my boss’s son constantly yells at him in the office

A reader writes;

I work for a family-owned company. My boss (let’s call him Rob) employs both of his sons and his daughter-in-law, and they all get special treatment within the company. For instance, his daughter-in-law comes in about five hours a week and is paid for 40 and his son was gone for more than a month during the holidays while still logging in hours even though he wasn’t working remotely (we have complete transparency in viewing other’s hours; it’s a small office so there aren’t many secrets). All of this is to say that the dynamic and culture of the office is already a little misshapen due to this family dynamic, and it is obvious that my fellow employees find this to be unfair to the rest of us.

One of Rob’s sons (let’s call him Greg) constantly yells at Rob and makes a scene within the office when things don’t go his way. An example of this: The first day Greg returns to the office after his month-long vacation, before I am even aware that he is in the office, I hear him yelling at Rob about something that Rob criticized him on. Every day since then, the same thing has happened and it is getting progressively louder and meaner. The office I work in only has eight employees, including Rob and Greg, and the building is small so it is always extremely awkward, uncomfortable, and downright inappropriate for this to be happening, as everyone can hear every word.

Sometimes Greg will come to either our secretary or me and ask who we think is right or ask for validation about these “arguments” or “disagreements” between him and his dad. I have always replied with something like, “I don’t feel qualified to answer this” or “I am not going to get in the middle of this” or “I have no idea” … but in a joking tone as to lighten the situation.

I have only worked here for less than six months. This issue, along with others such as lack of work for me to do, has me job searching regularly. I just don’t know how to deal with this situation anymore as it would be completely inappropriate for me to bring it up since I have no tenure and am essentially a glorified intern.

Good lord. I’d like to see how Greg functions in a business that isn’t run by his dad and where he can’t disappear for a month while pretending to work and where it won’t fly to yell at his boss on the reg. I’m always curious about people like this — in a different company, would he figure out his behavior needs to change and rise to the occasion? Or continue as he has been and quickly get fired? Either way, Rob is doing Greg a disservice by allowing him to think this behavior is okay … not to mention the greater disservice he’s doing the rest of you by allowing it.

I do have a hunch about the answer to that hypothetical. I think people like Greg know they can’t continue the most flagrant of their behavior when they move to a different company, so they rein it in. But the traits that led them to act that way when they could are still there, so they never really shine somewhere else. It’s sad! And of course, there’s a reason their family dynamics are what they are, and that’s usually sad too.

In any case, Greg is being an ass. He’s being a jerk to his father — who employs him, WTF — and he’s poisoning the environment for everyone who has to work within earshot of these fights. Not to mention that he has no qualms about trying to pull other people into their fights, as if weighing in on their boss’s family squabbles is exactly what people are dying to do.

And then Rob. Poor yelled-at Rob, who somehow has ended up in a position where he’s regularly screamed at by his son in front of his other employees and for some reason doesn’t feel capable of shutting it down But regardless of whatever issues have led to this, Rob has an obligation to his other employees and to his business not to allow it … but family dynamics are powerful and weird, and “should’s” often collapse under that weight.

As for how to deal with it … as a new-ish glorified intern you don’t have a ton of standing, but there’s no reason you can’t have the completely normal reaction of saying to your coworkers, “What is up with Greg and Rob?” and “It’s really unsettling to hear their fights at work.” Sometimes having someone new come in and say, essentially, “Whoa, this isn’t normal” can jog other people into realizing that it’s not. Or even if not, it might produce some interesting insight into what your coworkers think of all this.

If you did have more standing (if you were more senior, had been there longer, had a role with more influence, had Rob’s ear, etc.), there would be more room to tell Rob how disruptive Greg’s outbursts are and ask him to rein him in for the good of everyone else. Or to pointedly walk over and close the door when Rob and Greg are arguing, or to say, “Hey, can you move this somewhere more private?” or “It’s really awful hearing this while we’re trying to work.” And who knows, maybe you have the standing to do those things now; I’d start by asking colleagues if anyone has ever spoken up about it and, if so, what happened.

