OMG get me out of here.
June 3, 2011 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend resources to avoid insanity in a family business.

I work with my dad. It's weird. I didn't grow up with him, I don't always like him, but we wound up in the same profession and for the most part we work well together.

Recently it occurred to me that there is no way I could continue indefinitely towards the plan of me taking over the business upon his retirement. First, he is a raging workaholic and will never actually retire. Second, even if he did retire, I would lose my shit between now and then because I think I hate working for him.

I finally had a talk with him a month or so ago to reassess the situation. In character with my keep-the-peace-daughter role, I took the "It's not you, it's me" route and explained that I'm pushing 30, I'm shacking up with the love of my life, and his plan to retire in five or six years needs to not depend on me working full time forever because I want to start a family soon. Already I feel guilty if I work just 8 hours a day, take weekends or holidays because he is in here for at least 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. I don't want that life, ESPECIALLY when I'll be having a young family at home.

He seemed pleased by the news and re-structured, bringing in another employee. But since then, he's been in raging moods that I cannot stand to be around. He's royally pissed about something and I have no idea what. He's taking it out on me and the secretary, who expresses constant fear that she's about to get shitcanned because he's always in a black mood. I am so sick of being yelled at. He doesn't yell *at* me necessarily, but he keeps yelling *about* clients or colleagues or the printer *to* me. I'm jumpy and irritable and on the verge of tears, which is not productive.

I need advice on how to deal with this. I cannot talk to him about it. There is a history of abuse, verbal and physical, between him and my mother and I know from experience that the man cannot accept blame and cannot compute how his actions make other people feel or react. I cannot leave right now. I'm a recent grad with debt up to my butt and no savings. But exit plans would be welcome.

I'm also not quite to rushing off to therapy because I've spent quite a bit of time & money there. It was time and money well spent to reach exactly the kind of life I wanted after my ex-husband: one without a dismissive and invalidating man around me all the time who reduced me to tiptoeing on eggshells and spending all my mental energy wondering what the hell I did to piss him off. Heh. I'm asking for books and resources in lieu of heading back right away.

TL;DR. Please recommend books, advice, tips, plans and success stories about the time you survived working in a family business with an alienated workaholic parent or something similar.
posted by motsque to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe this is overly simplistic, but have you thought about looking for another job? That's something you can spend some time on each week to help you feel like you aren't stagnating in this uncomfortable situation. And if you get a job, you've already talked to Dad about the life-work balance issue, so that can be your reason for leaving.
posted by freshwater at 9:56 AM on June 3, 2011

Oh yeah, I should add.....this is a pretty closed profession in a small town. I applied all over town while still in school and the answer was always "Why don't you work for your dad?" (He's well known -- no one will touch me.) My options for leaving are moving out of town (unlikely with the lovely boyfriend and his good local job) and striking out on my own.
posted by motsque at 9:58 AM on June 3, 2011

Your father is not going to change, so either you accept that and carry on or you find another job. Working for a jerk is never worth it, even if he is your father. Find another job, even if you have to commute.
posted by crankylex at 10:02 AM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Can you physically move your work area? Take tasks that take you out of the office more? Start wearing headphones at work? Start your own offshoot business/subcdivision that still works together with his, but with some distance? Work from home some days? Send him out on out of the office tasks? Move is office? Frame the 'starting a family' as a job, so you will be speaking his language and he can 'get' it a bit better?
posted by Vaike at 10:35 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think your premise is a little off-balance. I'm sure there are stories and resources about making family businesses work despite the inherent challenges, but I highly doubt that there are self-help books and success stories about how to stay in a job with an emotionally abusive boss who happens to be your dad who happens to have a history of emotionaly and physically abusing family and happens to make you feel similar to the way you felt during your emotionally abusive marriage--at least, how to do that without getting hurt.

Is there a reason you can't strike out on your own? Perhaps you could work part-time elsewhere while you got started? Or, if those aren't options, could you get a job in your field in a (relatively) nearby town? Surely a healthy work environment that doesn't have you cringing and walking on eggshells all the time could make it worth considering. Could your boyfriend work remotely and join you in a different city? Could he look into his options in other towns? Could you shift career goals and work in a different field, temporarily or long-term? Could you work in a different role in your current field, and pitch it to your dad's competition as, "I want to be an X, and my dad's company doesn't have an X role"?

I've watched several friends go through periods of having bosses who were not merely annoying or difficult, but actually abusive. The only way they've stayed sane is by having a plan for getting out and acting on it. Even then, the toll of the boss's abuse was evident and the weight off their shoulders when they left was obvious. So, I'm sorry if this seems like I'm not answering your question, or that I'm ignoring the bolded text saying you cannot leave, what I'm really trying to say is that you're asking for something that doesn't exist, and you're resigning yourself to a situation that will hurt you.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:41 AM on June 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

What you need, I think, is a business succession counselor, to review with you and your father what is best for the future of the business, and for each of you, given your individual objectives, and those of the business and its clients. Most often, that will be an attorney or accountant with specialized experience in drafting business succession plans and ownership agreements for closely held companies, but you might start with some free or low cost counseling from your local SCORE chapter.

The generational issues you are describing are not unknown to business succession counselors, and a good counselor will help you focus on getting good outcomes to support your father financially and emotionally as he ages, while helping you transition your role in the business perhaps from active participation to ownership with paid management, or selling the business to a successor.

Good luck.

And, by the way, are you in a position to know of the financial health of the business, or your father's physical health? His change in demeanor could be as a result of increasing business pressures in a tough economy, or on health problems, and as his daughter, I think it's important to your long term mental health to understand the root cause.
posted by paulsc at 10:49 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

As always, paulsc raises some excellent points. A resource that's been helpful to many folks I know is The Family Business Center at UW Madison. There are others at business schools throughout the country, so you should be able to find one near you. You are not alone, these problems are common and can be solved with some help.
posted by Floydd at 11:01 AM on June 3, 2011

It would really help to know what kind of business we're talking about. A small law firm will have very different characteristics than a small accounting firm, than a programming outfit, than a construction company.
posted by valkyryn at 11:05 AM on June 3, 2011

There are a lot of professional mediators that specialize in family business.
posted by canoehead at 11:40 AM on June 3, 2011

Valkyryn, it is a small law firm. Real small.
posted by motsque at 12:37 PM on June 3, 2011

paulsc is right - preparing for succession can be terrifying to contemplate for a business owner - to even think about it - you are directly acknowledging your mortality and planning for its eventuality! and feeling unstructured panic over the survival of your "baby," the business and the vision that founded it and sustains it.

More importantly, succession planning is a long process that involves more than just hiring another person - just because your father has done this doesn't mean he's dealt with what's going to happen. Succession involves putting in place processes for the full transfer of knowledge and building an internal company structure that can succeed without him even while he is there.

Your father may be dealing with feelings of impending powerlessness, fear about what will happen to him and his business, and your best bet for getting out intact will be providing him with the tools to make strong plan that a succession counselor can provide.
posted by sestaaak at 1:49 PM on June 3, 2011

« Older I don't wanna work, I just wanna lie in my bed all...   |   Is Longer/Break-Free Tabata Exercise Better? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.