Take, for instance, Kristina Vystartaite, spa director of Radiance Wellness Spa, who runs the Santa Monica, California-based facility with her mother, Diana Ralys. She reports that working together makes most situations seamless, as they immediately understand what the other is saying. “We don’t need to elaborate to get the point across, so things get done very fast,” she says. “When Diana has an idea, the turnaround is rapid as we both fuel each other with energy.”
On the flip side, it can be difficult to separate personal history from work circumstances, which can result in emotions creeping into the business environment. Another drawback is that the rest of your staff may view the hiring itself as an act of nepotism—and a sign of favoritism to come.
At the end of the day, what all employees want is to be treated fairly and consistently.“The most important thing is that personalities are removed, and the needs of the business and other staff members are always considered first,” offers Wynne Business senior consultant Lisa Starr, based in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.
Here are some tips on how to hire and work with family and friends without bias—negative or positive— affecting the status quo.
1) Set Ground Rules: Before any paperwork is signed, both parties should have a candid talk to establish key ground rules. Starr advises that the same written position description should be shared with the family member as with any other new prospect. “The job duties and expectations should be made very clear, and the spa owner must fully understand the employee’s rights,” she says. For example, they might think it’s OK to allow a family member to work the front desk for six hours without a change of duty, but that would be unfair, and also sets the wrong example for the rest of the staff.
2) Communicate Effectively: Denise Willinger, owner of Serenity Spa in Louisville, Kentucky, has nine staff members working for her, including her daughter and niece. Clear communication is vital with any employee, but especially with family, she states. “Say what you mean and mean what you say,” advises Willinger. “If it helps, let someone else handle tasks at which they excel. We have a team manager who deals with day-to-day operations as well as quarterly performance reviews.”3) Establish Clear Boundaries: According to Vystartaite, working with family can be an incredible experience— provided you set the necessary boundaries. “My mom and I have respect for each other and neither of us ever plays the ‘you’re my mother/ you’re my daughter’ card,” she discloses. “People are often surprised that I call my mom Diana at the workplace, but it wouldn’t be professional if I didn’t.”
4) Be the Boss: Starr knows a husband and wife team who operate a successful salon/spa and enjoy the family- like atmosphere, but find that employees can play the owners off of one another. “Staff members will ask the person most likely to give them the answer they’re looking for, rather than ask the one responsible for addressing that particular situation,” she says. “These issues can create a constant stream of low-level disruption.” In other words, act like a boss, not a buddy.
5) Don’t Be Afraid to Criticize: One of the most difficult parts of working with people you know is what to do when they make a mistake. If you scold one employee, you can’t go easier (or harder) on friends or family. Willinger reveals that hiring the team manager to handle such issues was one of the best decisions she ever made. “Having that trust and constant communication assures there is no bias with any team member, including family,” she reports.
6) Leave Personal Issues at Home: Many people confide in their coworkers about problems at home or things going on in their lives, but this can become tricky when working with the family and friends at the root of those conversations. Vystartaite feels it’s important that family life not
be discussed in front of clients or other employees. “Keep those conversations for the dinner table,” she says.
7) Explore Exit Strategies: Friends or family are often hired to help out at the launch of a business, during busy times or when an employee leaves unexpectedly. The job, therefore, is typically meant to be temporary. Starr suggests talking about an exit strategy at the very beginning so that everyone knows exactly when that will be. “If the employee/family member shows no signs of departing as the end date approaches, that has to be discussed,” she recommends.
–by Keith Loria