Professionally Speaking

Nepotism Annoyance

Good communication with fellow employees is key to getting work done; in this situation, it's the key to remaining employed.

I’m currently a senior-level administrator. It’s a good job, but I feel uncomfortable because my manager hired his daughter as a junior administrator. She’s not the worst worker I’ve ever seen, but the problem is that she does what she wants—not what I assign. She screws up once in a while, too. I feel that management wants to get her more involved and to give her more responsibilities.
     Should I be quiet about what I think about her work and give her special access to system resources to please my manager or should I be more sincere and tell my manager about her lack of interest in work and clarify what level of skills it takes to become a real systems administrator?
—Name withheld by request

As usual, I have to start out with a few questions. First, is this a permanent position for the daughter—or is this, say, a summer internship? The latter is fairly common in many organizations—someone in senior management brings their college kids in for the summer to get a taste of the business. Although this can still be a ticklish situation, the expectations are usually low and there’s a built-in end date.

This doesn’t sound like it’s your situation, however. In this case, I’d say that communication is going to be the key element. For example, did your boss tell you in advance that he was going to hire his daughter and put her under your supervision? Was this a regular opening that other candidates were competing for or did he just bring her in on his own say-so? On her first day of work, did he bring her to your department or did she just show up? How did he communicate this new hire to you? He must have said something. Was it, “Just treat her like any other employee,” or “This is my daughter, my pride and joy—make sure she does OK”?

These questions are intended to help you grasp the overall picture. He could want her to get a picture of “real life,” where people do screw up and have to face the consequences, in which case you’re the independent assessor, the bad guy. On the other hand, he may truly believe that she’s a talented and worthwhile employee; your role is to nurture and support her as you would any other employee.

I agree with Greg that it was incredibly insensitive for your boss to put you in this situation, especially if he didn’t involve you in the process or give you any guidance. However, it’s probably you that makes this situation comply with company policy. Many companies that have anti-nepotism rules specify that two relatives can’t work for the same supervisor. Because you’re between the father and the daughter, they’re probably in compliance, technically.

So what do you do? First, as Greg says, play it by the book. Treat all of your employees with the respect they deserve: giving direction, guidance, correction when necessary, and support at all times. Be as inclusive as you can so that your other employees don’t perceive an, “Oh, she’s special,” attitude from you. This type of situation can really affect the performance of the entire team.

As I said, communication is the key. I know that when I was a supervisor, I would have regular conversations with my manager about the people who worked for me—not to complain or whine, but to keep my boss apprised of any superstars, marginal performers and general all-around good team workers. I advise you to start or continue these types of informal discussions with your boss. It’s important to do this under any circumstances, but more so here. In many cases, your boss’ only information about your department and your employees comes from you. Most employees wouldn’t go over their supervisor’s head to talk to the upper-level boss unless there was a serious problem. In this case, however, there’s a perfectly legitimate reason for one of your employees to talk to your boss on a regular basis. Just make sure that it’s not his only source of information.

Your best hope is that this isn’t a long-term situation. Perhaps suggesting that she be promoted to some other department would be a good idea! But watch out that she doesn’t get promoted into your job. It’s a mighty thin tightrope, and you’re working without a net. Good luck!

About the Author

Steve Crandall, MCSE, is a principal of ChangeOverTime, a technology consulting firm in Cleveland, Ohio, that specializes in small business and non-profit organizations. He's also assistant professor of Information Technology at Myers College and a contributing writer for Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine.

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