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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Reader Comments:

Sun, Jan 18, 2004 Daal Desi Anonymous

For the longest time I thought that working for a large corporation would insulate me from this phenomenon but I was wrong. A female worker comes on board and is attracted to another male worker that had been employed for about 8 years. The problem was he was married at the time.
Eventually he left his wife and married this female. She was then promoted to management of a team that her husband was in or associated with. Some measures were taken that showed everyone that more senior level management was aware of the potential problem. The measures lacked any great substance and still allowed a conflict of interest to remain unchecked. Others on the team were outraged particularly when this newly minted female manager wrote the yearly review. Since the rumors abounded that they were trying to close down the section and move all the jobs off shore. There were lots of transfers. There were some people fired. In all a great big shake up.
In the end anybody that had any issues with her becoming a manager was gotten rid of.

Thu, Oct 10, 2002 Mr.White Thunder Bay

All negative. Take a look at the positive end. If she had the ability and inclanation to go down on you in your cubicle, no complaints. Right? Since you're a cry baby and didn't bother to try and get your freak on with boss man's little hoe, it's your own fault. Be thankful you can blame her for all the screw ups that happen. (which are you at fault for anyway since you're the Senior Admin) What's Pappy going to do? Fire the girl? Hardly. Enjoy the show, or maybe try and teach her something. I know it's sometimes scary talking to girls (with the current cootie epidemic and all) but maybe this is the boss's way of seeing if you're just another retard that shows up to collect his cheque, or the next cat that gets promoted because he showed a little patience to his daughter. It's practally a movie that writes itself at this point. Of course she going to screw up every now and then. She's new! Give her time and some of your knowledge and watch her blossom. Or blow a bucket of love across her chin. Either way....

Thu, Oct 3, 2002 Master Chief Thousand Oaks

WHATever Chevy,

What goes around comes around and it'll come around and ram right into your rear end. If you want to promote this kind of behavior in the workplace then you're sure to get your ass blasted in the future.

Thu, Oct 3, 2002 Master Chief Thousand Oaks

SOLUTION TO DILEMMA!

I worked for a company where the President hired his daughter to work in the Administrative department.

Needles to say, it was a bit unnerving for everyone on how to treat her. Except for one crafty individual. She *immediately* became her best friend; took her out for lunches, double dates, and even to the Renaissance Faire.

This apparently worked as it just helped to reinforce her good graces with the President. Needless to say, she was always a conniving kiss-ass brown nosing snake. So this just played in her master plan of life.

So, if "Name withheld" wishes to do that, it could make him/her actually look better! It's all about politics and brown nosing isn't it???

Thu, Oct 3, 2002 Chevy South Hadley, MA

One of my first jobs was as a dishwasher for an airport catering kitchen because my brother-in-law was the Manager. My point is that I and three friends cannot find work after investing over $12,000 in our MCSE courses, supplemental study materials and exam fees. (Oh, excuse me, I actually worked for two weeks within the last four months, but I'm the only one.) Nepotism is great if you're on the receiving end. We expect IT skills to be in a different category, however - more of a meritocracy, if you will. After searching in vain with my MCSA, I've decided to take the last three tests for the MCSE and hope that hiring is up again by the end of the year. It's a shame if the nepotist is taking an opportunity away from someone more deserving, but if this were the only way I could get my foot in the door, I would do it and not make any apologies to anyone. I know I would profit by the experience and be a better tech for it. Maybe the next time out I could find work on on my own! I know the advice is for the supervisor here, but you have to look at it from the point of view of the newbie as well.

Wed, Oct 2, 2002 ian aucklnad

Well to be honest ,thats life my friend,it's not what you know,its who you know, that really counts!!

Wed, Oct 2, 2002 GlobalAdmin Casablanca NJ

Big corporations don't do this well even when there ARE nepotism rules in place. If someone has been given a job cause Daddies a manager, chances are they can stay unless they want to leave no matter what they do. This lasts even after Daddy leaves since he has friends there. Polotics abound and if no one cares what she does, you gotta let her do whatever she pleases. Your hands ARE tied. You may even end up working for her if she has any college paper on her even if its for painting.
Welcome to corporate America chum

Wed, Oct 2, 2002 KK SF

Between a rock and a hard case. Memo to File. It may save you, and it may not, but, YOU MUST start a Word doc formatted as Memo to File. Then faithly each day, pull up the file, go to the bottom add the date, and detail whatever it is: your request, her intransigence, whater. It may not save your job, but, may enable litigation (if necessary) or, believe it or not, show your next employer that as a professional you DOCUMENT activity with a clear, simple, short record. Good Luck.

Wed, Oct 2, 2002 JB Dallas

My thoughts: work on your resume. If he has enough audacity to hire his daughter and let her take advantage of the current situation, you can expect it get worse. Why wouldn't it? She can do a lot of what she wants, get promotions, get raises, get bonuses. Why should she do anything different. In fact...as the days go on I would guess it'll just get worse. Ian is right...she's got a great situation and there's no reason she's not going to continue to take full advantage of it. You're in a bad spot...It sounds like if she does poorly, it may reflect on you as the senior admin. And if she does well, she'll get all the rewards. What a beating. Does HR not have a policy that prevents this?

Wed, Oct 2, 2002 Michael Anonymous

Bad advice to "bring it up". Keep your head down, for now. This hire shows how clueless management is about IT operations. Be polite and completely supportive until you get away from it. Ignore all the advice that says "Bring the issue up gently." Don't say a word until you find. You can't even say a thing when you leave, because you need the reference. The best you can do is find a competitor to work for. Then someday word will filter back. It would be nice to do the right thing, to honestly assess the operation, but you are working there for a salary, not a vested piece of the action. Managers like that should lose good employees. When you leave, tell it to HR only. Upper management listens to them.

