In a small business environment it is often said that employees are like families (in a way that implies that is a good thing). The intimacy of a small business environment probably creates an impression of closeness that may be absent in a larger environment. And, as employers, we often believe we are being generous and flexible in ways that are different from larger organizations. We do have the ability to make individual employee decisions in some ways that could not happen in big companies and the tradeoff is that we do not have the resources afforded to big companies. But we have been reminded a few times that what we perceive as positive, considerate, generous and flexible is not seen in the same way by employees. While a few of employees over the years have understood we are doing the best we can for them, more of them have not. It is these individuals who remind us we are not a family. Business owners must make some decisions (raises, bonuses, etc.) for business reasons, not just because the person “seems like family” – because if they prove they are not, the sting is painful. These painful experiences serve as reminders to watch out for yourself, the owner, over and above everyone else.
David’s topic for this post has the usual musical connection for me, in this case, the song by Sister Sledge, “We are Family.” However, contrary to the song lyrics, when one is the owner of a small business, it is important to remember that we are NOT family; instead, we are an organization comprised of employees, some of whom are co-workers and others of whom are supervisors, and the owners (aka, the bosses). As much as we attempt to foster comradery among our staff and establish a positive working environment, it is important for my partner and me to never lose sight of the fact that we, as the owners of the company, are operating a business, not having a fun, family centered, laid back, party time. Although my partner and I have become close with many employees, including past employees with whom we remain in touch, there are vast differences between our relationships with employees and those involving our families. (However, as an aside, just as the old saying goes, “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family,” I sure am happy it also applies to my freedom to choose my employees!) I am thankful to have good employees, but I never lose sight of the unique relationship we have, as well as the fact that, regardless of how long they work for my company, they will never be my family.