How to Work with Your Family (Without Going Crazy)

The ladies of Mary Mary are well aware of the pros and cons of working with loved ones. And while every job has its stress, what happens at the office can often lead to serious complications (and permanent damage) within the family dynamic.

“In family business, the lines between personal and professional are even more blurred than for the rest of the modern working world,” says HR and business consultant pro Mary Hladio, president of Ember Carriers Leadership Group.

According to Jewels Muller, who runs Chicks Connect, a networking site for women’s personal and professional growth, with her husband, family must come first. “That relationship is the most important thing.  If you have a hard time remembering that go back to your big WHY?  Why are you doing this in the first place?  Most likely it will be for a better life for your family.” That—and these tips—should help keep the peace at work and home.

Make a plan. “Oftentimes, the thinking among family is that many protocols and procedures that would be standard at other businesses are not necessary,” says Hladio. “There needs to be not only clearly defined policies for workplace behavior and performance expectations, but also leadership roles. Letting these formalities fall by the wayside because it is family leads to miscommunications, bad personal feelings and unwanted family drama in the office.”

Talk often. Open communication is key in not only family but in business in general, says Stephanie Tomovska, co-founder and managing partner at Stance, LLC, a product brand and development company based in Michigan. Tomovska has plenty of experience in the matter—she works and lives with her sister. “Everyone needs to be open and honest about what is going on and always be on the same page.”

Set reasonable boundaries. While you need to be able to communicate openly at work, some topics should be kept separate from the business, says Dr. Fran Walfish, a family psychotherapist. “Consider limiting the topics you are willing and comfortable discussing while at work, and refrain from going over that line.” So if your spouse isn’t comfortable talking about politics at the office, or your daughter doesn’t want to discuss her dating life in the conference room, don’t broach them—at all.

Leave work at the office. Michele Velazquez runs a successful marriage proposal company in California with her husband, and to keep their relationship from becoming all business, they do their best to keep work and personal lives separate. “Try your hardest not to talk about business when it is family time so that there is a separation between the two,” says Velazquez. “It is difficult to turn the business side off, but if you make a conscious effort, it becomes easier. Besides, who wants one giant work life with no family life?”

Ditch stereotypes. Remember when you threw that wild party in high school? Or accidentally dyed your hair pink? So does your family—and that can interfere with how they see you in the workplace. “Who we are as kids is not necessary who we are as employees, and it can be tough to break out from our familial roles,” says Nicole Williams, a career expert. “It can be challenging for a mom or dad to reorient themselves to taking direction from their child, and conversely it can be tough for a child to hold their parent accountable—or sometimes too easy if there are years of pent up anger or resentment).”

Remain professional. Most of us wouldn't fly off the handle and make a scene at a “regular” job, so don't think just because you work with your family that this is okay to do--it's not, says Christina Steinorth, a licensed psychotherapist and author in California. Maria Vizzi, who works with her husband at Indoor Environmental Solutions, Inc. in New York, agrees: “If we treated family members more like outside employees we might be more careful to not hurt feelings. Those who love you just know you will always love them no matter what, so it sometimes this gives license to act or say things that may be disrespectful.”