NEW YORK — When Susie Carder gave her daughter Amanda a summer job in her business coaching company, the teenager knew office gossip was forbidden. On Amanda's second day, Carder caught her in the break room, complaining — Carder describes it as talking smack — about how little her mother was paying her.
"I said, 'Excuse me, you're not happy with the amount of money you're making?' She said no. I said, 'OK, well I guess you should find somewhere else to work that will pay you what you deserve,' " said Carder, whose company that bears her name is based in San Diego.
With that, Amanda was fired.
Business owners often hire their teenagers to get work experience, earn some money and add to their resumes. But the presence of an owner's child can require a balancing act, not only for parent and teen, but also for everyone else in the company.
Owners have to be bosses, not parents. Staffers may be unsure about how to treat the owner's child and hesitate to report problems. That means owners need to give extra encouragement to employees to ensure the teens are held to the same standards as every other worker.
Carder didn't doubt her decision to fire her daughter; she was resolute about standing by her company's values. As a mother, though, Carder was fuming. But when she got home, Amanda said: "Mom before you say anything, I apologize. I was disrespectful. You were giving me an opportunity and support and I was wrong."
Carder hugged her daughter, but the dismissal stood. The experience may have helped in the long run; after attending Harvard University and the Wharton School of business at the University of Pennsylvania, Amanda went to work for an investment banking firm.
Jim Skinner found that memories of working in his father's company helped him be understanding even as he had to be a tough boss to his three sons. On several occasions, Skinner's oldest son, James, got upset when he had to stay late at Skinner's firm, A&C Pest Management; James had plans and in the moment, they were more important than the job. Skinner says he learned to stay calm when there was friction.
"We would talk about it and I would try to explain that sometimes, it is what it is. After college, he started to take life and business a lot more seriously," said Skinner, co-owner of the East Meadow, N.Y.-based business. All three of his sons worked at the company while in school and after graduation.
A common problem occurs when employees are afraid to tell the boss a child's work or behavior falls short. Laura Smith brought her 15-year-old son Jordan into her company, All-Star Cleaning Services, and over the course of two months, he worked with many employees. Then Smith learned from the general manager that her son's work wasn't good; he was trying hard but his idea of what was clean really wasn't clean. Co-workers were re-cleaning what he had done.
Smith, who says giving feedback is an integral part of her Fort Collins, Colo.-based business, was shocked that no one talked to her, or to her son. That was a hard lesson for her.
"I think that everyone wanted working here to not be a negative experience" for Jordan, Smith said. "My mistake was not checking in with the people who were working with him."
Before an owner's child starts work, the boss must set expectations for everyone in the business, and also let them know that there won't be any repercussions if they have to write up or report the teen, says David Lewis, CEO of OperationsInc, a human resources provider based in Norwalk, Conn.
"An owner needs to say, 'You have to make sure that if there are any issues or concerns that you come to me,' " said Lewis. He's a veteran of being an owner/boss/parent; both his children worked in his company.
Although Mike Young encouraged managers of his Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers stores in Iowa to hold his children accountable, staffers still felt that "this is the owner's kid. I'm not going to write them up."
Young recalls a morning when he knew his daughter Katie had arrived late to work. The store manager shrugged it off. When Young asked, "What would you have done if she weren't my kid?" the manager admitted he would have disciplined her.