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Jewish World Review April 11, 2001 / 18 Nissan , 5761

He Works/She Works
By Jaine Carter and James D. Carter

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Consumer Reports


Nepotism in the office

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- NEPOTISM is as old as business. An entrepreneur who has built a dynasty wants to pass that business on to heirs and training Junior to take over the family business is part of the American dream.

Relatives of people in power present a problem for other employees. Some relatives just aren't professional enough to handle their "power by influence" position and take advantage of the situation.

How does an employee who is not related to the boss give constructive feedback to a relative of that boss? How does he let the boss know that the relative is just not hacking it? Telling the boss creates a touchy situation and could be dangerous to the messenger's future with the company.

There are choices. The employee can run in and tell the boss that his relative is a klutz. The employee could calmly approach the relative to explain how to avoid klutzy situations in the future. Or the manager can do nothing and continue to take the heat.

Taking the heat may appear like an honorable thing to do, but it may not keep that manager in the running for fast track promotions. And it won't solve the problem of continually coping with a relative of a person in power.

One office administrator explained, "The boss hired his daughter two years ago to implement special projects. She thinks the rules that apply to the rest of our employees don't include her. She comes in when she feels like it, orders other employees around and fails to follow-through on assignments. I've mentioned it to the boss but all he ever says is, 'I'll take care of it.' Nothing changes."

Because of the risks involved and the discomfort it causes other employees, many companies have implemented a no-nepotism rule. Unfortunately, this isn't always the solution for small, entrepreneurial businesses. Entrepreneurs have a right, and even a need, to bring their relatives into their business. It's part of long range succession planning.

There are several other reasons why a no-nepotism policy can be a bad idea. Married couples working together are cost effective. A company saves on benefits, as only one of the employees will require health insurance. The bad news is that if she becomes pregnant and intends to avail herself of the 12-weeks unpaid leave provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act, the company conceivably could lose two employees for up to 12 weeks. Annual vacations also present a challenge.

Couples working together are usually more loyal to the corporation that allows them to double up on work related expenses. Traveling to and from work saves commuter expenses. It also affords couples extra time together.

Employees lucky enough to work for a company that allows family members to work together should take special care not to abuse this perk. Avoid unnecessary interaction during working hours. Plan for future problems. It's impossible for a partner in a higher position to discipline or correct his/her spouse. Therefore, a company policy that prevents spouses from holding boss/subordinate positions should be established.

Adopt a professional attitude toward working in the same company by establishing ground rules for handling personal disagreements during working hours. An argument on the way to work could cause the company to lose two productive employees for the day.

What about the boss' relatives? A good boss should know that relatives create feedback problems for non-related employees. Knowing this she should design an objective system to help relieve obstacles. The best system begins with the boss demanding, and expecting, greater productivity from relatives. If the boss wants to train relatives then he should continually, and personally, monitor performance and reward messengers who have the courage to tell it like it is. Then, the boss should implement corrective action.

Jaine Carter, Ph.D. and James D. Carter, Ph.D. are management consultants and authors of the book, ''He Works She Works -- Successful Strategies for Working Couples." Comment by clicking here.

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