Spotlight on: working with a sibling

Bossy older sisters, warring brothers – could you cope with working with your sibling? And how would your manager cope?

Tim Davis and his older brother Simon set up IDNet, billed as the cognoscenti’s internet service provider, in 1996. Tim handles the marketing and Simon the technical side. “I would recommend separate offices,” says Davis. “You then have a good excuse to meet up at the end of the day and go to the pub.”


Charlotte Rose, proprietor of the Lakeside Café and catering business in Peterborough, employs both her siblings and finds managing them decidedly tricky. “The older sibling can fight for control of the younger sibling with me and will discipline them before I do.”

Although IDNet has been a huge success story, difficult decisions need to be made when running a business. Davis believes that you can be more upfront with a sibling than with an unrelated employee. “Competition is natural, particularly with siblings, so it helps if you have strengths in different areas.”

Dr John Nuttall, lecturer at Regent’s College, suggests that “the key thing is not to get drawn into a role that evokes the family script, and find yourself playing the parent”.

He adds: “Your siblings may collectively perceive you as the parent they had a problem with, or they may somehow engineer events in the office to induce you to take on the role of parent. There’s often a lot of game-playing with siblings.”

Nuttall suggests monitoring your own behaviour is the best way to avoid being drawn into family games. “Issues such as promoting one sibling and not the other are ripe for manipulation, so ensure you are safeguarded by having clear procedures and policies and following them to the letter.”


One employee who works for a marketing agency in St Albans, is currently working under a company owner/director who brings his younger sister in as a ‘consultant’ whenever she is between jobs. “She is brought in at a wildly inappropriate level and the whole office has to support her,” he says.

“There is a lot of muttering when she turns up in the office and we are told which project she will be managing. My boss treats her like a daughter and tries to look after her all the time. It is very difficult to feel that you are being treated as an equal when you have visible proof of favouritism going on in front of you.”

But it’s not all drawbacks. What Davis describes as “family shorthand” means there is a big advantage for employers. “There is an unspoken understanding between siblings, and they are used to negotiating with each other,” says Rose.

Known element

She adds: “The intimacy you would have from working with someone for 15 years is already there. Also because they are the sibling they are more of a known element to the team they are joining.”

So she would recommend it? “Yes. Except working with identical twins – that was a nightmare.”

Tips for managing siblings

  • Make it clear that family issues stay at home.
  • Don’t expect them to share the same qualities.
  • Brief them separately and give them individual tasks.
  • Make sure they realise they won’t always be treated the same.
  • Monitor your own feelings to ensure you are acting normally and are not being manipulated into being the parent.
  • Be scrupulously fair to both siblings.
  • Implement procedures to minimise your involvement in any manipulation that may be going on.

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