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Hiring Your Parent Can Be a Good Move -- for Both of You

Bringing Mom or Dad into your company could be one of the smartest business decisions you'll make

By Nancy K. Schlossberg | September 24, 2012
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Nancy K. Schlossberg is co-president of TransitionWorks, a consulting firm; professor emerita at the College of Education, University of Maryland, College Park and served as president of the National Career Development Association. She is the author of nine books, including Retire Smart Retire Happy. Her website is transitionsthroughlife.com.

Do you have a parent who seems unable to find meaning in retirement? While interviewing people for my two books on retirement, I found that many retirees felt at sea.

Well, if you own a business, you just might be the one to help your retired mother or father rediscover a sense of purpose.

Benefits of Hiring Your Parent

More and more business owners in their 50s and 60s are hiring their parents, either part-time or full-time. The payoff for you is having a trusted employee. There are multiple payoffs for your parent: a new lease on life, a place to go in the morning and more income.

(MORE: Recipe for Start-Ups: Mix Older and Younger Partners)

Of course, too much togetherness can lead to conflict and challenges. Having Mom or Dad reporting to you can be awkward, especially at first. But once the ground rules are set and you figure out the best way to work together, the arrangement could be a winning one, as the following two cases demonstrate:

A Problem-Solving Team With Separate Responsibilities

Daniel Gormley Jr., a computer consultant in Sarasota, Fla., decided to hire his father, Daniel Gormley Sr., in 1994 when his dad retired from the insurance business. Daniel Jr.’s business was expanding, and he realized he could use the help. “I did this because my father was someone I could trust,” he says.

The two make house calls together, but Daniel Sr. has other distinct responsibilities. For example, he handles the books and makes the appointments. When the Gormleys decided the business needed a new car, Daniel Sr. handled the transaction. “We see ourselves as a problem-solving team,” he says.

Daniel Jr. says his dad feels he has a “new focus and an opportunity to continue learning.” Although Daniel Sr. has since been offered other jobs, he loves what he is doing and has no plans to quit. “It is refreshing," he says. "We see eye to eye and I get to be with my son all the time. Most parents do not have this opportunity.”

Mom Is Her "Woman Friday"

Roxanne Joffe, a co-owner of the boutique PR firm CAP Brand Marketing, also in Sarasota, has worked with her mother, Tauba Kaye, for five years. Tauba had owned a flower shop, but after selling it and retiring she became bored. Since Roxanne needed some help at the time, she brought in her mom.

Tauba calls herself Roxanne’s “Woman Friday.” For example, she helps out with the refreshments and arrangements for photo shoots, returns calls to clients if Roxanne is traveling and generally fills in wherever needed. "Working for my daughter has added 10 years to my life," she says.

(MORE: Tips for Business Owners to Survive Bad Economic Times)

And Roxanne is equally delighted to work with her mother. “It is wonderful to have someone I can really trust by my side," she says. "But we are very vigilant about separating work and family.” At work they never discuss family, and during Friday night dinners they try not to discuss work.

3 Tips for Success When Employing Your Parent

Since hiring your mom or dad can be tricky, here are three tips to help you avoid problems, based on interviews I’ve done with parents and adult children who work together:

1. Have an "Expectation Exchange." As Roxanne demonstrates, it’s very important to maintain boundaries between work and family life.

I suggest that before bringing your mom or dad into your business, the two of you have a frank discussion about your business do’s and don’ts — what I call an Expectation Exchange. That will help avoid problems later.

2. Identify each of your strengths. It’s only natural for you to have conflicted feelings about giving instructions to a parent. It can be equally tough for mothers and fathers to take orders from their adult children. Issues of independence and competency often lurk in the background.

So do as Daniel Jr. and Daniel Sr. do: Find areas where each of you will take the lead.

3. Have fun. The happiest adult children I’ve interviewed who’ve hired their parents are the ones who find ways to enjoy each other’s company. Daniel Jr. and Daniel Sr. work out together at 5:30 a.m. and then chow down together.

“It is so cool,” says Daniel Jr. “How many sons still get to eat breakfast and lunch with their dad?”
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