Finding work-life balance can be tougher at family businesses

Achieving balance between work and family is difficult for many workers, but it can be especially difficult for owners of family businesses.

That’s because the boundaries are blurred: Owners don’t just take work home with them – they take home to work with them.

man and son

“Working in a family business is a dangerous proposition both for the family and the business,” writes author Quentin Fleming in Keep the Family Baggage Out of the Family Business.

Many family businesses fail and many family relationships suffer because of a lack of boundaries between the family and the business.

Keeping the family out of the business

To put the “business” back into your family business, it may pay to emulate the organizational structure and culture of successful nonfamily businesses. These include:

Define the decision-making process. Successful businesses are rarely a democracy. It is important to have a clear leader and define how decisions will be made. In addition, employees (whether family members or not) should have clearly defined job descriptions that show where they fit on the decision-making chain.

Treat each other with respect. One problem with family businesses is that the members of the family sometimes forget to treat one another as professionals.

When delegating responsibilities, owners sometimes have difficulty relinquishing the necessary authority to enable others to perform assigned tasks. Thus, they undermine the development of future leaders within their companies.

It may be difficult to see a sibling as anything but that “snot-nosed little brother I grew up with” or to accept one’s children as accomplished professionals in their own right. But mutual respect for one another’s skills, talents and individual knowledge is key to establishing a harmonious working relationship.

Set specific, appropriate incremental business goals. Clear direction can prevent misunderstandings. By establishing appropriate incremental goals in addition to long-term business goals, owners and employees will know when they are succeeding and when they may need to pick up the pace.

Set personal career goals.While the success of a family business ultimately rewards the entire family, members of a family business should also have personal career goals to work toward.

Goals can help them stay focused when the family business seems to be taking over their lives. With a career goal in mind, an employee will always be able to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”

Implement performance-based compensation. Boundaries between family and business often break when compensation decisions are made.

Successful businesses reward star performers without regard to their genealogy. By establishing clear performance criteria for compensation levels, employees will be motivated to succeed, and the business will enjoy the fruits of their contributions.

Keeping the business out of the family

The ability to shed the business role during nonworking hours is as important as established boundaries at work. If the roles don’t shift, the family is always “at work.” As a result, both the business and your relationships may suffer.

To make the transition from business to family:

Schedule personal time. Set specific hours, say after 7 p.m. several days a week and on the weekend, when talk of the family business is taboo.

Don’t return business calls during this time or do paperwork related to the business. By carving out specific time when it’s “just family,” work time will become more productive as well.

Don’t bring work resentments home. When an issue arises at the business that causes friction, it needs to stay at work. When business resentments taint family relationships, it can lead to a crisis in both corners.

Relate on other levels. Spend time relating to your family on many other levels: husband to wife, mother to son, fisherman to golf fanatic, book lover to movie buff, etc. It will keep your relationships alive, well balanced and in perspective.

Establishing clear boundaries between family life and business life can help ensure that your family business is successful and rewarding for all family members.