But do know that what probably won’t change, no matter who speaks up about it, is the special treatment the family members get. Some family businesses just run that way. Sometimes that’s because part of the business owner’s goal is to provide jobs for family members; that’s part of their mission, even if they don’t explicitly spell it out like that. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, as long as non-family-members who are hired know that up-front so they don’t come in expecting things to be run on merit. (Usually, though, there’s no disclosure of it ahead of time and it’s just an annoying surprise once you’re there.) In that regard, the best thing you can do is roll your eyes (privately), figure it’s not doing those family members any long-term favors if they ever need to seek other employment, and add this to your bank of knowledge about what you do and don’t want in an employer.

{ 164 comments… read them below }

  1. AdAgencyChick*

    Ugh, sorry about it, OP. I do not have high hopes for anything changing, and I hope you’re able to find a normal-functioning place as soon as one can in this crazy time.

    In the meantime, IMO the last paragraph of Alison’s response is where the money is. Since you can’t change it, the thing that you *can* do to keep it, as best you can, from driving you nuts is to treat it like you’re an observer. You’re going to come out of this with a better idea of how to spot and avoid dysfunctional workplaces.

    1. UbiCaritas*

      Yes, I’ve forgotten who said it, but pretend you are an archaeologist studying the customs of a primitive culture.

      1. EH*

        I’ve used that method with great success since I was dealing with jerks in grade school. Being curious helped me avoid dwelling on my anger/sadness/outrage/etc. It’s important to notice that you’re having the feelings, though – just add your reactions to your observations.

        When I’ve used this, I literally take notes in a small dedicated notebook (definitely do NOT take them on a company computer or other company device!). It’s been really helpful.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Get the new job, give your two weeks, and THEN point out the elephant in the room.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Only about 30 percent of family-owned businesses survive into the second generation, according to the Family Business Institute. Twelve percent are still viable into the third generation, and only about three percent of all family businesses operate into the fourth generation or beyond.

        1. Mid*

          Do you happen to know if it’s 12% of the 30% or 12% of the original group? The wording is confusing me.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            This is via google. But I think it means 12% of the existing ones.

            30% 1st generation family businesses survive to the 2nd generation.
            12% of those that survive, make it to the 3rd.
            3% of those make it to the 4th.

            Since you have to continue to eliminate them or else the math would be extra screwy!

            1. Filosofickle*

              Hmm, I’d go the other way. Of 100 family businesses, 30 make it to 2ndG, 12 make it to 3rdG, 3 make it to 4thG.

              The 3% is what pushes me that way — 97/100 to fail in any single generation is improbably huge.

              1. Elenna*

                I interpreted it the same way as Filosofickle – 30% make it to at least gen 2, 12% of the original businesses make it to at least gen 3, 3% to at least gen 4.
                The lesson to be learned is the same either way, though.

              2. MassMatt*

                I read it the same way, and also note that businesses “failing” in future generations is not always exactly accurate. Many small businesses are sold, or close down, when the founder/owner retires because the next generation does not have the skills or interest to take over.

                The stereotypical immigrant, for example, may have a small restaurant that pays the bills, but the children are often educated and then have more choices than continuing with the family business. In this sense small businesses can be the victims of their own success.

              3. Trachea Aurelia Belaroth*

                I don’t know, the number of Small businesses that “fail” regardless of generation is large. I can only assume it would be even higher when passed on to someone who didn’t have the entrepreneurial spirit to start a business themselves.

        2. MK*

          Hmm. I don’t know how indicative that is of how viable family-owned businesses are, because I don’t know how that rate compares with the long-term success rate of non-family-owned businesses, and also the reasons behind their not being operational anymore. I think family-owned businesses are usually small businesses, which can have a short-term life anyway.

          Also, does this statistic only include businesses that fail (possibly but not certainly because of the incompetence of the second generation) or does “didn’t survive into the second generation” include cases where the children had no interest into the family business and it folded or got sold off after the parent’s retirement/death?

    1. The pest, Ramona*

      I worked in a family owned company, by the time I was there the first generation was phasing out and the second generation ran the company. The 3rd generation, oh boy… there was a lot of on the clock eyebrow waxing, long lunches, errands, and inappropriate cell phone conversations with besties. When I realized that was my future I found another job.
      Gen 1 teared up when I left (he was a lovely man). Gen 2 was confused as to why I wanted to leave. Gen 3 didn’t care in the least and didn’t even say goodbye.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        I’ve worked in a fourth-gen family business. One-star experience, would not repeat.

