Tips for thriving in a family-run business when you’re not related.
Family. It can be a bastion of love and support. Or it can be cold and awkward, making you wish you’d been dropped off in a cave at birth to be raised by wolves.
For many people, family amounts to a combination of both. And while you likely have your hands full with your own family, there may come a time when you get the opportunity to work for someone else’s.
Working for a family-run business can have its rewards: fierce loyalty, casual culture and less bureaucracy. But they can also present unique challenges to the non-family employee.
If you’re the outsider, here are some ways to avoid the madness that often comes with working for a family-run business:
Seek a clear hierarchy
You may be part of the staff, but you’re not part of the family. In that regard, you will always be an outsider. And family members who work at the company often will feel that, no matter their position within the organization, they are your superior.
So it’s important for you to know who your boss is, and reinforce that reporting relationship often. Any ambiguity and you could end up taking orders from the whole family.
If someone tells you to do something, take it to your boss. Ask him if that’s what he wants you to do. Make it your boss’ responsibility to set family members straight on the reporting relationship.
Stay on the sidelines
Shying away from is good advice no matter where you work, but it’s golden advice if you work for a family-run business.
In the typical workplace, office politics revolve around people trying to advance their careers and agendas (and, of course, grudges and spats result from perceived wrongs and personality conflicts). In the family-run business, however, all sorts of other things come into play: sibling rivalry, father issues, mother issues, feelings of inferiority, guilt, jealousy, middle child syndrome, you name it.
Whenever possible, just stay out of it. If something is important to your job, then speak up. But don’t get embroiled in the petty stuff.
Stay out of gossip
Participating in always carries the risk that what you say will make its way back to the subject of the gossip. Relationships can be strained. Trust can be lost.
Gossiping in the family-run workplace is even more perilous; it will get out one way or another. There are no secrets. These people aren’t just together for eight hours five days a week. They see each other after work, on the weekends, at Thanksgiving. They fight. They make up – and they gang up on outsiders.
If you insult someone, you’re not just insulting a coworker, you’re insulting a brother, daughter, father, and so on. You can’t win. So just nod, smile and save the office gossip for your non-work friends.
Don’t attempt a coup
Say the vice president in charge of operations isn’t too good at his job – he’s dull and lazy, and comes back from his three-hour lunches a bit bleary-eyed. But he’s also the president’s son.
One circumstance you have to accept when you sign on with a family-run business is that your chances for advancement may by stunted as less-qualified family members get preferential treatment. And attempts to demonstrate a family member’s incompetence in hopes of taking over his job will likely be received negatively and hurt your standing with the group.
Take our example above: The president dad knows his VP son is a loser, but he gave him the job anyway – maybe he still feels guilty about missing all those Little League games. There’s nothing you can do about it.
Instead, showcase what a quality and trusted employee you are – so you’ll be top consideration the next time an opportunity arises.
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