HR Corner: Family Businesses – Working with Family Members

Family Business

Working with members of your family can be a very trying and challenging situation or a very satisfying one. It can bring out the best or worst in you and your relatives. If you take the right steps to prevent family-related issues from negatively affecting the well-being of the company, working with family can lead your business to success.

Family Business

First and foremost, make sure that those who are hired have been hired based on their credentials and skills, not their relationship to the owner. If they do not possess the proper credentials, you should have a training program in place to get them properly prepared. As with any employee/employer relationship, you need to clarify the specific goals of the company to each member of the family who is now on the payroll. This ensures that every member involved understands the company’s desired goals and is working towards meeting them. Additionally, you have to hire them with the intention and follow-through to hold them to the same standards as the typical employee.

Second, make sure that everyone who is involved in the business has defined roles. Be sure to completely describe all responsibilities to each party to guarantee optimal clarity. This is an especially critical step because it’s very common that working family relationships fall apart when this step has not been taken.1Battles of ownership, power and decision-making can result when roles are not clearly defined in any business, especially those that involve family members.

One of the best things you can do to maintain a harmonious working environment is to leave family-related issues at home. No matter how hard you try, sibling rivalries, marital disagreements and family crises will inevitably trickle into the workplace. You must diligently attempt to minimize the influence of family issues as soon as they arise. As with any business, don’t let resentments and arguments stay unresolved. To do this, family members who work together can create a code of conduct about such issues as to how and when you will discuss conflicts. An example is to set up regular meeting times outside of the work day.

Also, it’s important not to extend your role beyond the workplace. At work, you might be the boss, but at home, your role is that of a husband, a wife, an aunt, an uncle, a brother, etc. If you continue to treat the family members you work with like employees outside of the workplace, you will likely cause a rift in your family relationships, which in return hurts the business and all the people involved.

Succeeding in a family business is not easy, but with the right guidance, it can be uniquely rewarding and provide the potential to pass your family business on to future generations. The problems of family business are so complex and unique, a new field has emerged called “Family Business Advising.” Family business advisors come from the fields of law, finance, psychology and organizational development, and share knowledge to create better solutions. If you are looking for an advisor, make sure he/she has the expertise and specialized training needed to address the unique needs of family businesses and the “family business advisor” designation.2

Every business has to be run like a business – even when family is involved. Just because you are related to someone doesn’t mean that the company is a playground for working out family tribulations. Each family member should act as an employee of the company and be given the dignity and respect of an employee as well. Working with family is a great opportunity for growth, for both the business and the family members. When done right, businesses benefit when the strength of a strong family relationship is behind them.

References: 1 Javitch, David Dr.(2006). 10 Tips for Working with Family Members
2 Vogt, Kay Dr.(2009). Being Realistic About Working with Family Members