Wed, Oct 2, 2002 Malcolm Anonymous

This situation faced me at my last job, but it was the the Boss/owner's wife.
Same thing. knew Office and could build a web page - who can't?
We used UNIX and NT. I was asked to teach her UNIX. This bored her and she actually told her husband that we should dump our UNIX systems!
Any way, without going into too much detail I left and got another job. (Many reasons besides this situation.)
A few months later a Support Engineer phoned to tell me a "funny story".
She had removed the log on rights for all NT users, including the Administrator. It took their external support 48 hours to restore access.
I'm not advising you to quit. But the option worked well for me as I now have a much better job.

Tue, Oct 1, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Think that's bad!!!? I took a position as an IT manager with the understanding that I had no Cisco experience which was one of the requirements of the job. I asked about formal Cisco training and was told I would have to learn it on my own. However, there was an individual within the corporation who was familiar with Cisco router configuration who could help me learn to configure Cisco routers. There were 2 major things I did not know at the time.... 1 the company was in the process of moving it's corporate headquarters from point A to point B, which meant there was an immediate desire to have the T1 connection switched, and 2, the individual who could help me learn to configure Cisco routers was only in the office, at best, once during the week. When this individual did grace the office with his presence, I attempted to sieze every opportunity I could to learn as much as I could about Cisco router configuration. the time I had available with this individual did not amount to much at all. My introduction to Cisco router configuration consisted of showing me how to log into the router and perform a few basic commands such as displaying the running configuration and how to set an ip address. It reminded me of the first time I ever saw a C prompt in DOS wondering what I should do next. My only recourse was to view the running configuration of existing routers then search the Cisco website in an attempt to determine what the commands were doing. All the while.... the pressure was on to get the connection switched from point A to B.

On the few occasions I was able to pin down the individual "who could help me out", we discussed the possible configuration changes necessary to effect the change. Mind you, at this point in time I still had no clue as to how Cisco routers were configured or even a clue as to what I was doing. On two separate occasions, this individual told me he had thought about the changes that needed to be made and knew exactly what to do to switch the connection. Not knowing much about Cisco router configuration, I took his word at face value. On both occasions, this individual made changes to the router configurations during working hours which brought down the whole network. When it came time for my performance review, both of these network outages were listed on my review as mistakes I had made even though those higher up knew exactly who had made the changes. As a result... I was fired. I later found out that "the individual who could help me out" and the higher ups had all previously worked together at a different company. The only positive thing from this situation was the fact that in the end, I did learn how to properly configure a Cisco router. The company took away my job but they couldn't take away the knowledge I had learned. As a result I'll be taking my CCNA exam within the month.

Tue, Oct 1, 2002 IAN Anonymous

Whatever you do, don't cheese her off. I'll bet you dollars to donuts that you will end up working for her soon.

Tue, Oct 1, 2002 George Mills Lima Perù

Greg,

Learned this rule the hard way, not once but twice, and not through nepotism, but something close called the "ol`boys club". In these situations, document everything, make a backup of your email file, and never communicate to or from verbally. Demand everything be in writing, if necessary signed, and certainly dated. When it comes to a showdown, unfortunate this happens, the question is who will they believe. No one wants a costly legal situation and settlement, and when all is documented, proving the error of the nepotites or boys clubs members, at least you can leave with a lot of money, and not fired.

Your advice is very good.

George Mills
IT Security Consultant
Lima, Perù

Tue, Oct 1, 2002 Stressed Oklahoma

Let's take this a step farther. Your bosses daughter worked for you as a Summer Intern the year before, she lacked motivation, could not work independently and did nothing but play games and instant message her boyfriend all day long. Normally I would be the person interviewing people for my dept. instead because it being the bosses daughter they had a hiring committe, which I was not a part of. One of the people on the committee I trusted and informed them of her previous work history. Regardless of this, she was still hired and rumors circulated that she had it from the day she turned in her application. My boss believes she is talented and when I mentioned that I couldn't seem to keep her and another employee from working together he blamed it on the male co-worker having puppy dog sydrome and that she would never ask for help. Little does he know. Anyway I found out 2 days after she started that she had been hired. They put her in an office out in the school system because her job deals with assisting in the computer labs primarily. She knows how to build webpages and how the use MicroSoft Office, but that it the limitation of her skills. My boss took me into his office and asked me to "help train her, take her under my wing and to try and make her feel special because she thinks I hate her" Meanwhile, she comes to work in shorts or jeans and a T-shirt, while my department has a dress code, she has a phone number and a cell phone provided and I don't know what it is. And workorders that I receive to distribute to my staff are coming in that I feel should be delegated to her, but I don't know how to approach this with my boss. This is his only child, a 24-25 child that has never even pumped their own gas. It is my feeling that she should have possessed the job requirements to have been selected for the job. I know some of the other applicants did. Do you have additional advice in this? I don't know what to do and it is tearing me up. Stressed.

Tue, Oct 1, 2002 Tech-E Anonymous

We have the same problem with our CIO and his girl friend from the help desk. He has promoted her to manager and took her on a "business" trip to florida, while his 8-month pregnant wife and 2 kids were at home! She has a part time job as an aerobics instructor so she is fit-N-trim. He is a real slime and she is a, well, you know.
Everyone knows what's going on but management allows it to continue. This has de-moralized the whole IT department.
I thought this stuff just happens in the movies!

Wed, Sep 18, 2002 joe Anonymous

Right on target. Happens here quite a bit. No doubt about it, the company is wasting $$$ but on a rampant scale, all you can do is follow the course set by the leaders and know that the lost revenues are coming out of THEIR pocket too - at the price of hooking up the family member.

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