When Work is a Family Affair

When Work is a Family AffairBy Christy Schutz

I am in the midst of a professional transition. I left my advertising gig the end of December and decided to start the New Year at my husband’s small business. I am helping him do some general office management, accounting and process improvement stuff, but, more importantly, am focused on upping the ante on their marketing game in hopes that I can grow the business and increase revenues (which would only be a big WIN-WIN for the both of us)!

I knew I was headed for a year full of change. Not only professionally, in how I spent my time from day to day, but also personally. After all, this new venture will mean that my husband and I will be under the same roof for almost 24 hours a day.

So, in honor of all that, I thought I dedicate today’s post to the 5 lessons I have learned so far about working with your significant other.

1. Define clear boundaries between work and home.

Before we started working together, my husband and I discussed how we were going to mentally separate work time from home time. One of the things I wanted was to leave work, and work talk, for work hours. Likewise, we agreed that we’d try to leave discussions about our kids or pets to our off work hours. For us, it was important that we had a clear distinction – mentally and emotionally – between work and our personal lives.

2. Accept your partner’s work persona.

My husband, a normally kind, funny, affable person outside of work, would get his “game face on” and act no-nonsense at work. He was not really into a lot of chit chat, and sometimes would almost sound curt or gruff when he would be explaining some aspect of the business, sharing insights, etc. I felt like he was always in a bad mood. Before long I realized that this was just his attitude at work. He took his “husband” hat off and put on his “business owner” hat, and really, there wasn’t anything wrong with that.

3. Establish roles, responsibilities and the pecking order. 

Before I tried to dive into all the things that are happening on a day-to-day basis with our business, I took some time to discuss what my daily responsibilities would be and what he envisioned for my role. This was a telling discussion, because some of the things he assumed I’d be doing did not map to what I assumed I’d be doing. We also talked about the company hierarchy. We are very much equals in our family and personal lives, but, at the office, he had put in 25 years at the company and had been working the last 3 years as the President and CEO. So, in our case, since he has the insights and wisdom to make the tough decisions that I cannot make yet due to my inexperience in his industry, there is a reporting structure that applies. By taking the time to discuss and negotiate these things on the front end, we avoided confusion and frustration once our working partnership began. He knows what I am excited about doing and what my strengths are, and I know the ways he plans to share the workload and how he’d like to handle tough situations.

4. Pledge to keep it professional.

This is an area I struggle with more than he. I find myself calling him sweetie or babe or other terms of endearment, which I suppose isn’t a big deal when it is just the two of us, but, quickly becomes awkward when there are other colleagues, vendors and/or customers around. In addition, I also found it a lot easier to talk more freely about issues with my husband in ways that I never would have with a more traditional work colleague or manager. So, to make sure our interactions are more professional, I’ll often ask myself “How would you raise this question or concern with another colleague?” or “Would you have phrased that last comment the same way in your last job?” I’m not suggesting you take this to an extreme, but, trying to maintain a standard of professionalism not only helps you both to stay focused on the business at hand, it also helps to separate work and your personal lives.

5. Be sure to cultivate “me time” and romantic “we time.”

After a week of work with my husband, I can yearn for a break. So, I will schedule some time alone to just read at the park, hang out at a Starbucks to write or simply day dream, or steal away to my room for a chic flick or a bubble bath. This year I’ve also committed to spending more time with my girlfriends, with a monthly dinner club or lunch out with my BFF’s. Likewise, my husband and I are committed to keeping our relationship from becoming just part of the daily routine. So, we try to schedule at least one romantic date per month. We’ll make plans for a long weekend, get dressed up for a night out on the town, or just share some quiet time over a picnic lunch at the beach. The bottom line is if you are spending all day with your partner, you have to do things that will both build you up as an individual and bind you together, romantically as a couple.

I am sure I will be learning many more lessons as our time in the Family Biz continues, so stay tuned for Part 2. In the meantime, what advice can you give to help make working with your significant other healthy AND productive? What mistakes have you made in your family business? What has worked for you?

Christy Schutz is a communications professional and freelance writer focused on topics like employer/personal branding, career management, personal development, women in the workplace, and female entrepreneurs. She enjoys putting 16+ years of experience in the advertising, recruitment marketing, employee/internal communications and special events industries to good use by helping others to discover, develop and market their own distinct calling or mission. This Tampa Bay, FL-based Mom also keeps herself busy by raising 4 kids, caring for her husband & doting on her dogs Petey and Daisy!

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