Ah, the entrepreneurial life! Where so many of us have found fulfillment, friendship and material gain. What a deal.

Except...What if your business is causing you pain?

I'm not talking about being too busy or feeling under-staffed. These are problems that can be fixed by getting the right coach, board and organization.

I'm talking about when you are hindered from doing your job by a painful, personal discussion. Or by verbal abuse. By disrespect-- or worse.

It is hard to be managing in the moment, isn't it, when your environment is hurtful?

Where This Happens Most

This happens in more businesses than you might realize. They are usually established, profitable and closely held.

"Closely held" means family, and family often means bringing unwanted behaviors into the workplace. Behaviors you might find around the old family fireplace--and which are frowned upon by most companies.

Like screaming, blatant disrespect or shirking responsibility.

In my tenure as a coach to family business I have pretty much heard it all. Like:

  • The father who reneges on the promise of his son's ownership interest in the business
  • A mom who routinely fires her daughter for minor offenses, then hires her back
  • An executive/family member who blatantly uses drugs on premises
  • The sudden succession of a needy no-account to a high executive slot.

And, of course, the constant squabbling over perquisites and money. The demands for fairness, with the "fairness ledger" needing to be balanced from the birth of the second generation.

The Poisonous Effect

These cause pain. And they are usually not good environments to foster learning, accountability, openness and the other attributes of a satisfying work life.

They may actually be causing distress physically as well as mentally.

What happens when you are chronically disrespected? Your stress level goes up, sleep goes down and self-worth bottoms out. But at the same time, your work life stands still. You stop learning and growing. Because you are completely occupied with your workplace dangers.

And what is the victim's usual reaction to all this? In my experience, at first, at least, it is one of determination. "This business needs me" is a typical attitude. "I can battle through this." Or, "Let's see if they'll keep their promises to me this year." (This latter is usually code language for "I am not ready to stop being abused.")

Can You "Win?"

But is this true? Can a toxic environment be overcome?

Well...sometimes. You can enlist the help of a family therapist or business counseling expert. But it will require two qualities in abundance that usually come in scarcity. And they are: cooperation of the people involved, and time.

Because the stress on the unhappy family member is tick-tick-ticking its poison in health, self-worth and ability to be effective.

So do I counsel immediately leaving, to avoid all this? In truth, I can't. If you want to try to make it work, you should line up your counselor, your counterparts and your schedule. You feel you have to try. Just give your self a timetable to finish the "make-it-work" experiment and jump into the "new you" experiment.

The Measuring Stick

I can tell you, however, that I was once an unhappy actor in a family business play. In my case, I carried a great measure of the responsibility for a bad relationship. And I recognized that, and opted to leave the company.

And, as I tell my clients, I would not be the happy and effective (but not particularly tall) person I am today without having taken that step.

If your family-work situation is etching lines of worry on your face, please remember that being "happy and effective" is the measuring stick. Not being rich, or dominating an adversary, or having a position of power. Just being happy and effective.

Before you turn the page--imagine. Are you ready to take steps toward that goal?