In general, people naturally try to keep their work and home environment separate to make day to day life easier; the advantage found in the ability to do so is inherently lost in a family business. However, there are steps family members and coworkers can take in order to create a more advantageous and harmonious work environment.
Family Talk Versus Business Conversation
Family employees who blend family life and work life are likely to make business decisions based on considerations of family issues and are likely to converse about business during family events (qtd. In Cooper et al.). Making the decision as a family to never talk business while spending time together as a family and to never discuss family issues or occurrences while at work is an impactful way to keep family and work separate. Set this boundary together (and discuss why it is important) and honor it. In addition to this, making distinctions in the way family members will be addressed at home versus at work can help to build the divide between family time and business time.
Code of Ethics and Consequences
Consequences for family employees should be the same as those for non-family employees, as well as the expectations set regarding their behavior. Creating a code of ethics with both family and non-family employees (Cooper et al.) and laying out clear consequences for violating regulations can help to maintain a division between family and work. This will result from a heightened awareness for the need to react to family employee’s behavior in the same manner one would to a non-family employee’s behavior.
Employees need to have a clear understanding of their role and the expectations that role places on them. Role ambiguity is the lack of clarity in one’s role, and it has a higher presence in a family business than a non-family business due to the overlap of roles (e.g., role as a family member versus role as an employee – or – current role versus future role while a business plans for succession) (Kidwell et al.). Often, it can be tempting for family business leaders to attempt to exert too much control over a young family member who has been given a position of leadership or to continue in attempts to operate the family business after they have been succeeded them (Cooper et al.). On the other hand, in leaving a family employee without enough direction (if one assumes she will be able to navigate the role well enough on her own due to family relation, growing up in the midst of the business, etc.), the business will be negatively affected due to the creation of role ambiguity through the blurring of family and work dynamics. Uncertainty of expectations in one’s work role has been linked to decreased work performance (qtd. in Kidwell et al.). Because of this, it is crucial for a business to clearly define an employee’s work role and the expectations being placed on them. This can mean ensuring that a family employee doesn’t have authority or voice that a non-family employee would not have in the same role. This can also mean avoiding the other end of the spectrum, wherein a family employee’s input is more easily disregarded or perceived as coming from a place of lack of knowledge than a non-family employee’s input. Having open conversations with family employees that set expectations for their responsibilities and boundaries can help create role clarity.
Respecting Privacy and Physical Space
Family employees should respect each other’s privacy at work as well as at home (Cooper et al.). Although ability to create physical space within the work environment varies depending on the type of business, it can also be very helpful to utilize separate work spaces when possible. For example, two family members could benefit from having separate office spaces. Creating this physical space helps family members to stay focused on business and decreases opportunity to discuss any thoughts on family affairs while at work. Privacy of family employees is then bolstered.