Working in a firm with your family: How we made it work
If you are noticing a theme, you’re onto something. Ford is my dad and boss, and the “Ba” in BaCo is our last name – and not only that. Linda Baker, my mom and Ford’s wife, is the office manager for BaCo Group. Our situation is not unique, and in many small businesses, working with family is common. Our experience working together has taught many valuable lessons. We wanted to share some of those things for anyone else who is thinking about, or currently, working with their family.
Will: I am big on trying to leave work at work, especially when I am around my parents and the rest of my family. Working with my parents means the thing we talk the most about is “work,” so it’s just habit at this point to talk about work when we see each other. Drawing those lines, and being strict about it, is helpful for our relationship. Also, it helps our family not hate us for talking about the exciting topics of accounting and accounting technology.
A helpful boundary for me has been how I refer to my parents. Being in a sales role, it’s often weird to say “dad” to my dad on a call. So, I often refer to them as Ford and Linda while at work, but when I am home, I still call them mom and dad, which some people may see as old fashioned or overthinking it, but it helps me separate the two.
Linda: We have a boundary in place to avoid work talk – if something comes up in the evening, we try to table it until the morning. This was not always the case, and it takes a lot of discipline, but it’s worth it.
Ford: Let work stay at work and have home be at home. I really try to not cross over on either side. We don’t talk shop at the house as much as possible. The same must be for at work. If I take care of personal stuff at work, that sets a precedent for my staff. Emergencies happen so we try to be flexible, but, overall, I strive to set a clear boundary between “work & personal.”
Will: When you’re growing up, you think your parents have it figured out. When you become an adult, that starts to fade, and when you work with them, you really see all sides of your parents. That can be both a gift, and something that may make you frustrated. Patience and grace is something I try to walk with at all times, and I have found that to be very important in our working relationship.
Linda: Sometimes, you need to sit on something, even though you know it’s an important thing to address. Having patience and giving time to see how situations shake out is important. Sometimes, the situation solves itself.
Knowing your relationship
Will: I am very confident in my abilities and qualifications for the job I have; however, I put more pressure on myself than normal to make sure that I am doing a quality job. And, I think my dad is also really good about addressing this with me by not hesitating to critique, coach, and help me improve.
Linda: I never want to be thought of as the “boss’ wife.” I strive to not only be approachable with my coworkers, but also work hard and perform well with my responsibilities at work.
Ford: I would say one of the bigger challenges of working with my son is not trying to be the parent all the time. Will has knowledge and expertise in an area that I don’t have. I had to learn how to learn, not just teach all the time.
Things to caution against
Will: The most important part about your relationship can’t be work. I love my parents, and I am very proud of, and confident in, the relationship I have with them. If I feel like work things are negatively affecting that, I address it. No job is worth sacrificing a relationship with your family.
Linda: Not letting the normal things that bother husband and wife relationships impact work relationships. There is a lot more sharing of responsibilities at home, but there must be clear segregation of duties at work.
Ford: Don’t be insular. Yes, we have the trappings of a family business, but, in reality, there are 20 other people that work between the two companies, so we are surrounded by outside voices who help lead and drive us in the directions that the two companies are going. It’s not just “what the Bakers want.”
Editor’s note: Do you work in a firm with your family? We’d like to know. Please share your story with Scott Cytron, editor of the Firm of the Future blog.