Boss and Parent, Employee and Child: Work-Family Roles and Deviant Behavior in the Family Firm

By Cooper, Joseph T.; Kidwell, Roland E. et al. | Family Relations, July 2013 | Go to article overview

Boss and Parent, Employee and Child: Work-Family Roles and Deviant Behavior in the Family Firm


Cooper, Joseph T., Kidwell, Roland E., Eddleston, Kimberly A., Family Relations


The work-family literature examines the degree to which work and family roles can be segmented or integrated by an individual. In the family firm, the requirement that work and family roles be integrated creates tension for family employees, particularly those who prefer higher degrees of segmentation between the roles. Integrating family firm with family relations research, this article explores potential difficulties experienced by family employees in making transitions from their family role to work role and the potential for family employees to engage in deviant behavior due to unresolved conflict and ambiguity from work-family role integration. These difficulties, we argue, are in part due to problems in separating role expectations when they come from indistinct sources; that is, when the boss and father, for example, are the same person. We explain how the tensions between work and family can create a cycle of deviance in the family and family firm domains.

Key Words: family relationships, family stress and conflict, family-work issues.

The nature of a family-owned and -operated business requires that boundaries between work and family be considerably more permeable than in a nonfamily firm (Kets de Vries, 1993; Sundaramurthy & Kreiner, 2008), potentially leading to increased levels of stewardship, social capital, and care for the firm by family members (Davis, Allen, & Hayes, 2010; Eddleston & Kellermanns, 2007). The lack of a clear boundary between work and family can, however, also promote interpersonal conflict among family members, which often results in higher levels of stress, negative emotions, and destructive behaviors (Kellermanns & Eddleston, 2004, 2007).

Recently, researchers have begun to acknowledge the propensity for some family employees to display destructive, deviant behaviors (e.g., Bennett, Thau, & Scouten, 2005; Eddleston & Kidwell, 2012a, 2012b; Kidwell, Eddleston, Cater, & Kellermanns, 2013; Kidwell, Kellermanns, & Eddleston, 2012). This research has primarily focused on why family firms are not immune to workplace deviance and what family relationship factors could predict family employees' deviant behavior. A study by Kidwell et al. (2012) showed that a significant portion of family firms admit to employing a family member who is an impediment to the business; that is, someone who is employed based on family status rather than their skills and qualifications and who harms the firm. Researchers in that study dubbed this phenomenon "the Fredo effect," referring to the incompetent middle brother from The Godfather books and movies.

This recent stream of research on deviance in family firms suggests that the overlap between the family and business systems creates role conflict and role ambiguity for family employees that can produce disastrous results. Boundary theory, as applied to the family firm context, explains how a family employee must occupy several roles - father/boss, child/ employee- due to the integrated work-family environment. In turn, boundary theory proposes that the integrated environment of a family firm can lead to role conflict and role ambiguity for family employees.

What remains unknown, however, is how the boundary between work and family, or lack thereof, may produce role conflict and role ambiguity for family employees that incites deviant behavior, and why some family firms appear to permit such deviance. It is also unclear in what domain the deviance will occur - family or work. Thus, the purpose of this article is to fill these important gaps in the literature by explaining how the integrated work-family nature of the family firm can drive some family employees to display deviant behavior in the family and the firm and how the family system can sustain a perpetual cycle of deviant behavior. Specifically, we advance a model that shows how role conflict and role ambiguity can develop from the integration of work and family roles as the family member negotiates, establishes, and engages in work and family roles, how strife between the roles can escalate into deviant behavior, and how that behavior is perpetuated by ongoing work-family relationships. …

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