By Esther Mann, LCSW
A number of years ago, I decided it was time to go back to work. My children were older, and our family needed the money. I was fortunate to find a job that I felt I was good at and was conveniently located not too far from home.
I work at a family business. The owner, Mr. Schwartz, is a nice man. I don’t work directly for him, but whenever we have reason to interact, I feel we get along. There are a number of family members working for this company and many other employees as well. I happen to work for his nephew, whom I’ll call Jack. I believe that if Jack were not the owner’s nephew, he never would have landed this job. Jack is not a particularly smart or resourceful man.
Often, Jack will turn to me to help him solve a problem or come up with ideas to handle situations. At these times, I feel good about adding something important to this company, though Jack never gives me credit—neither to my face nor when discussing with others the work I enabled him to do. I feel a touch of resentment, but I’m OK with that; I know in my heart what I’m capable of, and it is fulfilling to do good work.
Here’s my problem. Jack also uses me as a personal assistant. He has asked me to pick up his dry cleaning on more than one occasion. He has also had me make those awful personal calls that we all hate, ones that keep us hanging on the phone with some out-of-the country operator for what seems like hours. Jack also has asked me to make returns for him to local stores and other demeaning errands of this nature.
It’s not that I’m above doing work like that. What bothers me is that I’m doing these things on Mr. Schwartz’s dime and not Jack’s. If Jack owned the business and I was working for him, I would put on a happy face and do whatever he wanted, because it’s all coming out of his pot. But Jack is an employee, just the way that I am an employee. He happens to be higher up on the ladder, definitely because he is family and not because he has earned it, but we both get paid by the same person.
Additionally, I happen to know that Jack’s wife has a full-time housekeeper at home. His wife is busy all day shopping, lunching, and going to the gym. I get resentful that I’m doing errands that she should be doing. Why am I calling her travel agent and booking flights for her family when she’s probably getting a manicure and I have more-important work to do? This whole situation makes me angry and I’m trying to figure out where to go from here.
I’ve discussed this with my husband and told him that I would like to explain the situation to Mr. Schwartz, so that he can have a little talk with his nephew, thereby enabling me to be a better employee for him. My husband, who is afraid of his own shadow, thinks this would be a terrible mistake and that I would be fired in an instant. We have grown to depend on my salary a great deal, and if I lost my job, it would create a hardship for us. I’m not sure my husband is right in his assumption that Mr. Schwartz would get rid of me. I do fine work, and I’m pretty sure Mr. Schwartz is aware of what I bring to the table.
Do you think I should be confident and bold and set up an appointment with my real boss, Mr. Schwartz, and explain the realities of what goes on with Jack? Do you see this as a risky step or something that would, if anything, convey courage and professionalism?
I’m ready to make my next move.
I certainly understand the sense of frustration you must feel every time you are being used in a way that was not conveyed during your interview and not part of your job description. And it does sound as though Jack is taking advantage of his family standing within the company and of his good fortune of having someone responsible, like you, at his side. Jack’s got a real good thing going. You—not so much.
So here’s the reality. It’s always a good idea to bet on blood being thicker than water. Though that is not always the case, and often it defies logic, that’s where I would put my money. There is no way for you to know anything about the family dynamics between Mr. Schwartz and Jack. Perhaps Jack is a ne’er-do-well who hasn’t amounted to much on his own—and never will—and the family feels sorry for him and gives him a pass.
There are many scenarios I could come up with that might explain why Jack gets away with everything he gets away with. And I would suspect that Mr. Schwartz didn’t get to a place of owning such a large company by being stupid. For all you know, Mr. Schwartz is well aware of the ways in which Jack takes advantage of his position and of you. Therefore, reporting Jack, so to speak, can possibly backfire on you. You just never know. So I would agree with your husband that such a conversation with Mr. Schwartz could end badly for you, maybe just because Mr. Schwartz would feel the need to save face on Jack’s behalf. Stranger things have happened.
However, I would advise you to continue being the best employee you can be. If you come up with an idea that would be advantageous to the company, see if you can take it directly to Mr. Schwartz. If you can find areas in which to shine on your own, go for it. If you hear about movement in the company, people leaving or being promoted and jobs opening up, try to see if you can move into a better, more responsible position.
Don’t see yourself as just an assistant. See yourself as the one dictating the letters and coming up with new ideas. If you can take your emotions out of this disrespectful situation and keep your blinders on so that you stay on track working hard, making a name for yourself and, hopefully, being noticed by the right people, you will eventually leave Jack in the dust.
And if you don’t get noticed, there’s nothing wrong with setting up an appointment with Mr. Schwartz and explaining to him that you feel you have so much more to offer the company and you would appreciate it if he’d consider you for a more demanding position. You don’t have to mention Jack’s name at all. You shouldn’t. Stay out of the family politics and keep the conversation focused only on what you have to offer.
Play it safe, but be aggressive in all the right ways. And hopefully, someday soon, Jack will be picking up his own dry cleaning, as he should!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.