Over the years we’ve worked with countless start-up and small healthcare businesses and one common thread is usually the employment of family and friends. This is certainly understandable, especially when launching a new company, since funds are usually tight and well, it’s a no-brainer to want to turn cheerleaders into workers. Over 20 years in consulting and decades more in health services management confirm that more often than not, this is a recipe for disaster. Here’s why:
1. Loved ones don’t always have your back.
In the start-up phase, desperation usually moves us to consider family to fill a new business’s employment needs. That can soon expand to friends, friends of friends and then the acquaintances of friends. While loyalty is certainly a factor, there is no ignoring the workplace trends across the generations. Skill, initiative and work ethic vary from Boomers to Millennials and though their hearts may be with you, their minds may be elsewhere. And the more diluted the family connection, the less “invested” individuals can be, simply taking advantage of a good situation: high trust coupled with #2 below.
2. It’s usually difficult to hold people accountable. And doubly so when they’re your relatives.
Whether they’re being paid or not, the idea that family and friends are “helping” you might be at the forefront and also make for a handy excuse to not put forth their best efforts. Colloquially speaking, whatchagonnado? Fire them? That’ll sure make for a happy home life and holiday gatherings! The more likely scenario is that you’ll accept less than their best because, frankly, you don’t know how to do otherwise. And you’ll begin hiring non-loved ones into your business, believing you can bolster your operations and thus…. What? Fire the relatives? Doubtful. From there, it’s a hop, skip & a jump to the double standard: family gets away with murder (getting paid for low performance) and the bulk of the work falls on “outsiders,” causing resentment and a loss of respect.
3. Things will end badly.
Family in the workplace in these scenarios never ends well. We’ve seen businesses take drastic steps after item #2 becomes unsustainable as the owners begin leaning on relatives to pull their weight. Often these are half-hearted attempts with no “teeth” to change the dynamic until something gives and you do the otherwise unthinkable: fire a family member. Aside from the personal chaos this decision may bring outside the workplace, it will cause ripples within as well. The more family and friends you employ, the more divisive this action will be, giving bitterness and resentment seats at the break room table.
What’s a business owner to do?
First of all, objectively (if possible) assess the performance and standards of the family and friends employed in your business – actually, of ALL the people employed in your business. If it’s difficult to truly be objective, consider bringing in a consultant to assess the operations. If relatives work as hard as everyone else, meet their responsibilities and bring about the results you expect, you’re truly blessed! Just make sure you treat everyone uniformly, not (at least blatantly) granting permissions to family that others don’t receive.
Chances are the above does not describe your business, and if so, you’ve got a long road with a definite and a positive end. First, assess your business operations and make sure that performance standards exist, are well communicated to everyone and are regularly monitored. You may need to take baby steps in this regard as you redefine how you want things done and who is responsible for what. Then, make it a point of measuring and monitoring for results on a regular basis. That means systematically and not just when your business is underperforming. Focus on the result and not the person, be quick to point out where workers are falling short and once again, clarify what you expect.
It helps to have a strong (non-family member) manager who can take on this role and add distance between you and the relatives. Give it time and a lot of coaching to evaluate everyone’s progress. If or when the terminations come, these individuals can’t say they didn’t see it coming because you’ve been assessing & correcting toward a concrete performance objective.