Q: My husband and I own a business that has seen some difficult economic times. For the past two years, we have had to reduce staff and cut salaries just to stay afloat. Now that our children are older, we have decided that I should start working in the office, especially since I have previous administrative experience.
Unfortunately, the secretary who has been with us for 12 years apparently resents my presence. "Ellen" treats me disrespectfully and seems reluctant to show me the ropes, despite the fact that I am an owner. How should I handle this?
A: Tough times tend to focus people on self-preservation. Although Ellen may be a bit out of line, her unwelcoming attitude probably reflects a concern that your arrival may signal her impending departure. After two years of layoffs, she undoubtedly fears she might be next, especially if you have assumed some of her duties.
The way you were introduced into the office might also be a factor. Bringing the boss's wife on board is not a minor event, even when she's an owner. If you just showed up one day and began doing stuff, that would be a surefire recipe for confusion and conflict.
Before you began work, your husband should have explained your new role to everyone, then met individually with those who would be directly affected. If he failed to take these steps, he needs to do so now. With Ellen, he should honestly address any concerns about job security and establish clear expectations for her relationship with you.
Remember that you are going through a learning curve. Although you have been an owner for many years, you are now becoming more involved in management, and that requires an entirely different set of skills.
Q: I recently learned that a co-worker said some disparaging things about me to our new boss. "Vicki" is a know-it-all drama queen who likes to get people in trouble. Our previous manager said that she seems to have a lot of issues with me. Vicki used to work for our new manager, so I'm afraid he'll believe whatever she says. She also has a higher position than mine, which might give her more credibility.
A: Since managers usually compare notes, the odds are good that your old boss provided a heads-up about Vicki's negative feelings toward you. If Vicki has a history of adversarial relationships, the new manager's previous experience with her might actually work in your favor. In reality, managers typically form their own opinions based on firsthand observations of performance and attitude. If you do outstanding work and get along with everyone, your boss is sure to notice. He will be especially appreciative if you try to work well with Vicki, since employee squabbles drive all managers crazy.
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