Family business

When your parents pay your salary

November 8, 2011: 9:43 AM ET

For family-owned businesses, the melding of personal and business lives creates a unique brand of conflict.

By Shelley DuBois, writer-reporter

Murdoch Family - News Corp

It's a family affair. Left to right: James, Elisabeth, Rupert, and Lachlan Murdoch.

FORTUNE -- With smartphones at the hip and ceaseless access to the office, it's no surprise that many workers are struggling to find balance. But for a section of the American workforce, "work" and "life" have never been separate. In fact, American corporate enterprise traces its roots back to small, family-owned businesses.

These businesses are still thriving, in some ways. Over one-fourth of businesses that responded to the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau's Survey of Business Owners, taken in 2007, were family-owned. But despite the advantages of mixing business and genetics, there's always that elephant in the boardroom: you have to work with your relatives.

This can be stressful. For one, "you're going to take the work home with you because it's your life," says Tom Angell, a consultant with Rothstein Kass.

Family-owned businesses tend to have more complicated dynamics than their counterparts. That's true even for the most caring, communicative, leave-it-to-Beaver-like nuclear units. Family issues are so common, in fact, that a handful of consulting firms specifically cater to family-owned businesses.

"I'm part accountant, part psychologist," says Angell, who specializes in family-owned business consulting.

This might sound like fodder for a reality series. Indeed, it is. Back in 2010, MTV (VIA) put out a casting call for people who work in family-owned restaurants. "The bigger the family, the better," the release said. "We're especially interested in families who live in small towns."

While dysfunctional family businesses might make good drama, specialized consultants aim to mitigate problems that come from the business-family crossover without necessarily opening a can of psychological worms.

"Does everybody need therapy? No. And it's my approach to go no deeper than they need to," says Steve McClure, a principal with the Family Business Consulting Group, a firm that specializes entirely in family-owned businesses. More

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