The Family Business: Is it for you?

For some, knowing there is a ready-made working environment once you qualify, can be heartening. The family business usually has stability, security and guaranteed advancement sewn into it. However, it also has complex relationships, personal history, and a number of landmines for the unwary. Before you take what might appear to be an easy step avoiding the onerous job market search, you need to give your decision some thought.

What your mom knows

  • Firstly, you’re working with people you know and care about, and slipping into the process of working with them may seem a more relaxed way to go. If you arrive late or leave early, will your dad blow his top? You may feel that any issues can be mended at dinner. Your family however, may feel that you’re letting the side down; this is a family business and loyalty is built into the association without question.
  • You may be expected to make more sacrifices to the business than you would as an employee in a big company. Working late, or working over weekends may become part of your life – and there will be little understanding for any complaint on your part – because, after all, it’s ‘all for one, and one for all’.
  • Families with great interaction are probably in the minority – there is often conflict, sometimes even old grudges dating back to childhood. Be wary there are no old wounds that could be reopened should there be disagreement, especially between siblings; emotional ties can be troubling, full of jealousy and resentment. Be sure the field is reasonably level before committing yourself.
  • You will have to consider the effect on non-family staff who may see you as a threat or resent the possibility you may receive preferential treatment, and in turn treat you according to their suspicions and fears.
  • With family interaction both at work and at home, personal issues can impinge on home life and create stresses in the workplace which other staff may quickly sense, leading to loss of motivation in the company and the ensuing business problems this kind of atmosphere can so easily create.
  • Likewise, if you are promoted too quickly because of family ties this can also lead to non-family staff dissatisfaction that impacts on the business. Non-family members may feel that no matter how hard they work, they will never be rewarded in the same way as a family member, nor will they be given greater responsibilities because these opportunities will always go to those more closely embraced by the family circle.
  • Who is running the company? Your mom might be set in her ways and certainly not ready for your disruptive ideas no matter how good they might be. After all, your mom knows your every fault, and she might remember those before she considers your big ideas. Resistance to change is high when your parents are not happy with their offspring telling them how their business should be run.
  • It’s difficult in a family business to make decisions that may impact negatively on other family members. Performance reviews can become hampered by emotional connections. It’s one thing to take criticism from a non-family senior but hard to swallow when it’s from your mom or your brother.

Your head, your heart, and how you fit in

How powerful do you want to be in your family business?

Having discussions at dinner time is no real reflection of what it may be like to actually work in the business – or work as an employee of your dad’s. Sometimes the true measure of anybody’s character is when they are put under pressure in subtle power plays in any business. Family business is often no different.

Do you truly understand the vision of your family business?

Sometimes the vision of a business has been built up over years, generations. You need to truly understand what the business stands for and where it is going. And above all, you need to know if your ideas fit with that vision. It’s no good arriving on Monday and by Wednesday finding yourself at loggerheads because you don’t like the way the product is priced or delivered.

Do you expect an easy life?

This is something you really have to think about. Just because you’re working for your parents doesn’t mean you don’t have to work hard to make an impression. It certainly shouldn’t mean you can shirk the work and think you’re along for an easy ride. If your parents have worked over decades to build up the business, they will likely expect you to apply the same work ethic – a mindset of sacrifice and dedication that has made the business the success that it is.
Do you expect quick promotions?

If it’s your family business you might think you have a fast-track ladder to the top. But your family could have other ideas. Promotion should be earned, whether you’re in a large corporate or a family business. Problem is, are you prepared to work as hard for your family as you would for an outsider? Family may be more difficult to impress than a non-family management team. Promotion may not be forthcoming just because you’re the boss’s kid – and if it is, you may find yourself heartily resented by the rest of the staff, which is another kind of difficulty altogether.

Can you separate office from home?

Here’s a tricky question. Can you avoid taking personal issues to work, or bringing work disagreements to the family dinner table? At the office it should be clear who is in charge and why; the hierarchy of the family should still be in play as you formulate a professional working relationship focusing on the business of the day. Likewise, any family squabble should not find its way into the boardroom.

Get an outside job first

This is probably the most important piece of advice if you are contemplating joining your family business when you graduate. Instead of leaping straight from training into the family fold, rather find yourself a job that has nothing to do with your family. It can be in the same industry, if you like, but learn to work in the normal way with people who are not going to let transgressions go, and who is going to expect you to work as a contributing team member without special preference. Nothing will give you better experience, expertise and true grit to work in your family business than working with people who do not think you are the best thing since sliced cheese. Learn humility, responsibility and how to manage both people and yourself, before you venture into the bosom of the family. Indifferent colleagues –  good, bad and ugly – are exactly the people to give you a big, fat dose of reality! Then you will be ready.



Feb 24, 2019 | Vuk’uzenzele

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