The Family Business

Keeping the “Biz” in the Family Business

It’s glaringly apparent that my TV-show recording and watching indicates that I need to get a life. A new one I caught this week, “Lone Star”, was about a Texas family in the oil business. It was reminiscent of “Dallas,” which for you youngsters was gorgeous rich people cheating, back-stabbing and drinking all while wearing fabulous clothes. At least “Lone Star” had several office scenes where people actually appeared to be making money to pay for those Armani suits.

I grew up in a family printing business which my mother ran and she dressed up for work, but I don’t recall her wearing Donna Karan. Although my dad was a design draftsman for a local company, at one point he joined my mother’s business to help out. There were no big dramas, plotting or intrigue in the company as far as I know. The only excitement I remember was my dad bailing a drunken press operator out of jail on a Saturday night.

When we were old enough, my brother and I had to work at the company in the summers. Whenever I think of some of the worst jobs I’ve had, that makes the short list. I worked in the bindery and the temperature was close to 100˚. Even now, I can flash back to hand-collating 20,000 cookbooks, walking around long tables for hours assembling them.

What’s difficult in family businesses is sorting out family relationship dynamics from getting the work done. Families have hierarchies, egos, and unresolved issues like most work sites. Boundaries are critical. How can you successfully leave out the family dysfunction and function at work?   

* One thing I remember was there was never any shop talk at home. My folks left the job at work.

* For non-family employees, there is often the feeling that family members get special attention and treatment. Make sure to underscore by words and actions, that there is equality in the workplace.

* Just as leaving work at work is important, do not discuss family issues on work time, especially in front of other staff.

* Especially avoid open conflict between family members. No matter how old we are, we find “Mom and Dad” fighting to be disconcerting.

Despite the sweatshop conditions in which my parents made me work instead of letting me perfect my tan at the pool with Tina and Lisa, I gained a lot from working with my family. In a time when most mothers stayed home, my mother ran a business. She was a great a role model. I also got to see my parents’ skills and appreciate how hard they worked.
And if you work for a family business and are not related, don’t be jealous. At least you’re not in the bindery…

This post is dedicated to my hard-working parents.

This is a post by Nancy LaFever. You can read more from her at the Centre for Emotional Wellbeing blog.

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