Family-owned headaches Featured

9:47am EDT July 22, 2002

Dear H. R. Manager:

I am a manager in a large family-owned business. There are relatives who work in nonmanagerial jobs who come and go as they please and do not comply with attendance policies. This has created a major headache, because I have employees complaining, and I feel that my hands are tied. What should I do?

Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Dear Caught Between:

It’s important that family members employed in family-owned businesses be good role models for employees. Otherwise, the message they send to employees is, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

To alleviate this problem, have a discussion with the owner and explain how employees interpret relatives’ noncompliance with company policy as a double standard. If the owner is sympathetic and understanding, perhaps he or she will talk to the relative and stress the importance of setting a good example.

If you get the impression that things are not going to change, sit down with your employees and explain that while you do not condone family members violating company policy, it is evidently a privilege that comes with being a member of the family, and not an uncommon one at that.

Dear H.R. Manager,

We have a clerical pool of three secretaries providing support to 15 managers. Many of them travel. The secretaries say that the work is not evenly shared or distributed, which has created bad feelings among them. To make matters worse, they do not seem willing to help each other out, and the managers complain of long turnaround times in getting their work back. The company will not consider hiring another person.

Confounded in Cleveland

Dear Confounded:

Support perceptions with facts:

  • Create a short questionnaire to serve as a needs assessment to ascertain how well management’s clerical needs are being met.

  • Meet one-on-one with the secretaries, getting specifics on workloads, priorities and deadlines.

  • Meet with the secretaries as a group. They probably have some of the same frustrations. They may not realize, however, that they’ll be more successful in dealing with these frustrations as a group — dare I say the word team — than they have been as individuals.

  • Share with the secretaries summaries of both the positive and negative feedback you receive from managers.

  • Provide them with teambuilding training at your workplace to give them the knowledge, skills and a common mission to work together as a unit and to empower them to take ownership of the problem.

  • Assess whether a part-time or temporary person can be used during peak workloads to handle the more mundane but necessary tasks such as filing, copying or faxing.

  • Absolutely, positively, and on a regular basis, recognize their progress as a team with a company-paid luncheon, a team pin or coffee cup, recognition letters from management or other rewards.

Dear H.R. Manager:

I have a production supervisor who runs a tight ship and gets product out the door on a timely basis — good for business. He gets results, but is not popular with the people who report to him — not good for morale. We’ve discussed it during his reviews and he’s better for a short time, but reverts back to his old ways. How can I get through to him?

Wanting It Both Ways

Dear Wanting It Both Ways:

You don’t mention anything about sending him for leadership or communications training. A key to change is education. People must see things for themselves.

In addition, I recommend two assessment tools to help your supervisor learn more about himself and how he comes across to other people. The 16PF is a personality profile available from an industrial psychologist. The other tool to evaluate his performance and effectiveness as a leader is the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI:Self) available from Jossey-Bass, (800) 274-4434.

The self-knowledge that your supervisor gains will enable him to incorporate behaviors that have a positive impact on employees. As your supervisor demonstrates better people skills, give him positive strokes. Also, make sure that you aren’t emphasizing results at any cost. He needs to know that his lack of people skills may be injurious to his pocketbook and his career growth.

Almira Hercl, a former H.R. director, is president of Human Resource Solutions, which assists companies in improving organizational effectiveness through management of their number one asset, people. To obtain professional advice on those difficult-to-deal-with personnel problems that can be organizational barriers, write “Ask the H.R. Manager” c/o SBN, at