Many American corporations can trace their roots back to small, family-owned businesses, when young workers became apprentices to their older relatives and learned the “ins and outs” of running a business.  In 2007, ¼ of the companies that responded to the US Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners were family owned.

If your family owns a business, even if you love your parents, would you want to work for them as an adult?

Family-owned businesses tend to have more complicated dynamics that other types of businesses.  There is very little delineation between work and family; the two are intertwined.    Issues are very common, and sometime quite entertaining.   Many reality shows, from Cake Boss to Duck Dynasty, focus on the unique (and sometimes hyped) “family issues” that arise when siblings/spouses/parents/children work together.

These dysfunctional relationships might make for good TV; however, they are not necessarily the best for a person’s career or the business itself.

Here are some points that you can use for maintaining familial bliss with everyone while working towards common business goals and objectives.

  1.  Be as professional and courteous to your family members as you would be to non-family members.  Sometimes we become too relaxed with family just because they are – well – family.  We take it for granted that they will put up with our idiosyncratic mood swings in ways that others would not.  The truth is that “no, they won’t”.  Acting in the workplace how you would act while sitting on the living room couch will lead to workplace problems, regardless if it is a family business.
  2. Establish boundaries.  Dad is not “dad” at work.  Overly personal nicknames and titles could make other people uncomfortable, so before you begin employment, find out how you should address others at work – your family members included.
  3. Do not talk about other family member’s personal lives at work, except in ways that are utterly non-controversial.  Do not regale the accounts payable staff with a story about how your father (for example) has utterly failed at his diet by eating the full 6-course meal grandma made for dinner last night.
  4. Respect each other’s decisions and authority.  Keep your comments appropriate for your role in the company.  If you are handling procurement issues, do not become overly critical of how the collections department operates.
  5. Do not abuse family relationships.  Remember, you still have to do your job.  Even if your uncle/father/sister owns the company, that does not mean that you only work for them and can work when and how you want.  If you are not willing to listen to your actual manager, then they are put in a bad position.  Any job (regardless of the business owner) requires you to work hard, be punctual and complete tasks on-time and correctly.
  6. Remember that family roles may not apply.  People have roles within their families – roles that usually do not affect their competence at work.  The “family clown” may be completely professional at work, the “shy one” may be a powerful corporate speaker, and the “family tough-guy” may be a natural leader.

Working with family members can be a rewarding experience, but it can take time to build a business relationship separate from the familial relationship.  As much as you can prepare, and as many tips as you can read, there will be issues and complications that will arise.  You cannot plan for every single scenario.  Therefore, remember to always communicate.  Talk to one another.  Consistent, open, respectful communication is the key to addressing any/all issues that arise.

NOTE:  A full-color, downloadable PDF is available.