When a domestic dispute makes its way into your workplace, it can be inconvenient and disrupt the daily routine. But when family conflict becomes part of the workplace culture the consequences can be far more serious, especially for family businesses. Here are five strategies to resolve family conflict at work and create a culture that respects your relatives and coworkers.

In Family Businesses Conflict Resolution Means More than Good Business

Family conflict can arise anywhere. Disputes between siblings, parent and child, or other relatives are nearly unavoidable. However, when those relatives are also coworkers, a family feud can bleed over to create a toxic working environment for family and non-family alike.

It may seem strange or even unfair for you, as a manager, to be interfering with family drama to resolve the conflict. However, often family members operating on relational norms learned in childhood will be more receptive to correction within a working environment than they would be around the dinner table.

Family Conflict at Work Isn’t Limited to Family Businesses

You don’t have to be running a family business for family conflict to create problems in the office. When your employees have domestic problems at home the stress of it can reduce their productivity at work. In some severe situations, a controlling partner or angry ex-spouse may even bring the problems to the office.

It can be tempting to remove the employee if they can’t “control” their family member or focus on their work. However, often this response blames the victim, making it harder for them to protect themselves from a toxic environment at home. Before disciplining a worker for their spouse’s calls, visits, or other disruptions, take the time to ask if they need help. If possible, keep a list of therapists in your HR files. By offering solutions instead of consequences you can retain skilled employees and increase your workers’ loyalty by demonstrating compassion for their difficult situation.

Family Conflict Needs to Be Resolved, Not Ignored

Whether the staff involved are related to you or not, as a business owner your focus should be on finding a healthy resolution to family conflict. All too often, managers trust employees to work out conflict themselves. Allowing this kind of bickering or sibling rivalry to fester will only increase the risk of it escalating. Your non-family employees may even decide to leave, rather than enduring the high-conflict working environment.

5 Strategies to Resolve Family Conflict at Work

  1. Implement Unbiased Codes of Conduct
  2. Establish Shared Family Business Values and Goals
  3. Hold Family Meetings
  4. Adopt a Formal Conflict Resolution Process
  5. Hire a Conflict Resolution Facilitator

1.     Implement Unbiased Codes of Conduct

One source of conflict in family businesses is the perception of bias or favorable treatment. By implementing and enforcing unbiased codes of conduct for family and employees alike, you set clear expectations for everyone in the workplace.

2.     Establish Shared Family Business Values and Goals

When a business is closely held by members of the family, a company strategic plan can take a different form. Your family business may be motivated by religious, moral values, or a family legacy, as well as more traditional business goals. By making these explicit you can all refer to those values when conflict occurs.

3.     Hold Family Meetings

Family conflict often surfaces during business meetings. Feuding relatives who otherwise can avoid each other are now sharing a table. To resolve these disputes, it’s a good idea to schedule separate family meetings where family members can express and resolve their personal disputes off company time.

4.     Adopt a Formal Conflict Resolution Process

Companies without a formal conflict resolution process often unintentionally allow coworkers’ hard feelings to escalate, rather than addressing them before they affect the workplace. Adopt a formal conflict resolution process and giving related employees permission to use it to resolve family conflict. This will help remove tension from the workplace and provide a healthy way to resolve it instead.

5.     Hire a Conflict Resolution Facilitator

Sometimes, the best thing you can do to resolve family conflict is bring in an outside perspective. A conflict resolution facilitator isn’t affected by the assumptions, histories, or expectations that exist in many family businesses. They can help cut through the conflict and help employees find a resolution that keeps the family together.


David Stanislaw is an organizational development specialist with over 30 years’ experience helping family businesses resolve workplace disputes. Through facilitated conflict resolution, David helps family businesses put family feuds behind them and focus on the company’s future. Contact us to meet with David to move toward conflict resolution today.