If you’ve hired your spouse, I hope that it’s working for you. It didn’t work for me. I discovered things about both of us that I wish I had considered (or known) beforehand.
I’m not saying that hiring family doesn’t work. It can and does. In fact, I have two members of my family who work for me now. However, the process of hiring them, the on-boarding process, and the review and accountability process have been vastly different.
Maybe if I had utilized those same processes with my spouse, I would have never hired him in the first place. My hope is that what I’ve learned by doing it wrong and the things I’ve learned by doing it right might help another woman business owner navigate some dicey waters.
Hiring the Fam
This will seem like a no-brainer to you. I wish I had approached the hiring of my spouse the way I have other family members and staff. I hope you have a procedure that you follow for both your family and your staff. Unfortunately, for me, I counted my spouse as a “unique” category. He wasn’t.
Don’t get me wrong. He was “unique” in that we were married. But let me be frank, loving someone and living with them is something different than working with them. Just as your children act differently for the eight hours they’re at school, in some cases, a different version of your spouse shows up at their place of employment.
When we court, marry, and build a life with a person, we have rarely had an inside view into their work lives. We hear about their performance through one lens – theirs. In fact, as long as they’re bringing home a paycheck, we rarely question their performance.
That was me. He said he did a good job. He worked for the same employer for years. They didn’t fire him, so he must have been doing a good job. He brought home a consistent paycheck. In hindsight, there was one glaring red flag. They never promoted him or even gave him a raise in three years.
Usually, when someone is performing well, even when the company is limited on funds, there is an effort to appreciate, recognize, and promote the employee. For instance, during tight financial years, do you still review your employees? Do you still share with them how much you appreciate them? Do you find ways to reward such as days off with pay, celebration at work, truly impactful tokens of appreciation like grocery gift cards or movie tickets?
None of those things truly hit the bottom line of your business but do make the employee feel appreciated. None of those things happened for my spouse. He began to complain that it was ageism. Was it? I never checked. I would have checked references on any of my other staff. I would have looked for validations of their worth and strengths. But I never did with my spouse, because…. he was my spouse.
Maybe you don’t “interview” a family member or maybe you do. Maybe you should have someone else interview them even if it’s an outside person to your organization to get a truly impartial viewpoint. But one thing is for certain, check references.
You are biased. I was. However, in business, we can’t be biased. Especially in smaller organizations, every person and position matters. One bad apple or wrong fit can disrupt growth.
Onboarding the Fam
He knows me, right?! He has lived with me for YEARS. He knows I am passionate about my business. He knows my commitment to growth. He has watched the process. He said all the right things. But people who interview for jobs also say the right things, right?! He told me that he understood what I needed and would jump in with both feet. I trusted that. I was wrong.
He needed a job description. I didn’t really provide one like I did for other positions and new hires. I didn’t take him through a 90-day on-boarding process. Heck, I didn’t even really give him a week. I trusted what he said – that he KNEW. But he didn’t.
He was shocked by the intricacies of my business. Just as I really didn’t know the person who went off to his job, he didn’t really know how big of a business I had grown. He didn’t truly understand what I did. He was floored at how big my business network was. I think he truly went into shock.
I should have taken him through a process that would have allowed him to learn the history, growth, and focus of this business I grew. Just as I didn’t know him, he didn’t know me. He didn’t know the business me.
Sidenote: If I had learned about him what I know now, I wouldn’t have hired my spouse. Just saying.
I will say that I now plan a full on-boarding for every person. Whether they’re work-study interns or 1099 contractors, there is a plan and a template to educate them and give them the knowledge and power they need to be successful.
Are they impressed or surprised? Sure. But they can function better when they KNOW. My spouse and I didn’t know what we didn’t know. But now we do.
Reviewing the Fam
Instead of sitting down and telling him what I needed him to do. Instead of sitting down and sharing with him the procedures he needed to follow. Instead of sitting down and telling him the markers that determined if he was meeting job requirements or not. I would just “pivot” him into another role.
I would try to find things he could succeed at. I would try to find tasks that he could perform and make an impact. Ultimately, I failed to lead him because he was my spouse. I didn’t want to “hurt” him. I didn’t want to tell him that he was failing. Instead, it was the unspoken elephant-in-the-room at our company.
In fact, I fired a staff member for not performing during this time period. I had been telling this person that deadlines mattered. I had been telling this person that she was holding up projects and the team. She wanted more money. She wanted more responsibility. But she wasn’t meeting even the basic needs. She was the wrong fit for my company.
But so was my spouse. He was holding up projects. He was never on time with projects. He didn’t follow-up with people. He seemed to pick and choose what he wanted to do. But that wasn’t the job. We all do things we like and we don’t like. That is the nature of work. He complained he wasn’t “paid” enough. He shared he was frustrated that members of the team didn’t “respect” him.
I implemented a quarterly review process with my team. It isn’t a review as in “annual review” for promotion or increased compensation. It was an opportunity on a more consistent basis to share what I was seeing go right and what needed to be re-directed.
I also wanted to give my very creative team the opportunity to share new ideas and thoughts. Improvement and innovation aren’t just my job. Every member of my team is highly skilled and have some of the best ideas.
I noticed that my spouse never was prepared for these meetings. My team would come with projects, thoughts, and ideas to share. They thrived on having the opportunity to just spend focused one-on-one time with me.
But my spouse, he never was prepared. Partially because there was nothing positive to share. Partially because he thought he was “different”. He wasn’t. I am not. In fact, I expect the most from myself. I, unfortunately, expected him to work with the same level of responsibility he would in our home. It was becoming clear that he could not be a part of this process.
Don’t Wait Too Long
I waited too long. The frustration that I felt at work with my spouse spilled over at home. We both began to avoid each other. We avoided having difficult conversations. We both knew we were frustrating the other. And yes, ultimately, the dichotomy of who he was at home and who he was at work began to feel like a lie. Do I have high standards? Yes. Should I? Yes. Should you? Yes.
When I shared that I couldn’t have people in the business that weren’t performing, he understood. Until he realized that I meant him. He made some choices. I made some choices. Ultimately, he doesn’t work for me and we aren’t married. The details don’t matter at this point. What does matter is that I learned that family can only work for you when you follow the same protocol you would for other people and positions.
As I said, I have an amazing team. Some of them are family. Keep your standards for all. Hire the best. Lead no matter the person or role. Don’t be blindsided by someone’s role in your life. It doesn’t end well. Trust me.
About the Author
Amy House, M.Ed., is a business success coach, vlogger, blogger, speaker and the founder of Growin’ Out Loud Darlin’. She is an expert at helping business owners, executives, and teams find the achievement and fulfillment they desire in business and life. With over 20+ years of marketing and business development in the real world, and entrepreneurial experience building her consulting, coaching, and marketing firm, she knows a little “something something” about what it takes to grow out loud.