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Jamie Lawrence


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Would you be able to fire a family member?


This article originally appeared on our sister site BusinessZone and was written by Sue Ingram of Converse Well.

Hiring a family member is easy. Perhaps they arrived to help you out over a busy period or when they needed the money. Possibly they were what the business needed ten years ago, but the situation has now changed and they are no longer right for the job role.

Whatever the reason, if you are running a business and have employed a family member there could come the time when you need to fire them. Firing any member of staff can be difficult, firing a family member even more so. Consequently extra time and care needs to be taken. After all you may be facing them over the Christmas table for many years to come.

To begin with the same basic principles apply when firing a brother, son or aunt as they do for firing any employee:

  1. You must genuinely want what is the best for the individual at all points during the process. Fortunately what is best for them will also be best for the business. Consequently your only concern is that they become successful and fulfilled by their work, be that with you or elsewhere
  2. State the truth. It may take some time to identifying what that is, and certainly some time to present it correctly, but you will be talking to someone who knows you well and will recognise euphuism or a lie immediately. If you do not tell the truth it will build resentment and bitterness later
  3. Follow employment law and process to the letter. Do not think that just because they are family there is no need to bother. If you do not have your own written policies then you will be expected to following the procedures set out

Where firing a family member does differ from an employee is the extra time it will take to plan the right approach. It might also cost you more money (see below). However, as each family history and situation will be unique I would strongly suggest discussing your situation with a professional advisor, coach or HR specialist before taking action.

However, to help you to consider what is possible I’ve included three common scenarios and suggested actions to take.

They are clearly taking the mick

This usually occurs with younger family members. They seem to think that the family connection means that they can come and go as they please and swan around making impressive noises, but failing to actually deliver anything to the business.

In this case, you may decide to take the straightforward route as an employer and fire them as you would any employee. Do it by the book and allow them to learn an important life lesson.

You sense they are staying because they are stuck

This is common. Sometimes family members start working with you, not because they are skilled at what is required or are enthusiastic to do the job, but because they need an income. Other times they joined you enthusiastic, but over time have become bored and rather than move on they stayed. Now they are dragging themselves around the workplace and bringing others down to their pedestrian way of working.

An individual can fill in a job role that bores for them for about 6 to 12 months with no harm being done. However, any longer and the situation begins to become difficult.

A job they are not naturally good at or interested in means that, with the best will in the world, they will not be delivering. They are experiencing failure and this will slowly erode their self-esteem, confidence, and over time they fall into powerless and helplessness.

This is a situation where everyone loses, but particularly the individual themselves. They now find themselves stuck in a situation they hate, but perversely seem unable to leave it. It is up to you to step in and end it.

The way to introduce this is to be truthful and state what you have noticed. First start with identifying how they are failing in the job role, exactly as you would for any employee. This may be in terms of deliverables or attitude and approach to work. Also confirm that you want them to stay if these key, essential elements are changed and improved.

Once they have this message then go onto to say: ‘[Name] I can’t help gaining the impression that you are not enjoying this job role. It is important that everyone enjoys the majority of their work, especially my [aunt, brother]. The reason I am beginning to think this is the case is [list all of evidence that lead you to this conclusion: lateness, sour face, dismissive tone].’

Expect them to deny the situation at first, this is normal. Respond with ‘Um, I am still concerned that this might be the case. It is so important that we enjoy our work and therefore it is important that you think about this. Do you really enjoy working here or are you just working here out of habit? You deserve so much more than just treading water in a job that is merely OK for you.’

Now you have started the conversation and hopefully got them thinking. It might be that they come back and agree with you, but if they are really stuck in helplessness they will say nothing. In which case you will need to speak again: ‘[Name] I still have the impression that you are not happy with the role [list evidence again].’ Then suggest that you hire a confidential career coach for them to explore their options.

These professionals are experts at helping people identifying their strengths, talents and interests, and identifying a job role that meets them all. They also help people with their CVs, marketing skills and interview techniques. In short, they can help your family member move out and onto a job where their likelihood of success and fulfilment are greatly increased. Yes, it will cost money, but in reality the situation is already costing money in terms of their salary and the detrimental effect they are having on your business, to say nothing of your own frustration levels.

One example where this was clearly the solution was the owner of a business who was employing his step-son’s fiancée to work on a production line. A job she had no interest in and no-one was looking good in this situation, least of all the owner. When asked what he thought she really wanted to do he immediately answered: ‘She wants to be a chef’.  The answer to this situation was simple; stop paying her to sit at the side of a production line and fund her training; same money very different outcomes.

What if communication has truly broken down?

What happens if you cannot introduce any topic to them without it being taken negatively and turning into an argument? If this is the case then your business is undoubtedly being badly affected. No employee of any worth will stay in a situation where they spending all of their time playing the go between with family members who are not fully communicating. Retaining employees will become impossible and your business will stagnant.

If you are faced with this situation there is only one way to go. Hire a professional mediator and do it immediately. Again it will cost and take time. However, these are skilled people who know how to help each side identify and say what needs to be said in order to find a way forward.

So many emotional undercurrents are in play when dismissing a family member. Each case will be unique, so be sure to take advice and employ professionals who are able to help you find the right answer for your situation. However, do take action, it changes lives for the better not just your business!

2 Responses

  1. Would you be able to fire a
    Would you be able to fire a family member?
    I had to – we needed an office junior and my husband cousin’s son just finished school. I hired him, went through an in depth induction advising on the intricacies of working in the professional environment.

    The department manager proved to be quite understanding, trying to get the boy to learn the ropes for over 10 months – to no avail. Sadly, the boy was not keen on learning and I had to choice but to terminate his contract. it wasn’t nice, but a lot of HR tasks are not 🙁

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

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