Bakers Journal

Working with family members

April 5, 2011
By Dr. Rhonda Savage

April 5, 2011 – 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

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 office.

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

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 or 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.

Unfair pay

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

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 industry.
  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 healthy 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 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. Savage is a
noted motivational speaker on leadership, women's issues and
communication. For more information on her speaking, visit or e-mail

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