Whether to Hire Your Spouse

Cabinetmakers take a serious look at the implications of involving the owner's spouse (in this case, the wife) in the business. April 29, 2012

We have a good niche business in very upscale residential, and we have downsized from around 8-10 employees to 3-4 employees (added more equipment to make up for people). Our shop is 25,000 ft and we have plenty of room. Our business is out of debt - just lease on shop space that is very reasonable, and normal overhead, as equipment is paid for. We have seen the slowdown over the last 3 years, but we have been gaining in our high end jobs that are much more profitable, and with less people we can focus on jobs and turn down things we don't see as profitable.

My wife was a school teacher and just got laid off. Not sure if or when she can return to work. We are in Ohio and every school around has cut, so there's not much hiring. She has always helped in the office part time, very minimal, but knows what is going on. She is now helping full time, and it has helped out a lot, especially since we have cut people. Our dilemma is, should we have her keep working full time for us, or try to find another teaching job? With the cuts to benefits and pay, teaching is not what it was. I feel that with her help in the business, we could do much better.

Has anyone done something similar? How did it work out? It's nice to have her work outside the business so all our eggs are not in one basket, but I also feel that I can do much better with her help. She also likes managing the office and is very willing to get more education to excel at it and grow.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor K:
If you pay yourself a consistent paycheck and your reserves can guarantee that your wife will also get a check, and she wants to do it, I say go for it. If, however, you do not pay yourself consistently, I've seen spouses turned into payees of last resort (i.e. - when we have the money). This can cause all sorts of problems.

I don't see anything wrong with working this in tandem. Have her work with you for a paycheck, get her the extra training you talked about, while she continues to look for a replacement job. If she never finds one, you now have her trained and up and running. If she does, you still have someone trained, but as a part-timer or backup.

Just plan this one out to the -enth degree.

From the original questioner:
That was kind of our thought. She can still even do part time teaching sub. Our plan was for her to help over the next year or two, since I do not see many schools hiring right now with budget cuts. She will be doing a lot of extra work that we pay the accountant big bucks to do right now, or would be paying someone else. I also think that she has a personal stake in the company, so it drives her to succeed a little more than someone off the street. I have told her that if she can get a position, she may need to go back to it, but hope in the meantime she can help establish things in the office so someone can take over if she leaves, and just help part time.

From contributor K:
Sounds good, but remember, especially in the education field, the longer you are unemployed, the harder it will be to find the work.

From contributor A:
On paper it makes perfect senseÖ and you can find dozens of reasons to support the idea; maybe more. However, Iíd recommend against it!

Working together, day in and day out, dealing with employees, vendors, customers, collecting money, paying bills, buying materials, negotiating jobs, bidding, designing and so forth is a recipe for relationship disaster. Your wife needs to get a job, have her own friends and coworkers. Itís doubtful that you both will be able to exercise the discipline needed to leave work at the office. We are emotional creatures, not logical ones. Your personal life will become one with your business and your marriage will become a blurred working relationship that can very well end in failure.

No matter how good she is Ė and believe me, I know there isnít a better person to watch over your business than your trusted spouseÖ Donít make the mistake!

According to enrichment journal on the divorce rate in America:
The divorce rate in America for first marriage is 41%
The divorce rate in America for second marriage is 60%
The divorce rate in America for third marriage is 73%

Iím certain that if there was a study of marriages where husband and wife worked together, the divorce rate would be outrageously high. Iím sure there are exceptions to this, as there is with just about everything. If you have a great relationship, donít risk it.

From contributor M:
Sounds great. I would treat her like a good employee that I want to invest in. I would send her to a course on the software we use and train her to handle proposals and JO/PO management. It is not glamorous work but it is what makes a good cabinet shop great.

From contributor S:
I've been married almost 40 years. I have always considered my shop the original man cave. It's a place of escape. It's my place and we do things my way. My wife would pitch in if there was a problem that needed extra hands. Temporary only. That's probably why I have always been excited to go home to her at the end of the day - I didn't have to work with her all day. Besides the social issues, if you have your wife working at your shop, if something goes sour, you are both unemployed as opposed to just one of you at a time.

