Family Business – Paying Family Members

April 1, 2013 | By | Add a Comment

When family members are employed in the family business, there are challenges to face. Whilst it is a valuable and rewarding experience when an existing business can take new family members into employment, there is a balance to achieve where family loyalty and reward come into question.

For most people, taking up employment is a rite of passage as they grow from adolescence to adulthood. Moving directly into a job from school, or taking time out to go to college – or travel perhaps – before embarking on a career, is a well-trodden path that all but the few embrace. It’s a challenging time of life for anyone.

In terms of remuneration, most of us recognise that there is a market rate for the job we decide to go for. Plus or minus a few percentage points, it’s likely that what we achieve – unless there are some unusual factors – is what we expect.

In family businesses, there are other issues to consider, because for anyone deciding to work in the family business, there will be a range of emotions and expectations to get in balance with the real world of business itself.

Deciding on how to pay these new family business members will be a sensitive activity to agree between existing family members already in employment; non-family members working in the business and – just as importantly – those stakeholders in the business who are not involved in the day to day running of it, yet have an interest in the financial outcomes both now – and into the future.

The debate can go back and forth. A family member joining the business with a serious expectation of ‘One day this will all be yours’ might have lower expectations for the pay they will receive in the short term. This could be a valid reason for underpayment for any family member, who will have more potential return over future years to consider.

On the other hand, it is quite easy to see how family members might sometimes be paid more than they might expect – after all, the business does belong to the family, so why should some of the value not be shared out through salary and other employment based remuneration, such as bonuses.

And in the real world, a family member might well be best served by somehow receiving what an objective observer might suggest would be the market rate for the job. There is much value in this ideal. If an individual were to be treated differently than anyone else, how would that serve them as a developing individual?

By ensuring that processes are in place to support an objective view of remuneration for all employees and where a family member sits within that, might well be the most appropriate way forward.

There are specialists in family business who can help with this objectivity, both because they are outsiders whose only goal is success for the business and future generations and because they can also share experiences other family businesses have gone through to make family member remuneration work.

The key to success in this sensitive area is to create a new generation who respect the values of the family business in respect to fairness and transparency, thus anchoring a strong foundation for the future.

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