Owning a business and being in a position to work with your children and grandchildren seems like a dream come true, but sometimes, the dream can turn into a bit of a nightmare.
Being employed in a family business often comes with certain privileges and responsibilities—and unlike working for a stranger, those employed by family may sometimes take advantage of the fact that they have a level of built-in job security.
One Family’s Story
Kay has always loved to cook and when her children were young, she began a small catering company. In the beginning, most of Kay’s clients were local businesses looking to fill lunch orders for their employees.
It didn’t take long, however, before Kay started getting requests to cater private parties and other events. By the time that her three children were teenagers, Kay’s business was large enough for them to work there, part-time.
Now, almost four decades after she began, Kay employs two of her children and two of her grandchildren full-time, as well as one more grandchild who works at the family business part-time while she finishes her education.
Asked to describe her journey, Kay simply says, “It’s been a wild ride.”
Melding the Generations
When family members spend a great deal of time together, there are bound to be occasional disagreements. How those disagreements are handled can make the difference between a happy family and miserable one. Add a business into the mix, and the stakes (and the pressures!) are even higher.
Kay describes her family as a happy one, but admits that they’ve encountered their share of bumps in the road.
The biggest source of difficulty, in her case, has been with her grandchildren, who she says are sometimes a little presumptuous and spoiled. “My children have been rather indulgent parents, so my grandchildren do not have the work ethic that I’ve come to expect from my employees.”
Taking Advantage of Grandma
“When my oldest granddaughter came to work for me, she was 16 or 17 and had no work experience. Despite that, she walked in the door expecting to be paid well and wanted only to do the tasks she liked best,” Kay says. “She wasn’t happy when she was asked to do anything extra.”
At first, Kay tried to be accommodating, but after a while, she felt that she was being taken advantage of and decided on a firm approach. She sat down with her granddaughter and explained that while she loved having here there, the girl would be required to perform her job just as anyone else would.
Her granddaughter sulked a bit, but did what was expected of her. That granddaughter is now a full-time employee and Kay is proud to say that she is a wonderful asset to the business. “She just had some growing up to do, I guess,” Kay says. “And she did it beautifully.”
Creating a Healthy Environment
Kay is honest about the trials of running a family business, and she has learned a lot over the years about maintaining good relationships while working together. “It’s all about keeping your priorities in line,” she says. “Family is first, then the business. Of course,” she adds, “you can’t ignore the business and the problems that crop up there. You have to find a balance.”
Over the doorway of the catering kitchen, there is a sign that reads: Families are Forever. Kay says that it serves as a reminder, whenever she is frustrated about “some bit of trouble” that is brewing between members of her family. “We’ve made a pact to talk things out, rather than letting hurt feelings or resentments build until they feel enormous,” she says.
“We clear the air and then we get on with it.” Kay and her family have been working out the kinks in their business almost since its inception, so they’ve got plenty of wisdom to share. While many things have changed over the years, one thing has remained constant, and Kay credits it to her success—both in family and in business.
“Work hard, be ethical, and always look for peaceful resolution. The rest will take care of itself.”