Thanks for your question. Working with relatives can be tricky on a
number of levels. Fortunately, there is quite a lot of literature on
the subject to help you through the problem areas.
You mention that you are considering working with your spouse. One
suggestion that I found in the literature is to get off on the right
foot by having a discussion in which you can establish boundaries for
your business relationship.
The Small Business Administration, which has a pamphlet that I've
linked below for you, suggests, "Rights and responsibilities are
different at home than at work, and it is imperative that family
members keep this fact in mind. At home family relationships are the
prime concern. Language is personal, attitudes are subjective,
roles-husband/wife, parent/child, family/relatives/in-laws--are
traditionally defined. At work, however, the success of the business
must be paramount. Language becomes more impersonal, attitudes more
objective. Family members who work in the business must accept the
boss/employee relationship, as they would in any other business.
Their job descriptions must be clear, in writing and adhered to.
Problems arising at home should be left there when the workday begins
and workplace problems should not encroach on home life."
Challenges in Managing a Family Business
From the above, what might be advisable is to make certain that your
job description is written, not at all vague and that your
responsibilities are clearly delineated. From what you indicated in
your question, your spouse wants to avoid the pitfall of being accused
of favoritism, which is understandable, however, if he does
overcompensate in this area, he risks hurting his own business.
From "What You Need to Know About: Working with Family" by Daryl &
Phyllis Algood. Business Leader:
"Don't take the partnership for granted. Treat your spouse or family
member fairly in business and don't take the relationship for granted.
There are some great benefits to being part of a family business, and
you don't want to strain the relationship by overlooking the basic
needs of individuals to be recognized and rewarded for their efforts."
The emphasis on keeping home and business matters separate was
repeated elsewhere. It may be something as simple as maintaining
professional distance in body language and spoken expressions or
simply not discussing personal matters at the workplace.
"It is as important to be as courteous to your family as it is to
strangers. We sometimes become too relaxed with family members just
we see them every day. We take for granted that they'll put up with
our moods in ways other people wouldn't understand. This can lead to
problems with family members, or with other employees who feel awkward
seeing these interactions."
The above comes from this site:
"Family Business--The Perils and Positives of Work and Family" by
Ravenwerks Information Center
According to everything that I came across one message is clear, above
all communication is key.
These sites may be helpful.
"Avoiding Pitfalls in Family Businesses" by Michael H. Kessling
The UMASS Family Business Center--Related Matters
"It's a Family Affair"
This is a website devoted to family businesses. There are quite a few
articles containing advice and information about working with
There are a number of books devoted to the subject of family
businesses. Some of these that you might find helpful include:
"Generation to Generation: Life Cycles of the Family Business" by
Kelin E. Gersick, Harvard Business School, 1997, ISBN: 087584555X
"Getting Along in Your Family Business: the Relationship Intelligence
Handbook" by Edwin A. Hoover and Colette Lombard Hoover, Routledge,
1999 ISBN: 0415921899
"Working with the Ones You Love" by Dennis T. Jaffe, Aspen Family
Business Group, 2000, ISBN: 0970346204
I hope that answers your question. Best of luck!