Workplace Relationships and Employing Family Members


Given the amount of time we all spend in the workplace it's only inevitable that workplace relationships develop over time. Or it may be the case that a business owner decides to employ a family member and this could potentially cause resentment. Here's what you need to know about workplace relationships and employing family members.

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Workplace relationships are not unusual

It's not unusual to find an office with several couples romantically linked. Some businesses make the decision to implement a blanket ban against any workplace relationships and simply prohibit couples working together. Other companies accept that it is very likely that within a group of people with similar backgrounds and interests, relationships will develop and therefore ensure there are very clear policies and procedures in place to outline the company's position in this regard.

Sometimes prohibiting all relationships at work could lead to problems of their own. Employees could work to cover up the relationship leaving employers unaware of the potential problems they could face later on - particularly if things don't work out.

Therefore, if allowing relationships in the workplace, inform employees that workplace dating is permitted on the basis that

  • both parties mutual consent to the relationship,
  • the relationship does not affect their work performance,
  • the relationship does not impact on the work environment and those involved maintain clear boundaries between their personal and business interactions.

Flirting is bad!

Ensure employees are aware that any affectionate behavior must be kept outside the office and strictly professional conduct is expected at all times during business hours.

Employees should be fully aware of the consequences of entering into workplace relationships. They should know that it is possible one of them could be moved to another department if it is believed such a relationship will impact on the business in terms of other employees or overall productivity.

If the relationship doesn't work out and the demise of the relationship is having a serious negative impact on the business, employees should be aware that dismissal may be the only option if no other reasonable alternatives exist.

Make it clear from the outset that supervisors/managers are not permitted to become involved in a relationship with their subordinates under any circumstances. Make it clear that failure to comply with this policy may lead to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal. This type of relationship can only lead to negativity and resentment amongst other employees as well as accusations of favoritism and preferential treatment.

There will almost always be someone else in the organisation who would take issue to a relationship of this sort so ensure the message is clear to employees from the beginning in terms of what is acceptable and what is not. As long as there is no ambiguity, employees are making conscious, informed decisions and must therefore accept responsibility for their choices even when they go wrong.

Employing family members

When considering employing any family members you should decide if your family is more like the Waltons or the Simpsons. If you're leaning closer towards big yellow then you will probably find that employing relations can lead to you saying Doh!

Leaving aside the potential for the workplace to become involved in a messy relationship breakdown there are difficulties that can occur in less apocalyptic situations. There is a common misconception that family members will get on and that will pull together but that is not always the case.

There is also the added complication of placing one family member in a senior position over another, especially if they are siblings. Sibling rivalry is rarely a pretty sight and it is not something you want played out within the workplace. Think Cain and Abel if you need an example.

Family relationship dynamics

The main problem with family members working together, particularly if one is more senior to the other, is that they are treated differently due to the family relationship. There is always the risk that they will be treated more leniently than they should be because they are family or, conversely, are treated more harshly in order to overcompensate for any family relationship. Family members can have difficulties in adapting to a change in the dynamics of a relationship; with parents have difficulty in treating their children as colleagues and adults.

It can be very difficult for people to adapt to taking instructions from someone who they see as a junior, particularly if they can remember what they were like when they were  five. It can be just as hard for a family member to adapt to a position of responsibility over their relatives, especially if it involves putting a sibling, parent or child through the disciplinary or capability procedure.


Family members are also vulnerable to accusations that they have only got or kept their position because they are family. There can be a reluctance to raise issues of concern about the behavior or performance of the owners family because of a belief that the family will close ranks and protect its members.

From a practical perspective, one of the most overlooked problems can occur when there is a family holiday or event, such as a wedding, and you can end up losing a fair chunk of your workforce.

Hiring family members can be a positive step for a company but it is a step that should be taken with your eyes wide open to the possible pitfalls along the way.

Over to you now. How have you handled workplace relationships in your business? Have you ended up hiring family members? Share your tips in the comments below. 

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Friday, 15 November 2019
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