearly defining job duties and responsibilities

    Working with family challenge: Sometimes, when hiring a family member, you’re faced with an employee who thinks they can slack off or not work as hard because they “know the boss.”

    Solution: Establishing the job responsibilities of the position you hire a family member for will help this not to occur. Be clear and concise with job descriptions, leaving no room for interpretation. Also, discuss what each person is expecting from the working relationship while being transparent about your goals for working together. Again, put it in writing (see challenge #4). Let family members know what is expected of them just as you would an employee you are not related to and detail it in writing so everyone is in agreement.

Working with family members can certainly have its benefits – built trust, commonalities, shared goals, support – but the situation can lend itself to challenges for the exact same reasons. Taking the time to be aware, prepared, and in agreement for working with family can help ensure the benefits far outweigh the challenges.

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