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Many companies are owned and operated by families across multiple generations. This can create a distinctive work experience for the family members and offer unique benefits and challenges. If you work in a family business, it might be helpful to learn how you can make your experience more rewarding and your company more successful. In this article, we explain what family businesses are and provide 16 tips to help you improve the reality of working with your parents and other family members.
What is a family business?
A family business is a company in which the members of a family hold leadership positions and direct the course of the business. Leaders typically pass control of these companies to their children or other relatives so they may remain part of the family for generations. In smaller businesses, family members—including parents, children, aunts, uncles, spouses, and cousins—often work alongside one another while conducting business operations. In larger companies, a family may hold leadership positions but hire employees outside of the family.
16 tips for working for your parents
If you work in a family business, consider these tips to help improve the experience:
1. Keep business in the office
When working with parents and other family members, it’s possible that you may mix your work life and personal life, especially if you also live with your family. One way to avoid unnecessary crossover between the professional and personal is ensuring all business negotiations and disputes end before you go home. This can include future business plans, work incidents, arguments over processes and business practices, and financial concerns. Concluding these matters before going home can ensure that you create a healthy work-life balance and preserve your relationships with your family.
2. Leave family issues at home
It’s often just as important to keep family issues reserved for the home. If your family’s having a personal dispute, it’s best to resolve it before going to work if possible or avoid discussing it at your business. Family issues may disrupt business operations and cause unnecessary tension during business hours. It can also make employees from outside the family uneasy. Discussing family matters at home can ensure that your business operates more effectively and can help you create a better environment for employees.
3. Be respectful
Since people often have very comfortable relationships with their family members, it may be easy to develop an overly familiar work relationship. This can sometimes lead to disrespectful interactions and disputes. It’s often a good idea to treat your family like you might treat non-relative coworkers. This can help create an atmosphere of respect and a more standard professional atmosphere for your employees and customers. It can also help you maintain a healthy, long-term business relationship with your family.
4. Learn from your family’s experience
If your family’s business has been in operation for a long time, your parents, grandparent, aunts, uncles or cousins may have extensive experience working there. It’s often best to remember this and respect the efforts and expertise of your family. After years in business, they may have a lot of advice to share with you. Consider asking your parents what they can teach you about the company. Their advice may help you operate the business successfully if you inherit it.
5. Recognize strengths and weaknesses
When working in a family business, it can sometimes be challenging to recognize a family member’s professional weaknesses. For example, telling someone you love that they aren’t right for a role may be a delicate situation. To create a strong business, it’s important to determine who can succeed in which roles. For example, if a member of the family has excellent social media skills, it might be helpful to put them in charge of any social channels. A family member with well-developed communication skills might succeed in a role that interacts with customers or other parties.
6. Allow for evolution
The owners of family businesses often have a significant investment in their business practices and traditions, and they may experience difficulty changing those norms. This can sometimes prevent a company from adapting to current trends or adopting new technologies. If your family business has been operating for a long time, it’s important to examine new perspectives. Consider consulting with younger or newer members of the family. They may have a better understanding of current business practices and technologies that can ensure the continued success of your business.
7. Make work fun
One of the best parts of working with other family members is the opportunity to work with the people you care about most. To preserve this benefit, it’s often a good idea to ensure that not all your interactions involve business. You can do this by having work events or collaborating with your family on ideas for the future of the company.
8. Respect outside employees
Family businesses rarely employ only people from within the family, so you may work with many employees who aren’t relatives. Being a non-family member in a family business can put employees in a unique position, so it’s helpful to ensure they feel fully included in company decisions. You can do this by only talking about family issues outside of work and by holding meetings that include family members and other employees. You can also ensure that you don’t show favoritism toward your family.
9. Make disagreements professional
Since many people have informal relationships with their families, it can sometimes lead to unprofessional behavior when disagreements occur. When you have disputes with your family members about business issues, consider treating the situation like any other professional disagreement. You can use the same language you might use if you were talking to your supervisor or employee at another company. This can help you resolve issues more easily. It can also ensure that you continue having a beneficial relationship with your family members.
10. Be grateful
It’s often important to have a sense of gratitude when working with your family, especially if you’re newer to the business. Consider how hard your family worked and remember that they’re giving you a valuable opportunity. It’s also good to remember that working with people you care about is a unique privilege. These considerations can help you treat your family with respect and make them feel valued.
11. Enjoy quality family time outside of work
When business is challenging or busy, families may spend all of their time together at work. To keep your relationship with your family enjoyable and rewarding, set aside some recreational time for your family. Consider taking a trip if work allows, or arrange family dinners or outings. These activities can help you and your family prevent burnout and can ensure you maintain productivity and positivity at work.
12. Create clear roles
Family businesses often require a management structure, like other businesses. Certain family dynamics can make distinctions between roles less clear, which may lead to confusion over duties and authority. To prevent this, it’s often beneficial to create a straightforward hierarchy of positions and responsibilities that operates like any traditional management system. This can help employees understand their roles and complete tasks and ensure that both family and non-family members follow the same rules.
13. Respect departures
Sometimes, a family member may decide to leave the business and look for work elsewhere. This can be challenging, especially if you had plans to pass responsibilities on to them. It’s often important to allow your family members the freedom to leave the company and to treat it like a professional resignation. This can help you avoid disputes and ensure you continue to have a healthy relationship with all members of your family.
14. Find independent advice
Since many people have close relationships with their families, they may share many of the same opinions about their business. This can sometimes prevent them from recognizing weaknesses in their operations or pursuing change. In these cases, it’s beneficial to look for advice from an independent professional outside the family. These individuals may help you improve your business model, invest in new technologies or identify new opportunities for growth.
15. Find time away from family
People who work in family businesses often spend much of their time around their family members. This may lead to increased tension, which can create obstacles for the business in the long term. To avoid this, consider setting aside time to spend with friends.
16. Understand changing dynamics
If you work with your children or younger family members, their roles may change. For example, they may become eligible for leadership positions or higher-paying roles. Make sure you provide opportunities for growth and treat them like regular employees. This can help ensure they stay with the company for many years.