My Problem Coworker Is My Stepdaughter!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about step daughter employed who lies:

My stepdaughter is an employee at my workplace. I have been there for twelve years and she has been there for one year. She has always been known to exaggerate situations, to the point of out right lying. Now, she is always insinuating that she is one of the chosen few for many situations and that she has become friends with all of the management–none of which is true. She has lied in our private lives since she was a child and it has increased tenfold since she has grown up.

I hate, hate, hate working with her. I have become paranoid about what she has said about me to other coworkers. She may have said nothing but it is making me crazy anyway. Things I have heard that she has said to coworkers that are outright lies include: She manages several properties. The reality is that she and her husband own one trailer that they rent out. She says she gave birth to a child that was put on life support equipment for two hours. The reality is the child died in the womb and was stillborn. She stirs stuff up so much in my family that I am terrified she is going to start stuff at work. How can I coexist with her at the workplace knowing how she is? It is making me want to quit my job.

Signed, Always Worried

Dear Always Worried:

I can understand that it would be frustrating to work with a stepdaughter (or any relative) with whom you’ve had a long-standing series of conflicts. It’s a shame the employment situation worked out that way. (That’s why many businesses don’t hire family members). However, you seem to have mixed the family and work relationship in your mind to such an extent that you’re creating unnecessary stress and tension for yourself. Let me share a few thoughts and see if you can find a way to enjoy work more by separating the two parts of your life. I’m assuming you are a stepmother, but the thoughts apply to a stepfather as well. First, keep this in mind: You have been there for twelve years and she has been there for one year. If people know you and have developed positive feelings about you, they aren’t going to turn on you now. If your adult stepdaughter causes them problems, they won’t blame you. If your adult stepdaughter says something bad about you, they’ll be just like you and me and figure it’s personal. They will probably think less of her for doing it. No one wants to be in the middle of a family conflict and they resent the person who tries to drag them into it.Another thing to realize is that she might not stay employed there anyway, if she is as undependable about work as she is about her truthfulness. That might be a false hope, but it’s a reminder that you wouldn’t want to quit only to have her leave a short time later.

1. Don’t talk about her at work in ways that refer to her as a stepdaughter or that reflects your negative feelings about her away from work. You may not have done so anyway but that’s important to keep in mind. If you already have done so, stop doing that. Just as no one wants to be involved in a family conflict that your stepdaughter starts, they don’t want to be involved in a family conflict that you start, either. Don’t talk about her at all if you can avoid it. If others start to talk to you, say something like, “I’m sure you understand that it’s really awkward for me. So, I’ve made it a new rule of mine to not talk about her.”

2. Your stepdaughter is merely a coworker at work. Look for ways to ensure that you remember that. Consider using her more formal name at work and her nickname away from work. Don’t interact with her excessively. That doesn’t mean to ignore her or refuse to spend time with her, I just mean to not always meet for breaks or lunch and don’t spend time every day chatting. (If you two don’t get along you probably aren’t doing that anyway, but sometimes it’s considered the obligatory thing to do.) The two of you should not talk about family issues at work, except briefly while on a break. You should also try to not talk about work when you see each other at home. If she introduces the topic, just tell her you’re tired of work and want a break from it.

3. Now, about her lies. If another coworker lies, what do you do? You probably just let it go and lose respect for them. Actually, you probably don’t always know. Unless it involves you, it probably isn’t a harmful thing anyway. I dislike it and tend to confront it, but I realize that most people won’t do that, no matter how much it irritates them. I’ve never figured that out, but for some reason people are embarrassed to tell others that they know they’re lying. If it seems that her lies have an effect on work for some reason, then you should do what you would do with a coworker. You might say something to her personally or you might go to a supervisor and express concerns.If people ask you to verify something, don’t cover for your stepdaughter out of loyalty or embarrassment. Just say something like, “That’s not the way I saw it.” “No, it didn’t happen that way.” “I think she’s remembering it incorrectly.” Don’t get caught up in telling them the truth. That especially applies if she is talking about her personal life.If she lies about work at home, you have the option of saying nothing, since most people probably don’t believe things she says anyway. Or, you can say in a mild way, “Hmmmm, Jana, I don’t remember it that way at all. Are you sure this isn’t embellished a little bit?” Or, “Jana! That’s not the way it happened at all!” (That latter statement will probably start a fight, but maybe you want to get things out in the open.) If you need to, get up and leave the room and get away from it, so you won’t be irritated. Don’t pump people for information about it. The time to have stopped her lying habit was probably decades ago. So, now you’ll probably have to grit your teeth most of the time and let it go, to avoid a conflict with her father, your husband.The bottom line is that you can’t change her character. She knows you know the truth but she lies anyway. So, you can either confront it openly and try to completely shut her down or you can find ways to keep from feeling so stressful about her.Many people have a coworker who is a source of problems for them. Your stepdaughter has that role at your work. Handle it as effectively as you would handle any other coworker problem:

Do something definite if it’s so bad you have stop it. Otherwise, focus on your own work and let the supervisor handle the coworker.Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens and how you are able to resolve the issues.

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.