As many small business owners across Canada celebrate Family Day this month by taking the day off, some us will still spend that day with people we work with. When you run a business with your spouse, parent, sibling, or other relatives, it can be an incredibly rewarding endeavor that brings you closer together. But working with family can bring a new set of challenges when the stresses of your family and work life become entwined. Here are some important tips to help you cope with colleagues you also share a family tree with.
1. Leave business out of family gatherings and occasions
Much like how religion and politics are said to be subjects we shouldn’t bring up at the dinner table, the topic of work shouldn’t dominate the conversation when you’re with family members you also do business with. When you work with relatives, it’s important to set aside time to enjoy each other strictly as family — to relax, share memories, and be supportive of each other. Leaving the business talk out can be a hard thing to remember and even avoid (after all, how many times have you been greeted at a family party with, “so, how’s work going?”). If the subject of business comes up, simply steer it back to your niece's piano recital or, when in doubt, the weather.
2. Ensure everything is signed, sealed, delivered
Family members are some of the people we trust most in our lives. But don’t assume that means you can work together without contracts or legal agreements. To protect yourself and your relatives’ best interests, have every financial or employment arrangement (including duration of employment, duties, and pay rate) clearly outlined, documented, and signed off. This way, if any issues or disputes arise, you all have a written reference to consult with.
3. Never put off dealing with “small” issues
Let’s say your brother-in-law works at your business and is prone to taking longer lunch breaks than he’s supposed to. You may be tempted to let this slide because you don’t want to confront your relative over a seemingly minor issue. But what if his behavior is an annoyance for other employees, who wonder if he’s getting away with it because he’s family? You don't want employees thinking family members are receiving special treatment. No matter what the issue is — long lunch breaks, poor performance, inappropriate work attire — deal with the issue directly like you would with your other colleagues. It’s always better to address problems openly before it affects your personal relationships or your work environment.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for outside help
If your wife is your business partner and is adamant about changing the direction of your business in a way that makes you uncomfortable, how do you handle the situation without hurting your life partner as well? Seeking external consultation or a third-party adviser can be a useful way to identify and articulate what’s best for the company and can help everyone involved make objective decisions. A third-party can act as a buffer and mediator to ensure discussions are fair and stay on-topic
5. Only hire family members who are truly qualified
When you run your own business, there may be times when people ask if you would hire on a nephew or niece or cousin. Before you consider this, even for a part-time summer gig, really ask yourself whether this relative would be an asset to your company. Don’t set yourself up for a difficult experience down the road, because having to let relatives go is not a positive scenario for anyone involved. If they’re not qualified, it’s better to be honest with them at the outset and help them gain the experience they need, rather than hire them for a job they’re ill-matched for.
6. Enjoy the experience!
When business is booming, it’s an amazing feeling. But it can be even more satisfying when you’re succeeding as a family. It's a fact that customers are more inclined to trust and want to support family-owned businesses, and the fact that your company is run by family members should be a celebrated part of your work culture and brand. So be mindful that you’re sharing this experience with people who are profoundly important to you and appreciate the good times.