I saw my coworkers’ chat conversation insulting our boss – who is also my father

A reader writes:

I recently started working full-time at the company run by my father. It has around 20 employees, and I took over a position from someone who left to pursue work in another field.

In taking over his duties, my company email account was merged with his. He had turned off his email chat feature, but did not delete any of the chat messages, and all of them became visible to me. They include long message threads with other current employees about how much they hate their boss (my father), not only critiquing his professional decisions but getting quite nasty about who he is as a person. They even say a few terrible non-professional things about me.

This is completely blindsiding, as everyone has been more than kind to me, and many have been working with my father for more than 15 years. I know reading these messages will be hard for my father, but I am not inclined to ignore this issue, especially since this is over company email. How should I proceed?

Oh no.

People get to blow off steam about their boss, but this sounds like more than light griping; it sounds personal and vicious.

If I’m wrong about that and it is just light griping that you could imagine seeing in a different job and not thinking was really out of line, then I would urge you to let this go. People do complain about their bosses, even bosses they like, and it’s just part of the job of managing people — unnerving as I imagine that would be to see as a daughter. If you reported that kind of thing to your father, you’d be ensuring your coworkers never trusted you and always saw you as a spy for your dad.

But if the stuff you saw was indeed egregious … well, of course you’re more loyal to your father than to people you just met who apparently have been trash-talking you both.

The one caveat I would give is to look at the complaints really objectively — try to see them the way you would if you didn’t have any personal investment. If they’re complaining about legitimate things, even very heatedly, give that a lot of leeway. They may have legitimate complaints! For all we know, they may have tried to solve them through other avenues earlier and not gotten anywhere. If that’s the case, I’d use what you saw as background information but not do anything further with it.

But otherwise, yeah, I can see wanting to talk to your dad. And it’s not about getting people in trouble — it’s that you now have this awful information about his company and the people he’s employing that he doesn’t have. I don’t think anyone would expect you to keep that from, say,  a spouse, and if you’re at all close to your dad I don’t think it’s reasonable to have to keep that kind of secret in that relationship either.

If/when you talk to him, you might also talk about what this will mean for you. You presumably need to work with these people and it’s not great for you if they see whatever results from this as being your fault (even though they’re responsible for whatever they said). There might not be any way to mitigate that — the timing might make it very obvious it came from you — but it’s worth talking that through too.

{ 185 comments… read them below }

  1. Employment Lawyer*

    Yeah, you should a) save them; b) loop in your dad; and c) prepare to fire the offenders.

    That’s not acceptable behavior.

    1. Lance*

      Personally, I’d add d) prepare to convince your father about any real problems you might come to realize through this. Because I very much agree with Alison that this is something to try and look at through an objective lens, and if there are problems, they’re not necessarily going to be solved by getting rid of the people complaining.

      Good luck with all of this, LW; this can’t be an easy position to be in.

      1. Veronica Mars*

        Yeah, I mean, I won’t say there aren’t awful mean-spirited people in the world who attack everyone. But for the most part, those personal attacks only come about after people are really, really fed up with legitimate problems. (Not that that makes it ok, it doesn’t, but its still important to fix the underlying problems).

        My first week working at a job, I heard coworkers calling our boss “Weasel Face” and I was just…. horrified. But after 2 years working for him and many trips to cry in the bathroom? I mean, I still would never call him Weasel Face, but I could see why they were being so mean behind his back. And I also saw how they never said those things about other people who weren’t jerks.

        1. Employment Lawyer*

          personal attacks only come about after people are really, really fed up with legitimate problems.

          No! Not at all! This is a dangerous thing to think!

          Lots of my clients suffer horrible personal attacks and few of them “deserve it”, whatever that concept means to you in practice (do you want to give other people the right to decide what nastiness YOU deserve? Sheesh.) Sometimes, people are just mean. And a lot of those folks who are borderline can get even worse in groups.

          It’s often aimed at employees, but people can also be assholes to their bosses, and/or gang up on their bosses, or whatever.** Often we don’t care because it may be legal to “punch up.” But legality aside, it’s ludicrous to imagine that all badness aimed at management is deserved.

          **a lot of people respond indignantly to this, claiming that nobody can really be nasty to their boss. Nope. Those people have watched too much Mad Men.

          Try imagining a person managing a bunch of folks who dislike their sex/gender/race/religion/ethnicity. See the problem?

          1. voyager1*

            Employment Lawyer,
            No proof that the things written were about anything traits that are protected.

            I tend to agree more with Veronica people get personal when they get really fed up. Yes there are bigots/racists/sexists etc, but not every nasty person is basing their views on those bad things.

            I don’t doubt the comments were tough for the LW to read. But without seeing what was written it is really tough to say fire them all.

            Honestly I think the LW needs to inform
            the staff that all communication is monitored. If there are any particularly egregious comments, then deal with those individuals. But griping about the boss to questioning the owner’s decisions to being just nasty about the owner as person is a huge spectrum.

          2. Veronica Mars*

            I specifically said “there are awful mean spirited people in the world” and “frustration doesn’t make it ok.”
            I get it. No one should take frustrations out with mean/personal name calling (assuming that’s what was said in this case), not even if they “deserve it.”

            But as the boss, it’s often worth evaluating whether you’ve contributed to your staff’s frustration. Sure, the staff are handling it wrong. But maybe, also, the boss is doing something that needs to be corrected.

          3. Mookie*

            Why would we want to “imagine” that, a completely unhelpful metaphor that obfuscates and elides more than it reveals any fresh truths? Even in these class-stratified times, owners and managers are not born into their freely-chosen, well-compensated positions. These are not protected classes with ingrain markers.

          4. k*

            The amount of people arguing that it’s OK to make personal attacks when fed up or frustrated is worrying. The people suggesting that personal attacks only or primarily come after the person had “legitimate problems” to deserve it(?!?!) is, quite frankly, terrifying. I get frustrated often and somehow I manage not to turn my frustration into bullying. It’s not hard!

            1. k*

              (And no, I’m not a manager of any kind. What I am is someone who is frequently the target of nasty personal attacks, in the workplace and otherwise. My “side” in this is that I would prefer to have had a life without those.)

            2. RoseBud*

              What could feel like a personal attack to a daughter might be more accurately determined to be righteous indignation to another employee.

              Ex, “I can’t believe he’s forcing us to either work without pay or put our families at risk during the coronavirus epidemic, because he’s too much of a dinosaur to believe that working from home can be productive! He’s heartless!”

              If you’re the daughter who has just started working at your beloved dad’s business with no context as to the things he’s put loyal employees through, “dinosaur” and “heartless” are going to seem pretty rough descriptions.

              Inspiration taken from an actual situation my wife experiencing right now from her dad who she works for. (She does not agree with him, btw, and has been advocating for her employees as hard as she can.)

              1. cacwgrl*

                Agreed, OP needs to see if they can be really, truly objective in this situation and determine if the feedback is personally terrible or really awful things to say. I know we’re supposed to take OPs at their word, but if this situation, where family is involved, they really need to make sure the lens using to evaluate really is objective.

              2. A*

                This was my first thought. I wouldn’t feel comfortable forming an opinion unless I knew more about the instances the OP is labeling as personal attacks. I could easily see viewing something as a personal attack against family that isn’t actually that severe.

                I feel like if someone said “A, your dad is nice enough” my first reaction would be “WHAT DO YOU MEAN NICE ENOUGH?! HE’S THE SWEETEST OLD MAN IN THE WORLD! WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!?!”, you know? It’s a very heavy bias and I doubt tit isn’t influencing her perspective. Unless it is truly a personal attack above and beyond anything acceptable, it shouldn’t lead to disciplinary action.

          5. mountainshadows299*

            Employment Lawyer is absolutely correct, but maybe could have used a better example here. In my experience, it is often true that, in groups, people can be quite vicious, and often for reasons that have nothing to do with either work performance or social skills.

            I’ve seen “mean girls” scenarios play out (among groups of male and female coworkers) more frequently than I haven’t, and it’s often due to one lead person in the group being jilted for a promotion or vying for a promotion and losing it to someone who became a supervisor. Other reasons have to do with status or comparison for comparison’s sake. To me, the majority of it sounds like middle school gossip, but I’ve heard it at literally every place I’ve worked at. It’s *sometimes* mixed in with valid criticisms of upper management, but that doesn’t mean that the people who are spreading the gossip aren’t at fault here, especially when they are calling people names or are actively being jerks and holding up work processes. I’ve found that coworkers can certainly be at fault for helping to create toxic work environments in this way. What’s worse, is that I’ve discovered that many of these people are not even bothering to look for other employment- they just want to complain or feel superior.

