Keeping it in the family: the pros and cons of hiring family members

Written by
Tom Ritchie

17 Nov 2016

17 Nov 2016 • by Tom Ritchie

Nepotism is a dirty word. Despite our willingness to go above and beyond for loved ones in almost every other scenario, the professional world often looks upon handing out opportunities to relatives as a bad thing.

Full disclaimer: I used to work for my dad. Over the course of two separate stints, I logged 12 months working in an industry I had no intention of staying in. I will always be grateful that he gave me that opportunity, as it allowed me to keep myself afloat while waiting to continue my studies, and then to look for a more suitable job. Everyone was incredibly accommodating and I enjoyed my time at the company, but at the same time that nagging sense of guilt that you’re there because your dad’s the boss can be pretty hard to shift.

One family that apparently feels no guilt about anything is the Trumps. The President-elect, Donald Trump (still doesn’t seem real does it) has been building his transition team over the past few days. One of the names hotly tipped to handle the transition is the property tycoon’s son-in-law Jared Kushner (who also happens to be a property tycoon). Throughout the course of the campaign, Kushner has been a steady but quiet presence, acting as an advisor and confidant to the Donald, alongside his wife Ivanka, and brothers-in-law Donald Jr. and Eric. 

So what are the benefits of keeping it in the family? Well, it’s taken as a given that you’ve instantly got a loyal and trustworthy presence in the business. 

Head of HR and employment law at Peninsula, Alan Price said: “You would expect a family member to be flexible and trustworthy; you know their background and their personality so you do not have to assess them based on an application form and an interview. The likelihood of them trying calling in sick is potentially lower because you are more likely to know if their ill health is genuine or self-inflicted.”

But what happens if that trust is misplaced? We can never be sure that the family dynamic will carry over into the workplace, “There can be a tendency to view working with family in an overly optimistic manner. What someone is like outside of work doesn’t necessarily reflect what they will be like in work. There is a world of difference between having someone work with you and having them work for you,” said Price.

“Family dynamics can also be very complex and it can be very hard for family members to act in accordance with the work relationship rather than follow years of established family behaviour.”

With the volatile nature of Trump’s temperament already well known to the electorate and his prospective colleagues, how will he take any criticism of his son-in-law? Even when the boss is on a much more even keel it can be a minefield, “There can be reluctance by other members of the workforce to raise issues of concern about the behaviour or performance of family members because of a belief that you will close ranks and protect them. It is important to consider how you would feel if it became necessary to discipline or dismiss your family member,” added Price.

Hiring within the family is a tricky business. Managing an emotional and professional relationship is hard work, and miss-steps have the potential to damage relationships. However, if done correctly, it can be rewarding for all involved. For a man as well-versed (debatable) in the world of business as Trump, you’d like to think he’s weighed up these pros and cons. After all, this is the highest political office in the world, not a short-term fix for a kid fresh out of university.