Unhealthy work boundaries create hurt feelings, unrealistic expectations, lack of accountability, to name a few. In family businesses, unhealthy work boundaries may go unnoticed as cause for business issues. When these problems are solved, businesses transform. Fixing the unhealthy boundaries may be difficult, but repairing them is worth it.

Friend and family relationships are complex, with the past experiences and shared history. When people bring relationships to work, the complexity multiplies. It’s difficult enough to confront an employee who is not doing the job. Just imagine when the employee is a friend, relative, or spouse!  Accountability goes right out the door, doesn’t it. You want to be liked by friends or family, but in business, feelings affect constructive feedback.

What’s the best way to run a business with friends or family? Consider these ideas:

Business is an Agreement

Customers agree to exchange money for goods or services. Businesses agree to provide goods or services. Employees agree to provide service for payment. A successful business transaction happens when both keep agreements.

Competence First, Connection Second

In personal relationships connection is the guiding principle. When business and personal dynamics mix, dealing with issues is challenging. Competence is first in keeping agreements to create healthy work boundaries.

No Friends or Family on the Organization Chart

Your business is made of people in positions. Positions have functions that produce results. Results keep the business’ agreement. It’s irrelevant if the person in the position is friend or family. Every box on a chart is an agreement to do a job. That agreement is higher than personal ties as a commitment to competence first.

Swinging Warm to Cold

A common dynamic with friends or family is that managers vary from warm to cold. Being friendly with employee’s challenges holding accountability.


Favoritism doesn’t have to happen to create problems. The perception of it is enough. With friends or family in business, employees assume favoritism.

Organizational Line Crossing

Crossing organizational lines is common with friends and family. Line crossing happens when someone other than a direct manager assigns work, disciplines, or otherwise manages an employee. Keep “work-mode” at work, “personal-mode” outside work.

Name the Role-Relationship

If you’re in multiple roles, clarify:

“As CEO, I’m concerned that your idea will cost the company. As your husband I think it’s wonderful.”

Here’s what to do to transition your company into one with Healthy Work Boundaries

1.Evaluate Work Boundaries

Be objective and ask critical questions with every relationship in your business:

  • If John weren’t my son, would he make the same salary?
  • Would I be satisfied with my bookkeeper’s performance if she weren’t my wife?
  • Are friendships with employees causing me to look the other way when they make mistakes?

2.Identify relationships to change

Evaluate relationships and identify what needs to change and how.

3.Address unhealthy work boundaries

Avoid friends or family members on reporting lines if possible.

4.Monitor issues as they arise

Once plans are in action, maintain and pay attention. It’s easy to slip back.

In establishing healthier work boundaries, you may fear creating a cold, “corporate culture.” The paradox is the professional boundaries allow for better personal connection.

I clearly understand this topic; I took over a retail operation from my father so I have extensive experience in the area of family dynamics.  If you’d like assistance with your business, please sign up for a free consultation where we can discuss this or another topic that will move your business forward AND be sure to go watch my video on this topic, Set a Foundation for Healthy Work Boundaries