Canadian Pizza Magazine

Working with family members

By Dr. Rhonda Savage   

Features Business and Operations Staffing

It's not personal - it's just business

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 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 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 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 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 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 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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