Family Business: How Do You Effectively Work with Family?

Some people fantasize about owning and operating a family business – – how wonderful it would be to go to work with their spouse and/or children each day. They believe that running a family business is the best of both worlds because while earning a living they can spend their days with family. I often dreamed of the same thing because I dreaded the day when I would need to leave my children at a day care and go into the office to work. I thought that if my husband and I could open a family business we could incorporate our work into our daily lives so that we would not realize 20 years later that most of our time was spent away from our family than with them.

Thankfully, we never realized that dream because my husband and I can barely hang wallpaper in our home together much less work every day side by side operating a business. Families who own and operate a business together have an ability to set aside their personal feelings at work and then leave work behind when they return home each day. I was romanticizing the idea of a family business and that is definitely not a good start for a business of any type. During my career, I have worked for two family owned businesses. One marriage ended in divorce (as well as the business ended) while the other marriage and business is still as strong as it was when they opened their business.

Tips for successfully working with family:

1. Respect coworkers – When you are at work, you should treat family members as you do other workers. If you shout at each other at home or joke about how much weight your spouse has put on in the past few years, leave that at home. You would not treat other employees in this manner and you should not treat your family that way at work. A family business is a business so everyone should be treated, and should treat each other, with respect.

2. Leave home at home – When you come into work, leave all family problems and issues at home. Do not discuss family matters at work. While you are at work, you should concentrate on work as you expect your other employees to do. Do not have staff do personal errands or personal work just because your family owns the business and you feel as if this is also your “home office.”

3. Leave work at work – The reverse is true for when you leave work. Do not take work problems home. This is probably the most difficult part of owning and operating a family business because when problems arise you are tempted to focus on them at home as well as in the office. Try to keep all work discussions at the office even if you need to stay late or come in early. Your home should be a sanctuary that you can return to without the worries of work.

4. Never argue in front of employees – When employees see the owners argue with each other, they loose respect for their employers and work productivity declines. If you have a disagreement, take it behind closed doors and remember the walls have ears – keep your voices down. A husband and wife who are working together as the owners of a company should always present a united front and be in agreement in front of employees no matter how long it took for them to reach the agreement behind closed doors.

5. Do not gossip or discuss your family with other employees – I was actually subpoenaed in my employer’s divorce because his wife insisted upon including me in all of the details of their marriage. This was extremely inappropriate and put me in a horrible position. I left before their marriage completely failed; however, I was still subjected to being involved with their divorce. Employees should not know the intimate details of their employer’s family life so leave that discussion for your close friends or other family members outside of the business.

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