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Colborn’s Corner: Jobs for the boys?


Quentin Colborn

Few reading the headlines recently can have failed to notice the furore about MP Derek Conway and his alleged misuse of House of Commons funds in employing his two sons to do Parliamentary work. But are all recruitment decisions free of bias? Quentin Colborn examines favouritism at work.

You might think that the employment of your two sons for a relatively short period, on a reasonably low salary would be of no interest to others. However, as Derek Conway found to his cost, this is not the case when you are an MP.

Suspended from the Commons, having the Tory whip removed, and then effectively forced into standing down at the next election is the price to be paid, making the rewards of employment seem pretty small.

Without being unfair, it may be reasonable to assume that Conway appointed his two sons in the absence of open competition and with little or nothing in the way of a job specification.

It would never happen anywhere else – or would it? How many roles in organisations we work within are filled with little or no reference to the true needs of the business?

How many organisations have clear procedures in place so that when roles becomes vacant, there is a review to ensure they need to be filled?

I would suggest in many, but not all, organisations, there is an inbuilt assumption that the departure of an employee is the trigger for automatic replacement. We do our colleagues a disservice if we carry on in this manner.

Phone a friend

Many organisations run ‘refer a friend’ schemes or similar, so where do issues of nepotism come in here? My view is that if properly designed and run, such schemes can really benefit both the employee and employer.

From the employees’ perspective, there is the opportunity to earn extra cash for relatively little work; from the employers’ view, there is the opportunity to be presented with candidates who already have a positive perspective on the organisation.

Of course, there are dangers of abuse, but these can surely be managed with the added benefit of creating brand ambassadors who will take out the message of the employer’s status into the job marketplace.

Another aspect of employing relatives that comes into play is what happens when things go wrong. I work with a number of family businesses and, while relationships work smoothly most of the time, there are occasions when personal relationships fall out – but the individuals have to work together.

So what do you do in situations such as this? In my experience, the family members are quite adept at wearing at least two hats, those of employees and those of work colleague. However, this does not work in every case and I can image that under the scrutiny of public gaze this may become much more difficult.

When in the public eye, of course there is always the danger of keeping work within the family presenting vulnerabilities, in that there may be less challenge as to the correctness of decisions and possibly even ethics.

Within larger organisations, this of course is a role often performed by HR colleagues; outside HR advisors have a role to play here being able to challenge where appropriate, but seen to have no vested interest in the outcome.

Do you work in, or for, a family-run organisation? What are the positives and pitfalls of working in this environment? Do you think there can be a lack of external scrutiny, or is there a much greater commitment to the cause so that team members work harder and in a more committed manner than in other employers? Let’s hear your views and experiences.

Quentin Colborn is an independent HR consultant based in Essex who advises management teams on operational and strategic HR issues. Quentin can be contacted on 01376 571360 or via [email protected]. For further information, please visit:

One Response

  1. It was rather more than that
    £45,000 to one son with no evidence of him actually doing anything … that’s not a small matter, surely?

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