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Lead Your Team Managing

Firing Family: 4 Tips to Cushion the Blow

Firing Family: 4 Tips to Cushion the Blow
Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock

Working with family might seem exciting, but there's always the chance plans will go awry. And while that shouldn't prevent you from taking the risk (there are plenty of family business success stories), you might eventually have to face a tough decision: letting a family member go.

Firing family is certainly more complicated than firing a worker with whom you only have a professional relationship. You don't want to cut all ties with someone who is a major part of your personal life; but you also can't let your connection with them cloud your judgement and negatively impact your business.

If there comes a time where you need your relative to leave the business, remind yourself that you're only doing what's right for everyone – including them. Experts shared tips on the difficult act of firing a family member. [See related story: 5 Ways to Make Your Family Business Successful]

Tina Willis, owner of Tina Willis Law, has firsthand experience firing a family member. She recommended starting slow by cutting any unnecessary work, even if that reduces their hours. This will also lessen the shock if you do end up letting them go.

You can also try offering different types of work that might benefit them and the company better. But if you're scrambling to come up with work for them, don't waste your time just because you feel guilty or responsible for their financial wellbeing.

You can, however, help them transition by searching for possible job opening elsewhere. Willis acted as a mentor to her relative by answering questions and helping her set up an ad on Craigslist.

"We felt that was important, because we really do care about her well-being, and we wanted her to know that we did," she said.

Separating business from personal relationships is important, but you should still be empathetic when firing someone – family member or not. They were likely a great addition to your team at one point, and they deserve your respect and care as you let them go.

Heidi McBain (MA, LMFT, LPC, RPT) of Professional Counseling for Women advised allowing your family member to vent and really listening to their concerns. Be human, not a robot, she said; it will cushion the blow.

"Let them know that you want to still have a good relationship outside of work, with the understanding that they will probably need some time and space to gain perspective on what happened and to secure another position," McBain added.

Placing blame on someone you're firing is unnecessary. Odds are, if you're letting them go, they understand that they didn't suit the company for one reason or other; you don't need to criticize them when they're already down.

"As employers, it's easy to point the finger at the struggling employee, but more often than not we are also at fault for the poor performance," said Evan Roberts, real estate agent with Dependable Homebuyers. "It may have been due to inadequate mentoring, a lack of training documentation, or an insufficient understanding of what their role should have been. Nobody strives to be a floundering employee, and your family member is likely not an exception."

You aren't firing your family member to be malicious. You genuinely feel that business would make more sense without them, and that's not something you should be ashamed of – no matter how much your family might think otherwise.

Nate Masterson, marketing manager for Maple Holistics, noted that firing this person might cause tension between you two, and possibly even among other family members. Regardless, you need to make the right decision for your business.

"Be sensitive, be smart, and maintain that this should in no way affect your lives outside of work … and that it is simply a matter of work expectations [versus] performance," he said.

There's no need to overcomplicate matters, Masterson added. Treat the employee as you would any other – with compassion and professionalism.

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't working as a Purch B2B staff writer, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. The only time Sammi doesn't play it safe is when she's writing. Reach her by email, or check out her blog at sammisays.org.