      2. Arts Akimbo*

        My experience with Gen 3: she fired everyone hired by her dad, and essentially locked herself in the attic, leaving her accountant to run the day-to-days of the business. I’d be very surprised to see a Gen 4 at that one.

    2. Beth*

      And don’t deserve to survive, either.

      I don’t feel in the least sorry for “poor yelled-at Rob”. He poisoned his own nest by hiring these deadbeats, and is doing serious harm to the five non-family employees he’s mismanaging.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        This.

        I mean, I feel for the guy, but he’s an adult, and he raised and then hired these people. My parents would toss me out on my ear if they were my bosses and I tried this nonsense with them.

    3. MK*

      Well, why should they? I don’t especially understand getting sentimental about a business: it was probably someone’s dream, they got to realise it and possibly get a good return of their investment, but it’s not an ideal that should be preserved at any cost. If the second generation wants to take it over, fine, if not, they shouldn’t be pressured out of some misguided devotion to the family legacy (I think a lot of the issues with the second generation are caused because the children really wanted to do something else with their lives anf might have actually been successful if they had not been groomed to go into the family business). If they succeed, also fine, if they aren’t good at it and the business fails, so be it.

      A friend of my father’s left his business to his son when he retired (there weren’t any employees), and many people cautioned him that the son wasn’t the most responsible person. He replied that the business has made him plenty of money during his lifetime and he had enough to live in comfort for the rest of his life; he didn’t see any difference between selling the business (which wouldn’t have fetched a huge price anyway) and then leaving the money to his son when he died and just leaving him the business.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I think a lot of the issues with the second generation are caused because the children really wanted to do something else with their lives anf might have actually been successful if they had not been groomed to go into the family business

        Bingo.

        1. salads*

          Yeah this shows up on Kitchen Nightmares all the time. Parent sees restaurant as a solid investment to pass on to the kids. Kid would rather be covered in fire ants than run a restaurant. Restaurant predictably fails.

        2. Trachea Aurelia Belaroth*

          My best friend is going through this. She does work at her parents’ company, but as a bookkeeper–she has no interest in owning or running it after they retire, and in fact is only hanging around to ensure her disabled mother receives the care she needs. She has had a lot of trouble getting her dad to understand this, and he seems to conveniently forget it every year.

      2. short'n'stout*

        Except the son may have tried unsuccessfully to run the business, giving up other opportunities and risking his own well-being through stress etc. And/or Dad left him the hassle of selling it. Big difference, in my opinion.

    4. Editor*

      One business publication I read regularly profiled successful family businesses. One thing I noticed was that the multigenerational businesses often required family members to have outside work experience after college before the business would hire them. Maybe it was only a year or two, but it was required.

      The other thing I noticed was how often the successful business owners and officers talked about “best practices” or how the business focused on quality and customer relations. Executives said that setting the bar high had been a factor in the business’s success, particularly through trying times.

      Maybe the intern could look into the High Center at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania or other family business centers at colleges. I think Indiana University of Pennsylvania has one, and there’s also a Delaware Valley Family Business Center. I don’t know if the intern could slide a question to Rob that made him aware of such resources, but it might be helpful. Of course, family counseling might be helpful, too. Given the son’s attitude, I’m not optimistic.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      Making matters worse: According to a Forbes article I saw years ago, most family fortunes are lost because for one of two reasons: carelessness (excesses) or apathy. Most family fortunes… that made me pause for a moment. Heir today, gone tomorrow.

  2. JM in England*

    I see this as another form of “Your boss sucks & isn’t going to change”; OP, get out of there ASAP!

    1. The IT Plebe*

      I feel like we need some kind of abbreviation akin to DTMFA…YBS&NGC (Your Boss Sucks & Not Gonna Change)?

      1. OP*

        OP here! I am happy to say that I found a new position at an amazing company not too long after I sent this in. One of the reasons I was hired because I worked at the last company and someone had heard of it so it wasn’t all for nothing!

