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Working With Family Members: It's Not Personal, It's Just Business

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

March 27, 2011

5 Min Read
Working With Family Members: It's Not Personal, It's Just Business

By Rhonda R. Savage

If you've ever been in business with a family member, you know there are several advantages. However, 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 knowledge you have of a person at a deeper level, and have a great working relationship?

Families have successfully worked together, and there are reasons why it's worked. What are the qualities that facilitate successful working relationships? What are the common concerns and practices within companies that employ family? If youre in business with or are thinking about working with family members, being aware of the following issue can prevent them from becoming problems in your business.

Loyalty Leads to Micromanagement

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

Take the example of a business owner who employed his mother. He had established his vision and goals, but had trouble developing a consistent, fair style of leadership. He found staff management 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 said the office staff wasn't diligent enough in collecting money at the time of service and inconsistent in their processing methods. She also said they weren't doing a good job and needed to pay more attention to detail.

The owner 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 do their jobs in detail. She meant well and only wanted to help the business succeed, but her micromanaging drove down the morale of the business.

Taking Work Home

One business owner enjoys working with his wife, but she was concerned the team members weren't held accountable for their work. Because the owner is sensitive to conflict, he avoids team meetings, coaching and performance reviews. His wife is quite verbal during the off hours about her feelings, which causes him discomfort, as he's sensitive to criticism; it creates tension in their personal relationship.

It's important, especially for couples, to separate their work 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 within the office because of how it might impact them on the home front. They may walk on eggshells at work, worried about how the family member might respond if he was 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 them differently. Because of this, your family-member employee will always need to hold himself at the same or even higher level of accountability than other employees. There are several things family members can do to be great employees, including:

  • Be early.

  • Be dependable.

  • Pay attention to work responsibilities.

  • Follow through.

  • Be friendly and have fun.

  • Be encouraging. Use the words "Absolutely!" and "Certainly!"

  • Be a mentor.

  • Take an active role in learning about the business.

  • Always speak positively about the owner and the business, in and out

  • of the office.

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

Unfair Pay

Some business owners try to help their family by paying more than the average wage for that employment category, which can impact the total payroll overhead. Its unfair to neglect the rest of the team's income because you want to give special treatment to a family member. You'll see resentment and unhappiness build if this is the case. Remember, when morale goes down, productivity goes down.

In addition to pay, gender or age differences that impact 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.

A Successful Family Business

If family employees and other employees just can't seem to get along, you must resolve the issue. If you don't, tension will build, morale will plummet, and the business will suffer. Most don't like to deal with these issues. It's easier to brush them under the carpet. Yet talking about conflict is exactly what you'll need to do for your business to have the harmonious atmosphere clients seek.

If you find your employees don't get along, you'll need to facilitate the discussion. There are two questions you should ask yourself that will help take the emotional side out of the equation: Is whatever is happening in the best interest of the customer care? Is whatever is happening in the best interest of a healthy 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 to be successful. 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.

Dr. Rhonda Savage is an internationally acclaimed speaker and CEO for a well-known practice-management and consulting business. Shes a noted motivational speaker on leadership, women's issues and communication. For more information e-mail [email protected]; visit www.dentalmanagementu.com .

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