We Are Family: The Key to Working with Your Nearest and Dearest


Who you work with is just as important as where you work and the job you do, in terms of ensuring a happy working life. So, could you work with your family?

It’s a difficult question but one we hope to provide some words of wisdom on, with first-hand experience.

The most important thing to consider is your relationships. Whether you’re working with your spouse, parents or children, there will no doubt be strains placed on these relationships. Strains that wouldn’t necessarily exist if you worked separately.

How do you tackle this and keep the working environment a positive one?

The key is to ensure everyone working in the business, regardless of relationship to one another, has clearly defined roles and responsibilities as you would have in any business.

Who are the decision makers within your business? If there is more than one director, have you defined who is the commercial director as opposed to the managing and operations director?

Even as joint decision makers you may be responsible for making different decisions which impact the company e.g. recruitment or marketing.

A Structured Approach

Family businesses, just like any other, need structure. It’s important to conduct performance reviews, create action plans and decide timescales to ensure you’re singing from the same hymn sheet. Afterall, you share the same goals and a structured approach to decision making should assist in achieving these.

It’s also important to define clear roles and responsibilities. This way you’re less likely to treat work like the washing up! Implementing systems and processes will not only aid the business in future, particularly if you do employ a member of staff, but will reduce the possibility of emotional debates or disagreements.  

Finding the Balance

Our words of wisdom are that if you’re planning to work with your partner or spouse, be prepared to get in each other’s way! It’s a bit like moving in together or getting married. To begin with you have the same goal but totally step on each other’s toes.

You’ll discover that annoying habits like an untidy desk or a loud phone conversation can be a real deal breaker. In this case, the key is to separate yourselves. Just as you’ll have clearly defined roles and responsibilities, ensure you have a defined working space. Encourage meetings off site and limit time together in the office. 

Over time, you get used to those working habits and find your balance, just like relationships. Ensure you have set boundaries too, particularly if you have a home office. If you work till 4pm, stop working at 4pm and switch to family mode. Try not to let things overrun and avoid detailed work conversation after working hours to give time to switch off.

Equally, we all have bad days at the office. This can be tricky if you’ve had a bad day and you work and live alongside the person who’s increased your stress levels. Leave work at work and don’t take office baggage home with you as this will strain your non-working relationship too.

A Family Affair

As for working with your children, it’s not something we have experience with, but I spoke with a client’s son recently who has worked with both his parents. He compared the working situation to a football match.

Whilst you’re on the pitch you’re there to score goals, work with your team and achieve the same outcomes. No matter what happens on the pitch, everyone is friendly again once the whistle blows. 

He also stressed the importance of being treated the same as everyone else in the office. If you employ a mix of family members and non-family members, friction can be rife if favouritism is displayed or special treatment given to family members, such as a higher wage for the same role. Again, this reiterates the need for clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

Consistency is Key

The person in authority must to have a consistent approach to all staff members, regardless of familial status. If there is consistency in the way people are treated this reduces grievances.  

This can be stressful for a child working for a parent or visa versa, when they will likely have a deeper insight into the direction of the business. They may want to have their say and this may not always be welcome. Keep consistency in mind and ensure that your family members know their place as employees if this is the case.

One thing to note from this situation is the need for independence. Take the office commute for example. Whilst it might be more economical to carshare, this could cause friction before you’ve even arrived at the office. Travelling separately means after work plans or meeting arrangements aren’t dictated by other team members.

However, other business owners have found that spending their annual leave together allows their family to ‘take off their work hats’ and enjoy time together outside of both the usual family and work environments.

It certainly is a balancing act, but with common goals and playing to one another’s strengths you should be able to make a success of it. We can’t guarantee anything will change in terms of household chores though…

Do you work with family or are you considering doing so? We’d like to hear your experiences too, share them with us via our contact page.