            If you’re vilifying people that much, and you’re choosing to stay in a work situation that’s toxic to you, you should consider leaving, not only for yourself and your own reputation, but also for the people around you.

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      If you’re going to fire these people, make sure you have something in your company policy that holds them accountable for their behavior. Otherwise, you’re on shaky grounds.

        1. Jedi Squirrel*

          I live in at-will state. If you fire someone without cause, you still have to pay them unemployment.

          If you fire a bunch of them without them having violated a documented company policy, you are open to a class-action lawsuit.

          Even in an at-will state, there are still legal ramifications to firing someone. You can’t just fire someone because you don’t like the color of their shirt and think you won’t experience any consequences.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            That doesn’t sound like any U.S. state (except possibly Montana, which doesn’t have at-will employment). In general in the U.S., you can fire someone for any reason that isn’t discriminatory, retaliation for legally protected behavior, or a few other narrow exceptions.

          2. Meganly*

            Isn’t every state in the US at-will? Some states have exceptions for implied contracts/public policy/good faith, but they’re all at-will at the core.

          3. Joielle*

            Uh, no. You can indeed fire someone if you don’t like the color of their shirt. That’s what “at-will” means. You can’t fire them because you don’t like the color of their skin. But shirt color (and in the LW’s case, mean-message-sending) is not a protected class.

          4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Uh. You can indeed fire someone over the color of their shirt. I think that you’re getting things mixed up here on the legalities.

            They could sure try to sue. There is a higher chance when you fire a group that they’ll want vengeance more than if you let one person go here and there. BUT that’s not saying they’ll have a case, let alone a class action lawsuit.

            They can try to sue you for anything in this world. Even outside of the business world. Keyword is “try”.

          5. Observer*

            What the others said. And you don’t even pay unemployment – the unemployment office does. It is possible that their rates will go up, but it’s generally not THAT drastic. And, in many states this kind of behavior is considered bad enough that they would not even be eligible for unemployment. There doesn’t need to be a policy for that to be the case.

          6. Clisby*

            Sure, you can fire someone because you don’t like the color of their hair. (In an at-will US state, that is.) Now, if it happens to be that the only color you don’t like is gray, you might easily end up on the losing side of an age discrimination lawsuit. But generally, in at-will states, you can fire an employee for any reason as long as you’re not violating federal/state/local discrimination laws.

    3. Pete*

      An employment lawyer siding with management. Shocking.

      That said, bad mouthing management on a company-owned device ain’t too bright.

      OP, by turning over this found info to her father, everyone in the company will now know you are not an employee or a colleague. You are an extension of management. Everyone who didn’t all ready will question whether you deserve the job. Everyone will reasonably conclude you are there because of your last name.

      OP, get another job and leave these people alone. (If you’re kind, on your way out the door, you would whisper to them that every bit of communication on company devices is accessible by management.)

      1. GimmeGimmeGimme*

        Good advice. I would add: keep on checking in on your Dad’s general well-being.

      2. Count Boochie Flagrante*

        So your response is that the OP needs to suck up personal attacks against herself or she doesn’t deserve her job? That seems like a stretch.

        1. Just J.*


          I am senior management. No matter how hard I try, or how great my reviews are – both from my bosses and from my team, I know that there are people who are not 100% on board with everything I do. It is statistically impossible to please everyone all the time.

          1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

            The OP doesn’t sound like senior management. And there’s a vast difference between not being able to please everyone and being the subject of vicious personal attacks.

            That doesn’t mean that the OP necessarily should speak up — but like Alison says, the decision is heavily based on the nature and pervasiveness of the comments, not a blunt statement that the OP and her father are fair game for whatever employees decide to say.

            If I habitually call my boss nasty names over company email, I would expect that to have negative consequences for my position at that company.

          2. Nic*

            But OP isn’t senior management. She got a job at the same level as everyone else – and they’re griping about personal things about her, not professional issues. Turning those personal attacks, and personal attacks against other colleagues (regardless of rank and role) isn’t a case of “you should suck it up because you can’t please everyone all the time”; it’s “this is unprofessional backbiting on company time, with company resources”.

            1. Impy*

              Yeah, she got a job because of who her dad is. Of course that’s going to cause resentment; most of us have to make our own way.

              1. Amanda*

                That’s uncalled for. OP might very well be perfectly qualified for her role. Besides, since these chats were from before OP started working, it doesn’t even apply how she got the job.

                1. Impy*

                  It’s not remotely uncalled for. I’m not querying whether she’s qualified. I’m sure she’d be transitioned out if she wasn’t. That doesn’t change the reality that she still got the job because of her dad. If she’s offended by people recognising that, she has the choice of making her own way, and not benefiting from nepotism.

                2. MC66*

                  It is not at all uncalled for to say this. They could very well be perfectly qualified for their job—I hope that they are. But it doesn’t change the fact that their father is the CEO of the company. Even if the hiring was completely blind, they are still afforded a very high level of privilege and protection that no other worker, despite how hard they work, will ever be fully privy to.

                1. Impy*

                  It doesn’t justify it. It does explain it, and if you’re willing to take the massive advantages that come with unearned privilege, you should be able to suck up the extremely minor disadvantage that the proles /s aren’t going to like it. If they’re being polite to her face, that’s enough to ask.

                  To be clear, in practice, I’d be polite. But I’d also be resentful. I wouldn’t be stupid enough to put it on the company messenger but come on – you can’t expect employees to feel nothing about nepotism.

              2. Tram*

                That’s why people start businesses a huge amount of the time. To make sure family has employment.

                1. A*

                  What’s your point? That doesn’t change the fact that… she got the opportunity because of her family (otherwise qualified or not). Literally has nothing to do with the question at hand.

              3. annon this time*

                Have you ever worked for your parents? It’s not always as easy as you might think. They know where you live, they may have no hesitation asking you to overwork yourself, they can have higher expectations for you than they have for other people.

                1. annon this time*

                  Plus if you have co-workers, you tend to think you have to work extra hard and take most of the disagreeable tasks to show that you deserve to have a job.

                2. tom*

                  Sure. But that is also the part where if I tell off anyone else or refuse anyone else, I am likely fine. If I tell off CEO child or refuse something CEO child, I am more likely to get into trouble with CEO or otherwise retaliated by management.

                  Even absent that, CEO child position on meetings etc is not the same as mine. If there is abusive manager or boss, CEO child wont be target of that. I will.

                  It is not easy to work for parents, but being related to boss influences everyone.

          3. Just J.*

            The point of my advice to OP was to read it and filter it. You CAN choose to not be hurt by things people say. You can try to write it off as people being jerks. That was my point. People delight in being mean. It doesn’t mean that you have to absorb that meanness.

      3. Myrin*

        This is so us-versus-them with management as evil overlords on the one side and the poor hapless peasants on the other side in a way I’m not sure is as universally applicable as you seem to view it – nevermind that in a company of 20, there probably aren’t a lot of hierarchical layers anyway.

        (None of which is to say that you aren’t right about your warning that OP needs to tread carefully [in general, not even just regarding this situation] lest she be viewed as a nepotism hire, but the whole comment reads as much more Doomsday Scenario than it needs to be, IMO.)

        1. Tiny Soprano*

          Exactly. A company of 20 is much more likely to be a family business where it’s less questionable for the boss’s children to cycle through at some point.

      4. Liane*

        ” everyone in the company will now know you are not an employee or a colleague. You are an extension of management. Everyone who didn’t all ready will question whether you deserve the job.”
        What if the OP WASN’T related to Boss & they were given access to Boss’ or Predecessor’s email/IM/paper files for work reasons and saw all this griping? Would you still think that?
        If the answer is “Well, no, but…hey don’t get all hypothetical on me!” then maybe you’re wrong?

        1. Traffic_Spiral*

          1. What if I had wheels – would I be a bus? If the answer is no, maybe you’re wrong? At the end of the day, they are the boss’s kid, and that does make a difference – both in how they react to the badmouthing (think about someone talking shit about your dad vs. your boss – not the same, is it?) and how their reporting will be perceived.

