If you’ve ever searched business and family you’ll know that most of the content out there tells you to stay far away from mixing the two.

But they can’t be unmixed. Business and family interact with each other all day every day.

The question today is, how do you integrate your family with taking actual positions in your business.

I have two stories about family and business. In both of these I was an employee. My family didn’t own the business. In one about 10 years ago the owners had their youngest son work in the warehouse with me. I was in charge because I’d been doing the work for years and he needed work for the summer.


It only took me a week to figure out that I had to run around watching him every second if anything was to get done. I’d send him to pick some items from the shelf to hand off to the shipping department and … an hour later he’d still be doing it. Actually he’d be sleeping on a shelf.

Eventually I told the owners they might as well pay their son to play video games on the work computer because it took me longer to chase him around to get him to do anything than it did for me to do the job myself. You’d think that it would have made a change when they heard that, but no. He continued to be useless, worse than useless because he ate in to the profit share of the rest of us as did my work trying to keep him working like his parents wanted.

[Tweet “Family and business can work, if you plan properly”]

It can be good though

My second was a few years after the first at a canoe shop I worked at. They had their younger son join the business. It started a bit rocky, he’d take off if friends came by, leaving the rest of us to deal with whatever happened in the day. It didn’t stay that way though. Every time you pointed out what it looked like to the rest of us, he’d make a change. Eventually it got to the point where my wife (who worked there with me) would call him my ‘other wife’.

Even now years after I left, he’s there running things and running them well.

How do you make sure that your family falls in to that second competent category?

What job are they suited to

First off you need to make sure that you are giving them jobs that they are suited to. The guy in my second story was great at ideas, poor on follow through, but great on ideas. A number of times he’d be given work that was all follow through. Jobs he never should have been given. Jobs that had him working huge overtime and still not getting them done.

Jobs that were perfect for my wife, who is all about details and ideas.

Eventually we (my wife, me and their son) convinced the owners to let him do the ideas and then my wife took charge. She assigned him small discrete tasks that wouldn’t take a bunch of time over weeks. He’d bring them back to her and get the next task.

He’d still be the face of the events we ran, but someone else organized them.

When you’re coming up with the tasks that you want your family to do, you need to remember to treat them like any other employee. If you had an employee that was a terrible driver, you wouldn’t send them out driving a truck. You’d use their great organization skills to pack the truck properly and hire a great driver to fill that role.

Make sure that the tasks you get your family to do are tasks that suit them. If you don’t have any tasks that suit their skills, don’t bring them in or expect lots of training.

Dealing with issues

Another big mistakes business owners make is that they keep treating family like family at work. When something goes wrong you yell at your kid like you’d never do with an employee. If you’re a kid in the business, you yell at your parents like you’d never do at a job. If you did, you wouldn’t have a job.

Either of the two scenarios above is a terrible idea. You both need to sit down and work out how you speak at work. Maybe that means your kids don’t call you Mom at work, they call you Sue just like the other employees.

You can’t take the issues home either. Your other employees get to walk away and not hear you moan about things that they did wrong that day and your family should get the same treatment. If you carpool home, stop all work talk at the front door. Don’t bring it in to the house.

Family and work can mix. It may take a bit more work, but it can be a great way to work together. Over the years my wife and I have had many jobs in the same companies and we’ve loved getting to work closely all the time.

It can be the same with you and your family.

PS: The book Entreleadership has a great section on family and business.

photo by: nolnet