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Torment caused by on-going affair with a clerk…

Dear Office-Politics,

My family currently owns 3 printing facilities with 2 facilities under our direct managerial control. In the third company, we bought a 50 percent share with another owner directly controlling the third facility.

Now here lies the problem, the owner of this third facility has a long-term, on-going affair with a member of the production staff. They trust each other completely, moreover the problem is this owner blindly trusts this person and what really has been making my life miserable is that this person basically brought her family to the workplace! I am finding it hard to manage this facility as my family put me in charge of smoothing things out. My mission and aim is to be fair to everyone, to make our business as profitable as possible. However it is difficult because this woman is taking charge! She is just a clerk !

Please advise.

Blind trust


dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Blind Trust,

Our understanding of 50-50 ownership means you have plenty of legs to stand on, since you have equal right and responsibility to hold the other owner accountable and to be involved as you are in direct management. A few details that we DON’T know from your letter which would help us to guide you include:

1) Was the affair going on before you formed the partnership and/or did you know it was occurring? If so, you don’t have as strong leverage as if the other owner began his carousing afterwards and/or hid this fact from you during your initial negotiations (lack of disclosure of important data impacting company performance and value).

2) We don’t understand what you mean when you say his clerk partner has “basically brought her family to the workplace!” We have no idea what this means.

    (i) If she is doing things like getting family hired, etc., then the course of action depends upon how well they perform, and you may simply address the performance issues as business obstacles requiring attention as they would for any other employee.

    (ii) If you mean the phrase “bringing her family to the workplace” figuratively in that they both are inappropriately allowing their family like affairs to permeate the atmosphere of the workplace in a demoralizing manner for others, then that means another course of action, such us a “sit down” like Tony would have in the TV show “The Sopranos,” to work through the conflict and concerns.

    (iii) If you mean that the clerk is NOT hiring her family members, but instead merely literally bringing her children or siblings to work and socializing or they are interfering with productivity, again, that points to the mere need to speak with her about the counter-productive nature of such disruptions.

Obviously, all of the above assumes that any of these courses of action need NOT involve directly confronting the hidden, underlying agenda of your feelings about the inappropriateness of the workplace affair. We’re not saying DON’T confront, only that you CAN address the business issues at had without opening up Pandora’s Box of the stickier, more personal issues. If you can document and point in a matter of fact fashion to the negative impact on performance, efficiency, morale, loss, sales, and profits of SPECIFIC BEHAVIORS, then as owner and partial site manager, you can objectively minimize the damage of the clerk’s behavior (whichever of the above meanings are relevant).

That said, there is plenty of research and expert advise that shouts out the lack of wisdom in allowing workplace romances when it’s an affair versus a family owned business by a husband and wife before-hand. The fall-out, motivation-drain, and potential toxicity is even more severe in smaller companies, where the parties include a person with power, and where obvious favors and poor performance are allowed to prevail due to preferential treatment. So you’d be on fair ground, too, if you DO decide to discuss this sensitive matter more directly as opposed to the above first steps of treating the symptoms versus the true “dis-ease.” We recommend talking openly with YOUR family about this key strategic decision, first documenting the real versus imagined negative impact of the affair to ensure that it’s not simply your own morals clouding the picture, and then collaboratively receive your family’s blessing to request a frank conversation with your co-owner.

Depending upon the dynamics, either do this with you and the other owner, or with another family member present, but NOT the clerk. You never know, your co-owner might even be “blind in love” and not realize the actual behaviors and impact on his pocketbook! He may better manage the issue. Again, you can still choose to invite his management of the behavioral and performance issues with or without expressing your own value judgment about whether it’s right for him to continue an open affair. Try avoiding that tract if possible since you may still get your needs met without alienating him by appearing paternalistic.

If the situation sours further, you can always later “up the ante” by more straight talk that expresses disdain for what’s going on if he’s defensive or remains in denial. Here, we’d counsel greater family involvement possibly, with clear communication that he is costing you all, that he may have misrepresented the scenario in your initial negotiations through lack of disclosure, and that you demand action. Optional additional actions include a change in direct management authority, buy-outs, his negotiating some sort of financial re-weighing of the financial arrangements given this new data impacting your family’s welfare, etc. Unfortunately, depending upon the outcome and his level of receptivity versus defensiveness, your family may need to consult a small business legal assistance as well. But we hunch an objective, business issue, matter of fact handling might be the path of least resistance and most return.

Whatever you do, don’t lay a trip on yourself or give yourself undue pressure as if you are to blame. Stop losing sleep over this issue, especially if this is partly due to anxiety about your family’s judgment of your handling. If your family does not approve of your action (assuming you aren’t dragging your feet), then let them know you’ll gladly swap responsibilities on this aspect of the roles and responsibilities divvy!

Here’s to the joys of business ownership! Not to minimize your pain, but do remember, there are still people who’d kill to have your problems!

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.

Warm regards,

Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success

cover of Survival of the SavvyRick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.

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