          2. Boss’s kid or no, if they narc on this, they will be forever seen as a narc. No one will ever trust them as a coworker.

          Now, personally, I’d be torn on what to do over it (there’s pros and cons to each choice) but let’s not act like reporting this won’t come with huge fallout – it will. Either they have to work with the people they reported on (that’s gonna be one hugely tense office) or they’re gonna have to replace a huge percentage of their employees all at once – AND the remaining employees will see them as a narc. It’s basically the ‘Do you tell your friend their spouse is cheating on them’ level of question.

          I think LW should look through the posts and see if the former employee was the worst one. If so, then maybe just let it go. That or handle it themselves. Pull everyone else who talking shit in a meeting room and show them the messages. Then be like “I’m not telling Dad THIS ONCE but y’all need to cut this out. If you have problems, talk to him about them, and also don’t be so stupid as to talk shit on company email.”

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          But you can’t take that out the the equation because the fact that they are they are the boss’ kid is a huge part of the conundrum. If they weren’t related, then they probably wouldn’t care about complaints other people were making in the past. The relationship they have makes this problem more personal and harder to ignore.

      5. Employment Lawyer*

        Don’t let those assumptions hit you in the rear on the way out: I only represent employees. Literally all of my employment cases in the last 5 years have been against employers.

        Fortunately for all of us, this does not require me to adopt an idiotic one-sided view of the world in which no employees are ever wrong, or in which no employees should ever be fired. This behavior is way over the line; these employees should probably be fired.

        1. HoneyBadger*

          I’m curious if you’ve changed your opinion based on the clarification OP provided below. You accuse others of making assumptions, but to be fair, you made some yourself that had you advising OP/the boss to “prepare to fire the offenders.”

          This is the kind of situation that calls for careful and objective thought, not a knee-jerk reaction, as it has the potential to be highly nuanced. Surely an employment lawyer has dealt with many of those ;)

        2. Busytrap*

          I also recoiled at that language. Not all attorneys side with the company … eesh. You said what I was thinking much better than I could have (and with far fewer expletives), just wanted to give you a hat tip! :)

      6. JDC*

        But dad has always had access just didn’t view them. All he has to say is that he finally viewed them.

    4. Ray*

      Sorry, disagree. It’s not a capital offense. People always talk ish behind the boss’s back. Doesn’t usually mean a whole lot. There is high potential here to blow it out of proportion. Someone who isn’t the spawn of the boss needs to judge how bad it is.

    5. Just J.*

      Yeah, why fire the offenders? I have worked in some truly toxic places and email and chat were about the only places we could blow off steam. (And I’m not debating whether that was smart or not. The place was so toxic we no longer cared. )

      1. MissDisplaced*

        I mean, it depends on what they were saying.
        There’s a lot of ground between “John is a jerkface sometimes” to “I’m going to screw something up on purpose because John doesn’t know what he’s doing, he hired his kid to rule us, and this shitstinkin’ company sucks.”

        1. Amaranth*

          Yes, and was it bitching from a year ago when they changed to single ply toilet paper, or the workload was crazy, or is it a constant level of griping that indicates there is either a morale vampire or some real issues that need to be addressed.

        2. Mookie*

          Guaranteed, if that’s anything like what they were saying, OP would happily have said so. It’s kept vague because it’s probably not as egregious as all that, just insulting to her and her father.

          1. tangerineRose*

            Mookie, have you read the comments here for very long? I don’t remember how many times an OP has commented here and the details tend to be something that changes a lot of minds.

    6. Impy*

      Yeah, no one ever gripes about their boss, or the obvious nepotism hire /a

      Come on. Be realistic. Most likely OP is taking this way too personally and seriously – understandably, because this is her dad.

      And yeah, tbf guy she replaced probably should have deleted it. However, has it ever occurred to this person that the person who left did not ‘leave to pursue work in another field’ but was sacked / driven out to create an opportunity for the boss’ child? And that that might be why everyone’s badmouthing the two of them? Because it happens all the time.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Does that happen? Sure. Do we know for sure that’s the case? We do not. It doesn’t help to introduce animosity that doesn’t need to be there.

        1. Impy*

          It’s not ‘introducing animosity’ it’s ‘introducing logical explanations’ for why OP’s coworkers might be angry at her when they’ve literally just met her.

              1. Impy*

                It’s a ‘thing’ but surely not a monolithic thing? We must be able to recognise that a child might not be able to recognise their personal biases towards their parents without violating site rules, surely?

              2. Impy*

                And I’m sorry Liane, we challenge LW’s opinions of their situations in almost every letter.

                1. Perpal*

                  And it’s one of the more obnoxious things about the comments sections but when hundreds of people comment some are bound to do whatever.

          1. Tram*

            You really have a problem with people starting businesses and hiring family and it’s disturbing how you keep commenting/attacking here. You’ve made your position clear.

    7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      If I fired everyone who got caught talking shit about management/ownership. Damn…it’s hard enough to fill spots that open up organically.

      Unless it’s truly egregious behavior or threatening to cause harm to the organization, I wouldn’t be firing anyone. I’d just be all “So it seems that you’re unhappy, I’m here to talk about that if you’d like to discuss these various comments…”

      Most of my bosses would just laugh it off honestly. But this is a rough and tumble industry, nobody got to where they are by being overly sensitive to people jawing.

    8. StaceyIzMe*

      Agreed. There is no expectation of privacy over company provided networks/ apps/ utilties. This says something about their judgement that’s worth pursuing. You’re new. It’s not up to you to field this. And you can’t realistically keep something like this from your dad. If some of the complaints are valid, that’s worth checking into. (By your dad. Not by you.) So sorry. It’s an unfortunate introduction to this facet of work.

    9. Jennifer Juniper*

      Why would anyone be dumb enough to leave a written record of their complaints about the boss?


    10. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

      Petty much?

      Personal attacks (while on a company provided device) are not mature or smart, but when you are the manager – aka hold more institutional power and status over your employees – you have to understand that your subordinates not liking you come with the territory. Throwing a tantrum and firing anyone who doesn’t worship you is stooping to the same level as those making the personal attacks.

      And while I understand the insults might hurt emotionally, understand that they don’t hurt the manager on a concrete level because in the end of the day, they are subordinates.

      I also agree with the people suggesting that both the OP and their dad try to look objectively at why their employees are lashing out. Maybe they are all just a bunch of meanies, but it could be pent up resentment due to cumulative abuses by management.

  2. Jedi Squirrel*

    If these chat messages are indeed personal and vicious, then I have to wonder one of two things:

    1) What kind of people was OP’s father hiring in the first place. Did he hire capable people who are in general just awful people? (In which case, it’s them, not him.)

    2) What kind of person OP’s father is. Is he a terrible boss? The fact that some people have worked there for 15 years means nothing‒we just had that letter last week. (In which case, it’s him, not them.)

    1. Impy*

      3) Was this guy let go to create an opportunity for OP, hence the vitriol of the comments? The reason I think that is that OP is new to the job; they’d have no reason to be nasty otherwise.

      1. JediSquirrel*

        Yeah, the optics of hiring your daughter can be less than great. I was also wondering about that.

    2. JDC*

      She could for sure be taking it too seriously. I was just called a narcissist because I don’t like Capri pants. People can be a bit off.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            Actually I was so astounded at the fact that you were called a narcissist for not liking capris (I don’t either- they’re not a sufficient middle ground between shorts and pants, and frankly they’re usually made out of garbage materials) that I didn’t even notice that this was a nesting fail.

            1. JDC*

              Hahaha. Ya they are still pretty angry about it. Not sure they understand the meaning of narcissist however.

            2. JDC*

              It was elsewhere. I don’t even know which comment I was replying to. Something about being irrational or something. Ha but I have learned people have pretty strong feelings about capris either way.

              1. JDC*

                Ugh I’ve been using my iPad and it just won’t reply in the correct spot. It jumps. Grrr. My laptop is acting up

              2. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

                JDC, all of that over some capri’s? Looool, what kind of people are you around that they’re such a big deal? I mean, I don’t personally like them, but I would never attack someone for liking them — that’s just weird. And calling you a narcissist for it? Huh? Super weird!

      1. Mel_05*

        Haha, this is amazing! I know you replied in the wrong place, but I’m so happy I saw this response!

