There are lots of good reasons to hire your children for summer jobs: get them up in the morning and give them a chance to be productive; provide a tax deductible allowance; fill an important business need; or intrigue them into a future with the family business. But as with most family-business decisions, extra care is required because such decisions affect both the family and the business.

For most youngsters the experience is positive. The son of the owner of a direct-mail firm in Wisconsin explains:

Working summers in our business was great. I learned a lot about the business, but mostly I had a chance to earn the respect of the employees in the warehouse. I showed them I could work as hard as anyone on a hot day. I showed them I respected their jobs. And after a while they trusted me enough to tell me some great stories on how management sometimes didn’t listen enough to the employees….

There can also be some unexpected consequences. Here is the experience of a daughter in a trade magazine publishing firm:

When I graduated from high school, I spent a few weeks at the magazine before leaving for a long family vacation. I was thrown into some copyediting where I had no confidence. When I left, the manager in charge told me I would never be a good journalist. That made me angry, and in college, I worked for the school literary publication and did everything from layout to writing poetry to prove him wrong!

Surely the manager in the second example was unhappy at having to put up with the boss daughter for such a brief time when little could be accomplished. Perhaps that was at the root of the inappropriate condemnation. Or maybe the daughter didn’t really take the job seriously having her mind on the upcoming vacation, college, whatever. (Happily, it didn’t turn out as badly as it might have.)

With the realization that summer jobs can impact future expectations and effectiveness, it’s important to pay close attention to the fundamentals:

  • Put the kids into real jobs that need to be done and that they have the maturity and ability to do. Avoid observer jobs and filler jobs that just fill the gap between personal vacations or other interests.
  • Pay them what the job is worth no more.
  • Warn their managers that they are coming and that they should be managed the same as anyone else.
  • Let them get to work on their own so they aren’t compromised nor tied to your car-pool schedule.
  • Don’t cross examine them for information about other people; instead, show trust for your employees.

In these common sense ways, you will show respect for work, for money, for your children, for the business and for the people who work there.

Conversely, the kids must realize their responsibilities and the potential consequences of their behavior. Through excellent attendance, hard work, maintaining others trust and giving the extra effort for the worker team, they will earn the respect and confidence of the organization for a long time to come.

The summer job can open a youngster’s eyes to the realities of being the boss’s offspring. The child likely will become aware that everybody’s talking about him, his work habits, and his capacity for future leadership. It may seem unfair to the youngster, but he will learn that’s the way it is.

One might believe that being in a fishbowl and being judged by everyone might discourage family members interest in a future in the family’s business. Not so. Our experience leaves little doubt that involving your children in meaningful part-time or summer work increases the odds that they will have a more positive attitude toward a career in the family firm.

Summer jobs give youngsters a chance to prove ability and willingness to handle hard work. Here are some other considerations related to summer work for your children:

  • Some families insist that their children do something entrepreneurial, on their own, for at least one summer. They may develop their own lawn service, recruit tennis students, etc.
  • Others feel that everyone should have some retail experience to learn how to deal with the public and develop some selling skills.
  • Many families require that for at least one summer during college, their offspring must find their own jobs elsewhere. That rule precedes the expectation that finding outside experience in another business for three to five before full-time entry into the family’s business is a good principle.
  • Similarly, some families maintain that the job should be in someone else ‘s family business. Then, besides gaining experience working for another business, the offspring sees how others perceive family owners.
  • One family we know encourages their children to work elsewhere and directly for an entrepreneur. This kind of experience provides the chance to observe entrepreneurial thinking and action and to understand how important entrepreneurship will be to the future success of the family’s own firm.
  • Sometimes families look for projects for family members at different times in the early years. Examples include writing the family history or business history, designing the family tree, researching competitors or studying family foundations.

Whatever your approach to summer work for your children, it’s a decision that benefits from care and close reflection. Like so many decisions for a family in business, the real value comes from how you make the decision and why you believe as you do. Each decision powerfully communicates to members of your family and business important values for future success.