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This isn’t just office politics, it’s family politics…

Dear Office-Politics,

I work in an office with a boss, his mother is the “office manager” and his sister is support personnel. I am supposed to be directly responsible only to the boss. For some reason, the mom and sister seem jealous of anyone getting close to their family member, the boss. When one does and the boss responds positively towards that employee, then mom and sister go on a “crusade” to get that person removed.

These two constantly whisper negative comments to the boss, gossip to other co-workers (who voluntarily quit because of it) about that person, telling lies, etc. The boss thinks his mom and sister do no wrong.

After finally growing tired of this political gamesmanship, I put all of the comments said by mom and sister for every situation in a letter to boss. I delivered the letter quietly and privately. Whatever information was provided to me by other employees, I remarked nothing back but just took the information and documented it. Boss reads the letter/memo, arranges an office meeting with everyone and basically “lays the law down” and says “no more of this” but doesn’t single anyone out.

The boss also establishes a “no talking except about business” rule in the office but mom and sister completely ignore it and continue telling lies about staff. Boss issues a “no cell phone in the office rule” but mom and sister continue having theirs in the office ringing all day. Basically, there are separate standards, one for “employees” and one for “mom and sister”. Two employees walked out on Boss because of this and he now blames those two employees stating that they have “issues” rather than actually looking at what is really going on.

Now, because the other employees have quit because of this, I am the “last person standing” with mom, sister and the Boss. How do I handle this? Mom and sister have been on a crusade to get me fired. But what they’ve done has caused other employees to walk and now those same employees they were so “buddy” with in gossiping about others, are now “the enemy” and their name is dirt now. So, how do I continue to work in this environment? Is the boss so incredibly blind he can’t see what is going on here even after my letter/memo and after two employees walking out? I am now the only “employee”.



franke james

Dear On-the-Outside,

This isn’t just about office politics. This is family politics. And that can get very messy, as you are discovering. Having worked in several family-owned businesses, as family, I can see both sides of this dilemma!

In your letter you mention that you are working for the son, who is the “Boss”. However, I would venture to say that although his business title may be “Boss”, he is not really the Boss. The mother, the sister and the son are all in control of the business. And while the “Boss” may appear to have final say, there’s always the reality of blood being thicker than water. If the Boss favors any employee over his mother, or his sister, all hell will break loose — at every family gathering, holidays, etc, the Boss-son will be reminded of his foolish mistake.

Think for a minute about his reality. After the employee goes home at 5pm, the Boss-son still has to ‘live’ with his mother and sister. The mother and sister hold that trump card in every office scuffle, so it is hard to see how any outsider can ever win. The outsider, in order to win, would have to alienate the Boss-son from his family. And if he’s a loving son that isn’t going to happen.

Always remember, he chose to have his sister and mother work for him. And nothing in your letter suggests that he sees that as a business mistake. So if we assume that he’s not going to fire his family, you have three choices:

    1. Marry into the family (Not appealing or already married? Go to #2)
    2. Realize that you are working for 3 bosses, not one, and seek to keep them all happy (Impossible? Go to #3)
    3. Find another job in a non-family business, where you can focus on moving your career ahead, fulfilling your dreams for success, and saving your sanity!

If you do opt for #3, try to get a great letter of recommendation from the Boss, before he tells his mother or sister you are quitting…

Good luck. Thanks for writing to Office-Politics. Let us know how things work out.


Franke James, MFA
Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com


Franke James, MFA is the Editor & Founder of Office-Politics.com. She is also the Inventor of The Office-Politics® Game a dilemma-based social game that teaches you how to play, and laugh, at office politics. It’s used by HR departments, and corporate trainers worldwide. The Office-Politics Dilemmas have been inspired by the hundreds of letters submitted to Office-Politics.com.

Publication note: This letter was originally published in April, 2004. We are republishing the best letters from Office-Politics and integrating them with our blog format.

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