Families and Business: Not Always the Best Mix
Let me preface this blog on nepotism by stating there is clearly a place for, and an abundance of, family businesses and organizations where related co-owners/operators work together well for the good of the family cause. That said, there are also organizations where familial relationships exist that aren’t always for the good of the cause. Often these come about through nepotism. And, in the cases where nepotism does lead to problems, it can cause an organizational breach in ethics.
Nepotism is favoritism granted to relatives without regard to merit of performance. Hiring of employer’s relatives, as well as relatives of existing employees, is fairly commonplace. It has its upsides and downsides. The main upside is familiarity—family members know one another, and therefore no time is needed to establish relationships and trust. The downsides, however, could be many. There is often baggage inherent in family relationships, and this baggage will inevitably be brought into the workplace. It is very hard for employees who are also relatives to perform their work duties objectively. If the employer has problems with one family member, there is a high likelihood that those problems will spill over and affect the relationship the employer has with other family members who are also employees. Nepotism causes problems with the unrelated employees as well.
There was an executive director in one of my cases who was not very good at her job. She did not have a handle on finances, organization or leadership. One her missteps was to pressure and eventually fire the director in order to give a position to her future daughter-in-law.
Searching out the truth of the situation during my investigation, it appeared that this had clearly happened. It was a clear case of nepotism in action. This was a county health department, and while the employees were split in their support of the executive director, they were all in agreement that the director who was fired was highly respected as a person and as a medical practitioner. Long story short, four of the nurses resigned in protest leaving the county seriously short on staff. Due to this, quality of care was being threatened which could produce conditions, which could precipitate lawsuits and bad public relations. This was serious. It also represented a breach in ethics.
Added to all of this was an additional problem at the “top.” With the hiring and promoting of the daughter-in-law to second in charge, there was a coalition that effectively limited any sort of accountability from management. Staff could not complain or voice concerns to the executive director about the future daughter-in-law, nor could they voice concerns to said daughter-in-law about the executive director.
The power of nepotism trumped accountability, which violated ethics principles, created a clear conflict of interest and resulted in a myriad of other problems including mass resignations. Watch for it.