The Pros and Cons of Employing Family

Joel Beverley

Jul 2014 ⋅ 3 min read

When running a small business, finding competent, reliable staff is a difficult task. You don't often know who you are dealing with, or whether they are up to the job until you throw them in at the deep end. A common solution for a lot of business owners, particularly those just starting out, is to turn to family for help.

Family can often seem (particularly to many new business owners) a gold mine of readily-available, reliable workers. You may have a plethora of young, enthusiastic sons, daughters, nieces and nephews looking for some part time work; or perhaps a sibling or spouse seeking employment.

Yet, while there are many positives aspects to employing family members, there are also negatives which should be considered fully before roping in every auntie, uncle and second cousin to help out with the weekend's extra shifts.

+ You know who they are

You never truly know who you've hired until they are thrown in at the deep end

Hiring staff is always a gamble. References can help give you an idea of a prospective employee's track record, but you never truly know if they're up to the task until you trial them out.

The "unknown quantity" factor isn't as much of an issue when recruiting family members. You will already have some degree of personal relationship with them that can provide an early insight into their work ethic and whether their personality and skills are suited to your business.

- Personal working relationships can conflict

The flip-side of "knowing who they are" is that if you hire a family member and, for whatever reason, it doesn't work out, your personal relationship with them now becomes an issue rather than a benefit.

Reprimanding or sacking family members in particular, can have repercussions that extend beyond the workplace. Not only do you risk damaging your personal relationship with that individual but, depending on how other relatives react, it can even lead to rifts in the family as whole.

However, this doesn't mean you should avoid treating family members as regular employees. Ultimately, you're running a business, and managing staff is part and parcel of running it successfully. If you do not act because you are afraid of the personal consequences, then you risk compromising yours and your family's livelihood.

If you are considering hiring family members, you must be prepared to sacrifice your personal relationship with them if necessary, or risk jeopardising the productivity and profitability of your business.

+ Easy to contact and flexible

When you are short staffed, finding cover quickly can be a struggle. One of the major benefits of employing family is that they are generally easier to get hold of and are, for the most part, willing to go that bit further to help you out.

But if you abuse this personal relationship too often, the family member will likely begin to resent the fact that their good will is being exploited. This can impact their productivity and be damaging to both your working and personal relationship with them.

Try to restrict how often you call upon your family's goodwill to help you out. If you are frequently having staffing problems, then sack the deadwood who are never available and hire new employees who are willing to work. Family will bail you out in emergencies, but if you repeatedly abuse your position then do not be surprised when they hand in their notice.

- Preferential treatment

As human beings it is in our instinctive nature to take care of our families.  In the workplace this is no different. Staff who are related to their employer will receive a degree of preferential treatment over those who are not family. It is inevitable and simply a natural part of working for a family business.

Whilst a reasonable amount of personal bias towards family members is difficult to avoid, if taken to the extreme it is only matter of time before other staff members are not so understanding. This can lead to a toxic working environment where working relationships breakdown, productivity diminishes and as a consequence your business suffers.

It's a tough issue to handle, and is essentially a balancing act between keeping family members happy, so that they don't feel detached from their personal relationship with you, and restricting your instinctive nepotism to prevent any bad blood between you, your family, and staff who aren't related.


Employing family members is clearly a minefield to navigate. There are many positives that benefit your business when hiring your kin, simply because you know them and they know you. They generally make flexible, reliable employees, who will work hard for you, and not simply for their pay cheque.

On the other hand, there are also many potential pitfalls, which can be damaging if handled incorrectly. Try to maintain a balance between your personal relationship and working relationship with family members in the workplace.

Preferential treatment of family members is natural and expected, so long as it is within reason. At the same time, they are still employees as well, and reprimanding and even dismissing incompetent family members is necessary for your company's continued success.

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