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        Well, obviously wearing capris is a shout-out to the island of Capri – which is full of rich douches, so you’re being pretentious, and also you’re mocking the short-legged people who can’t wear capris without looking like munchkins, so… yup. Clearly a sociopath.

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            Thank you. But also, where’s the original Capri conversation? I feel like I’m missing context here.

    3. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

      Probably both?

      In my last job, none of us employees liked management – they were a bunch of insecure assholes who went out of their way to undermine anyone who threatened them. However, we never stooped to “her outfit is ugly” level insults. We did directly criticize their actual flaws on the job though. (Including their lack of intelligence.)

      I mean, I understand how much bitterness and resentment abusive management can breed. As an employee, you are powerless and can’t do much about it besides harshly criticize the managers.

  3. The Happy Intern*

    If you do decide to bring this up and he wants to address it with his employees frame it as “when X left, I got access to his account. While going through and cleaning up to ensure nothing was missed during his departure I noticed the chats that have been going on…” That way it’s not on you as being a snitch, it’s framed as a consequence of normal business operations.

    In terms of whether or not to bring this up, I agree with Alison about looking at how your dad treats employees objectively. If this is a small company, which is sounds like it may be, does he treat them more like family? If what you see as tough love may come across as unprofessionally harsh, that’s something to consider. Although I don’t agree with using company servers to talk negatively about coworkers/employees, it may help frame the reasoning for the complaints? I agree with Alison where if these are serious it should be brought up, but even if it’s not that serious you could just mention to your dad “Hey, I noticed some personal chats that aren’t great for a workplace on the servers, you may want to remind people to keep work servers for work discussions” and have him frame it in the way I suggested above, where it was only noticed through due diligence of clearing out a former employee.

    1. Alice*

      I don’t know how well this will work, if it’s followed by recriminations. There’s a lot of space between “I got access to Fergus’s account when he left and while ensuring nothing was missed I noticed…” and “I read several year’s worth of chat histories and discovered that….”

      1. The Happy Intern*

        A valid point, but it was never said how far back these go, plus depending on how recently they were sent for all we know the latest message was on this subject. So it doesn’t even have to imply years worth of reading. I think someone else mentioned to look at how frequently these were sent which is another factor to consider that goes with your point.

      2. Diamond*

        I mean, once you come across the first one I think it’s quite understandable to keep going!

  4. GimmeGimmeGimme*

    The course of action really depends on the actual content of the messages. It also depends on the actuality of them. Does any of what was said impact or reflect anyone’s performance or the company’s reputation?

    Remember that we all keep the recipient in mind in communication. Just think about how you would differently you would write a letter, even one of thanks, if you knew you were never going to send it and it would never be read by the “recipient”? These messages were not meant for your eyes.

    I would probably make the employees in question aware that with your new role, you now have access to previous correspondence, and as part of your onboarding you got to read chats where personal and professional remarks were made about you and your dad (use his title). This has raised questions in you about the company culture or (insert any other specifics). Then ask if anyone has anything in that regard that they want to clarify or they thought should be brought up with you directly. Then see what comes out of it.

  5. MissMeghan*

    I’d take a look at timestamps too if you can. Did these conversations happen once or twice a year over a long period of time, or is this consistent and frequent? Reading it all at once may feel really upsetting, but if it’s infrequent releasing of frustration I think it’s a different issue than constant complaining.

    Also, I think we all know that our employer’s can review our emails and chats on our work computers, but knowing they actually have feels … I don’t know if invasive is the best word, but it’s not a good feeling. Definitely give yourself time to think about the next steps carefully in light of how egregious their discussions were.

    1. OP*

      OP here. The first part of your comment is exactly why I decided to ignore these messages. When I took a step back and looked at the messages, I realized that the complaining sessions were much less frequent than I initially thought, generally corresponded with our “busy” season, and were almost always instigated by the employee who left the company. He was obviously unhappy. Additionally, I am absolutely not in any sort of leadership role at this company, and had been working there on a part time basis for close to three years.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Hi, OP — Well, that does change things. If most of the griping was triggered by the employee who left (and aren’t you glad he did?), and it’s mostly seasonal in character, then you’re right to ignore it.

        You might do a close reading, though, and see if there are any real issues buried in the snark.

        1. Minocho*

          I think Sara without an H has made the point that is most important to me. I would look for areas of complaint that might point out real issues that might warrant addressing. If the complaint instigator did this generally during the busy season, maybe it’s worth bringing up that the heavily impacted positions during the busy season need some attention for a way to lower stress? I know these gestures don’t mean a lot to everyone, but even a free lunch after a week or two of crazy, or some comp time with a thank you after the season is over makes a big difference to me.

      2. JediSquirrel*

        Given that information, I would be inclined to let the whole thing go. Were the other employees only nodding in agreement with ex-employee, or were they agreeing whole-heartedly just to keep him from getting in their faces about it? You’ll probably never know.

        You (or your father, preferably) can always let people know that he has an open door, and that if anyone has a concern, they can take it directly to him.

        1. tangerineRose*

          Some people might have been kind of agreeing because they didn’t want to get on the former co-worker’s bad side. Or might have just been stressed and felt like venting. I’m glad it wasn’t all that frequent.

      3. KoiFeeder*

        It’s horrible to read people saying unkind things about people you love, but it sounds like this was a case of a very unhappy employee, and not a cultural phenomenon.

        If it were me, I would probably delete it and leave it there- it’s not going to be helpful to share this with your father.

      4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Argh the unhappy employee reeling in the others to his vent sessions is such a real thing.

        If I had a dollar for every time someone unhappy left and the “cloud” lifted, I’d have a few extra bucks. I’m glad you were able to drill down and come to that conclusion without bring it to your dad!

        1. Krabby*

          Oh my gosh, yes! I know that at my last job if you went through my chat it would look atrocious, but a lot of it was me just nodding in appeasement.

      5. BRR*

        It couldn’t have been easy to read them but it sounds like you did an A+ job of being able to look at this objectively.

        1. OP*

          Thank you for saying that! It wasn’t easy! I am aware that I have this job because the company is owned by my father, and what that fact means for my relationship with my coworkers.

  6. I'm A Little Teapot*

    I would be very, very careful in determining how bad these messages are. OP is by definition, biased. I know people who would react very strongly to even the mildest criticism of their parent, no matter how justified. Those same people are frequently completely unaware of how disproportional their response is.

    1. KoiFeeder*

      *awkwardly raises hand*

      I mean, from what OP stated above they were able to remain reasonably impartial… But that’s certainly not a talent I have.

  7. Heidi*

    It would be helpful to get a few examples of the comments that were made. For all we know, the employees are complaining that the boss is demanding that they all sign up to be liver donors for his brother. Or the coworkers are feeling disrespected because OP brought rolls to a potluck when they had not signed up to bring rolls. It was poor judgment to put this on a group chat because you have to assume that the boss will always have access to work communications, but from where I’m sitting, I don’t have enough information to exclude the possibility that their complaints are justified.

    1. juliebulie*

      HAWAIIAN rolls, no less!

      (I agree that this very much depends on the substance and merit of the negative comments. It may be enough to simply, casually mention that you have access to old chats, without revealing whether you’ve even read them yet.)

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Trust nobody who brings cheap ass rolls they didn’t even sign up to bring, serious consequences to serious transgressions I say!

      Id’ also want to know how old these were.

      I had someone find a diary once that was literally 10 years old and lose their minds over the stupid nonsense that my adolescent brain was chronicling. I apologized but at the same time I was like “that thing was ten years old…bro….”

  8. Count Boochie Flagrante*

    Something I don’t think Alison directly touched on, but is worth thinking explicitly about, OP — discussing work conditions is specifically protected. Are these discussions, insulting as they are, falling under that heading, or even leaning sort of close to it? If so, there’d be a whole mess of trouble if your father tried to bring repercussions for that sort of talk.

  9. Mediamaven*

    It important it determine if these are egregious enough that it’s negatively impacting the entire culture of the company. Sometimes one negative person can encourage negativity that infects the entire office in a manner that normally wouldn’t have happened. It may be time to seriously evaluate these people.

