Some of the Pitfalls of Nepotism


By definition, nepotism is the practice of working with or for family members and friends. If your family owns a business. it is a benefit to family members who want a job. They do not have to go through the steps to find an opportunity, apply, interview and get hired.

I have worked for, and with, more than 5 different companies that were family owned and the first thing I would say to someone who is not a member of the family is, you need to be aware of a few important differences about family-owned businesses.

The first is, there are roles in any family. Your father and mother have a significant role, and the first-born and youngest have their roles, as do the middle children, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, and friends of all the above. Even though they may try to hide these roles, they don’t disappear, especially when things get testy or chaotic. Because of this, missteps by the relatives are more likely to be apparent, easily recognized, and can negatively influence your work life.

Let me give you an example.

One of the companies I worked for consisted of two married couples and one sister of one of the wives as well as a dozen unrelated civilians. Both the husbands were having affairs with two of the civilian employees right under their spouse’s noses. The wives knew it was going on and you can imagine it created an unpleasant work environment for them as well as the unrelated civilians. Both the women involved in the affairs should have known better, but it did not influence their decision to cross the line, so to speak.

Keep the Company Pen Out of the Company Ink.

Business people of all shapes and sizes have affairs with other employees, customers or married friends, but when it happens in a nepotistic situation, it is magnified and uncomfortable for almost everyone. I know of no business that condones or allows their employees to have relationships with other employees that have nothing to do with their jobs or the business.

The Boss is Always Right.

The family-run businesses I worked for all had a separate set of rules for the family members and the worker bees. The patriarch (remember the father role), usually conducted himself like the rules, whatever they were, did not apply to him. One of the owners I worked for often spent his days down the street playing coin-operated video games and left running the business to me. Another owner took many vacations and left the business to run itself. He cared deeply about his family but did not understand the principles necessary to run a successful business and the IRS locked it up for failure to pay payroll taxes and everyone was out of a job.

Do as I Say Not as I Do.

To demonstrate how messed up nepotism organization’s can be, I had one owner tell me I spent too much time in the bathroom when I had to go. That would be warranted if I went there a lot, but this was a case of the owner was lactose intolerant and was very quick for his bathroom visits. Those of us who were not had to be more patient during our morning constitution. But really, telling employees how long their bathroom visits should be? Maybe your father tells you that, but your boss shouldn’t.

One of my most successful clients is also a family owned business and they have their moments too, despite their success. The brothers who manage the company, are still fighting like they did when they were teenagers. Their children, the cousins, have to choose sides among their uncles in order to navigate their day-to-day work. Familiarity breeds contempt, and who are you more familiar with than your family? The respect you would automatically give a boss or co-worker is colored by family connections and it affects the other employees too.


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