Respecting Family and Business Boundaries

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  • February 2, 2017

Overhearing shop talk at the family picnic, the cousins and siblings who aren’t involved in the daily family business operations feel isolated and ostracized. Separating spouses may strain the lines of authority at work seeking allies and emotional support. How can entrepreneurial families strike the right chord on dissonant members and maintain secure and flourishing family units?

Confidence at the Controls: The business founder sets the culture, norms and structure of the business by determining operating issues and long-term matters as the majority shareholder, while judiciously guarding the role of head of the family.  Distinguishing each role in its appropriate setting sends the clear message that family milestones, celebrations and private matters remain discrete within the family walls.

Learning the rules:  Declaring a conversational topic off limits in a non-threatening way, while deflecting to corporate policies and workplace standards maintains intergenerational relationships at work. Encouraging young cousins to take employment in a disparate field exposes them to a universal code of appropriate corporate behaviour. Family assemblies can offer mandatory sessions to exchange ideas and develop current acceptable standards. Keeping the standards current and applicable to all generations makes each member accountable for their role to preserve the independence of family life from the family business.

Family relationships are sacred: Sharing accomplishments, working through personal problems with a supportive family, and experiencing joyful occasions together are invaluable experiences. Protecting and nourishing the family bonds builds strength and offers unconditional support when a family member faces the unexpected emotional pain or trauma of a separation or divorce.   

Can’t it wait for the office? Don’t bring it home!  Seeing the briefcase sitting in the dining room signals the intention to open the ledgers and reports at home. Schedule work in a private study space away from the children working on their science project. Better yet, arrange for work to be accomplished at the office. Children need their parents’ undivided attention and bringing work home challenges and impedes family growth.

Engaging the curious: Offering internships, factory tours, and short term placements in the family business creates an entrance for the next generation curious about the family enterprise. Considering whether to bring spouses should involve the studied input from owners, management and human resources. Remuneration and compensation guides, performance and termination standards, as well as conflict resolution polices must be in place to ensure such policies and procedures are utilized fairly across all organizational levels.

By establishing and maintaining boundaries, entrepreneurial families can ensure professionalism in the office and a family focussed life free from business distractions at home.

Lorisa Stein is an experienced senior family law lawyer based in downtown Toronto, Ontario. She has utilized the collaborative method to help entrepreneurial families resolve their conflicts. To schedule a confidential consultation with Lorisa, call her direct line at (416) 596-8081, or email her at lorisa@lorisastein.com.

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