  3. Wing Leader*

    One of my bosses hired his daughter a while ago. She was only here for a few months. In addition to doing very little work and having a crappy attitude, one day she left for her lunch hour, went to a bar, got into a bar fight while there, and then got arrested for it. She tried to come into work the next day with a black eye (she apparently lost the fight…). Thankfully, my boss was sick of her acting this way and fired her. I think she honestly thought she was bulletproof because her daddy was the boss. Sounds like Greg has similar thoughts.

  4. Diahann Carroll*

    Greg needs to be fired. Rob is doing this dude no favors by keeping him on like this – if the company ever has to fold, good luck to Greg getting and keeping another job with that attitude/behavior.

    1. juliebulie*

      I wonder if Greg is too old to be told to stand in the corner for a time-out.

      For sure you can thank your lucky stars that you didn’t grow up in that family.

    2. Clisby*

      I’m completely baffled at Rob’s behavior. If I had given my son a job and cut him all kinds of professional slack, he better be groveling to me, not yelling at me.

      1. Bee*

        I mean, I’m guessing the reason this happens at all is because Rob has been giving in to Greg’s tantrums since he was a toddler.

        1. Wing Leader*

          I totally agree–this is a parenting fail.

          And I hope that doesn’t sound like I’m judging all parents harshly–I’m not. I realize that there are kids who will act up no matter what the parents do. But if that were the case here, then Rob would have fired Greg long ago. The fact that he hasn’t shows that he most likely has a pattern of caving into his son’s behavior.

        2. Clisby*

          Eh, toddlers have tantrums. Perfectly normal. You isolate them somewhere or, if it’s safe, you just walk away from them. This is different.

  5. Brett*

    I say this coming from the perspective of having a large family owned business on my mom’s side of the family. My mother has worked for them for 20+ years, and it is one of the largest businesses of its type in their state. It is genuinely a combination of jobs for the family and high performing.

    A bigger factor than providing jobs, is providing insurance. Even in cases where the owner might be perfectly willing to cut payroll and get rid of a family member because they are low performing and disruptive, it becomes far far more difficult to do that because it would also be kicking them off their health insurance. This is especially a problem for sons and daughters, who have been on the family business health insurance policy since they were kids. (There is also a huge tax benefit to providing your kids health insurance as employees of your company instead of as dependents, though that is not a factor in this case.)

    A lot of payroll weirdness, arguments, disappearing employees, etc in a family business can all be traced back to keeping people on the family business group plan no matter what happens.

    1. sub rosa for this*

      This explains so much. Thank you for the insight!

      I worked for a horribly dysfunctional small family business back in the ’90s and it was all so confusing as to why things worked the way they did. Now I really am kind of getting it.

      1. It's mce w*

        Same. I worked a week at a rental company during my teens and I’m glad that I left that soon. The mother was nasty and her sons seemed miserable.

    2. Myrin*

      Although as an – of course anecdotal! – counterpoint, these kinds of weirdnesses in family businesses exist in my country, too, where the insurance factor isn’t in play in that kind of way at all. I’m guessing the weirdness always finds a way.

      1. wendelenn*

        “I’m guessing the weirdness always finds a way”
        Another great slogan for an AAM coffee mug or T-shirt!

      2. Brett*

        Yes, jobs and income and lots of other things are still factors.
        Just, for the US in particular, insurance is often the largest factor.

    3. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Ehhh, you’re trying to draw a distinction where there really isn’t one, I think. Does the family owned business keep anyone who isn’t family on payroll because it would be too hard for those people to find other benefits? I doubt it – it all comes down to business owners who have their loyalty to their family set higher in their priorities than running a successful business. Maybe they tell themselves the group health plan is more important than the salary, but benefits are just part of overall compensation, and the owner is still choosing to compensate an under-performing and disruptive employee to be just that – they owner has simply found an excuse to tell themselves, so they can believe they aren’t doing it because the family member is too dysfunctional to succeed elsewhere. It’s a nice piece of rationalizing and denial for them, but that’s all it really is.

