9 Ways To Protect Yourself When Working For Family

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Have you thought of going into the family business? As the trend toward entrepreneurship and side businesses grows and more and more people pursue employment in areas that fall outside the realm of the traditional job, family businesses may become more appealing options for those seeking to stake their claim in an entrepreneurial economy.

However, you don't have to be an alumni viewer of the television show Dallas or watch Pawn Stars to know that working with family can be tricky at best and toxic at worst. Here are nine things to keep in mind when making a decision to join the family firm:

1. Understand your skills and the expectations of the role.
If your family business is small, it isn't likely to have a human resources officer overseeing job descriptions and helping to provide hiring guidelines and expectations for employees. It's your job to make sure you don't inadvertently step into a role that's not well suited to you – or is over your head. If you're right out of school, you may not be ready to navigate the nuances necessary to serve as the chief marketing officer, even if you know a lot about social media. If you've been an artist as a hobby for years, it doesn't mean you are qualified to take on an art director's role. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do and make it clear to your colleagues.

2. Define your role and job – in writing.
If the work environment is casual, you may need to ask for a definition of your job in writing. It's important for everyone to understand what you are hired to do, and having it in writing means there's no room for questions later.

3. Set specific goals.
Part of that job description should include targets you are expected to achieve. Do not assume anything. Just as you wouldn't want to drive aimlessly without a road map, don't allow yourself to get into a situation where you're assigned a job without goals or specific expectations. Be sure you have benchmarks you intend to achieve, and you'll be better able to position yourself for a raise, promotion or to market yourself for another job down the road.

4. Use best practices that worked in other jobs.
You've likely worked for other people in various situations and learned how to address problems and avoid conflict. Use all of that experience to your advantage, and follow best practices that served you well in the past. For example, if you found that cc'ing your boss on key email correspondence was useful, continue that practice, even if your boss also happens to be your mother. Don't hesitate to lead by example and to recommend others follow similar practices.

5. Don't make decisions or take action beyond your authority.
If Dad/your boss isn't in, and a situation comes up that you would never have handled yourself as an employee elsewhere, think twice (or three times) before making a final decision about it yourself that could be a big mistake. Perhaps you have more leeway and flexibility in some family businesses, but know where to draw the line and don't cross it, or you may find yourself out of a job and disowned!

6. Tap into the inside scoop you know about your co-workers.
If Uncle Chuck is a hot head and starts arguments at every family event, don't expect it to be smooth sailing in the workplace. If Sister Sally is passive aggressive and somehow always avoided pitching it at home, it's likely those character traits will carry over to the family business. Don't be blindsided or surprised when your colleagues act like themselves at work. As a family member, you have the advantage of insider information, so you may be able to avoid conflict or smooth over difficult situations based on how you know people are likely to respond.

7. Expect conflict.
When you work with family members, expect it will be tense at times. Especially if there are challenges at home, be prepared for things to be rockier than usual at work. Keep in mind, conflict isn't always a bad thing, and you can always agree to disagree.

8. Communicate.
As in any job, the best communicator often comes out ahead. If you are concerned about how something is being handled or you have an idea to address a problem, make sure you let your colleagues know.

9. Continue to improve your marketable skills.
Make sure you maintain a competitive edge in your profession by staying up-to-date on the latest trends and skills you'd need to get a comparable job elsewhere. Nothing screams "nepotism" more than an employee who could never land the same job at a business not owned by his family. Even if you love your job and would never consider leaving, keep a close eye on the skills other firms and organizations would expect you to have and make sure you do what you can to accomplish goals you could tout outside of your family business.

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