She Mocked Me

A question submitted to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a workplace family matter:

I have been an Assistant Manager at a local car wash for about 6 months. Before, I was a regular line employee. It is a very high volume car wash with a lot of top dollar luxury vehicles. We wash anywhere from 25-90 cars an hour, so it is very important to trust your employees and give them the proper instruction. We must keep the same quality from car to car. I have never really had a problem with employees after being promoted except for 1 particular employee, my sister.

Since I have taken the role as manager, she has continually disobeyed tasks or orders I have given her. One example I can give you is a couple weeks ago, she asked to work on the prep side of the wash–pressure washing the outside of the car and scrubbing the back side of the car with a brush. She has worked there for about a year now, so this is not a new task for her. After starting the day and sending cars through, I realized that she was not brushing the back of the cars. I brought it to her attention warning her that she has to scrub the back of the car. She said “Okay”. I waited for about 15 cars and noticed again she still wasn’t brushing the back of the cars. I brought it up to her again and said, “We have to start scrubbing the back of the car, it is part of the prep and customers notice when it isn’t done.” She then stated that she was the only person prepping cars, but that is the case most of the time.When we are busy for most of the time there is only one person prepping cars. Almost all the time only one worker is prepping. During the next 20 minutes, I could see that cars were still not receiving the back brush. At this time I gave her a final warning and stated that if cars continued to not be properly prepped, I would find another employee who will. I moved her to a new position for the rest of the day.

Then she mocked me in front of customers. Their windows down and she screamed, “I’m the manager. I can push people around.” At day’s end of the day I went home, and my mom lectured me about pushing my sister around at the wash, saying I was giving her so many orders. I replied, “I gave multiple warnings and then gave her the consequences.” I told mom my role is her boss and she refused to follow specific instructions to her job’. This kind of ignoring my orders has happened numerous times in different aspects of the wash.

 My question is how do I keep a healthy workplace with the proper respect when my sister refuses to do a task that I assign? She argues saying, “I push your buttons because I know it irritates you.” How do I manage other employees if my sister disobeys my orders in front of them? I feel like I’m doing something wrong. I gave her two warnings and then gave then moved her. 

Signed Mocked

Dear Mocked: 

Assistant Manager is a difficult position. You must have been a respected employee because you have been promoted to Assistant Manager. Such a position is stressful because it means you are responsible that those cars should be washed clean from the front bumper to the trunk as they go out the door. Your job is to assign who does what and to make sure they do good work and do it fast. Pleasing customers and maintaining a productive and happy work group is no walk in the park. (Possibly you notice that your question has been edited and is slightly shorter. I trust it still has the meaning you intended, but this edit might help you be a bit more careful in how you word what you want to say. Sometimes, Assistant Managers must write up employees, and that must be carefully worded and concise.)

Your sister is now one of those you boss. She has been employed as you have for about a year. But you have learned it hard to boss your sister. You saw she was not doing her job well and you warned her. And when you repeatedly found her not following your orders and insisted she should, she mocked your authority. And your mother told you were not treating your sister as you should.

Bossing a family member doesn’t work at home, and you have learned it doesn’t work at work. So you are faced with a family-work problem. What are your options? I’ll list three you probably have thought about and then some you might not have: Ignore, Order or Else, Shift Matter to Manager, Time Out-Talk Out, Team Skull Session. 

  1. Ignore your sister’s failure to do a job or at least be gentler with her. This option would please both your sis and mom. Before you were promoted, your sis’s performance was not an issue. Possibly this will be the best option. Its downside is others who you manage might think you are playing favorites and they too will test your tolerance for less than perfect performance.
  2. Or Else.Tell Katie, or whatever your sis’ name, “Katie, I’m boss and follow my orders or you will be fired. This option certainly will displease your sis and mom, but it might teach Katie a lesson and make it clear to others that you are tough-no-favorites Assistant Manager.                   .
  3. Shift Matter to Manager,. Ask your boss, the Manager, what you should do. Manager’s like to feel they are the last resort and that their word decides what to do. If you tell  Katie the manager backs you she probably will accept you Do it or Else. The downside to this option is that the manager might see you as lacking guts about your sense of authority. 
  4. Time Out-Talk Out. Have a time-out with your sister–asking her ideas about what she would do if she were manager. Talk about how you each want to talk to each other has an upside. It conveys respect and special warmth of family. I sense that has been missing in your relationship and it might surprise you both.
  5. Skull Session. Speak with your boss about following a sport’s team skull sessions model–give skull sessions, on a weekly or as needed basis, a try. Engage all employees in your car wash to make it a great place in which to work. Collaboratively applaud what is going well and problem-solve  ways to correct what is not.

Do any of these options strike you as worth a college try? If not, perhaps they will spark other ways. Working together with hands, head and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. 

William Gorden