      If it were really so all important that everyone in the family be on the group plan, there are options for ways to arrange that which wouldn’t involve keeping the person on payroll and associated with the business. Family trusts to maintain group health plans and insurance are definitely a thing that can be done (and are, in more than few families I know of where the family business owners don’t tolerate these shenanigans). As an added benefit of doing things this way, all the family members can keep the private insurance while being employed elsewhere, and there’s never any risk of one family member using termination of benefits as a form of power over the other.

      Of course, then the actual family has to bear the costs of the plan, instead of defraying it against the business’ profits and the plan contributions the non-family member employees are doubtless being charged.

      1. MK*

        I am pretty sure business owners who operate in this way are perfectly well aware that they have set their loyalty to their family as a higher priority; and it’s perfectly possible to run a successful business while employing a couple of underperforming family members. It’s their decision, and for me it’s only problematic if non-family employees end up suffering from it.

        Also, I don’t get your last sentence: when the profits go to the family anyway, why does it matter if they decide to accept lower profits instead of making larger profits and then spending them on the family members? Are the other employees insurance contributions higher because of the family members also being employed?

    4. MassMatt*

      Health insurance/benefits is a big factor, but some family businesses have a strong “give money to the children/relatives” component. Paying a relative $50k/year is a deductible expense, whereas simply giving them $50k/year involves gift taxes.

      The son’s dysfunction and incompetence might be working in his favor here, the dad may figure “he’ll never last working at a REAL company, and I’ll be damned if he moves back in with ME!” so the $50k salary seems like a bargain.

      The politics of the family might be more complicated–maybe Dad would love to fire his awful son, but the Mom won’t allow it. Or maybe the son’s in-laws are the ones bankrolling the company.

      There are all sorts of reasons why this kind of thing can happen, but the end result is it’s unlikely you will be able to do anything about it, try to keep your sanity while you look for another job. Ideally you stay at the job for a year but in today’s environment job hunting will be a challenge so I’d start now. Get out when you can or there’s the risk of this becoming your new normal.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Interesting twist.

      For years, none of the family owned businesses had this insurance program you speak of. Yours is a large family business so it makes a whole lot of sense that it does have that benefit, the larger the group, the more likely it’s to happen.

      But if this is an office of 8 people, I don’t know how many road folks they have, but I assume not a ton. Lots that size have no insurance, let alone ones that are tied to children or family members outside of the direct workers.

      BUT the thing is if Greg doesn’t “work” for that money, Rob will probably feel like he has to just give him the money. So it feels better to say he’s “trying” even if he’s really not at all :( That’s more of what I’ve seen, it’s to try to force a kid that would usually just suckle off their family funds if given the chance try to “learn some work ethic” but it’s so half-assed.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        And that always fails, because the time to instill work ethic in your kids is long before they’re old enough to have a job.

    6. MangoIsNotForYou*

      Same here – I worked for a family where 1st gen employed their kids and nephews. None of them were particularly hard workers, and I don’t think any of them planned to take over the family business. The Big Boss was pretty transparent about wanting his kids to have health insurance and didn’t much care what they did beyond that. The daughter was smart but unmotivated, the son had some serious medical issues and was out a lot, and the nephews were useless.

      TERRIBLE place to work because you knew that no matter how hard you worked, there would always be a group that would by default get better raises and promotions.

  6. I edit everything*

    I do think, LW, your responses in the moment are spot on. Keeping your head down is the best way to go. Choosing sides between a jerk like Greg and your boss is a no-win situation.

  7. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’m related to and have dated emotionally volatile people. What they do is hold all their regular behavior in during the workday, and then explode at home in front of people who have nowhere to go. My dad did this all the time and had no issues holding down his job. He knew how to act, depending on who was around. My sister did the same thing on family vacations. I don’t how how she does it, but even though she’s emotionally unstable, she holds a professional license and is allowed to practice.

    It’s not so much as changing behavior. More like suppressing themselves until they get home, or, in this case, exploding on dad who won’t fire his children.

    1. Daffy Duck*

      Yes, they let it out on the people who can’t push back/draw hard lines. This is definitely a case where you end up with these jerks treating you as poorly as you allow.

