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Friendships At Work Quandary: When It's Your Family's Business

Advice on how to walk the fine line between being an employee and the employer's kin

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When you're working for your family's business, it can be hard to figure out how to be both a co-worker and a member of the clan. You want to be well-liked and thought of as just a "part of the team," but everyone knows you're related to the owners. So how do you handle the dual position?

  • Be friendly but acknowledge the differences. While you may work closely with others who have the same job title you do (for the time being), you can't get away from the fact that you have a different status.
  • Anticipate what will happen. Your credibility as one of the future leaders of the business is at stake-and it's established early on in your business career. Talk to your family about possible conflicts of interest, how best to represent the owners and family both at work and outside of work, and how you might handle some hypothetical sticky situations, like fielding employee gripes.
  • Hone your leadership techniques early on. Co-workers know you have power that extends beyond your title-especially when it comes to channeling suggestions and complaints. Rather than rush to use the power, work through established channels and ask the complaining or suggesting employee how he or she proposes the situation be handled.
  • Find a trusted mentor. For safe venting, find a confidante. It's best if the person isn't related to you. You need to be able to talk to someone who is wise, a good listener, and a person who has no vested interest in the company.
  • Build friendships outside the company. While you can and should build good relationships among the people you work with, it's essential to have an independent group of friends who aren't connected to the family business.

As much as you might like to be part of the gang at work, understand that as a future leader in your family's business, you have to maintain your own credibility, set an example, and be the model for the values your family holds sacred. Like it or not, that's the reality of life in a family business.