Boss’s Daughter Seems To Think She Is The Boss

Everyone in the office despises her. We have tried explaining to our boss about a couple of things she has done, but it works for two weeks and then she is back to her old ways. She has lied to every employee about her whereabouts on company time, been rude to customers about their homes, sits in her father’s office with her legs on the table watching the security cameras, blames other people on her mistakes, and bullies me around since we are close to the same age, went to the same school, and knows that I can’t say anything. We are suppose to be equals in the business, but she tries to control everyone in the business. Even our manager! What should I do about her? Please help. I love what I do, but working with her is a nightmare.

Response:
I would love to be able to give you a quick and easy solution to this situation, which I can well understand would be frustrating and irritating. However, your boss is not likely to fire his daughter, demote her position in the business or make her unhappy by reprimanding her severely. So, the best you can do to deal with it is to decide what is it she does that is harmful to you and stop those things—and let the other things go. Your boss’s loyalty will always be with his daughter, unless she harms the business repeatedly.

Some of the things you mentioned are extremely irritating, but not harmful to employees in a significant way: Not working when she is supposed to be, being rude to customers, sitting at her father’s desk watching security cameras, getting recognition which she doesn’t deserve. Those are enough to make her be disliked, but they are behaviors that are between her boss (her father) and her. Actually, those are things you should be glad are happening, because, at some point, all of it might be enough to get her father’s attention. And, if she is gone from the office or not participating in the business, she is less likely to be bothering everyone else, so that’s not so bad either.

You can do something about the things she might do to you and others personally, even though it might be uncomfortable when you first attempt it. If you think her father would fire you if you firmly and appropriately tell your coworker to stop doing whatever you perceive as bullying behavior, then it isn’t a good place to work anyway.

You don’t say what she does that seems like bullying, but I would expect it involves taking the tone of a boss and telling you what to do or talking to you in a way that seems demeaning. If you are truly a peer of hers, talk to her about it as you would to any peer. If you have a support role in the office (receptionist, clerk, etc.) and are given requests or direction by other staff, talk to her as you would to any of the other employees if they treated you in a rude way.

The next time she does something rude or demeaning, start your campaign to be treated appropriately. Have a few statements memorized and be ready to say them. Blurt them if you have to, to get them out of your mouth, instead of fuming but not speaking up for yourself. Even if you have tried in the past, do it again, as though this is the first time. Then stick with it.

The first time you say something—and it might just be a mild comment–you set the foundation for being treated in a more respectful way. After several times of having to stop discourteous behavior, you have something to talk to your boss about, eventually with the threat that you will quit if things don’t change. If you’re doing a good job, that is probably the only thing that will get your boss’s attention. (A good point to keep in mind is that your boss is concerned about the business, so always keep the focus on how the interactions in the office affect the overall business.

For example, using the names Lisa and Don for daughter and boss:

“I can’t do those things for you Lisa, because I have a lot of other work to do. If you want, you can ask Don if I should put my other work aside to do this for you.”

(In a mild manner, as though her comments aren’t significant.) “Thanks for trying to help, but I know what to do with these papers.”

(In a mild or joking manner) “Where did that tone of voice come from??? It sounds like I’m supposed to jump up and bow to you. Geez, Lisa!”

(Said with an exasperated tone), “Lisa, I know about this just as well as you do, so you don’t need to talk down to me about it. Stop doing that.”

(Said with a firmer tone.) “I don’t know why you’re using that tone of voice, but I do know I don’t like it. Just talk to me courteously and we can have a conversation about this.”

(If she walks in the door and immediately starts something unpleasant) “Lisa, I need to say this to you. When you walk in and bombard me with things you think I should be doing or knowing, it’s very irritating and it distracts me from my work. Please don’t do that again.”

(If her actions are extreme) “Lisa. Stop. Just stop. No one else in the office talks to me or anyone else in a rude way, so don’t you do it either.”

(Also, if her actions are extreme.) “Lisa, this is a great place to work, but you take away from it by the way you treat me and other people. Stop.”

