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What to do when boss’s wife wears the bossy pants

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in Your Office Coach

Question:  “After my boss’s wife lost her job, he asked her to do the bookkeeping for our business.  We have five employees, and this woman is not nice to any of them.  However, she seems particularly focused on undermining me.  She goes through every scrap of paper that I touch, trying to find mistakes.  She writes me nasty notes and has started giving her husband inaccurate information about my work.  I have continued to be civil and professional in dealing with her, but this constant harassment is becoming unbearable.  Even when she was home with medical problems, she kept sending me hateful comments.  Our boss has always been a really nice guy, but everyone has noticed that he’s starting to sound just like his wife.  The office atmosphere has become very unpleasant, so I’m looking for another job, but finding one may take awhile.  How should I handle this?"  —Had Enough

Answer:  If his wife’s shrewish behavior drives away employees, your boss may eventually find himself with empty offices and declining revenues.  So if you can help him see the problem, you’ll be doing him a favor.  Criticizing her is not without risk, however, because relatives always have special status in a family business.  And if your boss is starting to echo his wife, then she must be influencing his opinions.

Since other employees share your concerns, the safest course is to meet with him as a group.  If everyone expresses the same view, he will find it harder to deny the problem.  Because you have been the primary target, someone else should serve as the spokesperson. Otherwise, your boss may consider you the ringleader and write this off as a personality conflict.  

The key to success is describing the issue calmly, without personal attacks.  For example: “We really appreciate the bookkeeping work that Mary is doing.  However, she often seems unhappy with us, and we find it difficult to communicate with her.  What do you think we should do about this?”

But if discussion seems too risky or your boss refuses to listen, just focus on your job search and try to view the witchy wife as a temporary annoyance.  If you can emotionally detach, she will have less power to affect your mental health.

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