    2. Dragoning*

      I don’t know if that’s entirely fair, either. I’m normally a stable person even at home or with friends , but if I get stuck with my family on vacation for even a couple of days, I start acting like an angry teenager again. I’m plenty stable, my family just has a nasty effect on me. A lot of people have trouble getting past certain dynamics with family. It’s a situational trigger.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Yeah, I agree, but I think these are actually overlapping — or rather that the dynamic you’re describing is just the Mildly Dysfunctional/Normal Family Weirdness version of what Snarkus Aurelius is describing.

    3. different seudonym*

      I have some similar experiences, but I would challenge the belief that abusive people “bottle it up” when they have to and then explode at home, or with people they are close to. That is what abusers themselves often say, after all, and emotions are not, in fact, hydraulic systems. A more parsimonious explanation is that abusers abuse because they choose to, and target people who tolerate abuse.

      1. Perbie*

        Little kids who are adjusting to a big change can do this; adults are just doing what they’ve learned works for them and are allowed to do. Very few are truly out of control; just don’t care to be better.

  8. Person from the Resume*

    But do know that what probably won’t change, no matter who speaks up about it, is the special treatment the family members get. Some family businesses just run that way. Sometimes that’s because part of the business owner’s goal is to provide jobs for family members; that’s part of their mission, even if they don’t explicitly spell it out like that.

    I know someone who works for the flagship restaurant that’s part of a family-owned enterprise. At this point all employees EXCEPT family members and the maintenance guy has been laid off. This general maintenance guy not only worked at the business properties, but performed maintenance at the family members homes so of course he can’t be laid off because who would they call for repairs.

    I mean it is understandable (albeit not impossible) that a restaurant can’t sustain business right now, but the family members were leeches on the company before COVID-19 crisis and the non-restaurant business is also drawing $0 dollars right now too.

    My point it that Alison is so right. Sometimes the business’s purpose or at least a significant purpose is simply to employ lazy, entitled family members that could not be a successful highly paid employee anywhere else. Allowing them to pretend to be a functioning member of society while actually they are living off family wealth.

  9. Jamie*

    This surprises me not at all.

    I’ve worked at a family business where two sons got into a massive fist fight in the front office, where one would routinely yell at and belittle his mother calling her names that literally shocked me. I don’t come from a perfect family, no one does, but this level of dysfunction was completely foreign to me.

    When I was upset about the fist fight they were surprised because I have two boys. Yes, two boys who have never, ever, become violent with each other (or anyone else.) Their normal meter for conflict is calibrated very differently than is ours.

    The son that was the most verbally abusive was smart and talented and knew there is no way his shit would be tolerated anywhere else and was openly proud of the fact that he doesn’t do what he’s told.

    I know there are well run family businesses out there, but my experience has made me side eye all of them.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I know there are well run family businesses out there, but my experience has made me side eye all of them.

      I did too, but that was mainly because of all the letters I’ve seen published here over the years about family run businesses. I almost didn’t apply for my current company because of it, but I’m glad I didn’t let my fear talk me out of it – so far, they seem to run just fine, probably better than most of the non-family run businesses I’ve worked for over the past 10 years.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      When I was upset about the fist fight they were surprised because I have two boys. Yes, two boys who have never, ever, become violent with each other (or anyone else.)

      My two sons (24 and 27) moved back in with me 4 years ago, one is about to move out and the other moved out last fall, so I had them both living with me for a bit over three years. I’d have been scared out of my mind if they’d ever gotten into a physical fight in my home! (They’d also have had to move out immediately.) They weren’t perfect kids, but last time I remember them getting into a fight was probably in middle school, if not earlier? Two grown men punching the cr@p out of each other is scary and not normal even at home, and at work?!?! They were surprised that you were upset about them doing it at work?! Unbelievable.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I was once told that a lot of people have to go into business for themselves and it’s because they can’t hold down a job where someone else holds them up to standards, like not resorting to fist fights and screaming ugly shit.

      If my uncles had a family business to drain, they would have. They’re all the animals who fight and scream, instead none of them are smart enough or have it together enough to hold down a job. They had dreams my dad would start a business, since he’s the ‘calm collected and problem solver.’ of the family.

