A wise man once said that colleagues are like families – you can’t choose either, but it pays to make the relationships work. It’s certainly easy to draw parallels between work and home life. Businesses have a family-like structure, where everyone has their role and knows what is expected of them. Both face challenges together and celebrate their mutual successes. And on a simple practical level, spending eight hours a day in their company means we might even see more of our colleagues than we do of our own family members!
However, for some people – I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether they’re the lucky ones or not – their family are their work colleagues. Two thirds of UK businesses are family owned – 4.8 million in total – generating over a quarter of UK GDP. Family firms employ 12.2 million people in the UK – 47% of private sector employment1. So, when the worlds of work and family overlap, how do we make sure that we keep relationships healthy and productive when the everyday demands of work and family life can effectively be the same thing?
The psychology of family resilience is a growing area of research that explores how families operate as a unit and can offer some pointers. Family resilience itself has been defined as the family’s “ability to cultivate strengths to positively meet the challenges of life” and recognises that each member of the family is equally important, as well as how they all interact with each other. Resilience used to be thought of as a personality trait you either had or you didn’t, but now it’s seen as something that we can develop and adapt throughout our lives.
Psychologists have shown how a unit of individuals working together can build up their collective reserves of strength, knowledge and creativity. The reassurance this provides makes up a big part of their resilience. The message is that the family or the team is greater than the sum of its parts and with a sense of common purpose and mutual interdependency they can transcend challenges and achieve way beyond their individual capacity. This shows us how business families, biological families and those that are both can tackle adversity and turn it into success.
Beliefs, Organisation and Communication
Experts on family resilience from the University of Chicago have identified nine things we can focus on to develop this resilience; in the categories of belief, organisation and communication.
- Finding meaning in adversity
- Nurturing a positive outlook
- Identifying a higher purpose
Positive beliefs help families and business teams see challenges as opportunities for change or growth and foster a can-do attitude with the knowledge that there’s a common goal uniting everyone.
- Building a structure of mutual support and connectedness
- Demonstrating both flexibility and stability
- Establishing networks
Families and businesses that work well achieve the balance of being open to change, while still being dependable and stable at the same time, with a supportive network around them when they need it.
- Encouraging clear communication
- Expressing opinions and emotions freely
- Fostering a culture of problem-solving
Open and non-judgmental communication focused on fixing problems creates a tolerant and supportive atmosphere that ultimately helps the business or the family become the best and as high-functioning as it can be.
Responding to a Unique Set of Challenges
Many of the UK’s family businesses have been operating for hundreds of years, so there are clear rewards for those that get it right. This sort of success and longevity could be a result of the fact that they need to respond to a unique selection of challenges.
For example, family-run businesses will need to think long-term and put in place a succession plan if they want the business to remain in their control and ownership beyond the current generation. There’s also the question of how best to engage the next generation and introduce them to the business as they grow up. In addition, while paying careful attention to the issue of governance is crucial in any business it is particularly important within family businesses – an environment where it’s vital to ensure the boundaries of work and family roles are clearly defined, for the good of both.
Acknowledging and addressing these challenges as early as possible and planning ahead for them are the best ways of keeping both the family and the business on the right track. At Progeny, with our multi-service offering, and particularly our combination of expert corporate and private legal advice, we can help ensure that your family business has the structure in place to become resilient and successful not just today but for many generations to come.
If you would like to discuss how we can help, please get in touch.
The content of this article is for information only and is not intended to be construed as legal advice and should not be treated as a substitute for specific advice. Progeny Private Law Ltd accepts no responsibility for the content of any third-party website to which this article refers.
1 Source: https://www.ifb.org.uk/research/about-family-business/