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Pros and cons of working for your family's business
For the past five years, Jen Burkley-Cudar has been working with her husband and her father running Quality Wall Beds, a furniture company in Tampa Bay, Fla. Like most situations involving relatives as co-workers, it took some time to adjust.
"At first, all we talked about was the business -- to the point where it got in the way of enjoying family time," Burkley-Cudar notes. "My husband and I came up with a rule not to talk about the company at home unless absolutely necessary. This has helped tremendously. We are able to focus on other things and have a better time together."
Overall, she claims it has been "a great experience" and especially cherishes the opportunity to be mentored by her dad and spend so much time with him. Here, others who work with family share their ups and downs.
"Our father always stressed that there is no better place to put time and effort than into your own business," says Callie Novak, a vice president at Dynamite Marketing, a company in Meridian, Idaho, that was started by her great-grandparents. "When you work hard, it's your own stock that goes up. We know that a rising tide raises all ships. When it's a family relationship, there is no reason for one of us to try to undermine the other."
Other potential positives of working around family include:
- Feelings of comfort, trust, commitment and someone having your back;
- Easier and faster communication when work-related situations arise outside of business hours;
- Prior knowledge of your co-workers strengths, weaknesses and temperament;
- And, flexibility and understanding about work-life balance. (Your mother will likely cover so you can leave early to tend to her sick grandchild)
While Elena Baxter enthusiastically proclaims that she loves co-owning Red Rover Public Relations with her sister, she acknowledges that they occasionally fight. "We have 20 years worth of baggage, quirks, differences and memories. There are those typical older sister/younger sister issues. Rachael is older and tries to control a lot of my personal life. I am younger, and it's hard to me to take some of her criticism."
Keeping familial issues from creeping into the workplace and leaving business at the office during family time are two of the biggest obstacles facing relatives who work together. Other potential negatives include:
- Awkwardness over disagreeing, reprimanding or asking for a raise;
- Guilt that your actions, mistakes or desire to change careers will hurt the family;
- Obstacles to warning or firing a lackluster employee because he is family;
- Pressure to live up to parental expectations;
- Employees who aren't relatives being exposed to more of your personal life than you'd like;
- Stifled professional growth because of too much hand-holding, coddling or well-meaning (but false) praise;
- And, less desire or ability to socialize with them away from the office. (Your husband already knows how your day went -- he was there)
Making it work
"Respect is the key," says Joshua Lesser of California, who runs the event production company Vision Matrix with his wife, Tami. "We also have to turn it off and remember that we're husband and wife first and foremost. Our kids come first and then our career. By keeping a happy home life, our work life is better and stronger."
Other tips for maintaining strong relationships both inside the office and out include:
- Create a clear, written outline of each person's major job responsibilities.
- Communicate early and often about any personal or work-related issue that could cause tension.
- Give each other as much physical space as possible so as to not feel on top of each other 24/7.
- Call relatives by their real names at work to create an atmosphere of professionalism and equality.
- Keep things fresh by encouraging separate outside interests.
While working with family is not for everyone, many who do find it rewarding. As Burkley-Cudar sums up, "When times are good, we are definitely able to enjoy it more, and when things get tough, it's nice to have each other to lean on and help keep things positive."
Beth Braccio Hering researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder.com. Follow @CareerBuilder on Twitter.
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