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Working In A Family Business

such a business can be an exciting way to spend your time on the clock and a prosperous way to develop your familial relationships. With the potential for long histories, rich in tradition, successful family businesses thrive because everyone involved enjoys learning and working with relatives with whom they are comfortable. These businesses can also be lucrative for parents due to the tax breaks that can be incurred from having their children work for them.

At the same time, there are several challenges associated with family businesses. Family disputes, unbalanced employee treatment and lack of planning for the future are a few of the most common issues.

As the operator of your family business, you need to know how to walk the tightrope between family employees and non-family employees, all while keeping your eye on the bottom line. Here are some tips to give your family business the foundation that it needs to succeed.

Separate family time from work time

One of the advantages of a family business is that many of the "employees" are also family members, which often encourages a stronger commitment to the company. This means that there’s a willingness to work overtime and on weekends, but that isn't always good for the family unit’s health.

Business might come first, but family should always be a strong second. As such, it is important to make regular plans for the family to spend time together away from the office, on vacations or family outings, for example. While your family is away from the business, work should be the last thing on anyone’s mind, and no one should think about or discuss it.

Separating family time and work time also means keeping family matters out of the workplace. Don't make your workplace a gossip terminal to air out ongoing personal issues between you and your obnoxious cousin. There's a time and a place to resolve personal disputes, and it doesn’t happen at work.

Creating a division between family time and work time will keep your business moving and your family peaceful.

Treat all employees equally

When you work with some of the same people that you have dinner with, it's easy to treat or talk to family-member employees differently than the rest of your staff. You might be having a bad day, but that doesn't give you the right to be moody because family members "understand" that you're like that sometimes.

A good practice to avoid this pitfall is to treat your family members with the same level of respect that you give to your customers. This also applies to public displays of affection if you're working with your significant other. You might think it's cute, but your staff and family members will find professional actions more comfortable than your affectionate ways.

Equal treatment also applies to written policies, employee behavior and hiring procedures. This works best if you start early, by creating clear job descriptions and hiring based on qualifications, not on genes. Probationary periods provide the opportunity to make job expectations and performance standards known to all employees, regardless of their status as a family member. Finally, some solid rules of conduct will keep behavior patterns consistent and leave no one feeling like they will "get away" with something because they’re family, especially when it comes to sexual harassment or possible conflicts of interest.

Everyone will feel welcome and no one will be favored if you establish equal treatment across the board.

Let people leave

As with any business, there comes a point in time when employees will feel the need to change environments or switch careers. When you’re in charge of a family business, you should be prepared for and respect the decision of anyone and everyone who chooses to move on. If you try to confine them to your business, you risk worsening your personal (and professional) relationship, which might cause more instability to the business than if you let them go.

We'd all like to keep our good employees, and even though you should never force someone to stay, you can still provide an environment that will encourage them to stick around. In a family business situation, this can be done if you give every qualified employee, family or not, the chance to advance into a leadership or management role. Healthy communication is key; show your employees that you value their opinions by taking their input into consideration when making important company decisions.

In short, don't be afraid to let employees go, but make the effort to keep all of your employees happy while they're with you.

Don't abuse power

Because of preordained family roles, some people think that these also apply in a family business. They don't. This means that, in a business situation, your children should listen to you as business owner, rather than as a father. It also means that you need to respect their choices without enforcing your influence. If family roles get mixed in with employee relations, there’s a danger that the family power will be abusive and unnecessary. In a worst-case scenario, a domineering parent or family member can incite poor company decisions and compromise individual authority.

To prevent the abuse of power and keep your family relationships solid, you should be positive and constructive in your dealings with family employees. If you need to criticize a family member, make sure that your comments are about the job and not personal or about their place in the family. Whenever you can, be positive and offer friendly feedback that makes them feel good about the great work that they do for you.

If you keep things friendly and respectful with your family members, power can be positive instead of abusive.

Have a succession plan

A family business can only stand the test of time if it can be successfully passed on from one generation to the next. If you're not considering the future, you're shortchanging your business and all of your employees. The key to longevity lies in a solid succession plan that will keep the company running smoothly while the main players change roles behind the scenes.

To formulate a quality succession strategy, sort out the roles of the company's new leaders and redefine the management roles. This will give everyone a clear picture of where the business is going and who will be doing what, thus minimizing confusion during the transition. Don't be surprised if role changes and new business positions appear a result of a succession. From there, figure out an authority structure to deal with problems, and don't forget about the outgoing owners (aka, you) -- who will need a plan that provides a financial cushion on the way out.

Proper succession means that the right people will be in the right places and business can continue thriving well into the future.


Just like any job, operating a family business has its fair share of positives and an equal share of challenges. Your overall success will be determined by how well you can anticipate problems and whether you have the necessary people, as well as a professional approach and company policies to take care of them. Once you have the right ideas, you can enjoy the growth of your business, a great reputation for your family name, and the chance to work with the people who you care about the most.

By Jasper Anson

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