By Linnda Durre, Ph.D., Author of Surviving the Toxic Workplace – Protect Yourself Against Co-workers Bosses and Work Environments That Poison Your Day published by McGraw Hill, February 19, 2010.
As a business and corporate consultant and psychotherapist, I’ve analyzed, worked with, and consulted with many difficult bosses over the years. In order to cope and deal with them, you need to know why they act the way they do and how best to deal with them, in order to earn their respect, get things accomplished, change negative situations to positive ones, and preserve your sanity.
In my twice-monthly column, I will help you cope with a different type of boss, whether male or female. The previous ones include: Dick the Dictator, Bashia the Backstabber, Sewell the Sexual Harasser, Carl the Control Freak, Paula the Passive Aggressive, Clayton the Clueless, Greta the Gossip, Susie the Sugar Coater, Ian the Idea Stealer, Al the Alcoholic, Nancy the Narcissist, Donald the Deal Maker, and Vernon the Verbal Attacker.
This week I discuss one of the most difficult bosses to deal with because it’s a family owned business and he’s related to the owners – Bobby the Boss’s Relative.
BOBBY – THE BOSS’S RELATIVE
SITUATION: Bobby the Boss’s Relative can be a nephew, son, grandson, spouse, cousin – the relationship doesn’t matter–but getting preferential treatment does. He comes in late, leaves early, delegates as much work as he can, and dumps some, if not most of it, on you. He takes two hour martini lunches and may have a drug and/or alcohol problem, which his relatives usually ignore. If it’s a family business, most times Bobby will be kept in the company despite wrong doings, proof of misdeeds, and incompetence.
If and when you confront Bobby, you must prepare yourself for being fired. If you go to HR or the boss, who might be his father, father-in-law, uncle, grandfather, sibling, cousin, or nephew, more than likely, YOU will be fired and he will still be there. His behavior has to be egregious before the family does anything about it. If he’s out of line, coming in drunk, or making passes at employees, it’s time for them to schedule an intervention. Make sure you have reported this to an attorney that YOU have hired. The company attorney works for them, not you, and he/she may sweep it under the rug and/or recommend that you be fired.
If Bobby’s not an addict, the negative behavior will most likely be ignored and will drive everyone in the company crazy. So you must be prepared to deal with it or leave. Transferring to another department may not be the solution because if it’s a family owned company, negative behavior is usually ignored. The family is in denial and no one wants to rock the boat. Their paychecks all depend on the family business. They may own stock, and it may be very lucrative for them, so they just turn a blind eye, unless someone brings a law suit, and then they circle the wagons. If they are violating state or federal law – sexual harassment, racial or gender discrimination, something that would warrant a class action suit – that is usually the only time they wake up. Garnering other witnesses and co-workers is the way to have more influence and be heard. Getting co-workers to risk their jobs may be iffy, yet there may be some who are as fed up with Bobby’s behavior as you are.
If the company is facing a law suit, by that time, it may be too late – the damage has been done and employees have been damaged. It’s the rare family owned company that can correct its flaws and emerge better and stronger for it. It takes a combination of a trained mediator, psychotherapist, and business consultant to deal with the complex family and business psychodynamics. The owners have to be willing to change and change fast! The company usually has to be under a legal mandate to experience the pressure to change or face further lawsuits. Being sued is sometimes a great motivator and a wake up call.
EXPLANATION: “Blood is thicker than water,” certainly applies here. Loyalty, guilt, duty, and responsibility keep incompetent relatives in a family business, so many times you just have to learn patience, tolerance, and smart coping mechanisms to deal with the “Bobbys” of the world. Bobby knows he’ll never get fired, and for years he knows he has gotten away with much undisciplined and possibly unethical, immoral, and/or illegal, behavior–sexual harassment, coming in late, not showing up, taking off from work early, three day weekends, drinking on the job, late reports, missed deadlines, lewd jokes, having others do his work for him, etc.
This will hopefully end when Bobby is confronted. So here’s what to do:
1) You must create a paper trail. Write to HR first and document your complaints with emails, hand delivered letters, and cc it to whomever you think needs to know. See what the response is. If nothing is done, continue the documentation and paper trial and take it to the next level by doing one or all of the following in this list: Even if another relative or a corporate “yes” person is working for and/or head of HR, you still need to file a formal complaint and create the paper trail if and when this goes to court. It then appears that you are doing everything you can to solve the problem through the proper channels, which will look good and be in your favor.
