Ask HR Bartender: Working HR In a Family-Owned Business

Here’s an interesting situation from a reader about working HR in a family-owned business (and not being family).

I was promoted last year to finance and HR coordinator at a small consulting company. We have some family members of the CEO working here in the office. There are some personality conflicts amongst the other employees.

Since my promotion, I’m now associated with the ‘family members’ so I automatically get a bad rap. I try to talk with everyone but it seems like they don’t want to talk to me because they think I will run back to the family members. So ‘confidentiality’ isn’t there even though I’m not that type of person nor is it my job to do that.

I’m totally capable of my job and handling confidential issues. I just haven’t been given the time of day. Now, I’ve been demoted to receptionist. Please help – I want my job back!

There are several issues here. Let’s try to address them individually.

Blood can be is usually thicker than water. Our reader has experienced one of the downsides to working in a small family-owned business. Family members aren’t always held accountable to the same rules. Sometimes they bring the “home” part of their lives to “work”. I wish I could say this is an easy fix but it’s not.

HR can’t always keep confidentiality. Every once in a while, human resources learns about something going on in the leadership, management, manager, family business, authority, accountability, hr, human resourcescompany that they must tell senior leadership. These are usually situations that impact the liability of the company. When HR learns of them, they should tell the employee that they need to share the information with others. It’s not a negotiable matter.

HR must communicate with senior leadership. Confidential crisis aside, if your boss is the CEO, guess what…you have to tell him/her what’s going on. And if they own the company, they still get to hear what’s going on. The tricky part is when you have a CEO who can’t keep a secret. Another “not so easy” challenge to deal with.

Authority must come with responsibility. Whatever job a person is given, they must also be given the authority to carry it out. Responsibility without authority is setting an employee up for failure.

Even with looking at all these dynamics, there are still many unanswered questions. Things like: What’s the role of the HR coordinator? What was the reason for the demotion? And honestly, why would someone want to reassume the HR role given what’s happened?

My suggestion to anyone that appears to be in a tough situation and trying to figure out how to change it, ask yourself a few questions (and allow yourself to come up with honest answers).

  • Why did this situation happen? Do I have to accept some responsibility?
  • Why do I want the situation to change?
  • What’s the outcome I’m looking for? Are there other outcomes that are acceptable?
  • Can I accept the situation if it doesn’t change?
  • What will I do if the situation doesn’t change? Am I prepared to take this action immediately?

Stepping back from the situation and trying to take the emotion and frustration out of it is hard. But it’s often exactly what we need to address the matter. What else would you recommend this employee do?

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  1. Bryan says

    Run, run away…..Sharon you’re right when you ask; “Why would someone want to reassume the HR role.” The only approach is being the professional HR person. You can’t control the lack of confidentiality between family members and by offering sound, correct advice you can hope that eventually the family will start listening to you and treating you as a valued consultant. Once this happens you can also gently begin to help them clear the hurdles of uncle Steve sleeping in his office.
    The biggest problem with family run business is the family feels they typically know all apects (including HR) of the business better than you do. Run.

  2. Mrs. B says

    I sympathize deeply. I have 15 years of HR under my belt and am currently working for a small family owned company who micro manage their employees to death! I hear this everyday, “They hired me to do a job. A job that I am more than qualified to do and a lot of the times, more qualified than they are. Why do they micro manage so much?” But between Dear Old Dad and Daughter Who Can Do No Wrong, that leaves all the non-family members incapable of performing the duties to the satisfaction of the perfectionists. There isn’t much I can do from an HR stand point except to offer an ear to listen. Blood is definitely thicker than water.