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Firing Family: 4 Tips to Cushion the Blow

Business News Daily Editor
Business News Daily Editor

Firing family is not easy. Here are four expert tips to ease the process.

  • Although working with family members can be an exciting venture, there are drawbacks if you're in a management position. Terminating a family member is awkward and difficult.
  • Prevent family members from being terminated by offering regular performance reviews. Give warnings too of any ongoing workplace issues.
  • Be compassionate, but professional during the termination. Help out with the transition to reduce any hard feelings.

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 a family member 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 judgment 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. 

Reasons for firing a family member

Firing a family member shouldn’t be a hasty decision. Since the termination could be detrimental to your relationship, you want to act cautiously. According to the Family Business Consulting Group, prevention is preferable to termination. For instance, schedule regular performance reviews to give feedback on his or her work. Be honest during the performance review, even if it's difficult. You may find out that the family member had no idea his or her work ethic wasn't up to par. If the family member doesn't seem to care about the job, make your expectations clear. You can provide a time frame if that's preferable. For instance, you could give him or her four weeks to get back on track. All conversations work-related should be kept professional. Keep emotions out of it to demonstrate that work and family are two separate entities.

Provide a family member with a fair shot, but you can't show favoritism. Nepotism reflects badly on you, and it damages the image of your organization. Provide warnings ahead of the termination to let the family member know you're serious about the dismissal. However, in some cases, you will have to let the person go immediately. For instance, illegal activities or workplace harassment must be dealt with swiftly.   

1. Help them transition.

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 well-being.

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.

2. Have empathy.

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 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.

3. Don't point fingers.

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 another; 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, a 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."

4. Let them know it's strictly business.

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.

Image Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock
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