Working with family has its own rewards, challenges

Growing up, I was fortunate to be part of a family of entrepreneurs. My parents started their business, Herring Art & Frame, in the 1970s, and both my uncles owned businesses in the Twin Cities.

In order to stay home with us three kids, my mom had a day-care center to help meet financial needs as well as give us the opportunity to have a stay-at-home mom. Growing up with entrepreneurial parents taught us that hard work and perseverance prevails; along with that came our "first jobs" at an earlier-than-normal age.

My "first job" came at the age of 11 or 12, and it was for my uncle. My sister and I spent an enormous amount of time soaking stamps off envelopes — he was a stamp collector and used unmarked stamps over again.

Our pay consisted of a check which was deposited into our savings accounts and an occasional bag of peanut M&Ms that generally tasted like stamp glue and mothballs by the time we found them.

As I grew more responsible with the "stamp soaking" job, my duties also grew. Eventually I was entering customer and catalog data into the computer.  About that time, my father also taught me how to do all his customer data entry as well as payroll — I was 13 or 14 at the time. When I was about 15, I was taught the art of framing.


My sister was much more artistic and detail-oriented, so I stuck with the computer work and she stuck with the artistic portion.

Working with, or for, one’s parents is not all that easy. Nor is working with, or for, siblings. There are several working women in this area who grew up much like I did or who are currently working for, or with, family members who spoke with me about their experiences.

In my opinion, working alongside family members has its advantages and disadvantages. I had some flexibility with when I worked, but when there were deadlines, family members were more like micromanagers. If there were errors, one would have thought family members would go easier on you than regular employees — that is a myth!

I talked with Michelle, who works for her brother Scott, to get her opinion on working side-by-side a family member. For the most part, they have a great working relationship. The salary discussion, however, has been on the back burner, and she is hesitant in bringing it up. At first, her salary helped cover day-care expenses, etc., but when the economy took a dive, so did the business revenue.

The lack of revenue forced her to take cuts, which she didn’t push since she was his sister. Although this has been resolved, Michelle urges anyone working with a family member to put things in writing so when discrepancies arise, they can be resolved more easily.  On the flip side, Michelle said she has more freedom and flexibility now than she has ever had with any other boss. She knows Scott has her back and will support her decisions, even if they turn out to be wrong.

I also talked with Vivian who works with both her dad, Anthony, and a sibling, Vince.

She believes working with her dad has evolved their relationship from parent and child to more of an adult relationship. She is comfortable talking with him about issues or ideas that employees wouldn’t necessarily bring up with a "regular boss."

Because he trusts her, she has a great desire to excel and do right for the company he created.


The hard part of working in this setting? Sometimes the lines between work and personal lives get a little blurry. Although she tries to keep work life at work and home life at home, sometimes "dad" steps in and oversteps a little just because he can as dad.

Vivian has found it challenging at times to work with a younger sibling and often feels like she is being talked down to.

And, occasionally, as when growing up together, Vince can pull the "dad" card and go to him about things that really don’t need to be hashed out with him. 

Vivian’s recommendation to when it comes to working with family is this: have a person from outside the family be involved with the financial end to keep things from getting personal. 

According to Vivian, the best part of working for family is the flexibility and freedom to choose her schedule. She volunteers a lot and is able to continue doing this because of her flexible schedule.

In general, she does not take any extra perks as a family member that would cause her to be treated differentl than any other employee.

Working with, or for, family members can be trying, but it can also be the best job you’ve ever had. It can be good, bad or really ugly, but if you start the working relationship off right, it will be very rewarding in the long run.

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