  10. ASDFGHJ*

    I don’t understand who these messages were sent to… The description of how LW found them makes it sound like the employees were sending these messages *directly to LW’s dad* and he just never saw them because he’d disabled chat (perhaps in response to receiving them?). What sort of email chat feature by default shows you every message sent on the platform? Sure, as an administrator you’d probably have access to chats between others if you went looking, but they wouldn’t just show up. If that’s the case, it makes the employees’ behavior overtly malicious. And even if not (maybe it was like some kind of company-wide chatroom?), it’s still pretty awful (and stupid) of them to use a company platform that way just because they presumably knew he had chat turned off. What would they think would happen if he ever decided to turn it back on?

    1. ASDFGHJ*

      Oh, whoops, I misread the first paragraph as LW having taken over his dad’s account, not someone else’s.

    2. Joielle*

      It sounds like the chat program is attached to each employee’s email account. The LW says the departing employee’s email account was merged with hers, so presumably all the messages and chat logs were merged too. So when she opened up her own email, her predecessor’s chats were there.

        1. Uranus Wars*

          Our chat logs are saved in our Outlook automatically since they are through Skype and are tied to our email. I delete mine every once in awhile to keep mine clean but I am actually thankful because a handful of employees try to conduct business via chat and I have been able to catch more than one missed deadline by doing a search in my chat folder.

          Never once have I thought this was a reason to quit my employer. I just don’t put anything I don’t want them seeing in writing on a company server.

    3. Ginger*

      Private chats between the employee who left and current employees. OP took over for an employee who left who’s chat was turned “off” (as in, no longer an active user) but the messages are still there under his ID which OP now has access to.

    4. Myrin*

      I’m pretty sure you misread (which I can relate to, I had to read it twice to get the full picture, too): the OP’s email account was merged with that of her predecessor, the person “who left to pursue work in another field”, not with her father’s. That guy had apparently partaken in the talk about OP’s father – she mentions “long message threads with other current employees” – but later (maybe before leaving the company?) turned off his chat feature which, upon being turned on by OP, made visible all the old chat messages.

  11. Ashley*

    If the daughter is new and these conversations are about things that happened before she got there, she probably doesn’t know if they are true. And her experience with her father, even as an employee, is going to be much different than everyone else.

    I would still tell me dad so that he’s aware but unless someone admitted to some type of wrongdoing I don’t think secretly talking crap about your boss should get you formally reprimanded.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      Generally agreed. BUT, talking crap about your boss ON COMPANY MEDIA is not secret, is a colossal lapse in judgment, and it can absolutely get you canned. I had a former student who got fired from a large media company for ragging on her boss to a co-worker on the company email (this is early 2000s). The chat feature is no different in my mind.

      I’m not saying that’s the only recourse LW’s father has is to send everyone packing. In fact, I really like the Happy Intern’s framing above. But, just because you didn’t send it to the boss or intend for it to be seen by other 3rd parties doesn’t mean it’s “secret” if it happened on the company server.

  12. WT*

    Oof, yeah this is a really fine line and I think it depends a lot on what exactly was said. I don’t think critiquing professional decisions is a fireable offense at all – it would be an overreach to say you’re not allowed to disagree with a boss’s decisions. Personal attacks against OP is not okay though, especially if she wasn’t working at the company before.

    I wonder if it would be productive at all to focus more on the attacks against OP rather than the boss? Maybe to go up to the employees and say (to borrow what The Happy Intern says) “when X left, I got access to his account. While going through and cleaning up to ensure nothing was missed during his departure I noticed the chats that have been going on…I don’t appreciate the comments said about me, and if there are any issues you have, that you’ll bring it up with me directly” or something along those lines. Because once you start speaking on behalf of the boss/your father, it unfortunately starts getting into nepotism territory, even if it’s well intentioned.

  13. Just J.*

    OP, please think long and hard about what you want out of this if you go to your father with this.

    Ask yourself what outcomes do you want? Vengeance? People fired? If so, then think about the time you vented about a boss. Heck, think about the times your dad pissed you off. Would you want your job to be in the balance because of a bad day? Or even a string of bad days?

    Why do you want your dad to know what people are saying? How will he react? As I pointed out in a post above, I know there are time when people vent about me. It’s part of being a manager. Will this hurt your dad’s relationships with his staff? Will he lose trust? Or are there concrete things in there that he can fix? If so, then pass those on. But be smart and kind and pass on the message as you would want criticism passed on to you.

    And as someone else pointed out, people will figure out that YOU leaked this to your dad if there are repercussions. Are you ready for the blowback?

    1. Just some internet rando*

      I agree with this.

      I might instead just send an email reminding people of the technology policies – that work email and chats are not necessarily private, not to say anything on a work computer that is not professional or that you would not say to someone’s face, etc.

      It might be better to bring up this topic in a company-wide meeting or training and couch it in terms of professionalism.

  14. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I feel for you so much. It’s never been my father but I’ve had to hear things about owners that I’m incredibly close to that raise the hair on the back of my neck and put fire in my belly over the years. It’s really fascinating the level of vitriol some people have stored up inside of them and how they play nice to your face.

    But honestly, I learned that if you don’t have someone questioning your decisions, you may be a marginal business person. My bosses who have been through this have told me that “if everyone loves the boss, you’re failing.” and that it sucks and it stings but really, it’s part of the business life of being Top Dog in the end.

    I’d hate to know what some people say about me, it’s why I would never dig! Most are smart enough to not use the company software at least, WTF amateurs.

    1. JediSquirrel*

      if you don’t have someone questioning your decisions, you may be a marginal business person. My bosses who have been through this have told me that “if everyone loves the boss, you’re failing.”

      So true! I love this.

      Of course, a lot of bosses don’t like to have their decisions questioned, but that’s a whole different issue.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Fragile egos are a blight on many in business, that’s for sure. I’ve only known a couple over the years, thank God.

        My bosses come from the line of “That’s like your opinion maaaaaaaaan” thinking when people question their decisions. They question their decisions too honestly, so they aren’t shocked others do.

        I’ll just say that 9 times out of 10, the people questioning most decisions made on a high enough level don’t have all the data to even know where to really start in that process. So I just laugh inside because okay, Jimbo, you would have done it differently, you’d always do it differently, shocker you never went into business for yourself with all those big ideas you’ve got! [Usually when told we’re doing something specific to a customer’s request and taste because you’re supposed to just say “No soup for you!” if they don’t like your original recipe…]

        1. Minocho*

          This is something i struggle to remember when I feel frustrated or aggrieved. There are Unknown Changes that have been in the works for over a year and a half now, promised over a year ago, and I am So Over Waiting, but when I get worked up, I try (I do NOT always succeed) to remember how low (low, low, low) on the totem pole I am, and how narrow my point of view on things is.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            I’m sorry that they’re seemingly jerking you around, I can absolutely understand that frustration and it’s real! Sometimes places really are dicking around too, I am not saying that’s something that doesn’t happen.

            I’ve been that middle person before, that person people feel “safe” talking to but not wanting to go all the way up the chain to the boss to question their antics or what’s taking so long. I use my position to poke the beast that nobody else wants to and say “Shit or get off the pot, boss!” so I sound kind of one sided here and pro-boss but I’m speaking from that experience and have thankfully somewhat forgotten about the failure ones in my past ;)

            1. Minocho*

              In this case, I’m hearing publicly spoken intentions from the highest ups that indicate a direction and guidance I either totally agree with, or am willing to believe what I am told. And I’m hearing lots of things from middle management that indicate to me that…well…I think the resistance is “Change is hard” and “We did it this way for 20 years, why change now” based rather than anything more nefarious, but it is intensely frustrating. But I also don’t have the perspective to know if that impression is fair, because middle management has a much broader point of view than I do from my little corner.

              But yeah, a year and a half after this started, we’ve lost some people due to the frustration over missed promises a year overdue, and others over fear that the change puts their jobs in danger. And when you start losing people over uncertainty, you often lose good people, because they can always find something, if anyone is hiring.

              I have interacted with lower levels of management I trust in a limited basis (I guess somewhat like what you mentioned dealing with), and it’s been brought to their attention that the clock is ticking.

              This whole Covid-19 thing sure isn’t going help matters there. I was told through back channels to expect something by the end of the quarter, but that’s not looking like a reasonable expectation anymore.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      It’s a fine line between motivating employees to do more, and demanding the impossible just because you’re the boss and you say so. It’s also a fine line between positivity and being pragmatic.

