Family Business: A Blessing And A CURSE

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about family business: A brother-in-law’s daughter has been hired. She doesn’t earn her pay and she is NOT one of the owners of the business and has no right knowing what happens during our meetings/discussions. Confronting the brother-in-law results in verbal abuse and no one confronts Big Daddy because he freaks out.

My husband, brother-in-law, his son and an outside party own the family business. I have also worked in the business for 15 plus years. Within the last three months, my bro-in-law’s daughter has been hired (same salary as me–even though she has no experience) plus extra perks for her, phone, gas. Well she’s already bored or incapable of doing what her contract states–so she’s working her old job two days a week and still collecting the salary…. which obviously make me bitter. The problem is you cannot say anything to “daddy” about his family or he freaks out!! So no one has.

The real issue I have is that the brother-in-law is verbally abusive. If I stand up for myself in any way, he calls me “sick” and says, “I need help” or is mean and vindictive and says people at work don’t like me—which is totally false. Then he runs to his daughter and discusses the whole incident with her! (She just agrees with everything he says of course.) She is NOT one of the owners of the business and has no right knowing what happens during our meetings/discussions. Please help.

Signed, At My Wits End!

DearĀ At My Wits End!:

Have you considered proposing that your family business be documented in a reality television show? From your description, it has the characters, conflict, injustice, and drama of soaps, but also has the added appeal of witnessing dysfunctional family relationships of real people and real hurts. I assume, you, as a member of that family, enjoy the benefits of that business and are reluctant to leave in spite of your despair that anything will change. So it is that you acknowledge being part of this family business is both a blessing and a curse!

The prelude to each episode could begin with, “Can the unfair pay and perks for the brother-in-law’s daughter, as compared to Lena, (or whatever is your name) be made right? Can the bullying of Jake, the brother-in-law, be curbed? The answer to these two questions is: No, not until hell freezes over. Why? Because Big Daddy has Lena working scared and that is not likely to change. To this date, her attempts to assert her self have been squashed. We look in on Lena who is writing Ask the Workplace Doctors and is signing it “At My Wits End’ ”

Is not this scenario the way you feel when you come home at night? In short, you are not willing to take a stand for righting the pay to the brother-in-law’s daughter or to tell the verbally abusive brother-in-law to treat you civilly or to go to hell. Moreover, you are afraid to say anything about all of this to Big Daddy. Therefore, from this outside perspective, the possibilities for change for you are nil until you are.

Until you won’t take it any longer, you had better suck it in and live with the way it is. Avoid confronting the brother-in-law. Put out of your mind the favoritism to the brother-in-law’s daughter. Do all you can to please everyone who is a part of this family business. Be the accommodating cheerful wife. Isn’t that better than working with bitterness and allowing this all to play over and over in your head?

Until, yes, until you are indeed at your wits end! I predict that the only hope for change will be if you vote with your feet; taking a leave of absence and/or finding work elsewhere. Then if your absence is seen as a spot that that can’t easily be filled, there is a chance that Big Daddy will persuade you to return. It is then you can say you will, only if; the pay is made right and the brother-in-law is forced to apologize and treat you with respect.

Family businesses tend to be run by a dominant founder until some dramatic event forces them to reassess their survival. Rarely do the family members tell Big Daddies to relinquish power and to function as owner-coaches rather than as owner-dictators. Occasionally, usually when Big Daddies are nearing retirement they see the value of converting from owner-managers to employee stock ownership businesses. Occasionally, they will bring in an outside disinterested consultant who helps Big Daddies to think through and make these changes.

Perhaps my picture of all this is not the way it is because only one immersed in it, as are you, can know of its entangling human and financial ties. But it is clear that you are not in a mentally healthy workplace; you are not excited about going to work each day. You are not coming home each night able to voice your frustration to a supportive spouse. You are deeply involved in this unhappy life-work experience and afraid to get out of it. Perhaps until you are, you will need to back off for a time, look in the mirror and talk sense to your self?

Find some outside activity that will take your mind off of what you do during working hours; tutoring kids or adults at you library, join a hiking or bike riding group, singing in a choir, working on a political campaign, working with Habitat for Humanity, taking zumba (as I do). Does any of this analysis make sense? My best to you as you think and work your way through this difficult period in your life. See it as a learning experience, but not as one that has no sunrise for a brighter day. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and if I understand your situation even a little bit, it will take a lot of wego-mindedness and action to know what big WEGOS have in store.

William Gorden