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How to Manage Your Own Kids as Summer Employees

Hiring your own children can have a ton of advantages, provided you do it right.
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With kids off during the summer, entrepreneurs can find themselves in the position of having access to a new, enthusiastic pool of labor. Hiring your kids over the summer has a number of benefits. Not only can parents save on costly summer camps, but kids get some valuable work experience and perhaps a better understanding of their parents’ business. 

This is exactly what Amy Baxter, CEO of MMJ Labs, which makes the pain blocker Buzzy, thought when she hired her three kids (now aged 12, 14 and 16) to package products and work the trade-show floor. “There is a great feeling in a family when everyone is contributing, doing essential tasks and sharing in the big wins and successes,” says Baxter. While having an 11-year-old describe how Buzzy uses gate control and DNIC physiology to block pain impressed potential pharmaceutical clients, Baxter says she eventually realized she couldn’t be mom and boss. “They learned a lot but the discipline of holding them to the same standard I hold my other workers was too difficult,” she admits. 

Related: After Tragedy, a Son Takes Over as Franchisee

While hiring your kids isn’t for everyone, business coach Michael Neuendorff says the practice can have some great advantages. Here, he provides his tips on how to make the most of your child employees:

Plan ahead and make expectations clear. “Often entrepreneurs are fairly shallow in writing up a formal job description, so they probably tell the child, ‘I’m going to have you do some of this and some of that’ and then they start adding things that the child didn’t know they were supposed to do,” says Neuendorff. Sit down with kids before they begin working and tell them what tasks you want them to help with and how you expect these tasks to be completed. Ensure they understand what is being asked of them before sending them on their way. While many entrepreneurial parents make the mistake of assuming kids will know what’s going on in the business because they’ve likely been sitting through hours of business talk at the dining table, kids may not have taken in as much as you think. Explaining clearly what “helping out” means will help give kids more ownership over their work and make for a more successful summer.

Make time for training. Neuendorff has seen many entrepreneurs struggle with new hires as a result of a lack of formal training. Not spending the time to properly train your young employees can result in children not meeting your expectations. Neuendorff recommends building training time into kids’ work schedules, or taking the time to train them in the evening or on a weekend when you aren’t as busy.

Related: How a Family-Owned Firm Can Beat the Odds and Pivot

Pay them a fair wage. “Just because they’re your child doesn’t mean you should underpay them,” says Neuendorff. Paying kids what they would receive working somewhere else, or what other employees doing the same job receive, can help kids feel as though they’re truly part of the team rather than doing mom or dad a favor.

Make shifts short. Remember, kids are on summer holidays and shouldn’t have to spend all of their time working. Neuendorff recommends short three- to four-hour shifts for younger children. “Unless they have experience working for other employers, they’re going to become bored, tired or stressed having to work more than that,” he says. Make working hours clear at the outset so kids can feel they are able to make plans with friends and don’t end up resenting the job. Giving them set work hours also helps teach kids the importance of time management.

Use positive reinforcement. Often entrepreneurial parents consider working for the family business a training ground for future employment opportunities and may think they’re doing their kids a favor by pointing out all of their errors. But this could build resentment and negatively affect not only your working relationship but your personal relationship as well. Neuendorff recommends a coaching approach. “At the end of the week, sit down and review what was done and talk about what they did right, what they could improve upon and what mistakes were made,” he says. Look for little wins to encourage them and overlook small mistakes.

Ask for kids’ opinions. “Sometimes the refreshing perspective of a child can be something totally unexpected,” says Neuendorff.  Offering kids the opportunity to provide suggestions and recommendations can help them feel as though they’re part of the company and makes them feel more valued as an employee. 

Don’t go easier or harder on them. Treat kids as you would any other employee. “Parents often want to make sure that none of the other employees feel that their child is being favored so they might purposefully be tougher on the child in front of other employees,” says Neuendorff. If your child will be working under another employee, explain that you want your child to be treated like everyone else, with the same rights and accommodations other employees receive.  

Related: Faith and Family at Work: A Recipe for Disaster or Prosperity?