Direct Marketing Article
Working With Family Members: It's Not
Personal - It's Just Business
By Rhonda R. Savage, DDS
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 knowledge you have of
a person at a deeper level and also have a great working relationship?
Families have successfully worked together, but there are reasons why it's
worked. What are the qualities that facilitate successful family working
relationships? What are the common issues in practices that exist within
companies that employ family? If you are in business with or thinking about
working with family members, being aware of the following issues can prevent
them from becoming problems in your business.
Loyalty leading 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.
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 the staff management was much harder than actually
doing the work. His mother, in her eagerness to help him succeed, was openly
voicing her concerns and opinions during business hours and outside the
She felt the office staff wasn't diligent enough in collecting money at the
time of service and inconsistent in their 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 enjoys working with his wife. His wife, however, was
concerned that 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 and creates tension in their personal 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
within the office because of how it might impact them on the personal/home
front. They may walk on eggshells at work, worried about how the family
member might respond if they 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 them differently. Because of this, your family member
employee will always need to hold him or herself at the same or even higher
level of accountability than other employees.
Some business owners try to help their family out by paying more than the
average wage for that employment category, which can impact the total
payroll overhead. It is 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 difference 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.
What are the traits of a great family team member?
If you happen to be an employee in your family member's business, there are
several things you can do to avoid the above issues including:
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. Take an active role in learning about the business; be excited about your
9. Always speak positively about the owner and the business, both in and out
of the office
10. Offer advice when asked or ask first before discussing a concern
If family employees and your 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 don't like to deal with these
issues…it's easier to brush them under the carpet. Yet talking about these
issues is exactly what you'll need to do in order for your business to have
the harmonious atmosphere that clients seek.
If you find your employees don't get along, you'll need to facilitate the
discussion. There are two questions that 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 the customer care?
2. Is "whatever is happening" in the best interest of the business as a
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 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
About the Author:
Dr. Rhonda Savage is an internationally acclaimed speaker and CEO for a
well-known practice management and consulting business. Dr. Savage is a
noted motivational speaker on leadership, women's issues and communication.
For more information on her speaking, visit