Wise To Be Your Spouse’s Boss?

Mixing love and money is mighty tricky (please feel free to quote me on this, as long as you leave “mighty” in). There are a thousand ways to make a buck, but you only have one marriage (I assume). It’s challenging to create a happy marriage, and it’s challenging to create a successful business. Combining the two becomes challenging squared.

I get it. Family businesses are a huge part of our economy. There are 5.5 million family owned businesses in the US. Family businesses account for 64 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, generate 62 percent of the country’s employment, and account for 78 percent of all new job creation. Family-owned businesses are the backbone of the American economy.

In addition, it’s scary hiring new people for your team, and for this reason most leaders dread it. It’s very tempting to hire family members whom you know have good skills and good values.

Be aware, however, that supervising your spouse is fraught with role-conflict opportunities to wreck your family life. This is true when supervising any family member, but is a particularly challenging  if you’re considering managing your spouse.

Here are some reasons why:

  1. Your primary role as a spouse is to support and encourage your life mate in an equal-power relationship.
  2. Your primary role as a leader is to be accountable for the overall performance of a business or business unit, and you have more power than those who report to you. In performing this role, at times you must hold your subordinates (I use this term knowingly because of the power differential) negative feedback as part of holding them accountable for job performance.
  3. Even though it’s an essential part of leading a successful organization, nobody really enjoys getting negative feedback.
  4. I don’t know about you, but in general I try to avoid creating additional opportunities to give my spouse negative feedback–my couch isn’t all that comfortable.
  5. It’s almost impossible to convince your other team members that your spouse doesn’t receive some level of favoritism, and that the two of you aren’t an unfair power block in decision making situations.
  6. If you try to address #5 by being even more demanding on your spouse, then you’ve doubled your problems on #4.
  7. Even if you negotiate all the previous challenges successfully (god bless you and good luck with that), you run the additional risk of making your marriage too much about work and task achievement and too little about enjoying life together (e.g., “what shall we talk about at dinner and on vacation?”).

For my money, the risks of being your spouse’s boss easily outweigh the rewards. Instead I think i’d just figure out how to get better at hiring the right people…

High-Performance Habits

  1. Mixing love and money is mighty tricky–there are a thousand ways to make a buck, but you have only one marriage.
  2. Be aware that there are significant role-conflict risks to your marriage when you choose to manage your spouse.
  3. Set clear boundaries for both your marriage (e.g., no talking about work after 6 pm) and your work relationship (e.g., it’s best that you report to someone else); otherwise work can consume and ultimately destroy your marriage.
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