5 Rules for Working With Family

jay-and-claire After giving a seminar on entrepreneurship with my dad at a local university a few months ago, I was approached by one of the graduate students. He said he had started working for his father-in-law and asked me what is was like working for my family. By the look on his face, I could tell he was struggling with the relationship and seemed to be hoping to commiserate with me.

It's one of the more common questions that I get, and everyone seems to want to hear how hard or awful it is. And sure, sometimes it is difficult (isn't any job?), but most of the time it's really not. It's a hard question to answer because it's kind of all that I've known. I worked at other restaurants in college, but for the majority of my working life I have worked for and with my family.


From the left: my dad, brother, mom, aunt, me, and cousin

I know that I'm very fortunate that my father and I work so well together. I'm also very fortunate that the other family members that I have worked with are all hard-working and respectful people -- and that has included both my parents, my brother and sister, my Aunt, and a handful of cousins at any given time. I have witnessed occasions outside of our business where that is not always the case, when family members take advantage of the fact that they work for someone who loves them unconditionally. But when the balance is right, it can be an incredibly rewarding work environment. Here are a few rules to live by when working with your family members.

5 Rules for Working with Family

1. Treat each other professionallyWhen at work, you have to be able to step back emotionally and recognize that the other person is also at work. Separate personal issues from professional ones and keep them in the appropriate boxes. It is very important to treat the other person like you would any other employee or employer when at work. That  means no eye rolling or under-the-breath comments when the other is speaking. I'm guilty and I know it.

2. Don't hold grudges! Communicate, communicate, communicate. This is important for any relationship in your life, professional or personal, but it is especially important when the two collide. Address issues calmly and practically as they come up. It is not fair to the other person to keep a score sheet against them, only to blow up and throw it all in their face at once. People can only fix issues that they are aware of.

3. Know your place. If your family member is your boss or superior, be mindful to respect their authority and their expertise, especially when in front of others. If you disagree with how something is done, bring it up privately in a calm manner. If they listen and still disagree, then you have to let it go and move on with their wishes. They are still your boss.

4. Spend time with each other outside of work (where you don't talk about work). My father and I are very guilty of going on vacation together and spending half the time talking about work. Have you ever seen the Modern Family episode where they all go to Australia and Jay and Claire obsess about work the whole time? Our family calls this the Andy and Claire episode (and yes, I realize how ironic it is that her name is Claire since I am basically that character). But you really do need time where you have fun together outside of work and can just be family members. For us, that has been Titans games or family cookouts where my Dad can play with his granddaughter.

5. Remember that everyone is watching. You are responsible for setting the tone for the family business, and because of that everyone is watching your every move. That means that everything that you do has to be the right thing. If you do something dishonest or lazy, then that is a direct reflection of not just the business but of you and your whole family. That may sound like a lot of pressure, and it is. If you can't handle it, then you should not be working for your family, bottom line.

How many of you out there also work with your family? Do you have any tips to share or questions?

xx Claire