Keeping Family and Business Separate

Keeping Family and Business Separate

In a recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy, I noticed that two of the characters are married, and also work together in a boss/employee relationship.  (Note that we do not recommend this as a “best practice”).  The characters make an agreement which they term “Church and State” – ergo keeping work and family/home life separate.

The importance separating family and business is that everyone understands when business can be discussed and when it is just family time.  Creating this space will allow your family to have more relaxing, meaningful family time and more productive business interactions.

This is not always easy, of course, so here are a few ideas to help your family and business stay separate:

First, have separate meetings for business matters and family matters.  If business meetings are scheduled and discussions revolve around the business, those that have an interest in being heard have a forum to do so, and will not have the need to discuss business matters at inopportune times.  Family meetings would deal specifically with family topics.  These meetings can start when your children are younger and change as they mature.

Ensure there is an agenda.

Ensure there is an agenda.  Agenda items can be solicited and the meeting should have clear objectives.  When participants know what to expect, it relieves anxiety and helps focus on the matters at hand.

It is also a great idea to devote some of the meeting time to an educational component (understanding financial statements for example).  This creates opportunities where owners/parents can transfer their knowledge and experience.  Dedicating this time to learning opportunities can begin the process of succession without much formality.

Some family members have adopted the practice of calling their parents by their first names at work and “Mom” or “Dad” during non-work time.  This can help with promoting professional and respectful conversations, recognizing that your family member is also your “boss” or “colleague” rather than just mom or dad.

Of course, there are just times when you have to have a conversation about business when it is unplanned.  For this, we recommend starting off the conversation by “changing hats”.  By metaphorically (or actually) changing your hat from “family member”, or “sister”, to “employee” or “CEO”, you change the dynamic of the conversation and it is clear that this is now a business discussion.

Working with family can be challenging at the best of times. 

From experience, these tips can help create a “church and state” separation, where you know the appropriate times to discuss business and when not to.  Working with family can be challenging at the best of times.  Creating clear rules for communication and meetings gives these conversations the proper time and attention that is required.

nicky-scott Article provided by:

Nicky Scott, BComm, CHRP, FEA

Canadian Family Financial

Nicky can be reached at

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