- Workplace stress in family businesses
can be even worse than what occurs
in the corporate world.
- What many might consider "normal"
day-to-day business family issues
can produce stress that goes unmanaged
- How many of the stress triggers
and burnout signs are you and your
best clients feeling (see our checklists
If youre worried about stress, STOP.
That only makes it worse. Stress causes
deterioration in everything from your
heart to your arteries to your gums to
your immune system. Good stress is as
draining as bad stress. Stress kills brain
cells. Failing to manage stress can kill
Take a look at this list of common stress
triggers. How many would you check off
about yourself or your best clients?
I'm impatient with details.
I make things happen.
I think most people seem to work too
I work long hours.
I often have tight deadlines.
I need to talk in front of colleagues.
I have a lot of responsibility.
I work based on efficiency and vision.
I'm hard on myself when I make a mistake.
I've been told I "have a lot
I've overcome many hardships.
If you mentally checked several, you could
have high workplace stress. You may also
be unconsciously offsetting it by pushing
yourself harder to succeed. You may even
be a stress junkie who needs
stress to feel alive.
According to WebMD, work-related stress
tops the list of anxiety triggers even
more so than life stresses such as death
of a loved one, divorce, marriage, moving
or other traumatic events. The
American Institute of Stress (yes,
theres an entire organization
devoted to stress) agrees. It reports
that job pressure is the greatest stressor.
More than three in four Americans (77%)
regularly experience physical symptoms,
and 73 percent regularly experience
psychological symptoms that are caused
When you have a family business, work
and life stresses can have a profound
impact on each other. In my practice,
I help business families learn to balance
business and family obligations by keeping
certain things separate, by learning
to communicate authentically and by
setting goals together. Even in difficult
situations, business families have drawn
new boundaries and have overcome rough
circumstances not just to survive hard
times, but also to thrive as both a
business and as a family. Surveys
and research estimate workplace
stress costs American businesses between
$50 billion and $150 billion annually
in worker health issues and lost productivity.
Thus, stress carries high financial,
physical and psychological costs that
can be doubly punishing in a business
What many might consider normal
day-to-day business family issues can
produce stress that goes unmanaged if
unacknowledged. Two examples illustrate
this. Ive changed client names
and details to protect their privacy.
Case No. 1: Miscommunication and letting
Larry is the patriarch of the Mattison
family business, Sento. He doesnt
realize hes the cause of a problem.
He recruited his son-in-law, Tim, into
the family business, telling him, I
would like you to take over my job.
Tim left his successful position with
a Fortune 500 company thinking he would
be the next president of Sento. Years
went by, but Tim still wasnt promoted
to the top spot. Larry defended the
decision by saying, All I meant
was that I wanted Tim to take responsibility
for my sales accounts. In the
meantime, Jen (Larrys daughter
and Tims wife) is upset with her
father about the confusion he created
and how he mistreated Tim.
In addition, Larry is struggling to
let go of power, to create a management
succession plan, and to develop a financial
exit strategy for him and his wife.
This has raised Larrys stress
level, adding to the negative impact
hes had on family relations. Some
would call these situations simply misunderstandings
or issues that should be readily resolved.
Maybe so. But in the meantime, everyone
in the Mattison family is suffering
under the stress.
Case No. 2: Stocks dont bond
To save taxes, John, the owner of the
Stevens family business, was told by
his financial advisor to transfer 2,000
shares of stock into a family limited
partnership with his three adult children:
Ron, the oldest; Jerry, in the middle;
and Philip, the youngest. The idea was
that the three sons would eventually
receive the value of the company in
stock. John is general partner and holds
voting control of the company, while
the sons are limited partners in the
venture. John found the stock transfer
experience enormously stressful. Then
things got worse.
Jerry and Philip work in the business;
Ron has his own career. Jerry is the
companys general manager. He recently
fired Philip (his younger brother).
Jerry had different expectations of
Philips role in the company. Philip
thought he and his oldest brother, Ron,
were equals as limited partners and
also as brothers. Philip had helped
the company succeed until he was fired,
and he resented his older brothers and
father. He felt they ignored him and
treated him unfairly.
Philip also questioned Jerrys
lifestyle and the compensation he received
from the business. Philip also felt
that Ron was abusing his position as
a family member to run personal items
through the accounting department. All
these actions contributed to a breakdown
in communication and piled massive stress
on the family.
Stress produces deep divides. Stress
can come from inside as well as outside.
Our attitudes or perceptions may produce
a stressful view of the world. You may
have unrealistic expectations or live
with fear, uncertainty, perfectionism,
low self-esteem. We each react differently
to different stresses. But few people
can lower their stress unless and until
they recognize their own triggers.
Look at this brief list developed by
Minnesotas Mayo Clinic. Are you
experiencing any or many of these?
These are all symptoms of stress and
burnout. And by now, this article itself
might be stressing you out.