      It’s a fine line between accepting responsibility and assigning blame (usually based on the above).

  15. Impy*

    This is exactly why people shouldn’t work for their parents. Let this go, unless you’re prepared to get a bunch of your coworkers fired.

  16. merula*

    I work with my dad. Not for him, and we’re at a very large company in different departments, but he’s high up enough that he’s “The Boss” for a lot of people that I work with in my support role.

    I would not tell my dad about this, no matter what the messages said. Everyone’s boss is someone’s parent, child, sibling, spouse, etc., and those of us who are close to The Boss are going to rationalize the complaints. We’re going to view them as a personal reflection of someone we love and not as business decisions that may or may not have been good ones. And yeah, it’s entirely possible that these complaints are entirely without merit, but OP will never be able to see that objectively, and even if she could, no one is going to believe that she was completely objective.

  17. Alek*

    Oh my god, definitely don’t do anything! It’s unfortunate that you saw, and it certainly would be better if they were more careful, but it’s unreasonable to police how employees talk about their boss together. If you act on this information, my guess is that you’ll only be confirming what they have to say about you and your father. The best response would be to use this as an opportunity to reflect on what you and your father are doing to make your employees dislike you so much, and then actually work on changing those behaviors.

    1. Just some internet rando*

      I agree. But I also think employees who do this might also be doing this about other staff and just need general training about workplace communication.

  18. PX*

    You need to be very careful about what you’re considering “personal” attacks in the context of work venting is my opinion.

    While I’m careful about what I say to anyone vaguely related to my work, in my personal life I’ve probably said things about my boss that he, or anyone related to him may take offence at. That doesn’t mean I inherently dislike or disrespect him, but is sometimes part of how I let off steam. And if the previous coworker was friends/friendly with others and were not smart enough to not do this off company equipment, you might be reading more into this than is required based on…him being your Dad and/or you being upset.

    Personally I’m a big believer in people don’t have to like me at work, but as long as they are civil and cooperative when needed to make sure work gets done, that’s it. If these coworkers have not shown any of this in person to you or your father and they do good work, what are you really hoping to get out of this?

    I may make some comments about work equipment belonging to work and how things can be accessed which weren’t intended to be, but I’d leave it at that.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I agree. I look at it this way, if you know someone for over a decade, they’ve probably gotten under your skin. Even if you love them, we say the worst crappy things in the heat of a moment while venting about our loved ones, our own parents, our siblings, a friend who is making what we think is the “worst decision ever” with their life, etc.

  19. LH Holdings*

    I really disagree with Alison’s advice to tell the father. What will that serve? Obviously it’s not smart to write ugly things on a company device and I’m sure it hurt the OP to read what people said about her father but if you run and tattle to him all you will do is alienate your coworkers and they will not trust or respect you. Also keep in mind that their experience with him as a boss is complete different from your experience with him as a dad so please respect their experience.

  20. Medico*

    I’ve worked with someone who not only used the chat to complain, he criticised Every. Single. Decision. that our direct manager made out loud as soon as his office door was shut, assuming his age and years of experience would keep him safe. He kept it up even after being warned and told to knock it off. We had a round of layoffs and he was one of three people gone, the other two were new hires. It was such a relief when he left.
    If this is a serial complainer who poisons the atmosphere your company morale will be much better when that poisoning stops. It may be as simple as the worst offenders being told ‘this is the route for legitimate complaints, btw what you put on the company email chat is visible to EVERYONE’.
    If it’s personal attacks it may mean firings if the boss decides he can’t trust employees who proverbially stab him in the back- my dad had to do this with an employee who persisted in making up some nasty rumours about her co-workers and then verbally attacked him after he told her to stop.
    If it’s clearly just venting, then a quiet word delivered somehow is more appropriate.
    Either way, this is going to take some wisdom and thought to handle properly.

    1. LH Holdings*

      That’s a big “if.” I don’t necessarily disagree with you but by the OP’s in admission they are brand new to the company so they have no idea if this person is a serial complainer, or anything about their Work ethic. Instead of running to her dad, she needs to observe and then place these chats within a context.

      1. tangerineRose*

        The OP has been with the company 3 years. The person who did most of the complaining has left the company.

  21. Beth Jacobs*

    I think this is highly likely to end in termination of the offending employees. A lot of people here a discussing whether that’s fair. I think that sometimes fairness isn’t really the right metric – stuff like this really affects your ability to trust your employees, and if you can’t trust them, you can’t really work with them.
    This isn’t unique to employee relationships. I no longer hang out with a friend who made one inconsiderate comment, because it triggered a childhood trauma and I don’t want to be reminded of it. I also switched doctors when my former GP was rude and patronising (looking back, probably due to severe overwork). I don’t think it’s important to assign blame. If a relationship can no longer fulfill its purpose because of an absence of trust, it just has to end. The company can try to be nice about the firings if it comes to it (agree on a decent reference, not contest unemployment, maybe even give some severance if they’re in a position to do so). But I know I couldn’t work with someone who had insulted me for years – I’d change jobs. And since the dad can’t just change jobs, termination seems to be the only solution (presuming the comments are truly unjustified and extremely insulting).

    1. Impy*

      ‘Offending’? Mate, every boss gets insulted. It’s part of the job. If you’re keeping your employees deliriously happy you’re probably not doing your job right. Suck it up, clarify whether the complaints have merit and move on.

      1. Beth Jacobs*

        It depends on what you mean by insulted. There’s no way to tell from the original letter what level the insults rose to, but no – not every boss is called vicious profanities, which is the scenario my comment was addressing. Your comment has merit if the comments were more standard complaints.

        1. Impy*

          Yeah, I guess the problem is that we’re all bringing our own perceptions. I’d completely read it as “Ugh, Bob wants the TPS reports by Wednesday, what a jerk,” which might read as vicious to Bob’s kid, but is pretty standard and probably forgotten by the employee next day, and laughed at by the boss – because of course Tim doesn’t want to get the TPS reports done quicker, but he did, they’re done, everyone’s happy, let’s move on.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Trust. Yes, but that trust is a two-way street between employer and employee. Employees should also be able to trust their employers for a lot of things: such as a safe place to work, and getting paid on time.

      I work in a very large company at present and this isn’t as much of an issue as with small businesses. However, this is one manager up two levels from me, that I simply do not trust, and who constantly has knee-jerk reactions and shuts projects down without really seeking to understand why something was done a certain way because she likes to create crisis so she can then swoop in like she saved the day–when it wasn’t really an issue to begin with. I call her the Chaos Queen. No I do not trust her to react reasonably.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You are an outlier here.

      Most people do not actually leave their GPs when they’re patronizing and rude. They just decide they hate all doctors and trust none, dragging themselves back for more abuse when they need medical assistance.

      Most people don’t ditch a friend over an insensitive remark. It took multiple instances and then finding out someone told something extremely personal to cut them loose before.

      People are conditioned to take abuse in many different ways. It’s not likely at all to end in termination. It really isn’t. And I’ve seen people fired for some really obnoxious “WTF” reasons, none were “they talked crap about the boss.”

      1. Minocho*

        Have you been listening in on my doctor appointments all these years?!? That’s exactly where I’m at. ugh.

  22. Buttons*

    I would approach this as an engagement issue or results from a 360 review. Are their complaints valid? Even if they are personal then there is an issue with the culture. Something is off. I would address why this is how they feel and think, instead of addressing the conversations as being the problem- it is a symptom of something more. I would focus on changing the culture and making sure people are engaged and happy at work.

  23. Malarkey01*

    I’d also suggest thinking carefully about the medium in relationship to the comments. Chats can be incredibly informal and the same sentence can be read VERY different (example “she probably got the job because she’s his daughter” and someone saying “yeah probably” could be read as a bored kind of ehhh or as indignant agreement and even the first part can be read as calm and factual wondering how Jane got hired or viciously hissed). I am sometimes work chatting with good coworkers while on conference calls or while multi tasking and have to go back and clarify intent afterwards because it’s misread in the moment dashing off a reply, and we are very close and understand usual tone and attitude.

    Also if people are talked to about this it is very much going to be a THING around the office so be careful about thinking through all the co sequences and ramifications before acting.

