Policy Before Need

09:26PM Jan 08, 2016
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Define family employment requirements for your operation

Imagine for a moment you have a niece in college earning a finance degree. There’s an unspoken understanding she’ll join the family farm as lead accountant after graduation. She has the skills and work ethic to take your operation to the next level. 

Yet a few months before your niece’s graduation, a nephew shows up seeking a job. He studied sports medicine, dropped out of college and changes jobs routinely yet feels entitled to the same opportunity he knows his cousin will receive. 

How can you welcome one and decline the other? The answer is a family employment policy.

This basic document outlines the roles family members can fill. It might include tactical elements such as requirements for years of experience or pre-nuptial agreements, but it also highlights the philosophies and attitudes the operation values. 

“It serves as the guiding principles that define how family members should prepare themselves for employment,” says Davon Cook, a family business consultant with Ag Progress. “You want to have a family employment policy in place ahead of time so you’re not making a decision about one person.”

Nepotism No-Nos. The practice of giving family members preferential treatment is known as nepotism, and it has a bad connotation for a reason, says Dick Wittman, a producer from Culdesac, Idaho.

“If non-family employees see employees with the ‘right name’ receiving special rights, they won’t be happy,” notes Wittman, who is also a farm financial consultant and a member of the Farm Journal Legacy Project Advisory Team. “A family employment policy will put processes and structure in writing to heighten professionalism.”

Off-Farm Experience. Another key question to answer in your policy is if family members must work off the farm before joining the team. Cook and Wittman say previous employment outside of the operation is a good idea. “This allows your children or other family members to gain perspective of working in another professional company that doesn’t have the emotional baggage of a family business,” Cook says. “Plus, you will pick up skills, abilities and confidence.” 


Downloadable Tools

Establishing a Family Employment Policy

Job Description Template

Click here for more helpful downloadable tools.