Congratulations! Your business is growing and you’re ready to hire you first non-family employee. Maybe that’s because you’re looking for a skillset or qualification your family members don’t have. Possibly you see the advantages of bringing in a new perspective. Or maybe there are simply no more family members available. Whatever your reason, bringing in your first non-family employee can be a wonderful experience when done right.
These five steps will help you avoid common pitfalls, find the right fit, and foster a healthy work environment.
STEP 1: Ask for Family Opinions on the First Non-Family Employee
Asking family employees for their input makes sure everyone is prepared for a change. It also sets you up to hire someone who will be the right fit for the team.
Questions to ask…
- What tasks do you think a new employee should be responsible for?
- What skillsets do you think our business could benefit from?
- What values do you hope the person will share?
- What type of personality would you like to work with?
This step takes a lot of guess work out of choosing qualities to look for when hiring.
Step 2: Clearly Define Roles and Expectations
The ability to operate flexibly and informally is one of the unexpected advantages of family businesses. But with a non-family employee joining the business, some informal structures will need to be formalized. Everything runs more smoothly when an employee knows what they’re responsible for, who’s responsible for other jobs, and who to approach with questions.
Along with defining roles in your family business, this is also a moment to think about how to minimize nepotism—unfair favoritism towards family members. While nepotism is most harmful in large companies, it can still do harm in small firms.
So before hiring your first non-family employee, decide what your expectations for performance and advancement will be. Then commit to applying these equally to both family and non-family employees. That means granting raises based on the same clearly defined criteria, offering leadership roles to both family and non-family employees, and holding all employees accountable to the same standards of workplace behavior.
This is the perfect opportunity to develop an employee handbook.
Step 3: Interview Candidates for Your First Non-Family Employee
Think back on the discussions you had with family employees. Remember what traits the team thought would be beneficial. Think beyond qualifications and into values and personality.
During interviews, ask candidates about their experience but also how they handle conflict? Have they ever worked for a family business before? What does customer service look like to them? What does work ethic look like to them? This person will change the dynamic of the business, so it’s important to take your time to ask all the questions you need. Try to get an idea of what it would be like to work with them.
You might also want to consider a working interview. When a candidate seems like a good fit, invite them in to work a shift, then check in with the team after to see how it felt.
Step 4: New Employee Orientation
Now that you’ve found the right match, it’s time to get them settled. A new employee orientation is a chance to make them feel welcome and start them off with the tools they need to excel. Start by choosing a person responsible for welcoming and training your first non-family employee. And make sure they understand everything they’re responsible for.
A highly effective new employee orientation includes…
- A small welcoming gesture. This can be as simple as a cheerful introduction at a morning meeting, a small gift like a mug with the company logo, or a pack of “welcome to the business” cupcakes for the team.
- Handing off key paperwork. Employee handbook. Tax forms and I-9. Insurance/benefits information. Work permits if they’re under the age of 18. Emergency contacts form. Any other contracts you want your employee to sign. Request for copy of their photo ID. Request for certifications like food handler’s certification if applicable.
- Introductions to key leadership and any team members there that day. This is about more than getting to know everyone. It should be used as a chance for the new employee to understand = everyone’s roles and responsibilities.
- A tour of the facility. Where’s the bathroom? Where’s the storage room? Where do we keep the keys to the broom closet? Who’s allowed in the upstairs office? Etc…
- On the job training forany skills or equipment they’ll need. Expect training to go on in some capacity for several days or weeks, depending on the complexity of their role.
Some of these steps might start off during a working interview. But even if they’ve been in for a shift, there should still be a welcoming attitude and some formalities taken on their first official day.
Step 5: Fostering a Professional Work Environment
You’ve laid out your expectations for both family and non-family employees, now it’s time to put them into action. This can be easier said than done. If you’ve been running your business for a while now, you probably already have a routine way of doing things and interacting with employees. It will take effort to change your habits. But it’s important if you want to build a team where everyone feels valued and respected.
Apply expectations equally. If you expect your non-family employee to show up on time and in uniform, it’s unfair if the nephew can stroll in a casual 10 minutes late in a t-shirt. If you prefer a relaxed workplace environment, that’s ok. Just make sure everyone is held to the same standard.
Consider your new employee’s input just like you would the input from a non-family member. They’re coming in with valuable fresh ideas and new perspective. Taking the time to listen to and implement their ideas will make them feel like a valued member of the team.
Leave family conflict at home. Work is not the place to resolve personal arguments. It may have been ok to get personal when the entire team was family, but this will make a non-family employee feel uncomfortable.
Pay them equally. Pay your non-family employees the same as your family employees. And make sure the way they qualify for raises is the same. This could be based on merit or time spent working there.
Remember that non-family employees aren’t family. It may seem welcoming to try to treat non-family employees like family members. But this can quickly lead to inappropriate behavior. Touching or embracing non-family employees is dangerous territory. And speaking to non-family members using overly familiar language (cursing, nicknames, emotional tones of voice, personal attacks, asking personal questions) should also be off the table.
Remember that non-family employees may feel less comfortable standing up for themselves than a family member in the same situation. So even if they seem fine with this behavior, that might not be the case. Make sure to correct family employees if you notice this type of behavior from them as well.
Open a dialogue about culture when it becomes an issue. If you’ve hired someone from a different cultural background form your family, there might be cultural misunderstandings or conflict. Exactly what needs to be changed will depend on the circumstances, but can be best resolved through respectful discussions and compromise. However, if an employee from a marginalized group makes complaints regarding discrimination or unfair treatment, it’s your business’ responsibility to listen and make changes
Taking these steps to foster a professional work environment will make your workplace comfortable for both family and non-family employees. And it can also protect you from legal actions of employees who feel they’ve been treated unfairly.
To Wrap Things Up…
Hiring your first non-family employee can be a big moment. It can signify that your business is growing and bring in valuable new energy. But to make sure that it’s a positive step, it’s important to make sure your family and non-family employees have everything they need to work together successfully. That means having open discussions with family, formalizing business structures, conducting a thorough interview, setting the right tone with a new employee orientation, and committing to fostering a healthy work environment.
And if you’re a USF Gellert Family Business Center Member, hop over to our job boards and make a post!