“Lisa, this makes the third time today that you’ve come by my desk and distracted me with some negative comment. Don’t do that again.”

The use of the word “Stop” is very effective. It doesn’t have to be said loudly, rudely or belligerently, just firmly enough that the other person knows that you mean it. A woman told me that she actually put her hands up to show “Stop” and it helped her visually and verbally get her point across.

You’ll also notice that none of those suggested comments are long speeches, they are short comments and to the point. You can blurt them out and get it over with, rather than sitting and wishing you could say your speech. You can also say them even if other coworkers are around. Don’t wait, say it.

When she responds with a comment or argument, just repeat the essence of what you said. Don’t get into an argument about it, because it you do at some point you’ll sound as bad as she does. Stick to your basic statement and say it again.

“Stop” is not only a good word for “Lisa”, it’s a good word for you and the others. Stop obsessively noticing everything she is doing or not doing. Stop giving in to her demands or her criticisms. Unless you are directed by the boss to do it, stop doing her work for her and saving her from disaster. Stop tolerating behavior that keeps you from focusing on your own work. Stop making excuses for tolerating her by saying you have no choice. Of course you do, but it will be uncomfortable. Once you get past that first discomfort, it will be easier, and her behavior will be forced to change, because she won’t have a handy victim.

And, as hard as it is to believe now, you may find that you can help your coworker mature into being a better colleague and a good member of the office team. If she does even one thing that is supportive of you, thank her. You don’t have to be out-of-proportion to what she did, just say a pleasant thank you. When she works with you effectively, comment on it. It seems that you may have allowed yourself to feel in a subordinate role to her. Take responsibility for acting more like a self-sufficient peer, who wants to do well and wants her to do well also. (As long as she stays in her own lane and doesn’t create problems for you!)

You may even want to do a bit of subtle coaching, after you have told her to stop a behavior, by telling her what would have been better instead. “Instead of standing over me giving me orders, send me an email and ask me to help. Or, ask me to help, then tell me what you need. Just don’t stand there giving me a list of instructions.”

Your goal should be to start feeling more in control of your well-being and less like the victim of a 20 year old who has been allowed to do what she wants—by her father and by her coworkers.

You mentioned a manager, which I assume is an office manager and not the boss. That is person who should be dealing with this issue. However, if she doesn’t, at least you can set an example of what an individual can do. Maybe that will encourage her to fulfill her responsibilities.

The second part of your strategy is this: Be so valuable in your own work that your boss knows how important you are to the business. If you have solid influence with him, he will be less likely to support his daughter in everything that happens.

*Keep track of your work, as to quantity and quality.According to the nature of your work, find ways to document your contributions to the business.
*If a customer thanks you, ask them if they would let your boss know about it. Be honest and say that having him know can be really beneficial. Put his email address on a few of your own business cards and have them handy to give to someone who want to commend you.

*In the office, if one of the employees does something special but is not recognized for it, write them a congratulations note or a thank you note, and cc the boss. Support each other, especially if someone’s work is attributed to Lisa.  

*Start or strengthen your leadership role in the office, even in small things. For example, take charge of keeping a customer area more attractive, a supply area organized, your own desk very professional looking. Find online articles that relate to the business and print them for coworkers. Don’t just forward links, that’s the lazy-leader approach, make it a piece of paper with your note written across the top.

*Communicate in pleasant ways about pleasant topics. When there is a problem-coworker, there is a tendency to talk about her far more often than is mentally healthy. Make a point of introducing other kinds of subjects: Local events, movies, travel—-fun topics. Take her out of your conversation and weaken her influence over the office.

If you want to stay working there, keep in mind that the boss’s daughter may eventually take over the business or be in a stronger role. She might go to school, get married and move away or do something else. You need to plan your own life and career around the job and salary that is best for you and the work environment that allows you to go home and come back, feeling good about work. You may find that if you can tone down the way the problem-coworker treats you, you can find ways to tolerate the rest of it, even though you resent it. In addition, you may help her find better ways to treat people, which would be a good thing for everyone.

Best wishes to you with this challenging situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens. Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors