Agony Aunt, Andrea Moon: Why mixing business and family is a bad idea

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Q: I have a plumbing business and have been self-employed for the last 10 years. Two years ago I agreed to take on my nephew as an apprentice but as work slowed down I wasn’t able to continue paying him. I had no choice, I had to lay him off. Now my brother’s family won’t speak to me and it’s going to be the third Christmas that we don’t get together. They can’t even be civil. What can I do?

A: It’s a hard decision to make to employ family and/or friends.

Some people find it easier than others. Employing a member of the family does have its benefits as it means that they have a trusted member of staff. However, others find that over-familiarity breeds contempt, leading to problems with other staff or ‘forgetting’ that the dynamics have changed when the worker is no longer just a relative but also an employee.

If you really had no alternative than to lay your nephew off, then you had to treat the situation as you would have done with any other employee.

Surely your family must understand that you couldn’t put yourself in financial difficulty and your business at risk, just to keep him in employment?

In the two years that he did work for you I’m sure he learned part of the trade and some valuable skills which should stand him in good stead when he looks for another job.

Have you tried addressing the situation with your brother face to face? Maybe if you feel that would be too confrontational, then how about sending him a letter or an email? Explain how upset you feel about Christmas and that you had no other option.

You can only try to make amends although really you haven’t actually done anything wrong.

It was a business decision.

There would have been no point in losing the business to keep your nephew employed because then you would both have been out of a job and you would have lost your livelihood too.

You should make the first move towards reconciliation now that the dust has settled, but you may have to continue to wait for them to recover their hurt pride.