2) Talk to your co-workers and see if they would be interested in filing a class action suit for hostile work environment or anything you feel Bobby is guilty of that has legal weight–like sexual harassment or race, age, or gender discrimination. If you can get other employees to fight with you, then hire an attorney and start a class action suit against the company.
3) If no one is interested, then hire an attorney and sue the company individually by yourself.
4) Report it to the local media – most newspapers, TV stations, local bloggers, and/or radio stations have a hot line, Consumer Protection Line, Problem Solvers Crime Busters, etc.
5) File a complaint with the EEOC or a government agency who could investigate the charges if the company contracts with or accepts federal, state, or county money.
6) File with OSHA if there are safety violations – and/or other governmental agencies to put pressure on the company to discipline or fire Bobby if he is lax in this area.
7) Find websites who handle these areas and publicize it on the Internet.
Another scenario is that Bobby may just be passive and/or incompetent. He doesn’t take a stand, he has no leadership qualities, and he doesn’t know how to motivate his employees. His “do nothing” attitude is a result of his fear to innovate changes or his emotional paralysis because he feels handcuffed by a family who runs the show from above. He may just be in the position to oversee a department and report back to the heads of the family. He may have been told not do anything, not initiate change or be innovative. Maybe Bobby started out enthusiastic and was corralled “to tow the family line,” and gave up on being creative. If he’s this kind of a guy, develop some compassion for how lonely, powerless, and ineffective he must feel. Bobby probably won’t change, but if he has the gumption (and a mid-life crisis), he might start his own company.
SOLUTION: First, realize that you will probably be fired for any intervention, so have a back up plan that includes a new job lined up, plenty of money in your bank account, and/or a spouse with a secure job and regular paycheck. If and when you have the courage to confront Bobby, and he’s the alcoholic, irresponsible type, then say something like this: “Bobby, I realize that you’re the owner’s nephew, and I understand that he probably won’t ever fire you. I want you to know I’m not going to do your work for you any longer, nor will I cover for you when you are late so please don’t ask me. I’ve already talked it over with HR and I’ve sent them an email about it. I know you really don’t have to do any work around here, but I do and so do other people who work here. I need to concentrate on finishing my assignments and hope you do the same. I really wish that you develop commitment and dedication for work that you really love or find another job or career that you love. Being pressured into a family business may be like golden handcuffs, and you may feel trapped. Bobby, you have an alcohol problem and I recommend that you go to AA meetings. Here’s a list of the days and times they meet. I also recommend that you make an appointment with the counselors that are listed as our providers and covered by our insurance. It covers twenty sessions a year of counseling with only a ten dollar co-pay, so please go. I wish you luck and I am documenting our conversation and following up with an email. Here’s a letter of my complaints to you – each one spelled out in writing. I hope these things change or I’ll seek legal action.”
If Bobby is the passive, lazy and/or frightened boss, then say something like this:
“Bobby, I realize that you’re the owner’s nephew, and I understand that he probably won’t ever fire you. People here are bored, they have no direction, and they are not committed to their jobs because they don’t feel leadership qualities from you. You give me work to do that is yours and that’s not in my job description. I strongly suggest you take some leadership classes, learn management skills, and rev up the department to be more proactive. Perhaps you want to make sure that is what the owner wants and you should probably have a meeting to make sure you share the same vision and goals with him. I’m sure being the owner’s relative can be difficult and I hope you can and will make a difference in the department.” Good luck with dealing with Bobby! Have your parachute handy for your next job!
—Linnda Durré, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, business consultant, corporate trainer, national speaker, and columnist. She has hosted and co-produced two live call-in TV shows, including “Ask The Family Therapist” on America’s Health Network, which was associated with Mayo Clinic and aired from Universal Orlando. She is the author of “Surviving the Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against Co-Workers, Bosses, and Work Environments That Poison Your Day” (2010 – McGraw-Hill). The book’s website is: www.survivingthetoxicworkplace.com
She has been interviewed on Oprah, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Daytime, Good Morning America, Canada AM, and The O’Reilly Factor (twice), and the national and/or local news on ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR, PBS, Fox and CW. She has written for Forbes, CareerBuilder, Monster, A&U Magazine, Orlando Business Journal, and American Cities Business Journals. For more information about her consulting or speaking, contact her at Linnda.Durre@gmail.com and 407-739-8620.