BOSTON (TheStreet) — Striking a balance between work and life is a constant battle for most of us. But for the thousands of Americans who run family businesses — from the Johnsons of Fidelity Investments to the moms and pops at the local pizza place — the issue is magnified because their officemates and life mates are one and the same.
It's not surprising that work/life balance was a major theme in a recent family-owned business report by Harris Interactive (HPOL) and MassMutual Financial, which surveyed 518 family business owners.
While participants cited communication challenges and succession planning as concerns, the inability to take a day off was a top complaint for 39% of respondents. This is a big issue for husband and wife teams such as Roni Kabessa and Kara Orr, who own and run Decor Craft, the Providence, R.I., company behind the "I am not a paper cup."
(HPOL) "This year was the first time in eight years that we went away together for two weeks," says Kabessa, managing director of 18-employee company. Kabessa agreed with the 58% of respondents who listed trusting your business partners as a key advantage to working with family members, but noted the drawbacks of a married executive team. "A banker once mentioned to us that when we fly together, it's 100% of the company in the air."
(HPOL) Among those surveyed, 56% said they were concerned about how a death in the family would affect their business, but 41% hadn't crafted a legally documented succession plan. Only 39% said they had such a plan. "Both of us are in our 40s, so we never really think about it right now," Kabessa says
(HPOL) Strong succession planning helped ensure continuity when tragedy hit Troy Belting and Supply. Former owner George Smith presciently began developing a plan in the early 1990s with advice from an estate-planning lawyer. When he died unexpectedly in 2003, the documents were in place for his wife and son to take the reins.
"Admitting you're going to die someday is not fun, but it's a reality," says Jason Smith, vice president of the company. The company now reviews its succession plan at least annually, in order to keep current with regulations. "The laws are always changing."
(HPOL) With regard to communication issues, 56% of respondents said they make a point to resolve conflicts at work. "You should never leave the building mad," Smith says. Thirty-one percent said they discuss conflicts after work. With husband-wife teams, this is a way to keep nosy employees from assuming that a work conflict is a marital dispute.
Among the participants, 49% said "being passionate for the business" was key to success. Jason Smith started working at Troy Belting at age 12 and says he never considered anything else. Kabessa says his 8-year-old daughter already has invented two of the company's products, including a giant sticky note pad. "She was born with products in her brain," he says.
(HPOL) In the end, owners say that passion helps makes up for the lack of work/life balance. "In this business, it's a fine line where work ends and pleasure begins," says Bruce Shulman, one of the founding members of the Environmental Technology Center, an electronics systems integrator in Boston, who works with his son Dave. "When your customers invite you to their New Year's Eve party, Super Bowl party and family functions, is that work or personal time? If it's work, we enjoy it."
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