Work-life balance: the pros and cons of mixing business and family

Do you run a company with your spouse, siblings or children? We explore how to maintain a balance between business and family.

Being able to switch off and separate your work and your personal life is an act that many find hard to turn from theory into practice, especially those who own their own business.

Lines can often become blurred and working outside office hours can become part of the everyday routine. Research conducted by Haines Watts among 500 UK SMEs shows that all too often that’s true.

David Fort, managing director at Haines Watts Manchester, explores the pressures that business owners face, from maintaining a line in the sand between their business and private lives, to the impact on family and relationships.

Keeping it in the family

The research showed that three out of four business owners are actively blurring the line.

This significant majority say that their spouse also works in their business or has no other form of income. Although there are no doubt often positive effects, this can put a lot of pressure on one individual family, both financially and mentally.

Keeping it in the family can often seem like a safe way to grow a business, but it can also make managing certain situations increasingly difficult later on down the line. As family-run businesses are also commonly formed by siblings or parents and children, issues can arise as the business moves through the generations in terms of shares, succession and the age-old dilemma between business acumen and birthright.

“Creating a model which will successfully work without your spouse’s involvement, will allow you to step away from your business”

When setting up a business, it is important to consider an additional management layer so that all the weight does not rest on your shoulders. Creating a model which will successfully work without you and/or your spouse’s involvement, at least for a short time, will allow you to step away from your business and take the time you need to achieve a healthy balance.

Be the driver, not the engine

This elusive balance is clearly difficult to achieve, two thirds (67 per cent) of business owners say they have worked while on holiday, and slightly more (69 per cent) report also having worked on weekends.

It’s not entirely surprising when you take into consideration that when a family member also works in the business it is inevitable that ‘co-workers’ will take the same time off work to go on holiday.

Entrepreneurs need to step away to find balance

But having time to switch off and step away is crucial for your own health, as well as the health of your business. Families need to encourage this behaviour, rather than bringing work home and letting it dominate the conversation in all environments. Setting rules for yourself, such as leaving your work phone in the car will help you to disengage and separate your two worlds.

As we move through the generations, people are getting better at ensuring that neither bucket bubbles over into the other. But handing over the reins and trusting the team you have in place is often hard, especially if you find yourself thinking that they might not be able to do things quite as well as you can yourself.

While in some cases this may be true, denying your team the opportunity to learn and grow will hold your business back in the long run. It may be difficult to accept, but even if the work done by others is not 100 per cent how you would have done it, passing it on gives you the opportunity to focus on larger issues, such as the strategy and direction of the company.

At the same time, your team benefits from new developmental opportunities that will drive the business forward in the future.

Internal advisers

Even if your spouse or another family member doesn’t work directly in the business, they are likely still be impacted by it. A quarter of business owners say that they seek support first from their family about decisions linked to their business. While family should be viewed as a vital source of support to your business, it should not be the sole or principal layer.

Discussing stressors and concerns with family members can be very positive and they will certainly have a valuable input. However, there is no substitute for an impartial voice of reason, which can only truly come from an external party. An outsider can ask objective questions that you might have not thought about or challenge the way you do things in a way that you might not have considered.

Clarity of thought from those who aren’t as close as family helps to ensure the right decisions are made. As well as having a strong management team, a strong network of professionals that can provide you with sound advice is an extremely valuable asset for your business.

Business owners need to be able to successfully separate the personal from the professional, no matter what relationships may be involved in the business.

The internal dialogue and battle of a business owner can seem overwhelming at times, but the support of your family is not, and should not, be the only network you seek out for advice, clarity or direction.

Martin Port, founder and CEO of  job management specialist BigChange, talks about the family dynamic in the business and how he promotes family values among his employees.

Martin talks and balancing business and family at BigChange

I am the founder and CEO of BigChange. My wife Amanda is our marketing director and my brother Anthony works in sales and business development.

We’ve not always worked together as a family. Amanda spent the early part of our married life as a buyer, merchandiser and sales director in a fashion clothing manufacturing business, supplying the major high street stores.

Anthony started off his career in accountancy, later working in sales for a wholesale flower business. Prior to my own career in technology, I started and grew a speciality bread business, supplying bread to high-end restaurants and delis.

The interesting thing is that between us, we have all brought a very complementary set of skills together, and that means we gel well as a family. The key thing is that we treat the entire BigChange business as one big family; everyone is treated the same, no matter what area of the business you work in. It has been successful for us.

Maintaining values

My parents brought Anthony and I up with a very strong work ethic, and that has rubbed off on us. I am passionate about what I do, so even when we’re on holiday, I can never just rest and take my eye off the ball.

It’s in my nature to take an interest in what’s happening every day, even from afar. And when you’re using technology like that we’ve created at BigChange, you can see what’s happening in the business at a glance, from anywhere in the world.

We all have to keep working through minor ailments like the dreaded flu, but I completely respect people’s need to rest and recuperate from more serious illnesses.

To be honest, our business and family lives are very much intertwined, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Discussing business issues at home has given my children an early education in business. It’s a key part of them realising that they’ve got to make their own way in the world and so far, I am impressed with their achievements.

We have one rule: Friday night and Saturday – the Jewish Sabbath – is sacred and a day of rest for our family. That means no work is done and we don’t talk about it. It’s a day when we spend time together and with friends and family.

“Discussing business issues at home has given my children an early education in business”

You have got to be ruthlessly focused though. I know there are lots of self-help books out there that claim you can completely compartmentalise your work and family life. The truth is it’s a very fluid thing. All of us are very busy right now, including my children. Three of them now live in London, where they are pursuing their own professional careers.

I know social media gets a bad rap, but actually tools like WhatsApp and Facetime are a great way to speak to them regularly throughout the day. The reality is that the modern world has changed the rhythm and pace of life, and technology is giving us ways to check in with each other regularly each day.

Making time for employees’ families

We see great value in bringing our team together with their extended family.

In fact, we organise family days where we all come together. We have enjoyed days out at Flamingo Land and also the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where our teams have brought their children and close family. It reflects the close family style culture we have in the business. In addition, the flexible working that we offer allows parents to manage their childcare needs too.

There’s no single recipe for success. Find what suits the culture of your own business and involve your team in helping to shape and achieve this balance. If you give people ownership in the process, they will be engaged.

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