5 Rules for Working with Relatives

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Early last year, a Kenyan Bank invited me for a forum for SME’s who bank with them. It was great meeting different people and listening to different insights of how business is for them. The trainer gave us a case study of a fictional company which was run by a lady who hired her brother in-law as the accountant. Unfortunately for her, the brother in-law kept stealing even after forgiving him over and over again. This was a hot topic of discussion because different entrepreneurs have had extreme positives experiences with relatives, while others had negative experiences with these same family members. It got me wondering whether there are ways to work with a family member who will not compromise family relations or affect the business negatively.

The reasons why business persons do work with family members are that you can trust the person as you have known them for a long period of time, thus you are aware of their positive and negative attributes; and he team work may be reinforced especially if they feel part of the ownership of the company.

Entrepreneurs shy away from working with relatives because:

  • They may not draw the line between family and business relationship. They may not realise that a simple act of calling you by your nick name e.g. Mama James instead of Mrs. Kamau or even mannerism of being at home could be disrespectful to you.
  • The other issue is that they may anticipate better treatment or even think they can get away with performing a misconduct.
  • Disputes with relatives in the business can spill into family dynamics; one example is discipline or firing them.

It is important to follow these five rules once you hire your relatives:

  1. You must separate how one relate in the business and in the family: it is important for the business person on the first day to explain their views on how they expect to be addressed and what kind of role they are to play at work.
  2. Roles and responsibilities for family and non family members need to be stated clearly:  it is essential as you do not want to create political fractions or have disgruntled employees as they may see a clear sign of nepotism.
  3. Do not create two classes between family members and non family members: this can de-motivate good employees and can hurt business in the long run.
  4. Communicate openly with all employees: Miscommunication can lead to disputes occurring where dialogue was necessary. It is important for non employees to know that you are family members because if it is kept as a secret and they find out, it might be seen as a sign of mistrust. By ensuring good communication, you are also able to handle disputes with family members in a rational manner.
  5. Separate family decisions with business decisions: we can have decisions in a family that you may differ on and it is important to keep it separate from the work space.

It is important to set basic ground rules for working with family members as they need a chance to prove themselves especially if they are qualified.

What rules do you live by while working with a relative? Please share with us in the comments below.


Nyakio Kiruthu

Nyakio Kiruthu left the world of banking after 4years to venture into the world of business. She is a shareholder of Thayu Farm hotel, a family business. She holds a degree in Economics and Masters in International Business which enables her to explore the world of business through a unique perspective.




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