NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


| Share

We're In This Together

We’re In This Together


North Dakota has strong base of farms and farm families who work and live right on their job site.  And despite some recent increases in big manufacturers and other employers of large workforces, North Dakota also has a huge number of smaller businesses operated by one or more generation of the same family.   

Whether it is farming or a small business, often several generations are involved with older parents and younger adult children working together and the mix might even include in-laws. Regardless of the relationship, it can be quite stressful to love, live and work with family members. The job and personal life are intertwined and involve large time commitments and expectations.

It is a unique challenge for families in these types of work/life environments to find a balance and learn to work together to ensure the business is both profitable and enjoyable.

When family members are in business together, skill is needed to communicate plans, expectations and dreams. It helps all family members when effective communication is a cooperative effort. Families who discuss issues, agree on action to be taken, or compromise when views are different promote healthier relationships in addition to creating a better work environment. When things go well at home, things are more likely to go better at work, especially when the two are closely connected.

Conflict arises when there is miscommunication or a lack of communication. Relationships vary depending on the bond between people, level of commitment, communication skills, personality, temperament and other qualities that may be a factor in relationship building. For example, the relationship you have with your father will be different than the relationship your sister has with your father. This is often difficult to accept. Some people work well together and others struggle to get along. Hurt feelings may occur when favoritism is shown or family members feel excluded or overworked.

Most people in business are concerned about providing an income for themselves and their families. It is natural to expect a return on investments (i.e. time, work, money invested, sacrifices made for the business). Some family members may be willing to sacrifice their well-being for the sake of the business. Individual differences in values or expectations may cause conflict, especially if there is difficulty in “making ends meet.” There is an underlying work ethic or philosophy that farming is a 24-hour job with little or no relief. No one pays self-employed workers, farmers and ranchers benefits such as vacation time, sick leave or health and retirement plans. In many cases family members work off the farm to generate income for living expenses and benefits such as health insurance.

You may need to ask some tough questions about income:

  • Is it possible that you are not making as much money as you should for your investment?
  • Is it possible that you are not getting paid the amount you need to live on?
  • Is it possible that others in the business are getting paid more (or less) than you?
  • Are you being realistic with income expectations for the business?
  • Can the business adequately support the families currently involved?
  • Are you willing to sacrifice income for a valued lifestyle?
  • What might be some alternatives to generate income?
  • What needs to be done to remedy the situation?
  • How realistic are your short-term and long-term goals?
  • When decisions are being made, generation gaps may become more evident. One generation may want to be more saving, conservative or cautious, and another may want to take more risks with management practices. Issues such as these may cause conflict between parents and adult children or between spouses and siblings.

    When you are in business, you likely will want to be involved in the decision making. Most business partners want an equal vote or say in what should or should not happen with the business. Does your vote count equally with others in the family business? If you are an integral part of the family and the business, should your vote should count equally or in proportion to the financial support vs. work support/manual labor? These decisions should be made prior to working together and when partners are added or leave the business.

    Regardless of the relationship between individuals, all family members should be respected. This is difficult when there is tension or disagreement or when someone is “caught in the middle.” However, for a family business to survive and then thrive, respect must be present.


    Creative Commons License
    Feel free to use and share this content, but please do so under the conditions of our Creative Commons license and our Rules for Use. Thanks.