From contributor B:
My wife came from a significant executive position to work in our company several years ago. I could never find someone as passionate or trustworthy as her to work with. We have a division of labor where she is the primary decision maker in some areas and I am the primary decision maker in others. We do discuss all the decisions for the most part, but it is a joint operation. I treat her as an equal and respect and appreciate her expertise. It actually helped us in many ways because our goals are now the same. If some family event makes it necessary for one of us to be out of work, it is easier to choose who. Sometimes she is in crunch time, sometimes it is me. It all tends to work out. I think the key to making it work is respect.

From contributor K:
Hiring her will only speed up the date when you have to give her half the business. It is inevitable, in any case, so just prepare for that to occur sooner once she works there and you two never get a break from each other.

From contributor T:
Not sure if it's relevant, but as a sole proprietor, marital assets jointly owned, like your house, are not jeopardized in the event of any type of lawsuit against the business. If your spouse is on the payroll, however, then marital assets are in potential jeopardy. Check with a professional on this. My wife is an HR Director for a company and does my books, but doesn't take any pay (other than my ever-loving gratitude) because of this.

From contributor S:
Sure hope you aren't doing business in California and getting legal advice like that!

From contributor I:
If someone has to consider whether you are willing or not to share assets or ownership of a business with your wife, then why would you want to be married to her anyway?

Working with my wife in our own business for over 25 years has been the best and also the worst thing I have ever done. I guess you could say that about marriage in general. It all boils down to how you go about it and what you expect in return. The end result is I have a marriage that has been tried and tested, repeatedly, and my marriage is far stronger and better than it could have been otherwise.

If you are the type of person who would be threatened by your wife having good advice against some of your decisions, or if you will be made to feel insecure when she is right and you are wrong, don't do it. However, if you will welcome the possibility that she can help you make better decisions, that she may see things you don't, and that regardless of her position, she will have a voice and opinions and you will need to listen to them, then do it. I guess I am saying that whether she is your partner or just an employee, she will need to discuss things, even after hours, with you about what she sees and believes is going on and you will need to listen. What you do with what she says is a whole other topic.

As to whether or not working together will destroy your marriage, I believe it can only speed up what would happen anyway. It is like parents who become empty nesters. All of a sudden they see more of each other and realize they don't really love each other anymore. Working together can do this too, but it isn't the working together that kills the marriage, it just exposes the flaws.

Over the last three days since Monday, my wife and I have been constantly side by side from 8:00 am until 8:00 pm working. And then we still go home together. But we always know that if one of us needs a break, we can honor that. No coincidence, today is my 32nd anniversary. We will not be working together today - my wife has sort of taken the day off.

So make sure you both know what the expectations are going to be, and go for it. But I think you may also want to consider and discuss an exit strategy so nobody ever feels pressured and always understands this is a voluntary move.

From contributor B:
Well said, contributor I - I agree.

From contributor N:
My wife and I have been working together, running our business, for 27 years now. Basically she runs the front end, I run the back end, with slight overlaps when needed. We don't see much of each other during the day, as we made sure our offices were not in the same area. We are both there for each other when you want to bounce ideas around or make major decisions. Some days we take 2 vehicles to work depending on time table. We start each and every day at the coffee shop with a bunch of friends from all walks of life. When we get to the shop, she goes her way, I go mine. As it has been mentioned, there are always head butting sessions, but I would hardly call it cause for divorce. You learn to separate work and home, and when you don't, you take advantage of that big house you invested in. Even at home, my office is as far as it could be from my wife's. You do have to make sure you have a life at home to go to. We like to go to the racetrack (horses), or check out folk music clubs, and dinner out with friends a couple times a week. Don't talk shop when out on a date.

From contributor G:
All of the positives mentioned above, plus if your business is doing well, you can take two raises. If you tell her you have to work yet another weekend, she is more likely to understand. Think of all the time you will save not listening to what kind of a day she had at work. Carpool - we have only one personal vehicle between us. She works less at the shop, me less, a lot less at home, but we never discuss division of labor. These are just a few off the top of my head. The only catch is that you have to believe she is your equal.