HR Policies for Family Employees

Policies to implement before--and after--a family member leaves the business

Relatives working together in family businesses squabble and become impatient with each other on occasion. They've even been known to sabotage each other. Why, then, are they surprised and hurt when one member breaks away?

Look at it this way: The very act of family members uprooting themselves from a secure business and the comfort of familiarity is a sign of exasperation--maybe even extreme anger. Remaining family members, especially parents who always took their children's participation in the business for granted, often feel deserted--and even betrayed--when the exodus occurs.

The disappointment felt when a child leaves to pursue a personal calling must be dealt with by parents who are caught between wanting the child to be happy and wanting this progeny to perpetuate the long-standing family business.

Not surprisingly, the longer the departing family member has been involved in the business and the closer he or she is to being the successor, the more negative the decision to leave is to the rest of the family. Dr. Sam H. Lane, a Ft. Worth, Texas, corporate psychologist specializing in family businesses, says that's because "the decision to depart is rarely for positive reasons.

"Every two months or so, I get a call from a 35- or 45-year-old who says something like `When I joined the business, my parents said they would retire in 10 years. It's 20 years later, and I don't see this happening.' The adult child is angry. He or she sees others of the same age advancing in a chosen profession and doesn't get the feeling this will ever happen in the family business."

Frustration, disappointment and conflict are most often the driving forces behind the schism.

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This article was originally published in the August 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Flying The Coop.

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