  24. designbot*

    If these are legitimate complaints, you could use this to your advantage by visibly solving or mitigating some of the problems. You’ve gotten a valuable insight into the staff’s outlook and concerns, and being the person that fixes these things could put you in a really strong position.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This is where I go to. OP, you said earlier that it happened mostly during busy season. You may want to see if you can suggest things to help with workflows or if you can upgrade equipment to assist more often. Some times moving the layout of the workspace can be a real relief – even minor tweaks can turn in to substantial differences.

      Is there an opportunity for employees to make suggestions? I know first hand the longer a group has been together the more likely they are to nail their suggestions and shorten my learning curve.

      Do you guys do autopsies of the busy season where you discuss what went right and what could have gone better? I don’t mean picking at individual’ s work, I mean talking about unnecessary double handling, working at cross-purposes, unnecessary steps and sharper use of technology.

      When I took over one area of Former Place, I kept looking for ways to streamline. Dang, these people worked so hard, let’s reconfigure so that everything is easier. I asked for them to think along with me. THEY (!) came up with an idea that reduced a task from needing eight people down to needing two people. This freed up six people to work on another aspect of the project. The group’s productivity soared. Added bonus the two people had their work streamlined so they were doing substantially less double and triple handling.

      I totally agree with finding where their complaints are legit and thinking about what can be done. This puts you in a good spot with your boss/dad and with them.

      You say that people have been there a long time and you thought of them as nice people. That to me means there is a whole bunch of hope for your setting.

  25. MissDisplaced*

    Ouch! That must be harsh to read. But the fact is, it happens and employees do it. Heck, we do it on this board. Sometimes people do this for genuine reasons: perhaps the working conditions aren’t good, they disagree with the decisions and/or don’t respect or trust the level of management, they may not get clear goals or the goals change frequently, or they feel they are being treated unfairly and complaints are unheeded. Sometimes, people just don’t like a boss or owner for more personal reasons, such as the person yells at, belittles, is indecisive, instills panic and chaos, or has some other type of jerky or unprofessional behavior.

    So what do you do?
    >Look at these really objectively. Is there any truth to the critical comments? Can you understand why a decision may not have been popular and thus been heavily critiqued? How did you dad (as the leader) communicate that decision and the results to the employees?
    >If the comments are more personal-leaning. Is there any true basis for them (be honest with yourself) about a specific thing, or are they just kind of random nasty insults? Are these mainly from one or two persons instigating them, or is it many people with similar insults? Bear in mind that people can act very different at work, your dad included. Your dad may become a different person under stressful work situations and/or in leadership roles from how you know him at home. It’s not uncommon for the “best dad in the world” to act racist or sexist in the workplace (especially if from a different generation), and if so, some of that may be a driver of the nasty insults.
    >Observe for yourself. If you dad is still there, pay attention to how people react to him at work. Do they seem engaged or in agreement when he talks (heads up, nodding, constructive talks), or do you see general disengagement and eye-rolling? Do workers seem to understand their duties and have clear goals and the means for how to accomplish them? Do employees seem to understand how their individual work affects the overall performance of the company and do they seem to care?

    Once you’ve calmly and objectively looked at some of these factors, you’ll have to make a decision based on them. You may find it’s a very small number of people doing most of this, and those people may have to be managed out. Or you may decide that there are things the management can do better, your dad included.

    I don’t know what it may end up being. I’m not saying your dad actually is doing anything wrong, just that you should consider all possible factors and reasons of why people may behave that way.

  26. From That Guy*

    LW, this is a tough one on one hand but not the other. I am guessing that the majority of commenters do not own their own shop. This is not meant as a critique, just an observation. Your father has invested his heart and soul into the operation, the rest of the folks are getting a paycheck. Oh, I am sure there are some employees committed, but not like your father. That being said there is still the issue of just how egregious are the comments and do any of them have merit. A few commenters have posted to carefully review these messages again for content, frequency and just who has sent them. I am guessing by your very even keeled and composed letter you are not overreacting. You don’t come across as histrionic or entitled, just disturbed about what you have read and now have to process. If in fact these are mean spirited viscous unfounded attacks upon your father his person or role as the boss then by all means let him know. This is because one toxic person in an organization can do severe damage, it only takes one and the sooner that person is out the better for all concerned. However, and this is a big however, study carefully the messages to see if they rise to that level of mendacity.

    Your father is your father, period. I wish you well.

    1. Alice*

      If OP and dad haven’t known about these potentially “mean-spirited, vicious, unfounded attacks” before now, and they’ve been going on as long as OP said, then I don’t see how this “toxicity” can be doing severe damage.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      No. But I sure have worked at small businesses with the Dad-as-Owner and Family Members (or girlfriends)-as-Employees. I get it. The Owner has a lot invested and a lot to lose. But they often fail to realize that the employees do not have such skin in the game, nor will they ever, and so expect reasonable working hours and conditions.

      Also, just because someone is the owner of a business, does not mean they’re the nicest humans or the smartest. I’ve seen that to be the case where “lovely old dad” makes a lot of racist or sexist comments ’cause “That’s just how he is.” Ok , well it’s his business he started so he can do what he wants, sure, but that don’t make it right. Sometimes people do start their own business because they specifically can’t function in established organizations where that wouldn’t be tolerated. [Not saying this is the case with the OP, just what I’ve observed.]

      1. Not So NewReader*

        “Sometimes people do start their own business because they specifically can’t function in established organizations where that wouldn’t be tolerated. [Not saying this is the case with the OP, just what I’ve observed.]”

        While I would be very surprised to find out that this applied to OP’s setting, I do have to thank you for pointing this out because I have seen it first hand myself. Sometimes rule breakers or no-holds barred people feel they have to have their own shop in order to thrive. It takes strength to decide to walk alone like that, but that strength can be misused as you show here. These venturesome people can fail to hold to standards that are legal or social necessities for a variety of reasons (excuses/poorly developed thought process.)

        In the philosophical sense we don’t actually own property, it can own US. We become tied to additional taxes, code enforcements and many other regulations. It’s worse with businesses. People can idealize being “on their own” and then have a rude awakening of what it takes to be “on their own”.

  27. Qwerty*

    If the head of the company was not a family member, would you still feel inclined to report this?

    The letter doesn’t say if you report directly to your dad or if he is a few levels above you in the hierarchy. If you were at a company where you only had purely professional relationships rather than familial ones with your coworkers, would you go to your manager or your grandboss or CEO if you heard coworkers griping about him?

    You also need to be honest with yourself about why you were reading a coworker’s past chats. You explain why you had access to them, but chat logs are labelled differently in most email systems, so you clearly weren’t pulling up the invoice from Teapots Ltd. Curiosity gets the best of us sometimes, especially if a keyword catches our eye, but its like eavesdropping on a conversation – you might not like what you find.

    Family companies are tough and it skews relationships. A normal day, your coworkers might think you are great. But on a bad day, they might just see that the boss hired his kid. There’s been a lot of letters here from people who got pushed out so a family member could have their job or see the boss’s family getting special treatment. I’m not saying that is happening for you, just that your coworkers could be concerned about the possibility in the future, or on rough days view things through that light.

  28. MC66*

    I have a lot of thoughts about this, OP. I completely understand the inclination to defend your father’s honor, and I sympathize that this is a pretty unique situation to be in. But that’s also part of the issue I’m having.

    a) The fact that you’re the CEO’s daughter is already a sign of nepotism to me, even if you’re qualified for the job, hired under the best conditions, etc. You going to your father and essentially tattling on your co-workers—about something that, through sheer coincidence, you were able to see—doesn’t seem right or fair to me. If nothing else, your co-workers will sour on you immediately.

    b) What, exactly, is your end goal here? Without knowing all the facts or the surrounding circumstances that may have likely contributed to these conversations, you’re likely jeopardizing your co-workers’ livelihoods. With what’s going on in the world today, I would think long and hard about doing such a thing.

    c) I’m sorry, but people are allowed to complain about the boss. I’m sure your father is a nice guy and I’m sure your co-workers got along with him. He probably also said or behaved in ways that irritated, angered, or aggrieved them in some way. These things can exist at at the same time. He is not their father, though. At the end of the day, he is an authority figure and people are allowed to express frustration with that. In general, I’m very kind and polite to my boss, but they still irritate me and make decisions or behave in certain ways that I don’t agree with.

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      YES! I came here to say just this.

