Different Angles, Same Business

By Davon Cook on March 30, 2017

During family business transitions, much could be written about generational differences in communication style, risk tolerance, management tactics or other areas. In this article, however, I want to focus on differences in life stages and lifestyles that impact the relationships among generations in business together.

When I returned to my family’s business years ago, setting some boundaries was important. I wanted to make sure the demands of my larger family and the business didn’t overwhelm my focus on, and creating time with, my own spouse and children. Today I hear others adopting versions of what one might call “ground rules,” for example

…please call and ask before you come to my home

…please don’t call me about work on the weekends or at night when it’s not necessary (i.e. we’re not in busy season)—it can wait until work time to discuss

…I need flexibility to pick up kids or coach their soccer team.

I realize that I did the same thing as I started in the family business. Yet, sometimes the senior generation perceives these requests as either: A) Signs of the next generation being not committed enough, or B) Personal affronts that the younger generation may not want to spend time with the older generation. Let’s discuss those in order.

I know next generation members who are extremely committed to the business and are very willing to put in long hours when needed. But they also seek to draw some lines around what’s urgent and what’s not. They may be at a life stage of beginning marriages or raising kids. The lifestyle at the life stage of young parents is different than a generation ago. Many households have two working parents. Both parents are expected, and/or desire, to cook and change diapers and shuttle kids and coach sports. This is no judgment on the norm of previous generations—just an observation that it is different. Thus, some of their expectations around time and schedule are different.

As for hurt feelings over how much time family coworkers do or don’t spend together, realize that this is often a personal preference that should be discussed and understood. Your family members may have different answers. For some, time being “family” and not “coworkers” may be vitally important—doing fun activities together, or having Sunday lunch sharing stories from church, friends, or Pinterest! For others, it may actually improve the health of your relationship to have less family time together—to socialize with people far removed from work, to pursue hobbies, to focus on one’s nuclear family. Don’t assume it’s an indication of dislike. Rather, it may be an indication of wise judgment.

There are no easy answers here, but considering the differences between generations in context of lifestyle and life stages may increase your understanding and appreciation of those differences.