Friends & Family…

by | Farr Factor

Heartaches & Headaches

The tanning industry is loaded with smart, independent entrepreneurial talents who saw an opportunity in the tanning business and seized it with a gambler’s vigor you may only see in Vegas. They bet the farm, searched for great locations, paid for build-outs and electrical contracting, negotiated the best lease agreements and then… showed loyalty or sought loyalty by hiring “friends and family” as employees. Good move? NO!

In my 45 years of managing staff – most of those years being spent in several retail industries – I can confidently state that when the vast majority of stores, fast food establishments, gas stations or tanning salons employ friends and family, the outcome is often anguish and resentment up and down the chain of command. Are there exceptions? Of course. Sometimes you get lucky with a child, niece, nephew, sister, etc. who has an exceptional work ethic. And sometimes, you get lucky when other staff don’t suspect said family member or friend of having an unfair advantage in getting the boss’ attention and approval… but “sometimes” is so rare that I would rather bet on Texas ice storms in July.

Of course, many HR pundits say that hiring F&F can work if you manage them in every way that you manage everyone else: set specific goals and expectations for them and demonstrate to the rest of the team that they are not special simply because they have a personal connection to you. Sounds good in theory, but rarely works in practice. Running a tanning salon has enough issues as it is (I know: I ran one of the largest salons in North America) without introducing a high potential for in-fighting, rumor-milling, and feelings of unfairness and resentment for anyone in authority. When I hear a salon client say, “Our salon employees are all like a family,” I cringe. Your relationship with them should be as team leader – a great coach and cheerleader. Remove any obstacle that suggests someone has an “in” with the boss. Yes, you may have favorite team members because their personalities match your own and yes, they may be a favorite because they produce sales and make you money. (The latter is a great reason to mentally prefer one employee over another!)

So, what’s the reason most F&F employees don’t work out? It’s because each side, worker and boss, sets up a different set of performance expectations, either directly or indirectly. If you give some redirection to or reprimand a team member for non-performance, they understand that they report to a boss whom they must please or else they must find another job. When it’s your daughter whose butt you’re chewing, she will think that dad has violated the more sensitive standards of civility that should be afforded to a “daughter.” And dad doesn’t want his baby to think he’s the bad guy and worry whether she’ll show up for dinner next Sunday. Because it’s so awkward to reprimand someone so personally close, it usually results in the boss not saying anything to avoid an F&F confrontation.

The best advice I give is to keep friends and family out of your salon (except maybe for free tans) and use your energy to handle all of the other normal stresses, like “How does this darned acrylic fit, anyway?”

About five years ago, I had to officiate a family explosion where the daughter was overbearing and basically a pain in the rump. The staff disliked her intensely because she constantly gave them direction that conflicted with what their real boss was telling them. She also liked to sleep until noon and start her “tour” of the salons afterward, during which time she pointed out everyone’s shortfalls. The result: much turnover and derision in the ranks until I convinced mom and dad that their daughter had to go. It was left to me to tell her that she was now a company alumna (I don’t normally enjoy canning someone but that one was rather pleasurable). It took a couple of years, but she did eventually show up for Sunday dinner again. Meanwhile, the salons repaired the internal morale issue wrought by daddy’s little girl.

Odd… I haven’t seen a Christmas card from her ever since I handed her that last paycheck.

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