Pros, cons of working with family

2011-01-15 13:35

For the past five years, Jen Burkley-Cudar has been working with her husband and her father running Quality Wall Beds, a furniture ­company.

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 says.

“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.

Callie Novak, deputy president at Dynamite Marketing, a company that was started by her great-grandparents, says: “Our father ­always stressed that there is no better place to put time and effort than into your own business.

“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 covering your back;

» Easier and faster communication when work-related situations arise outside business hours;

» Prior knowledge of your co-workers strengths, weaknesses and temperament; and

» Flexibility and understanding about work-life balance.

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 for me to take some of her criticism,” says Elena.

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 lacklustre 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 would like;

» Stifled professional growth because of too much hand-holding, coddling (but false) praise; and

» Less desire or ability to socialise 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.”

Keep relationships strong

» 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 do find it rewarding.

As Burkley-Cudar says: “When times are good, we’re able to ­enjoy it more, and when things get tough, it’s nice to have each other to keep things positive.”

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