Husband and Wife Bosses Leave Employee With Dilemma

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By Lily Garcia
Sunday, March 15, 2009

QI work at a small company for a husband and wife who often differ greatly on the best way to do things. They disagree on what I should do on everything from the best way to approach customer satisfaction surveys to how to handle file reorganization. I am stuck in the middle. I do not feel comfortable telling them that they need to communicate with each other and come to me with an actual plan of action, not conflicting point of views. How can I get them to realize that I need them on the same page in order to do my job?

AI can understand why you would not feel comfortable telling your bosses that they need to give you clear directives. To say that they should agree first would be to tantamount to saying that there is a problem in their marriage that is affecting their ability to run the business. Yet, that is the truth. And, if your bosses do not acknowledge and deal with this problem, they will lose you and jeopardize their company.

Perhaps it will reduce your anxiety about addressing the issue if you think of your bosses not as a husband-wife team, but rather as two managers who happen to share supervisory authority for your work.

Call a meeting of your management team to talk about how to optimize your effectiveness. Do not express an opinion about why they might be giving you conflicting instructions. Just describe to them exactly what you see. Give them specific examples of times that you have been confused about how to proceed and what the consequences were for the business (delays, false starts, etc.). Then suggest some alternatives.

One solution would be for you to take ownership of how things are done. If your bosses disagree, then evaluate the two options and e-mail them both to explain what you have decided to do, and why. Another solution would be for you to punt issues back to your managers. E-mail them a description of the task and the two alternative approaches, and ask them to get back to you with an executive decision on how the work should be done. If e-mail is not an effective means of communication in your work environment, then deliver these messages in person.

My husband's industry is troubled and he is concerned that he could be laid off soon. He's been frantically sending out résumés, but not getting any bites. He was saying that if he lost his job, he'd be willing to work something like retail or bartending for a bit, just to bring in some money. Would it look odd on a résumé to have professional jobs for 10 years, then a yearlong stint tending bar?

If your husband's fears come true and he has no other job on the horizon, then he should focus on negotiating the most generous severance package that he can. Because the industry as a whole is suffering, his employer ought to be understanding about why a seasoned professional would want extra help during his transition.

Then again, the financial situation that causes layoffs might also prevent his employer from paying him the severance that he deserves. This is why, in addition to coming up with a reasonable dollar figure, your husband should also think about in-kind benefits that could assist him in finding a job. For example, it is not unusual to include a certain number of hours of outplacement assistance and the use of the company laptop as terms in a separation agreement.

Meanwhile, your husband should remain diligent in his pursuit of other opportunities, and should also explore ways to expand his search without abandoning his field. Encourage him to cast a wider net to encompass related positions. In the looking for permanent employment, your husband should also work on strengthening his professional network. This can help him get a job or, at the very least, yield freelance assignments to tide your family over.

If your husband finds himself tending bar or working in retail to make ends meet, I would not include this on his résumé. People at your husband's level of experience should be listing only jobs that relate to their professional objectives. This is why your husband needs to find a way to remain connected to his industry. Even if he does just a small amount of freelance work, it will allow him to avoid the dreaded time gap. If he is unable to find freelance work, he can use the cover letter to explain that he was in transition following a layoff.

Lily Garcia has provided employment law and human resources advice to companies for more than 10 years. A weekly version of her column and a twice-monthly online chat appear at http://washingtonpost.com/jobs. E-mail questions to HRadvice@washingtonpost.com.


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