Favoritism in the Family Business

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about family-owned free-riding partner:

I work for my family business and my dad owns the company with his business partner, who is also a family member. Recently, the business partner hired her daughter to work at our company because she needed a job. She has been working here for almost a year and has been given more vacation days than allowed by any employee. Doesn’t fully do her job and is constantly gone for appointments. My dad won’t say anything to make a change. How would you deal with this type of situation before it causes resentment?

Signed, Frustrated

Dear Frustrated:

I would guess there already is some resentment about the privileges extended to the daughter of one of the owners. However, unless she has a supervisor or manager, other than her mother (and your father) it will be difficult to change the situation. Even then it probably would be challenging for a supervisor to correct the owner’s daughter. Your father probably realizes that the co-owner would bristle at the thought of her daughter needing to do more work or needing to reduce the amount of time she is gone for appointments. The mother also would probably not want to cut her daughter’s vacation time. So, the only way to avoid resentment would be if others receive the same privileges. I wonder if you or others have asked for more vacation time, citing the fact that some employees do receive more. Or, if you or someone else has asked for time off for appointments and mentioned the precedent set by having at least one employee allowed to leave fairly often. That might just stir up more trouble, but at least it would be a way to show that the favoritism creates unfairness and imbalance in the work. I don’t think there would be any point at all in talking to the employee about it, because she probably has been led to believe it is OK for her to have special privileges. I don’t know how comfortable you would feel talking to the mother. Perhaps it would be possible for you to talk to her and point out that your goal is to help the business and the problem of employee resentment can’t be good. If the daughter is gone so much, some aspect of work is probably suffering, so that may be worth mentioning as well.

Truthfully, I’m afraid even talking to the mother directly won’t accomplish anything positive. The daughter has found a job that doesn’t require much of her, so she has no reason to change. The owner is probably thrilled to have her daughter working there, so she won’t want to do anything to create a conflict. Your father probably feels that unless things are intolerable, he would rather keep things going smoothly. So, the bottom line is that coworkers only have two options:¬† I doubt that anyone would want to quit over the situation. So, rather than feeling that things are unfair, they may need to be philosophical about it and move forward as if their coworker isn’t getting special treatment. I wish I had a magical answer that could make this situation better, but I don’t think there is one right now. At some point, even her own parent may get tired of paying a full salary to what is essentially a part-time employee. Or, she will move on, on her own. Perhaps you can be such a positive example of how even family members must demonstrate a work ethic, that you will help others feel better and more hopeful. Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how this works out.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.