The Challenges of Working with Family

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A couple of weeks ago, I agreed to be a guest on a radio talk show that I thought would focus on marketing tips. But – as I always warn people preparing for their first talk radio interviews – the host can sometimes take the conversation in a completely different direction.

In this case, the hosts had noticed there are four Friedmans at EMSI Public Relations: my husband and me, our son and our daughter-in-law. That prompted them to ask about the dynamics of working in a business with so many family members.

“Oh, we’re not the only family at EMSI,” I told her. “There’s two other married couples, plus a mother and daughter. But, that said, our whole company is really like one big family, whether or not the employees are related by blood or marriage.”

Since those hosts seemed so curious about the dynamics of working with family, I thought you might be, too. After all, 90 percent of all small businesses are family owned and operated according to the Small Business Administration.

While we’re not perfect, I think we owe at least some of our business’s success to learning how to work every day alongside the people we married or gave birth to. Here are a few things we’ve noticed help a lot:

Arrange for the entire staff to spend fun time together. I think this is important for nurturing genuine caring, which is essential to forming a tight-knit team, just like a tight-knit family. Co-workers who care about one another tend to jump in to help when they see someone struggling, so whatever’s “broken” quickly gets fixed. They encourage one another, and they’re more honest about their feelings, so disputes tend to be aired and resolved rather than allowed to fester. Some of that caring comes from spending time together doing non-work activities. A couple of weeks ago we took a Friday afternoon so the whole office could go bowling. And on Halloween, we’re clearing off our desks for a pumpkin-carving contest. These fun events help relationships expand and grow.

Don’t talk about work during your commute – or once you get home. For two of our younger married couples, this is fairly easy. They head straight from the office to the day care to pick up their kids. From then till bedtime, it’s all about the children. But for my husband and me, it would be easy to rehash the day’s events, dissect problems, or work through plans after we leave the office. Instead, we talk about family things, friends, movies, the weekend ahead. I think it’s important to have a healthy interest in concerns and activities beyond the office walls; you can’t be happy if you’re consumed by just one aspect of your life. (I know – been there, done that!)

If there’s an upset, whether it’s between spouses or unrelated employees, keep it contained. I’ve read experts who say you should never display anger at work, and others who say doing so can be a good thing. Personally, I can’t think of any instance when people who witness a blow-up are more productive, creative, resourceful or innovative in the aftermath. Angry outbursts create tension, and when you’re really angry, you’re likely to say things you later wish no one else had heard. At our office, tempers do occasionally flare. Most of us take those arguments for a walk outside or at least close the office door to resolve our differences without upsetting everyone else.

My husband, son, daughter-in-law and I thoroughly enjoy working together every day. And I know our married couples and our mother and daughter enjoy having their loved ones close as well. Sure, problems can arise when your colleague is also the person you share nights and weekends with, but working out ways to minimize them, or avoid them entirely, can benefit all of your working relationships.

In my opinion, the benefits of working with husbands, sons and daughters far outweigh any disadvantages. It creates a culture of family that, if you’re lucky, not only draws together everyone in the office but extends to your clients as well.

From our family to yours,

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