Working with your own family can be challenging. Having one’s own father, mother, brother, sister, uncle or any other family member as a direct boss at work is for some of us an awful imagination. Nevertheless, for many people this is reality. Family firms are the most common form of businesses. More than 70 percent of all companies in France, and about 2 third of all businesses worldwide are family-owned businesses. And most of them are managed by family members.

Working with family members: a curse… and a blessing?

While working with family members can mean coping with family issues at work, it can also offer unique benefits, such as nepotistic privileges. For example, it may be easier to ask for a day of home office or some flexible schedule when the boss is your father or your mother. In a recent study, our researcj team took a closer look at some of the benefits and risks for people in family businesses. In the light of the Covid-pandemic a specific focus was put on the often-discussed work flexibility. That is, working from home and at flexible times.

Overwork and flexibility, two strong markers of family businesses

Comparing the work life of people who work for their family’s business with those in regular employment in 10.000 representative households, the researchers made several interesting observations. First, and not too surprising, working for one’s business can be satisfying, but most of the time requires strong commitment. Family entrepreneurs work significantly more than regular employees. All other parameters equal (job, position, salary, region, etc.), employed family members worked on average more than 5 hours per week longer than regular employees. More than 42 percent of them reported to regularly overwork (i.e., working more than 50 hours per week), while this was the case only for 16 percent of nonfamily employees.

Second, working in one’s family’s business comes with more flexibility. While in post-covid times the whole world discusses work flexibility and home office options, family members have been benefited from such practices in their business for long time. Even before the pandemic, 44 percent of employed family members had a flexible or no set time schedule compared to only eight percent of regular employees. Similarly, for 21 percent of family members working from home was feasible while this was possible only for nine percent of nonfamily. Even in cases where a home-working option exists, many regular employees shy away from using it. Particularly, in companies where organizational culture and informal norms base on showing facetime and where individual flexibility needs to be individually negotiated, family employees fare better.

The blind post of gender equality

A third finding, that may be highly relevant to every employee, relates to gender equality that is believed to come with increased work flexibility. In Germany, as in many other countries, policy-makers have pushed for change that can ease the integration of women into the workforce and embrace flexibility as an answer to shifting gender norms. However, the study showed that even in family businesses where flexibility is higher, no differences show in how partners divide household tasks compared to regular employed families. Traditional division of work (typically the male breadwinner model) persists even under flexibility.

A key take-away from these observations may be that flexibility is not the answer to all problems. Even when companies introduce flexible work arrangements, satisfaction can increase, but gender equality might not. Cultural norms can in such cases override the best intentions. And facetime in the office may remain the more promising way for career advancement to nonfamily employees.

 


 

The research team behind this study is led by Fabian Bernhard from EDHEC Business School in Paris and Isabell Stamm from TU Berlin

Article écrit initialement par Fabian Bernhard, Professeur associé de management à l'EDHEC et republié en français à partir de The Conversation sous licence Creative Commons. Lire l’article original.