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Family firms and their employees: a success story for strategic change?

Family firms are often considered to be good employers. The reason is that, more than non-family firms, family firms typically have a long-term vision for their company, which they also extend to their HR policy. Their goal is often to create a corporate culture based on trust, solidarity, and loyalty, which leads to a stable, involved, and reliable core for the employees in the company. Family firms mainly attract employees who want to stay in the company for an extended period of time. This is also reflected in the interviews conducted in the context of this SBO project: family firms strive to create a family feeling among their employees through short, personal and direct lines of communication with the family and informal interactions with each other.

Although it is often argued that this specific HR policy in family firms can ensure that the company remains in a status quo (and therefore will not make significant changes), recent research has shown that having a stable employee/HR policy can go hand in hand with continuous innovation supported by engaged and committed employees. Family firms often focus on the well-being of their employees, which makes them feel appreciated and, as a result, makes them want to commit more to the company and its future. To guarantee this future, innovations are needed. Family firms’ traditions and their typically stable HR policy do thus not have to be a stumbling block, but can be an asset to realize sustainable strategic changes together with their employees.

Another advantage of family firms with a well-thought-out long-term vision is that these firms are better at making the delicate trade-off between the interests of the entrepreneurial family and the interests of others when making difficult decisions. Family firms are less likely to fire employees compared to non-family firms (cf. the “family feeling”). This is because most entrepreneurial families find it very important to be seen within the local community as socially responsible employers who care about the well-being of their employees.

The fact that a solid, people-oriented HR policy is of enormous importance has become even more clear recently. The COVID-19 crisis has shown that a company cannot simply take the health and well-being of its employees for granted. It is now a strategic priority to create a business environment that takes into account the well-being of employees, for both family and non-family firms. This is the only way a (family) firm will be able to attract and, above all, retain the right, qualified people. Which is more critical than ever in today's “war for talent”.


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