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Conflict within a family business

Q: I work for a family-owned business. I have worked here for three years. There is an owner who is here 3-4 days per week. Two of his kids work here full-time. I think the plan is for the kids to take over the business one day. The kids are in their twenties but act like children. They bicker, fight and spend hours trying to sabotage each other. The kids drive us really hard but they don’t push themselves as hard. Instead, they spend hours texting friends or shopping online. It makes for a difficult work environment. All the non-family employees walk on eggshells. I don’t see a future here because I am not a family member. Do you have an opinion on how to make this a better work environment until I can find another job?

A: Working for a family business, as a non-family member, presents unique challenges. Conflict, however, occurs in all types of business, whether family-owned or not. Conflict can occur in any type of relationship, including work or personal relationships.

I consulted David M. Karofsky, President of the Transition Consulting Group (TCG). His firm works with family-owned businesses helping family-owned and closely-held businesses grow, thrive and work through inevitable conflicts in a healthy way. Remember, conflict is normal. How you approach and resolve conflict is essential to any positive work environment. Talking about how you will approach and resolve conflict is often helpful.

When I shared your concern with Karofsky, he offered the following recommendation: “I’d encourage you to talk with the owner directly about your concerns. Perhaps you could suggest a confidential, anonymous 360 performance appraisal for all employees, including family members, in order to gain objective feedback. If the owner seems unwilling to listen or address concerns within the workplace, you may want to consider looking for a new role if the conflicts become intolerable.” Only you can decide how much conflict you can live with on a day-to-day basis. Some of us have a high tolerance for conflict while others are more conflict averse.

Many business leaders, across all types of business, avoid conflict. No one truly enjoys confronting conflicts but some of us are better than others.

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