Whether you are a small husband-and-wife team, or a multi-generational corporation, one thing is for certain: employee relations in the family-owned business can quickly get sticky. When crucial conversations arise, and they often do, family members are more likely to put aside their professionalism and either blow up or clam up, dragging up past histories or going silent and disengaging.
Whether it is the company founders, the office assistant, or a dedicated HR representative, whoever is tasked with navigating employee relations in the family-owned business is forced to face challenges not often encountered in private and public corporations. Maintaining a healthy and productive line of communication amongst all employees, both family and non-family, is a delicate task that requires both professionalism and tact.
Here are some key things to keep in mind when dealing with critical employee relations issues in the family-owned business:
- Provide a Safe Place: Individuals who are involved in a dispute or disagreement should feel that they can openly share their feelings, and be heard, in a respectful environment. Family members should feel as if they have the necessary space to disagree, and senior leaders, if involved in the discussion, should be prepared to listen without judgement. In addition, privacy is a critical component in addressing and resolving employee relations issues. Employees should know that they can speak anonymously if need be, that their concerns will be handled appropriately, and perhaps most importantly, that the conversation will remain private and not be shared unnecessarily with other members of the family.
- Stay Focused: In family-owned businesses, it is easy to drag past quarrels into already tense conversations. Help keep the focus on the issue at hand by establishing upfront what the concerns are, and ensuring that everyone has a chance to voice their concerns. Often helpful for family-owned businesses, specifically when it comes to resolving employee relations issues, is having clearly defined HR policies and practices that align with the business’ core values and mission statement and that help communicate critical information around common employee relations issues, such as compensation, job responsibilities, family and non-family related policies, and more.
- Mitigate Risks: Workplace conflict always carries the potential for various legal and financial risks. To help mitigate these risks, ensure your business remains compliant with all applicable local, state, and federal employment laws. When handling conflict between or from employees, keep in mind the various workplace-related laws and regulations that may be applicable to the situation, as well as the corresponding legal and financial risks associated with them. Knowing where your potential risks are in a situation can help you address them before they become a problem.
- Take Action: Sometimes a crucial conversation among employees stems from a misunderstanding and all that is needed to resolve the situation is to break down the communication barrier. More often than not, however, action is required to move towards resolution. Ensure everyone feels heard by summarizing each person’s opinion and/or concern, and then explore various possible solutions to the situation. Once a solution has been reached and agreed upon by those involved, enforce the solution, whether that be via documentation, a scheduled follow up, progress checks, or some other form of action.
Simply put, conflict within the family-owned business can never be completely avoided or eliminated. Family businesses can better manage conflicts, however, by treating them as a normal part of business and developing the skills and processes to handle things effectively. Doing so will help build stronger ties among employees, and a healthier family business.