There's a well known cycle of family business: the first generation makes it, the second generation spends it, and the third generation blows it. Naturally there are exceptions, but 70 per cent of family businesses never even make it to the second generation, let alone the third. And I've got a solution for this tragic trend of familial business failure: instead of hiring your kids, hire your mom.
I happen to be a mom who was just hired by my son, Tommy, who owns a busy website for junior resource companies. And I'm not the only mom working for my kid. In fact, recent research in the field of family business shows that as baby boomers are facing some hard facts about retirement, more and more of them are looking for something to do in their senior years, and many of them are finding fulfilling jobs working for -- you guessed it -- their adult children.
Take me, for example: I've been retired from a career in broadcast journalism for the last five years, and have played enough golf to last a few lifetimes, some of it even respectable. Sure, I've dabbled in volunteer work, travelled, and kept my mind engaged with constant reading and researching everything and anything on the internet. But, and I NEVER thought I would say this, I've been bored of late with this retirement thing, and I'm not even 60 yet.
Plus, I keep spending money (not a problem yet), and although I'll probably inherit some money, I could live another 30 years. Even if I have enough to last that long, I have this silly revulsion to withdrawing funds from my investment account.
Enter Tommy, my number 3 child with the thriving web business that just happens to require many of the skills I honed in my own career; researching, writing, interviewing, editing. "Use me, I can help", I've been nagging him for months. Finally, swamped with work himself, he's handed some over to me. And here's the biggie -- he PAYS me money to do it. I am officially in the employ of my son.
It's a shift, no question, in the realm of family business, and one that pretty much turns traditional roles upside down. But hiring a parent, whether it be a Mom or a Dad, has some built in advantages for both employer (child), and employee (parent).
Let's start with the benefits to the employer:
Trust: who can you trust to have your (and your business') best interests at heart more than your Mom, not to mention your hopes, dreams, and the keys to the office safe. I'm pretty sure Tommy knows I'm not going to rip him off or betray his business secrets to anyone.
Loyalty: a given when hiring your parents, as inherent in the 'job of Mom' is an unshakable instinct to protect your child, come hell, high water, or even better job offers.
Candor in the workplace: I'm sure if you asked Tommy he would share that he knows he can count on me for constant honest feedback, even when he hasn't requested it or doesn't like it. This circumvents any traditional 'blowing smoke up the boss's a__' and can even help other non-family employees feel more comfortable being honest too.
Skills and Expertise: If you happen to be in the same field as your Mom, you are lucky. Because as old as your parent is (in my case, not that terribly old), she has likely acquired years of experience that you can benefit from.
Credibility: Not that Tommy needs it, but in many cases, young entrepreneurs are still developing credibility. Having your Mom in the workplace could signal that a) you have a mature influence involved in your business, b) if you can work with your Mom you can probably work with anyone, and c) if she still likes you even though you made her life hell while you were a teenager you can't be all bad.
There are lots of benefits for the employee (parent) to working for their child too, not the least of which is financial. Many retirees underestimate the life-span of their little nest eggs. The extra income they earn can be a welcome addition to their financial health. Maybe the money pays for extra travel, or a new set of golf clubs, or a face lift. Either way, it's a welcome addition to the pot.
As important is the emotional benefit from working past retirement age. Many of us who have retired miss the connections that we had through work, the daily social interaction with work mates, and especially the sense of purpose having a meaningful job can bring. Research has shown that people who continue to work past retirement age (their numbers are increasing dramatically) are healthier than those who don't, because they stay mentally and socially engaged.
For Tommy and me, working together is a win-win. We had a great relationship before we started working together, and now we're even closer. But family business experts warn that some of the same problems as can be found in having your kids work for you emerge when you have a parent working for you. So here are a few tips to making the 'Mom is my employee' thing work:
- Work roles must be well articulated. A detailed job description is advisable.
- Establish who the boss is, but don't forget, your parent deserves to be respected even in a subordinate role.
- Work roles should be distinct from family roles - that means no work talk during family dinners.
- Pay your parent a fair wage, and expect her to perform.
- When on the job, be sure to call your parent by their name, and not 'Mom' or 'Dad'.
Finally, not all work relationships are going to run smoothly all the time. In the case of having your parent work for you, understand that although kids stop being kids at some point in their lives, parents never stop being parents, especially 'Moms'. So brush your teeth, make your bed, and be a good employer!
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