There are so many shapes and sizes of family
businesses in Atlantic Canada, from husband-and-wife entrepreneurs
just starting out, to well established household names. I don't
wish to generalize, but there are some things that many family
businesses have in common. The titular fox refer to the general
reluctance felt by many small, family business owners about
bringing in "non-family" employees.
How can you balance family harmony with the growth of your
business? How can you maintain the sense of intimacy, collegiality,
and loyalty which is integral to the success of your family
business in the first place? How can you make sure that the new
additions fit in to your close-knit group and add value?
There may be excellent reasons to bring in an "outsider"
to your family business, even if it may initially seem
uncomfortable, risky or unwanted. The particular skill set that is
needed may not exist within your family. You may simply need more
people to manage your growing business! The objective perspective
brought by a non-family member may add considerable value - and
turn out to be anything but the proverbial "fox".
Retention will be key, particularly if your business is small.
Think about how you can keep your employees happy and productive.
An obvious answer may be salary and other monetary benefits, but
for a smaller business, this can make times tough if there is a
downturn in revenues. Perhaps you can use the unique structure of
your business to offer extra flexibility or non-monetary benefits.
Some opt to give high-level employees a share in the company, but
if this is not palatable to your family, another option is to offer
bonuses or incentives which are tied to the prosperity of the
Working with a family member can be by turns rewarding, and
frustrating. If you are called upon to manage or direct family
members as well as other employees, inconsistency in your
management "rules" can cause headaches for employees and
managers alike. Non-family employees may feel slighted - resentful
even - if members of the owner's family consistently receive
preferential (or tougher) treatment. While it is not realistic to
treat everyone exactly the same, strive for fairness in managing
all your employees. Apply the same standards and consequences
(within reason) to all, family or otherwise.
It is my preference to avoid giving non-earned benefits to family
members who do not work for the company. Special favours given to
family or friends can have a demotivating effect on your
When you are running a family business, you may not have a
dedicated HR or labour relations department. Many entrepreneurs
tend to be "jack of all trade" types who simply do
everything that is needed to keep the business running. It is
worthwhile, if you have non-family employees, to designate one
person who is responsible for managing the issues that arise with
your employees. This will minimize the potential for confusion and
miscommunication. Ideally, that person would keep apprised of
labour standards, occupational health and safety laws, and the like
(and perhaps, payroll), and ensure that the interests of your
employees are being met. This is a worthwhile exercise for the
legal health of your business, in that it will minimize the risk of
an employee bringing a claim.
In the long run, any successful employment relationship depends on
mutual trust. If you keep communication and fairness top of mind,
your company - and your family - can continue to grow and
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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