Working in the family can be incredibly rewarding, until it isn’t. If family tensions or a different calling are causing you to consider leaving the family business, you will want to be honest with yourself and your family members about why you are going and if and when you will be back.

1.      What Am I Leaving the Family Business For?

When you have only ever worked for the family business, and the assumption is that you always will, it can be hard for you or your family to envision another future for yourself. However, having a clear vision of what the future holds after leaving the family business can help you rephrase your exit in a positive light. Will you:

  • Get a master’s degree?
  • Start your own business?
  • Get independent professional experience?
  • Learn management skills?

Instead of “I’m leaving” knowing what will come next allows you to tell your family “I’m going to do something new.” This will make it easier for your family to support your decision for the next chapter of your life. They may even see the wisdom behind your choice, if you plan to return to the family fold later in life.

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2.      What Am I Getting Away From?

At the same time, something is driving you to make the choice to leave. Is it a personal conflict or a professional concern? Do you disagree with the direction of the company, or are you unable to break out of the role your family has chosen for you?

Family dynamics can make workplace conflict in family businesses especially difficult to resolve. However, if you still believe in the vision of business, you may want to strive to repair your relationships with siblings, cousins, and other coworkers before making the decision to leave the family business.

3.      Can Change Happen Within the Family Business?

Often, second-generation members of the family business feel pressure to leave when they don’t see a path for their own professional development under the leadership of a parent or relative. Cousins may feel that the boss’s children will always be favored. Siblings may feel ill-suited to their assignments.

It can be difficult to speak truth to power – to confront your elders with the reality of your professional frustrations. However, sometimes presenting a parent or family business owner with your concerns will show initiative and commitment to the family vision. This can be especially effective when:

  • Proposing expanding into a related market
  • Encouraging formal HR and employment policies
  • Establishing boundaries between work and personal time
  • Seeking to adjust work responsibilities to align with your strengths

If the business owner takes your proposal poorly, it will be evidence that leaving the family business is your best choice.

4.      How Will This Decision Affect the Dinner Table?

No matter how reasonable your decision to leave the family business may be, it will still affect your relationships. Be honest with yourself about the emotional consequences of your choice. Decide whether your reasons for leaving are worth the potential fallout. If they are, then how will you manage the changes to your family relationships to avoid being isolated from your loved ones?

5.      When (If Ever) Will You Come Back to the Family Business?

Not every choice to leave the family business is forever. You may inherit a shareholder interest when the current business owner retires or passes away. You may choose to return after completing a degree or obtaining specific skills or experience. Be clear about when and why you will return when communicating your reasons for leaving. This will help manage the family’s expectations.

Get Help Making the Choice Whether to Leave the Family Business

The key to leaving the family business without burning bridges is often having objective, unemotional reasons for the decision. Work with an executive coach who can help you objectively analyze where you are, where you want to be, and the path you should take to get there. Then you’ll be able to bring your plan to leave the family business to your family without making it feel like you are abandoning them.

David Stanislaw is an organizational development specialist with over 25 years’ experience helping employees navigate the professional and personal challenges of working in a family business. Through one-on-one executive coaching, strategy sessions, and facilitated mediation, David helps family members work together or make the decision to leave the family business. Contact us to meet with David and decide your future today.