Not Personal – Just Business

Attention to several basic issues can help you enjoy the benefits of a family business without the potential destructive conflicts

If you’ve ever been in business with a family member, you know there are several advantages, but even the most dedicated, hard-working family member can experience or create tension, stress and conflict in the company.

Can you really separate your family history, emotions and the knowledge you have of a person at a deeper level and still have a great working relationship? Families have successfully worked together, but there are reasons why it has worked.

What are the qualities that facilitate successful family working relationships? What are the common issues and practices that exist within companies that employ family? If you work with family members, awareness of several issues can prevent them from becoming problems in your business.


Loyalty leading to micromanagement

Often, family members are more dedicated to the success of the business than other staff members. The old saying, “Family is thicker than blood,” holds true, and yet too much caring can cause conflict.

One business owner employed his mother. The owner had established his vision and goals, but he had trouble developing a consistent, fair style of leadership. He found staff management was much harder than actually doing the work. His mother, in her eagerness to help him succeed, openly voiced her concerns and opinions during business hours and outside the office.

She felt the office staff wasn’t diligent enough in collecting money at the time of service and was inconsistent in processing methods. She felt they weren’t doing a good job and needed more attention to detail. The boss had difficulty enforcing his policies because of the conflicting views between his mother and the other team members.

His mother became a micromanager, telling everyone how they should be doing their jobs, in detail. She meant well and only wanted to help the business succeed, but her micromanaging drove the morale of the business down.


Taking work home

One business owner enjoyed working with his wife. His wife, however, was concerned that the team members weren’t held accountable for their work. Because the owner was sensitive to conflict, he avoided team meetings, coaching and performance reviews. His wife was quite verbal during off hours about her feelings, and that caused him discomfort, as he was sensitive to criticism. This created tension in their relationship.

It’s important, especially for couples to separate their work life and personal life. Bringing personal issues into the workplace, and visa versa, can create tension and an uncomfortable environment for all employees.


Hiring someone you can’t fire

Business owners can be hesitant to talk to a family member about a problem at the office because of how it might affect them on the personal and home front. They may walk on eggshells at work, worried about how the family member might respond if he or she were treated the same as other employees.

To be successful as a team member, family members need to know their role in the business. Being a family member and an employee can put anyone in a difficult position. Other employees, no matter how hard the family member works, may look at him or her differently. Because of this, the family member employee will need to hold himself or herself to the same or even a higher level of accountability than other employees.


Unfair pay

Some business owners try to help their family out by paying more than the average wage for the job category. That can affect payroll overhead. It is unfair to neglect other team members’ incomes because you want to give special treatment to a family member. You’ll see resentment and unhappiness build if you do this. 

Remember, when morale goes down, productivity goes down. In addition to pay, gender difference or age differences that affect your relationship with your team may feel intensified with your family employees. Recognize that some conflict develops due to these differences and work at learning about better communication and leadership.


Being part of the team

What are the traits of a great family team member? If you happen to be an employee in a family member’s business, there are several things you can do to avoid the above issues. They include:

1. Be early.

2. Be dependable.

3. Pay attention to your work responsibilities; be accountable.

4. Follow through.

5. Be friendly and have fun.

6. Be encouraging. Use the words “Absolutely!” and “Certainly!”

7. Be a mentor.

8. Actively learn about the business; be excited about your industry.

9. Speak positively about the owner and the business, in and out of the office.

10. Offer advice when asked or ask first before discussing a concern.


Addressing problems

If family employees and your other employees just can’t seem to get along, you must resolve the issue. If you don’t, tension will build, morale will go down, and the business will suffer.

Most owners don’t like to deal with these issues because it seems easier to brush them under the carpet. Yet talking about them is what you’ll need to do if your business is to have the harmonious atmosphere your customers seek.

If you find your employees don’t get along, you’ll need to facilitate the discussion. There are two questions you can ask yourself that will help take the emotional side of the problem out of the equation:

1. Is whatever is happening in the best interest of customer care?

2. Is whatever is happening in the best interest of the health of the business?


A successful family business

The key to a successful employee/family relationship is that everyone in the office is treated the same. You need the same level (or higher) of accountability, timeliness and dedication to customer service from all of your employees, especially family members.

Specifically outlining each employee’s role and keeping personal issues out of the workplace will ensure a positive work environment for you and your family member. C



Dr. Rhonda Savage is an internationally known speaker and CEO for a practice management and consulting business. She is a motivational speaker on leadership, women’s issues and communication. Visit or email


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