How to Fire a Family Member (and Still Keep Your Family Together)

Small Business

You decided to hire a brother, a sister, or maybe an in-law. Congratulations, you won brownie points with your parents, grandparents, or someone else whom you look up to. You also got some karma points for helping a family member out. You might be looking at it as a win-win, because you can really trust this person to do the right thing. After all, they are family, right?

At first, things look good. This family member is smart and dedicated, and has your trust. But after a little while, he starts to get too comfortable. You end up letting him get away with coming in late and leaving early. It feels as if you can’t correct him if you want to maintain positive family relations.

Over time, things start getting more out of hand than you would like. He starts letting other employees down, taking advantage of the system, and making you look bad. People in your company begin questioning your judgment.

This is the time to assert your authority. After all, you are the boss and you need to make some decisions.

Here are a few practical steps that can help you make this uncomfortable process somewhat easier. While it will never be easy to discipline or fire a family member, these methods can help.

Make a List

First, write everything down. Create a list of pros and cons. What does he do really, really well? What does he do not so well? Is he a bad fit for your company, or is he just in a role in which he cannot excel? Perhaps he’s just in the wrong seat and can be moved somewhere else. Or he might need coaching or mentoring.

Once you have a clear list, run it by someone you trust and respect in your business, perhaps a partner or a fellow executive. Have that person evaluate the items on your list to make sure they agree and ensure that your personal ties aren’t clouding your professional judgment.

Have a Meeting

Most people want to succeed. But when a family member at your company starts to feel entitled and acts as though he is doing you a favor, the second step in rectifying the problem is to establish communication. You have to sit down with your employee in a calm, collected way and describe the problems you are facing. If you can’t stay calm because you are too emotionally involved, you might need someone to moderate the session. Take notes and write down what the family member says and how he feels. Hear him out: completely. Don’t get defensive. Chances are that you have not communicated properly with this person in the past.

Develop Solutions

Once you understand the situation and you can see your employee’s point of view, meet with someone outside the situation to review what he said. You cannot make a good judgment call yourself: you are too close to the situation. Find a coach, mentor, or another entrepreneur to help you see what you might have missed. You may be able to come up with creative, win-win solutions to your problem. The key is to find a way that you can either end this relationship or fix it with minimal damage to the family.

Now that you have some creative solutions, review them with your employee. Show him that you care for him and that you are trying to find solutions to help. If it is not an option for this person to continue working with you, you can help him find a new job. You could even lend him some money to open up his own business. The key is to figure out what will really make him happy. Communication is very important. It’s not always what you say; it’s how you say it. Role-play and practice go a long way. You can do this only once you understand your employee’s point of view and what he or she wants in general. The last thing you want to do is assume you know what he wants. We all tend to make assumptions, and they often create conflict.

Finally, prepare to take action. The longer you wait, the worse it might get. You want to be brave and move forward. If it means taking away responsibilities to minimize the risk, do it right away. Once you show your family member that you are serious and have the courage to take action, the chances of him complying with your suggestions and offers of help will increase.

Joe Apfelbaum is the CEO and Co-Founder of Ajax Union, a digital marketing company dedicated to helping companies grow on the internet


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