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Thursday, February 24, 2005

What if my family is my career?

When it works well, the family in business together can be a powerful force – think the Murdoch and Packer media dynasties or, closer to home, the Roddick family in Body Shop, the Sainsburys in retail and the Rothermere publishing empire. When times get tough, however, or when family conflicts affect the family business, the repercussions can affect future family relations for generations.

Conflict within families and in business is hardly a revelation, but two recent studies from Australia reveal the significant impact of changes in the nature of work and the composition of family structures, including technological advances, the 24-hour “global village”, the move away from manufacturing towards a service economy and changes in workforce demographics including working mothers and increased mobility for adult children. Professor Kosmas Smyrnios is foundation director of the Family Business Research Unit at Monash University, and co-author of the two research projects: The Australian Family Business Study and Work-Family Conflict and Emotional Well-Being.

Professor Smyrnios says the interface between work, family and psychological well-being is not well understood and that business owners, their spouses and their adult children have significantly different needs and values and place different emphasis on the key characteristics required to run the business successfully.

“In this environment the quality of family support is essential, in order to temper the effects of work-to-household issues,” says Smyrnios. His studies show families that communicate well, are able to problem-solve and have sound interpersonal relationships are less affected by the stresses of managing home life and business life, in particular the need to switch between multiple roles such as parent and boss. The individual’s sense of well-being is also key to their ability to mediate the demands of an inter-related business and family life.

“It’s hardly surprising that conflict arises,” says occupational psychologist Lesley Morris, “given that most people have someone in their family that they don’t like or don’t get along with, and family rows can survive many generations.” Businesses develop working teams based on skills rather than personality or temperament. Add to the mix any unresolved family problems and you have endless potential for ‘creative differences’ that can affect future family relationships and the business.

“Conflict comes from mismanaged or misunderstood expectations,” says Morris. “Traditionally, parents expected to pass the business on to their kids and the kids expected to join the business. But today with improved transportation, communications and technology, our youngsters have an unprecedented range of career choices – and the family business may not hold any appeal.”

READ: The Business of Family - Article

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