Ask Amy: Sister can’t say, ‘You’re not the boss of me!’

January 5, 2013

DEAR AMY: I’m a part-time employee for my brother’s small business. He recently offered me a new full-time position in the office.

I get along with everyone at the company. One employee and I have become friends. We are both women about the same age, and we have a lot in common.

I received an e-mail from my brother reprimanding me for talking with her for longer than he felt was appropriate. He added up the time we spent talking on a particular day and said we spent an hour conversing. He asked me not to make a regular habit of it.

It bothers me that I need to be told how to act with someone who is my own age. The fact that he did this in an e-mail several days later also bothers me. I also doubt he mentioned anything to the other employee, because I’m his sister and it’s easier for him to direct his anger at me.

I agree that on that particular day it was an hourlong conversation, but we were discussing the recent school shooting and it was a hard day.

I haven’t responded to the e-mail yet. How do I handle this situation the next time I’m in the office? I don’t want to make him sound like a jerk; I know she likes working there, and I don’t want to upset her. -- Social Sister

DEAR SISTER: It can be challenging to work for family members, especially if you don’t recognize who’s the boss. In this situation you should forget that this man is your brother and think of him as your employer.

I think it’s reasonable for an employer to ask a prospective full-time employee to curb time-spending behavior that he has observed at the office. Remember that when you spend an hour talking to a fellow employee, your brother loses two hours of productivity — yours and the other employee engaged in conversation with you.

You should assume that your brother is trying to lay out his expectations with clarity before you start. This saves both of you the embarrassment of having him call you on the carpet while at work.

If you don’t think you can behave professionally and accept your brother’s position as your boss, then you should not work for him. Sit down with him before you start the job. Acknowledge and face the special challenge of working for him.

You don’t need to discuss this with your friend at work; you only need to reasonably modulate your own behavior.

DEAR AMY: I have been divorced for over a year after being married for 26 years. I started dating someone who I really like spending time with. She is divorced and receives child support and alimony for one more year, and only works about 15 hours a week.

I have worked two jobs since my divorce so I could keep our old house and still give money to my children, who are in college. I work about 55 hours a week.

Since she doesn’t have to go to work most days until 1 p.m. or later, my girlfriend will get up at 11 and averages 10 hours of sleep a night.

She expects me to hang out with her until after 10 p.m., when I have to get up at 4:30 a.m. for the first of my two jobs. She rarely pays for our dates, but spends a lot of money on herself. What do you think of this? -- Hard Worker

DEAR WORKER: You seem to think this is about a scheduling issue. I think this is about values. You and your girlfriend seem to have opposing values. You deserve to be with someone who, even if she doesn’t share your work ethic at least respects it.

DEAR AMY: Regarding how to tell someone they have body odor, here’s how a friend of mine handled it with his employees: “There must be something wrong with the laundry detergent or dry cleaner you are using because a chemical reaction between your clothing and the cleaning fluids is causing your clothes to smell badly.” -- Sweet Smelling

DEAR SWEET: This works, as long as the person is able to take the hint.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

2013 by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services

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