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Let’s Define “Fair”

By September 8, 2014July 12th, 2023Succession Planning2 min read

Operating a business can be stressful; and when that business is family owned, there can be heighten stress and conflict brought on by the intangibles.  For example, I see a lot of families struggle with doing what is “fair” when their corporate policies and the “family plan” are at odds with one another. Rarely is “fair” agreed upon by each family member. As a result, the struggle to create an equal workplace for everyone ends up intensifying conflict.

Recently, I received an email from a man detailing his struggle within his family’s business. Several years ago he left a promising career to work alongside his father, who founded the business, and his sister, who manages it. Over time he invested a great deal of time and energy to add value to the business and further its success.  But he doesn’t feel like he’s being fairly compensated. His sister feels his current compensation matches his contributions to the company. Today, he feels like his career is on hold and that he should have never accepted his father’s repeated requests to work for the family business.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated case. Countless family members join the family business based on a promise, a handshake or pat on the back.  They’re assured that they’ll be treated fairly with regular promotions, salary increases and bonuses.  Sadly, those promises are not always kept and/or expectations are not met. “Fair” gets fuzzy.

If you’re struggling to decide whether or not to be the next generation in the family business, I recommend you approach your job offer with the same degree of professionalism that you would if interviewing for a corporation, like Oracle or Apple. Here are some things you can do to better ensure success in your family business career.

  • Know the median salary for your position and experience level as it relates to your specific market
  • Define the expectations and scope of work for your position
  • Define your bonus structure and other compensation and benefits packages
  • Get it all in writing

The last point may raise some eyebrows, or possibly raise a flag of distrust among family members. But an employment agreement is critical to your success and long-term career growth. A written agreement will also defuse any questions of “fair” when it comes time for your salary increase or bonus. It should also be seen as an example of the high standards of professionalism you’ll bring to the family business.