When family relationships come with baggage, they can affect how individuals interact with everyone, from potential romantic partners, to parents, to coworkers. When that same baggage is carried into a family business, it can bog down productivity and create a high-conflict work environment that puts everyone on edge. Find out what you can do if family baggage is weighing down your family business.
What Does Family Baggage Mean?
The term “family baggage” is most commonly used in individual coaching or therapy. It means more that simply conflict with parents, siblings, or other family members. Instead, family baggage specifically refers to the patterns of behavior and interactions that are learned over time through interactions at home. Most often, family baggage shows up in long-held anger and resentment toward specific family members. In other cases, it can reflect the way people react when they believe there is a risk of conflict.
If you have ever watched a friend or partner go home to stay with their parents, you may have seen family baggage at work. When put back into that familiar family setting, many people “revert” to the immature behavior patterns that they developed under their parents’ roof. Living and working with your relatives in a family business doesn’t erase the possibility that you are carrying family baggage. However, it can make those patterns harder to see when every day is spent with the same people who helped you develop them in the first place.
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How Relationship Baggage Can Affect a Family Business
Since family baggage is all about patterns of behavior, it can have a direct and substantial effect on the bottom line of a family business. Depending on the personalities of the family members involved (and their respective positions in the company), this could look like:
- Creating division or conflict because of long-held family feuds
- Deferring to an authoritarian parent, even when their ideas are wrong or outdated
- Creating conflict or competition because of sibling rivalries
- Making assumptions about a child or sibling’s intentions within the family business
- Difficulty trusting the next generation with business decisions
If the family dynamic allows a person’s anger and resentment to grow unchecked, it might create conflict at work. This can cause further emotional damage to relatives, and negatively affect the family business. Sometimes it can even cause an unhappy family employee to leave the family business altogether and set up a competitor business of their own.
Strategies for Coworker Relatives to Unpack Their Family Baggage
Unfortunately, family baggage is not something that a family business owner can fix from the top down. You cannot dictate that your children forgive one another, or warring factions make peace in the interests of good business. Unpacking family baggage is highly personal, often difficult work, which requires each person involved to honestly communicate how the current dynamic affects them. This means family business owners must be prepared to:
- Make time and space for employees to work on their baggage individually
- Listen when an employee presents concerns, even if they seem stale or unimportant
- Offer objective, non-judgmental observations about how behavior patterns affect the business
- Facilitate communications between relatives with bad blood between them
- Actively foster positive interactions between relative coworkers, even at the cost of time off or lost productivity in the short term
If family baggage is creating a hostile environment within the family business, it will take time and attention to undo those patterns. As the family business owner, it will be up to you to lead by example.
Get Help Resolving Your Family Business’s Baggage
Much of the work involved in unpacking the family baggage must be done on a personal level. Only then can you bring your team together to find a new, healthy working dynamic. Often, the best thing you can do is provide a knowledgeable business coach who can help your family coworkers identify their relational patterns and conflict strategies and adopt new techniques that will make working with family easier, and more productive.
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 unpack their family baggage and develop new coworking strategies. Contact us to meet with David and decide your future today.