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  • Writer's pictureRobin Rosenberg

Family Business Issues: When the next generation causes problems.

Updated: Jul 8, 2021

I work at a privately owned family company. For the most part I love working for a family-owned business. I have enormous respect for the current second-generation owner, who I directly report to. However, he has recently brought on his son to start working with us. His son is nothing like him. He is lazy, entitled and disrespectful. If this was any other new hire, I would have no problem sharing the details of this situation with my boss. But I know he loves his son and is so excited to have him working for the family business. Do you have any suggestions of how to approach discussing and addressing these issues?


Family businesses can be very challenging when relatives and friends are hired and their performance is significantly less than what would be expected of employees who aren’t family connected. Nonetheless, there are some ways you can approach the situation, at least initially by asking questions of the current owner who, as a second-generation owner, had to work through at least some issues. As with many aspects of work, clarity can help.

Perhaps it makes sense to start a conversation with the owner using statistics to open the conversation: Research reveals that only 12% of family businesses continue into the third generation. You can ask how you (and other employees) can help, given the son is now working at the company. For instance, you can ask:

· about the owner’s short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals for the son and the company and how you and other employees can help achieve those goals?

· about what tasks and projects (if any) is the son “responsible.” Are there aspects of the work that the owner specifically wants his son to do himself so that he learns? If so, what are those aspects, and if the son has challenges along the way (and the task is at risk of being done poorly, late, or not at all), how would the owner like the employees to handle that?

Addressing how the owner wants these types of issues handled--in advance of a problem--makes the lines of communication clear, as well as the lines of responsibility.

The main idea is for the owner to (collaborate to) create and clarify rules and procedures before there are significant problems. Thus, the owner should articulate his thoughts about key areas in which there may be tension or differences of opinion between his son and he, or his son and employees.

This article outlines some of the challenges to family businesses and how to work through them. It might be interesting to share the article with the owner highlighting possible intergenerational differences that could affect the company and employees in achieving the company’s goals:

· Vision/Values/Mission: The son may wish to emphasize different aspects of the company’s vision and mission (or focus on a new vision and/or mission) and values. If so, it would be helpful for the employees to know so they can help realize that (adjusted) vision, assuming the owner is on board.

· Trust: The employees don’t (yet) have as deep a relationship and history of trust with the son as they do with his father. Are there ways that the owner can think of to help deepen the trust between the son and the employees?

· Communication: As noted earlier, how should communication issues be handled with regard to the son’s performance? Creating a communication protocol can help set up good processes.

Disclaimer: This question and response is provided for informational purposes only, and you should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of this content. It is strongly recommended that you immediately seek legal or other professional advice if you believe you are experiencing a problem requiring professional assistance. Robin Rosenberg and Live in Their World, Inc. disclaim all liability for actions you take or fail to take based on Dear Robin content.


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