The Risky Business of Hiring a Family Member

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Practically Speaking is a weekly column that addresses your most pressing business dilemmas. The advice is the opinion of long-time business owner Gene Marks. Send your questions to

My sister’s husband has been out of work for a few months now and I’m starting to pick up the signs that I should be hiring him at my company. He’s a nice guy and all but I’m not really sure this is the best idea. What do you think?

I think not. Unless this guy is truly a superstar, or you see something in him that could really provide a value to your company, it’s probably best to avoid hiring him. Bringing on family members leads you down a slippery slope. You risk resentment from other employees. You risk an uncomfortable overlap at family functions. You risk your business affairs being exposed to other family members. And, worst of all, if he doesn’t perform well, you’re facing a very awkward situation. In just about every instance I’ve seen over the past 20 years where a business owner throws a bone to relative and brings him or her on, it usually ends in tears.

But here’s another idea: commit to helping him get a job. Rather than suffer through the downsides of hiring him yourself, take the time out and go through your contacts. Introduce him to others in your community. Help to set up interviews. Provide positive (if they are positive) references. Do whatever you can to place him somewhere else. This is win-win-win: your relative hopefully finds employment, your business colleague fills a need and you don’t have to deal with all the downsides of hiring a family member.

I’m a business owner and golfer. It often happens that I get invited by my suppliers to play golf during the day. I feel kind of guilty doing this while my employees are working away. I’m the boss, right? Should I feel guilty?

I know what you want me to say. You want me to say “Sure, go ahead. You work hard. You’re the boss. You can do whatever you want.” And to a large extent, that’s correct. In the end your business is your business – you can make it as successful as you want. You can put in whatever time you think is necessary. And besides, in the end you’re ultimately responsible and the one taking all the risk. You get your job done fine and one of the rewards of being the boss is that you can play golf in the middle of the day. That’s what you want me to say.

Except I’m not going to say it. We all have things we would rather be doing than being at work. But as a business owner you must lead by example. And trust me, your employees know when you’re disappearing on a sunny afternoon. Golf is a great networking activity and for many can be a useful business builder. But it needs to be done in moderation. The same goes for any activity that pulls you out of your company.

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