Employee plays husband/wife business owners against each other

Dear Joan:

We are a small company owned by my husband and myself.  My husband has enabled an employee (female) to do just about anything she wants over the years: given her money, trips, time off until it became abusive, and now she actually tells us what she is going to do, not the other way around.  

Her attitude towards me is disrespectful and discourteous.  She won't respond to my emails, continually throws things back in my lap after giving her instructions to handle them, is rude, discourteous, blind carbon copies every email and response I send her behind my back to my husband, lies about attempts to "steal" from my client base, when she has been provided with the appropriate information as to what clients belong to which sales staff, forges signatures on checks when we are not in the office (whether or not they are legitimate checks does not matter to me, she should not be forging signatures according to our accountant), but my husband continues to claim "If she bails on us we'll be in trouble," which is total nonsense.  

She continually claims "I am not nice to her," which is nonsense (she's been there 6 years), continually goes behind my back, etc.  She treats me like I am a moron and a total outsider. 

Now she has a vendetta because I took over the financial records for the company and found them to be in a total disaster, with incorrect data, balance sheets, profit/loss and receivables incorrect. Everything she posted over the last six years is a mess (this was done on the request of our accounting firm).  

I have had it with her attitude and manipulation of my husband, who will not confront these issues head on. 

I think the reason she has the attitude towards me is because SHE KNOWS I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT IS GOING ON AND SHE USES MY HUSBAND AGAINST ME by telling him "I'm not nice to her,” and “I'm afraid of her". I have not worked in the office physically for over a year, and communication is basically email and nothing else. 

My husband continually allows this behavior to go on because "I don't understand how busy she is, how chaotic it is, how much she has to do in the office." She SUPPOSEDLY was running the office, and if that is the case, then she is the problem. If it were that busy, our sales would not be the worst ever in three years, and she is supposed to be in sales and producing. She is not producing and that's the bottom line and the amount of excuses is not changing anything. 

I am the VP of Sales, and it is only the jobs I am bringing in that are supporting the rent, so to speak.  We are off over 50% in sales from last year. I tell him the proof is in the sales numbers that are showing up in the books, as to how busy anyone is. 

I'd like to know how to stop all of these high school antics of going behind my back. She is 38 years old, and if she can't come to me with what ever it is that is bothering her then my husband should confront it and put a stop to it.  I have asked my husband to ask her to stop sending him these emails and to talk with me directly if she has a problem, and to stop acting like her father and act like her manager.  I can't fire her, and when I suggest I quit and find a job elsewhere he gets upset and says that’s not possible.  

Every time I bring something to his attention, he says "why do you hate her so much"?  “Why are you always picking on her?”  This is simply not true, but after over a year of this, I am not willing to accept this behavior any longer.  HELP!   

Answer:

Your husband is the problem. For whatever reason, he feels that she has some knowledge or skill that he can’t live without. You don’t indicate any evidence of an intimate relationship between the two of them, (which could explain his fear of a sexual harassment lawsuit if he pressures or terminates her.) 

This employee is holding the company hostage and your husband has a blind spot that may end up killing the company and threatens to damage your marriage.  

Use your accounting firm for leverage, since he discounts your evidence as personal attacks, and they have made excellent recommendations so far (which he seems to listen to). Solicit their help in gathering and presenting the facts to him about the condition of the business and how she has negatively affected results.  

Stay completely focused on the business issues and don’t mention nasty emails, and all the personal things she does to keep you on the defensive. It will only cloud the real issues and let her continue to make the case that you are “unfairly” picking on her. 

It’s a positive move that you have taken control of the financial matters in the office. However, it isn’t clear who is supposed to be doing what. It would be a good idea to discuss with your accountant (or other respected business advisor/consultant) how to divide the roles of sales from office manager responsibilities. If she has been expected to do both, it’s human nature to let one of the responsibilities slide. In her case, it sounds as if she isn’t selling but fills her time with office tasks. 

There may be enough evidence that the company is indeed better off without her. She seems to write her own rules and get away with poor performance. If that is the case, and your husband doesn’t fire her in the face of hard evidence, I recommend that you quit and find a job that will bring in alternative income, reduce your stress level, and perhaps even save your marriage. If you do quit, perhaps the accounting firm can take over your financial responsibilities, so you can at least sleep at night.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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