In dentistry, or small businesses in general, it’s not uncommon for the practice owner’s spouse or other family member (e.g. brother, sister, son, daughter, etc.) to have a role in the practice.
It might be a full time position, such as an office manager, or an unofficial part-time gig, such as managing finances or helping out with a few projects here and there. We’ve also seen plenty of instances where both are doctors and you have a partnership in the business and both are working in the practice.
For that matter, here at MGE I work with my husband and a few other relatives—not unlike many of our clients! Dentistry is often a family business.
But we’ve all heard the warnings about “working with family.” I’ve even had clients that have been told by prior practice management consultants to not hire (or worse—fire) their spouse solely because of the relationship!
Is It a Good Idea to Hire Family Members?
Regardless of what you may have heard, I’ve actually found that working with family can be one of the better situations in a dental office…providing that this family member is competent at the job you’ve given them.
When building your team, you want a strong sense of loyalty, camaraderie and trust. With a family member you begin with these things already established. So you can see that this could be a great situation.
Needless to say, if you don’t feel you have that trust and loyalty with a family member, I wouldn’t hire them! It’s a recipe for stress and awkwardness.
With all of that said, there are a few ways that working with family can go wrong, which I wanted to cover. And if you keep these things in mind, this might help make it mutually rewarding arrangement.
Where It Can Go Wrong!
1. You’re both trying to do the same job.
An example of this would be if you work with your spouse as the Office Manager, but you are also doing the management duties that should be assigned to the Office Manager. This would mean you both have input in matters such as personnel, productivity, finance, etc. If these hats are not clearly defined as to who does what, you’ll always have a fight, because everyone has their own viewpoint of how a job should be done.
Your spouse should have the same courtesy as any other employee, meaning you should give them a job, delineate the specific functions of that job, and then give them the courtesy and latitude to do their job without your interference. You would grade their performance as would any other employee (more on this in my article about grading employee performance). As soon as you try to get involved and tell them how to do things that should really be their job…well, you’ll have a fight on your hands.
So clearly separate out which duties you do and which your family member does, and then let each other do your jobs.
2. You don’t have agreed upon policy.
Any business needs to have some agreements upon which it operates. These agreements should be put in writing as policy. It should include things like schedules, discount procedures, how to handle personnel matters, financial decisions, etc., so that there is some common agreement on how to handle situations that affect more than just one person’s individual job. If procedure is set in stone, there is nothing to argue about.
3. You take work home with you.
In other words, your spouse is at home relaxing going about their day, and you nag them about a work disagreement or bring up problems relating to the office. This makes it feel like you’re both always at work. Nobody wants to feel like they’re at the office 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It’s too stressful.
My husband and I have a very strict policy that there is no talking work outside the office. Of course, there may be some scenarios where it’s unavoidable, but 99.99% of the time work stops when the car door closes for the drive home. We go from COO and D/COO MGE to Jeff and Sabri—husband and wife. And since we’ve implemented this, it vastly lowered our stress levels. And there are actually two reasons this works:
A) The obvious one, work stays at work and home is home.
B) A less obvious but more impactful factor: when you are at work, you’re wearing a certain “hat,” i.e. doctor, executive, etc. When you are home, you’re wearing another “hat,” husband, wife, sibling, etc. We all wear any number of “hats” in life—parent, spouse, executive, whatever. Each of these hats have different duties, attitudes, responses and so on.
Think about it this way: if your husband were to forget to pick up the dry cleaning on the way home from work, how would you respond? Probably differently than if your manager (who might also be your husband) forgot to collect a patient’s co-pay for a large case! Why? You’re responding from your “hat.” If you can’t separate these hats, you have the “doctor/owner” talking to the “office manager” about why the kids aren’t doing well in school or why the lawn wasn’t mowed! Or a husband talking to a wife about why a patient’s insurance didn’t cover a procedure! You get the idea; it gets weird and can be source of incredible amounts of stress. The moral is simple, do what you are doing and “be” who you are being at the appropriate time!
Now, there may be some scenarios I need to handle something for work outside of normal business hours. In such a scenario, we either stay at the office later or delineate a specific time of the day at home where we handle that one thing for work and then get back to our home life.
4. The family member you hired is simply incompetent at the job you gave them to do, but you’re keeping them because they’re family.
This means that the job you’re paying them to do is actually not getting done, and therefore is going to affect the growth and prosperity of your business. In this scenario, nobody wins. Your business doesn’t flourish, you build up resentment toward you family member, and the family member themselves isn’t happy because they’re not succeeding with the job you’ve given them to do—and they know it, whether they show it or not.
It actually lowers a person’s own satisfaction and sense of self-worth in life when they know they are doing a poor job but allowed to keep doing it or even rewarded for it. The best scenario is for this family member to find something that they can excel at, so they can be proud of their own accomplishments. This may be another function in the office or a different career path entirely. You’re doing them no favors by keeping them there and rewarding them for poor performance.
That’s my two cents on the subject! I’ve worked with family successfully for more than two decades. If you’re already working with family, I hope you take the points above to heart, and if you’re on the fence as to whether or not to hire a family member, I hope this helps you make the right decision.