A reader writes:
Thank you very much for being a sounding board. My wife has been working at her current position for over five years in an A/R and HR capacity. However, she isn’t trained in this, and she has a master’s degree in an unrelated field that is actually the primary focus of the company. Because she is hard working and competent, however, her boss refuses to see her as a fit for positions within the company that she is actually trained in. She has stated her desire to move into this other arena, but so far it has fallen on deaf ears. I’m afraid that as an owner/manager, he sees her as a cog that is keeping the wheels turning, and that’s all he really cares about, especially since her position has seen a lot of turnover in the past.
As her husband, I want to see her happy, and she is not. She is incredibly intelligent and very gifted, and it bothers me greatly that she isn’t working in the arena that she is trained for. At this late stage, I would like to write a letter to her boss on her behalf, but I don’t want to jeopardize her job. Is this a bad idea? I just want to help if I can, but I don’t want to make the situation worse for her either.
Oh no, no, no, no. Do not do this.
It’s very sweet that you want to help your wife, and of course you’re frustrated to see her unhappy, and maybe you’re additionally frustrated if you feel that she’s not doing or saying the things that could improve the situation. But reaching out to her employer yourself will not help, and it will absolutely hurt.
You will make your wife look like she can’t handle her own career. She is a professional adult, and these are her battles to fight (if indeed it even needs to be fought at all; she may simply need to change jobs). There’s just no possible scenario where it would be appropriate for you to ask her employer for anything on her behalf (aside from time off if she’s in the hospital and unable to call them herself), let alone a change in job responsibilities.
If you reach out on her behalf, you’ll be effectively ruining her reputation at this company, as well as with anyone they speak with about her in the future. This is a story that would get told and re-told, believe me, and she will forever be the person whose husband asked her boss to give her more interesting job duties.
And there’s no way she’ll get what she wants from this company after this. No sane manager is going to respect her or see her as someone they want to retain once this happens. Employers deal with employees, not their spouses, parents, or children. Their relationship is with her, not her family.
But what you can to is to support your wife in handling this on her own. Talk through options with her, point her to sources of advice if she wants them, encourage her to explore other jobs if she’s not finding what she wants at her current one, and generally be a supportive sounding board.
And frankly, it’s also probably worth thinking through why you think that you’d be a more effective advocate for your wife than she would be for herself, to the point that you’re seriously considering interfering in her professional dealings. Do you not trust her to speak up for herself effectively? Do you see her as less capable than you? It’s not crazy to think that you might be better at this kind of thing than she is — that happens in couples — but you can’t respond to that by infantilizing her. You’ve got to find a different approach there.
Those are all constructive things to think about and talk about. But she needs to handle her own career, and you need to stay far, far away from her boss!