Suggestions for Removing the Stress from Family-Owned Businesses

Suggestions for Removing the Stress from Family-Owned Businesses

Orlando, FL Family-owned businesses are an important part of the kitchen and bath industry. But, according to professional trainer and business consultant Laura Michaud, the majority of family-owned businesses don't survive past the second generation. While most families intend to maintain the business when it's passed from one generation to the next, many fail because of family dissension, notes Michaud, who is president of the Orlando-based Michaud Group and third-generation owner of Beltone Electronics Corp.

"Compared to the 1970s, people today work 20% longer hours and have 32% less leisure time," reports Michaud. In the past 30 years, psychologists estimate that workplace stress has doubled, she continues. "Add to these the additional challenges of mixing business and family, and it's easy to understand why family-owned businesses face their own set of unique stresses."

Among the pitfalls between older and younger family members are the notions of viewing younger members as children, even though they have fully matured into responsible workers. It can be very difficult for the older family member to let go of pre-conceived notions. Therefore, younger members may end up overcompensating in the workplace to try to counteract these ideas. Other factors in the family-owned workplace also cause stress, including:

  • Gaining respect from non-family employees.
  • Dealing with sibling rivalry.
  • Wanting to change the business but not being able to.
  • Working with non-family employees who try to sabotage the junior generation's success.

At the senior level, it's important to address estate planning for passing the business from one generation to the next. When a person dies, the government takes 55% of the person's estate. Since most families can't afford to pay this, they're often forced to sell the business. Proper estate planning can prevent this.
Also at the senior level, choosing the right successor can be a stressful situation. Often, rather than create tension by choosing between family members, the senior generation will put off the decision. This can add more stress to the daily routine.

Michaud recommends tackling stress from both a business and a personal perspective. From a business perspective, she suggests:

  • Schedule quarterly family business meetings. These meetings should take place off-site and should focus on the big business issues related to the family. Main topics of conversation should focus around estate planning, succession planning and role planning. To offer each family member development opportunities, rotate the meeting leader designation. 
  • Hire an outside board of directors. If you want to bring in new values, new insights and objectivity to your business, an outside board of directors is a must. An outside board of directors can remove much of the emotion from situations, allowing the business to be more professional and more adaptable to changes. Final decisions, however, should remain with the family.

From a personal perspective, she suggest the following:

  • Simplify your life. Simplifi-cation is all about focus, and leaving your work life at work and your family life at home. "When you focus on one task or role at a time, you're able to separate yourself from any other task or role you may have," offers Michaud. Delegation is also a way to simplify, which includes setting up your support system and then determining which tasks can be better served by someone other than yourself.
  • Learn to say no. Since family members are often focused on pleasing others, saying no can be difficult. Michaud advises to say no gracefully, while respecting the other person.