Problems Working In Family Business

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about family business: I’m also extremely lonely, because I have no one to interact with. Some days, I can go the whole day without anyone coming to talk to me.

My father owns a small business and my two older brothers and I help him run it. His second wife also “works” here under the title of Office Manager. There are two other young ladies that work within the office, but we do not share the same responsibilities.

I have worked for this company for the past four years and they have been the most miserable years of my life. My coworkers and “step-mother” purposely leave me out of everything (lunches, random discussions), they constantly talk behind my back and whenever the stepmother isn’t there, my coworkers must call her and tell her everything that I did/said for the day. I feel like I’m under a microscope all day long. But I’m also extremely lonely, because I have no one to interact with. Some days, I can go the whole day without anyone coming to talk to me.

I’ve expressed my concern over this matter to my father, but the issue is never properly addressed. For instance, the last time I brought this up, he called a meeting to discuss it, but the three women completely denied everything and said that I was overly sensitive and it was all in my head. I know they talk about me, but whenever something goes on in my life, it always ends up in my stepmother’s mouth. Whether I get a new purse or shoes, if I have visitors at work, if I stay at lunch too long, I’m just really tired of all of this and it’s stressing me out. I’m already under enough pressure with other things in my life. I’m contemplating quitting, but I’m not sure it is the right thing to do. Do you have any advice?

Signed, Close To The Edge

Dear Close To The Edge:

I’m very sorry that things are working out this way for you and I can imagine how you must sometimes feel! I’m wondering though at the odd situation that would place the daughter of the family in an apparently small business as only a peer of outside employees–and with less status in the eyes of a parent than those employees!I also wonder if your brothers have to endure the same things or if they are treated with more respect and courtesy by employees and by your stepmother. Certainly it may be that you are very sensitive to things that happen. But, if you are feeling a certain way and have brought that up, it would seem that the specific issues you’ve mentioned would have been talked about. And, rather than only blaming you or saying it’s in your mind, some policies could have been made to stop hurtful or overly personal talk about anyone at work.

You can understand, I’m sure, why I say that this sounds like a family counseling situation as much, if not more so, than a work counseling situation! However, you asked if it would be right to quit. The best question is, would it be best for your well-being for you to quit?Here are some questions for you to answer to help you decide.

As you consider them in your mind, you may find the answer to your main question can be found within them.

1. This has been going on for four years. Do you think something will happen in the next few weeks to change your work environment to such an extent that it will be pleasant for you to work there?*If you think it might change quickly, what do you think will happen and how can you be sure it will happen?*If you don’t think there will be a major change in the next few weeks, are you prepared to continue being treated as you are being treated and feeling as you do? How long can you put up with it and still feel good about life and work?

2. Do you need that specific job and the salary or working conditions so much that it is worth it to stay there, no matter how you feel?*Do you need to continue working there to ensure that you are part of the company in future years?*Is there something in your work history that makes it unlikely you could find work elsewhere, so you must stay there? *Could you find work elsewhere?

3. Have you tried to talk to your father and stepmother as parent and step-parent, instead of bosses, to explain your feelings and ask for their help?*If so, have they responded as a concerned and loving father and a concerned stepmother, or have they seemed to view your complaint as an inconvenience and not taken it seriously? *If you have not tried that more personal conversation, could you do it now?*If you tried to talk to your father about your feelings as his daughter, working in the family business but feeling badly about it for four years, what has he done to support you and to make your role in the family business more worthwhile for you?*Has he ever indicated that you are not doing your work or that he had higher expectations for you? (I ask that to be fair to others. Could it be that he is not satisfied with your work for some reason and thus does not think the coworkers are wrong in their judgments?) *Has he given you suggestions for how you could fit in better at work or what you could do to improve things, or has he not made it a personal interest of his? *Have you talked to your brothers about their viewpoints or observations? Could they help? Will they help?

4. BIG question: Do you think your father is prepared to tell his wife (your stepmother) that she must stop gossiping about you and listening to gossip about you and must start treating you more courteously?*If you don’t think he will do that, you probably also realize that nothing will change. If he will do that, it will probably create a chasm between him and her and that likely will not be good from his perspective.

5. How badly will you be missed if you quit and will the business suffer without you? If you bring a knowledge or skill to the workplace that makes you uniquely valuable, and the business your father and brothers depend upon will suffer, you may want to give much longer notice of your intentions, so someone can be trained and you won’t be viewed as harming the business.If your work can be done by someone else with little lag time if you leave, at least you can feel that you can leave without causing harm to a family business tradition.*Do you have someone close to the situation but not part of it, who you could talk to? This obviously could have a big impact on your family and is not a matter to consider without a careful look at both facts and feelings.I wish there was some magical solution for this situation. We hear similar stories quite often, when the parent/boss, sides with employees against a family member. On the other hand, we hear many more complaints from employees who feel they are treated unfairly because a boss always sides with his children at work, to the detriment of the business and employees. I do think you should be open to some in-depth self-reflection about your role there and the accuracy of how you are perceiving things that are said and done. But, I also think you will probably have to accept that your “vote” about how the office work environment ought to be, is not being counted by your father, your stepmother and others. They aren’t showing you loyalty, a fact that might help you decide if your loyalty to them is misplaced and it is time for you to cut yourself loose from the family business until things change. Best wishes to you. This will probably require a lot of inner strength to deal with issues that can easily become jumbled in your head and heart. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

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.