Boss’ Wife Steals My Commission!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about commission problem:

I sell advertising for nine magazines for various performing art venues in the Twin Cities. There are two of us who sell the ads. My co-worker is married to my boss. We work straight commission. I have been with the company for over 9 years – in this division for four, and I am starting to lose it. Although I know it isn’t illegal to have your boss married to your co-worker, at what point does it become harassment?

Here’s my dilemma: She represents all of the organizations we work for–we independently work for–so when people call the organizations and ask about advertising, they tell people to call her. So she not only gets all of the advertising from the actual venues themselves – she gets all of the “up” calls. She has all of the major accounts and all of the incoming prospects. I, on the other hand, must cold call clients constantly.

In The four years I have been in this division, we have never had a sales meeting. There is little to no communication. Recently, there has been confusion on certain accounts. I sent the client the information, but she booked the ads. So I approached her about it. She was mad – mad to the point of slamming her door five times. Her husband claimed that her door is hard to shut quietly. It happened again just last week. So this time, when she was told to give me the folder with the info she had, she flipped it aggressively at my desk onto my phone–while I was on it speaking to an agency.

So I tried to talk to the boss – not ok to throw things at me. His response? “Well I didn’t see it” It has been really ugly at work. I have been trying to do the right thing, trying to find work elsewhere. There is a lot more mean emails, etc., but I can’t do anything. I did try to call the new owner when he first bought the place; he is an absentee owner. He got mad that I tried to call him, and I got “yelled at” by my boss. The owner doesn’t care. It is all complicated. I like my job and I feel like I am being bullied to leave.

Oh, the person I replaced left for the same reasons. She couldn’t take it anymore. Also, our company is small, so I don’t think there are any laws that can protect me. I don’t know. I am feeling lost and sad that I feel like I have to leave when I like what I do. Any ideas?

Signed, Frustrated in Mpls

Dear Frustrated in Mpls:

Your situation sounds very unpleasant–and seemingly unfair. But you were correct when you said that the matter doesn’t involve legal or civil issues. It appears though, that that you are ready to make a decision about your work. You will have to determine to adjust to the situation as it is, move on to a more compatible workplace or speak to your boss with the intent of finding out where you stand as an employee and what can be done to improve things. Consider these thoughts as you think about that decision:

1. Is it only the fact that your co-worker is the boss’s wife that is putting her in the favored position? I’m not implying that something else is the case–but it is something to consider. Is she exceptionally successful at what she does? Perhaps there is a feeling that her work is sufficient and yours–or any other ad salesperson’s–is only extra. Perhaps she provides clients with exactly the kind of service the boss and owner wants provided. That still doesn’t justify the kind of behavior that is occurring, but might provide another explanation for her favored status. It may be that the company view is that she is the primary salesperson and all others are secondary and will always get the less favorable situations with clients.

2. It sounds as though there is a general lack of civil communication between the co-worker and you. Is that the case between her and others? Has anyone else complained? Could you enlist their support to push for a whole office meeting even if you can’t get a sales meeting? The meeting would have to focus on general communication issues rather than pinpointing one employee, but it might let the boss see that there is a need for a different work environment–one in which courtesy and respect is the norm rather than the exception.

3. What is your value to the company? If you leave, will some aspect of profit suffer? That is usually the bottom line. If you talk to your boss about your unhappiness will he be concerned about you leaving or will he feel that you can be easily replaced? If he will have strong concerns about you leaving he will be more likely to try to equalize accounts and make it worth your while to stay. If he thinks that having you leave will actually make things better for him–maybe because of less conflict–he may not try to improve things, simply as a way to get you to move on. You addressed this when you said you felt you were being bullied into leaving. It may be that the boss knows things will go smoother for a while if a new person is brought in. That is a question only you can answer, but an important one: How much would the boss want you to stay and what would he be willing to do to ensure it?

4. We receive many letters from employees complaining about favored treatment for the spouses or family members of company owners, managers or supervisors. Almost always this occurs in small businesses because large businesses are aware of the potential for problems and usually find ways to prohibit such influence. When it happens in a small business there is really very little that can be done to improve things. In your case, what could your boss do? Could he tell his wife that if she slams the door again he will fire her? Tell her that he is moving clients around so that she doesn’t have all the prime accounts? Tell her that she must start doing more cold calls and allow you to have some of her clients? Send her to a class on effective communications in the workplace? Those things aren’t going to happen, because if he stays married he has more invested in her than in you.The spouse of the boss is never going to be just one of the employees–he or she is nearly always viewed as a partner with the boss. Other employees will always be on the outside of that team. There may be exceptions, but they are scarce.

5. As I mentioned at the beginning, it sounds as though you are at a decision point. Are you making enough money as things are? If so, you may wish to stay and simply change your perspective of your role in the company. You’ve been there several years and you may decide that you’d rather stay than leave. On the other hand, if you have something to offer other companies you may find that you can come much closer to reaching your potential by moving on. You may decide that you must do that for financial as well as mental reasons. If that is the case you will want to maintain a positive relationship with your boss so that you can obtain a good reference when it is needed. You may have to seek other work more actively than you have been doing it to this point. If you can’t find other employment right now, you will at least see a reason for tolerating the situation a little longer. If you leave, I hope you will be able to courteously but correctly convey the reasons for your decision–after your next job is secure. But, to show you that it likely won’t make any difference, look at the fact that the last person left for the same reason! It’s never easy to leave a job–and we don’t often advise that. I’m not advising it in this case either. But it is also a reality that sometimes we have to accept that things likely won’t improve dramatically. If they won’t, then we must decide whether or not we can tolerate it as it is. Evaluate your resume through the eyes of a potential employer. Look at the knowledge and skills you have developed. You may find that you feel much more confidant, either about leaving or about approaching your boss one more time to see if things can be improved. I hope these thoughts will help you as you make decisions about this frustrating and challenging situation. Strive to find and to make your workplace one with a WEGO spirit.

Tina Lewis Rowe