Is it Wise to Hire Family Members?

Hiring family members is a highly debated topic loaded with opinions on both sides.

It ranges from leaders who prefer hiring family as a first choice, to those who object to nepotism of any kind.

It might be a spouse, brother or sister, aunt or uncle, and sometimes a staff member’s son or daughter. We can all cite stories that are great examples of success, and stories that seem more like your worst nightmare.

We have family members on staff at 12Stone, and it’s working well. However, we waited until we were about 5,000 in attendance before hiring staff other than temporary part-time and project help. That doesn’t mean you need to wait that long, but it’s wise to go slow.

Don’t be too hasty to hire a family member because it’s quick and done. It’s convenient, but it is much more difficult to fire a family member than to hire one.

Hire family after much thought and prayer, not under pressure or desperation, and hire because they are really good at what they do.

There are several things you can do to help lower any impression of nepotism as well as safeguard against the potential realities of conflict from perceived favoritism.

8 Guidelines for hiring family wisely.

1) Resist hiring family by default.

You already know, love, and trust family members; but it’s wise to interview at least three other legitimate candidates for the position.

Invest in careful consideration, interview others, make sure there are no unaddressed caution flags, and talk about the impacts on their family life with them as well.

2) Always hire for talent, ability, and potential.

If you hire family, they need to be extremely good at what they do. This might sound unfair, but it’s smart to raise the bar of expectations higher for family than for others.

A candidate that’s a family member should be more qualified than the others, not equal or less.

When others on the team see that the employee’s contribution is outstanding, questions of favoritism decrease and gratitude for good hiring wisdom increases.

3) Have the tough conversation up front.

Have the difficult conversation before you make the hire, even if it’s awkward.

Set up an informal meeting over coffee with yourself, the person you are considering hiring, and the family member who is on staff. For example, perhaps it’s their spouse.

This is the time to get everything on the table from crystal clear expectations to the fact that they will be released from staff if it doesn’t work out.

Then ask, “Can you handle that?” Nothing fully prepares a family member for being “let go,” but they will remember the conversation and it will help minimize the hurt, and therefore help in the healing process.

When I lead these conversations, (before someone is hired,) I emphasize that the relationships are always more important than someone getting a job.

4) If you are the pastor, don’t hire family in the finance department.

You wouldn’t hire someone you don’t trust. In fact, one of the top reasons pastors hire family is because they trust them. But it’s an unwise risk.

When you hire a family member into any position that involves the church checkbook, accounting, or finance in general, it is highly likely that you are raising concerns. Candidly, it’s usually a bad idea. You may be the exception, but be careful.

5) Don’t make a family member a direct report.

Intermingling marriage pressures, work pressures, leadership pressures, and ministry, in general, is not a good idea.

On rare occasions, I’ve seen it work where one family member is a direct report to another, but I can count the success stories on one hand from dozens of failed attempts.

It’s just that it’s nearly impossible to be completely unbiased in these situations.

When it doesn’t work, no one knows how to get out of it. It’s like a staff divorce, and that’s a mess, so it’s allowed to continue, and the church suffers for it.

6) Never hire family for reasons of benevolence.

Love, grace, generosity, and kindness are all wonderful virtues, but poor reasons to hire someone.

You may have a family member who needs extra money or needs a little help until they can get back on their feet, or maybe they want to work at the church.

That’s a terrible reason to hire someone and will nearly always backfire and hurt you and the church in the long run.

If you want to help, do it from your benevolence account.

7) Don’t pay family members higher than other staff members.

This may seem obvious, but it deserves a quick mention that it’s not smart to pay relatives higher than other employees.

Pay family members just precisely the same as you would any other person on staff and only if they perform the same job with the same skill and productivity.

This is another reason it’s not wise to have a family member as a direct report because it’s nearly impossible to conduct an impartial performance review.

8) If it’s the first family member being hired, seek the board’s blessing.

It’s important to have your church board philosophically aligned with you on the topic of hiring family.

I don’t recommend hiring family if the board does not approve of the idea in general.

There is room for difference of opinions and differing levels of enthusiasm, but it’s essential that there is overall alignment.

I share these guidelines from years of experience, and I hope they help you and keep the family happy!

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