      My take is that OP is still new to the company, new to working for her father, and likely still has on rose colored glasses. How someone may be as a parent, friend, etc. can be drastically different than how they treat you as their employee. And how he treats you as his employee will likely vary from how he treats unrelated employees. OP really needs to pay attention to that and nip it in the bud if it starts happening.

      Also, worst case scenario, you say that the company only has 20 people. If we assume that 4 people were involved in these chats and, after you inform your father of their actions, they are either fired or quit, can you afford to lose 20% of your workforce in a very short time-span? I’d guess the answer is no. As tough as it may be, I’d pretend I never saw the messages, try to put them out of your mind, and make an effort to get to know your new co-workers and try to view your father’s actions, as they relate to running the company, objectively. In 6 months, you may feel differently about the co-workers statements. Even if you may not necessarily agree with them in 6 months, you may have a better feel for where they were coming from or why they felt the way they did.

  29. Batgirl*

    There’s a huge difference between criticising how your boss bosses and actual personal attacks. It sounds like OP is aware of the difference as she spells that out. I would let anything that sounds like job frustration slide, even if it’s crudely phrased (“He doesn’t know his arse from his elbow” etc). But people who make personal remarks and get off on behind the scenes hating, have character issues and would bear watching.

  30. Dragonfly*

    1) Evidently there is or was a divide between management and staff at this company. While this is sad and maybe alarming, any course of action which would widen or remind of the divide, including passing on the contents of the chats to dad and firing the participants in the chats, would be counterproductive. The important thing is, the owner of the chat stream no longer works at the company. This is by itself conducive to a better working relationship between boss and employees, while doing inflammatory stuff to counter an existing or past wound is not.
    2) I am strongly of the opinion that appointing one’s own offspring to a position under one’s own management must be based in poor judgement, however skilled and suited to the job the offspring may be. The letterwriter can only wisely take steps to lessen the impact of a bad decision if she or he totally forgets about the familial bond wherever work is concerned.
    3) To the LW I would say this: forget about how bad you feel for your father and how insincere the staff appear to you right now. Say and do nothing. The past actions may never recur. Resolve never to use the familial connection as a reason either to report on your coworkers or to mediate in their behalf.

    1. MzBee*

      Is the concept of a family business lost on everyone? It’s not a novel thing – families work together all the time! This sounds like a small business too, why is this so hard for everyone to grasp? You’re probably interacting with several family-run businesses a day.

  31. Leah K*

    Man, I’m disappointed in the comments today. Apparently working for your family’s business “clearly” means that you got your job “solely” because of nepotism. And you should “suck it up” if other employees are talking smack behind your back. Or better yet, don’t ever work for your parents. How about you don’t work for a family business if you can’t deal with the fact that some of your coworkers might be related to management. And if you can’t manage your emotions like a mature adult, at least have enough common sense to not use company resources when you are talking smack about your boss.

    1. MC66*

      I haven’t read through all of the comments, so I think I might be missing areas you’re quoting, but I still stand by the fact that nepotism is at play here—even if the OP or her father are the nicest people in the world, it doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t change the dynamics. I get that nepotism is an ugly word and tends to dismiss the qualifications of a person, but I’m also of the mindset that that’s the price you pay for benefiting in such a way. The fact is that, no matter how hard other employees work in that office, they will never (re: ever) be afforded the same level of privilege and protections as the OP so long as the CEO is her father.

      I agree with you that people shouldn’t be using company resources to slam the boss, and it’s unfortunate that their conversations were exposed in such a coincidental way. I have certainly experienced toxic work situations where there were bad apples, and “misery loves company” was at play—I’m sure everyone has! But I have also been in situations where the boss or the company culture was legitimately terrible and people who I knew to be good-natured, honest, and smart individuals needed the camaraderie of their colleagues and a space to express their frustrations to get through the day. I’m old enough and experienced enough now to know that where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. So, I think it’s a bit shortsighted of you to assume that the OP’s company and her father are always acting in good faith. They very well could be; it’s more unlikely to me, however, that a group of professional adults is getting together for the sole purpose of being meanspirited during the workday if everything is sunshine and roses.

      1. MonteCristo85*

        My problem is that people are acting like Nepotism is wrong or bad. I mean that’s one of the perks of a family business, that you get to employee your family. Everyone seems to assume it means something bad, when it just means someone got a leg up.

        1. MC66*

          I understand! I think I mentioned earlier that I certainly feel sympathy for the OP and can absolutely understand why she might feel compelled to defend her father. I don’t think nepotism is inherently good or bad; it’s really a word that’s in the eye of the beholder. It’s “good” when you can benefit from the privilege and secure a certain standing for yourself. It’s “bad” when others are passed over for positions or treated differently in the workplace because they don’t share the same last name as the CEO or someone higher up in the company.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Someone getting a let up is precisely what is bad. OP may think they are qualified for the job, but if they’re well qualified why don’t they work at the same role in some other company?

    2. Blueberry*

      If people employed by their family members are that upset about not seeing their lessers abasing themselves before them in the comments here, you all can always go back to work.

  32. Sara*

    There is so much hate for family owned businesses on the AAM boards…

    First off – I would not do anything about those chats except maybe discreetly give my dad a heads up that I saw some chats but I wouldn’t name names since they were meant to be private and seemed to originate with the departed employee. After 36 years of owning his own business, my dad probably wouldn’t want to know details anyways – he is the boss and has a thick skin. That said, if attitude problems arise with one of the other chatters, I would probably bring it up as supporting evidence.

    As to small business nepotism (which I do think is different from large corporation nepotism):

    I have worked full time for my dad for 25 years (but also worked every summer throughout high school and college). I worked for a Fortune 500 company for three years to get some outside experience, which only proved to me I wanted nothing to do with the corporate world. Our company hovers at 25 – 30 employees. There are pros and cons to working for my father in a small, family-owned business. I have a great job, got a lot of autonomy right away and most importantly, and was able to negotiate an alternative work schedule once I had my first child which made my work/life balance so much better (had been working 10-12 hour days prior to her birth.) FTR, he would not have agreed to my alternative schedule for any other employee. That was definitely a huge perk of being the boss’s daughter.

    The advantage for my dad is I’m pretty good at what I do, I work hard and I’m loyal. I’m always supportive (unless he is wrong, which he is sometimes.) He has someone to vent to. Sometimes we argue (and it has been heated in the past) but usually what’s being said needs to be said. I’ve been here longer than anyone else and know this company backwards and forwards. I read AAM religiously to be a better manager because I strive to treat our employees fairly.

    The cons, though, are tough. The weight of owning a small business, with typical ups and downs, is extremely stressful. I constantly doubt my abilities because I’ve never had to prove myself to a third party. I feel as if there is nothing to put on a resume; no references and a hodge-podge of experience. When he sells the company, I assume I’ll be out of a job (I’ve talked to enough people to know that this is the most likely scenario). It’s hard to do things like buy new houses or plan home improvement projects when you don’t really know what you are worth.

    I have been very careful managing my presence in the company. Obviously, my parentage can’t be ignored. I acknowledge who I am with a smile but without apology. I don’t try to make friends with anyone I work with beyond pleasantries. I know that some people have resented me over the years but to be honest, those are mostly the people who have more general attitude problems. My coworkers seek me out for conversations about work and life, so I think I’m generally liked. I’m not pushy and don’t demand favors but I am firm because I know what I’m doing after 36 years (including high school summer work, lol.)

    But, overall, I wouldn’t have changed my career for another. I believe in the work we do. I hire people I like to work with. There are no corporate politics, no red tape… just a few people doing the best job they can and a boss who not only admires and trusts me but loves me.

    1. Blueberry*

      and was able to negotiate an alternative work schedule once I had my first child which made my work/life balance so much better

      You complain about ‘so much hate’ for family-owned businesses, and then you cite this. What makes you such a superior mother or your first child so much better than any other baby that you deserved an accomodation no other mother would be allowed to have?

      1. Sara*

        I didn’t say working for my dad didn’t come without perks. Of course it does – that is why I do it. Otherwise I would go work someplace else without all the baggage.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        yes, this alone is a huge reason to hate a family business. Imagining myself as a young mother needing to swap hours around and being refused even though my colleague gets what she wants because Daddy happens to be boss, it makes my blood boil.

  33. Lynda*

    I am amazed that people comment with critical comments on a work email accessible to management.
    If they are informed that emails are monitored I expect they will delete and desist in future.

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