      Sucks for them, dad didn’t want to be a business man. He thrived on shift work and then living his life with his family.

      My mom would have never stood for her children fighting brutally with each other. WTF kind of idea to have that boys are just you know, violent little jerks who handle everything with their fists. My brother protects others and has only ever had fights when defending himself or someone else, that kind of mentality is so weird to say the least.

      1. Parenthetically*

        “a lot of people have to go into business for themselves and it’s because they can’t hold down a job where someone else holds them up to standards, like not resorting to fist fights and screaming ugly shit”

        Hell yes. This is like the entire dynamic of small businesses in my tiny hometown. And then they get pissed when the entire town isn’t lined up to buy the second-rate products they’re selling for twice the price of anywhere else, while having awkward fights in front of customers and never bothering to clean. Good Lord.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Ah small town small businesses are a blissfully awful thing.

          I literally won’t go into any of the businesses in the podunk town I grew up in. Even as a child, my parents would drive twenty miles to go somewhere with people who acted uh, nice? Like literally, I just want you to not stink eye me and act a miserable mess towards myself or anyone else for that matter.

          I quit going to a store right next to my old place of business because they were rude to a homeless man who was buying a bag of chips.

          1. Artemesia*

            I lived in German village in Columbus abut 45 years ago and went to a small fairly terrible local pharmacy for toiletries and prescriptions just to support a local business. Then one day I needed a refill and in that empty store with their overpriced toothbrushes, they charged me 25 cents to look up the prescription since I didn’t have the bottle with the prescription number with me. I paid and then said ‘I hope you appreciate that 25 cents because those are the last cents you will be getting from me.’ If a small overpriced shop doesn’t provide pleasant and helpful service, why bother?

        2. Artemesia*

          I am shocked. I have it on the authority of Hallmark that small towns are idyllic spots where you can make a good middle class living selling cupcakes and making hand crafted furniture and it is easy to save Aunties failing bookstore and fiance’s family winery with just a new website an a few clicks of the mouse.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            This is why I always really identified with Avonlea more than anything. Old busy bodies talking crap and spreading rumors about how once upon a time an orphans poisoned the family well was realistic AF! That’s the small town I’m used to.

            I never won them over and they just stew over the fact this red headed snippet went on to make a thing out of herself in the “city”.

    4. Dust Bunny*

      The last time my brother and I got into a physical fight was the first day of fifth grade for me, third grade for him. We had our moments but I can’t picture us blowing up at each other as adults.

  10. blackcatlady*

    I’m placing my bet right now. If Rob retires and turns the company over to Greg it will fail within 6 months. The poster should RUN! Put as much effort into finding a new job right now. This is not a normal work environment. Sadly, Rob is failing as both a boss and as a parent. Greg will always be a spoiled toddler. He’ll just be in a middle-aged body with no source of income. BTW if the OP is reading comments how do the other son and daughter-in-law treat Rob?

    1. OP*

      OP here! The other son and daughter in law clearly take advantage of him but in other ways. For example, as mentioned in the letter DIL never came to the office but got paid for 40 hours. Other brother took months to complete projects that should have taken weeks (if that) and never got any negative feedback. They took 2 hour lunches, came in late, etc.

  11. sssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    I was interviewing at a family-owned business five years ago. When I heard that the husband-wife team sometimes fought at work, I knew this job was not for me, among other clues during that interview. I was lucky to get that warning sign so early!

    (Also: dog in the office, “I work evenings at home but I don’t expect you to…” and the interviewer really didn’t know how to do so. I was sad though because the pay was really decent for what it was and I could have walked to work but alas, it was not meant to be. The whole place shut down three years later and became a medical clinic.)

  12. Casper Lives*

    Just another example of why I wouldn’t work for a family run business. I’ve only worked for one. It was dysfunctional, though not to this extent.

    There’s probably normal family run businesses out there, where promotions are based on merit, family members would be embarrassed not to do the work as it reflects badly on them and their family, and family workers are treated like other employees. I’ve never seen it.

    1. Blueberry*

      My current company is one and I am AMAZED. I spent six months quietly observing and holding my breath before I would even begin to let myself believe it. But/and it’s the exception that proves the rule (in the modern sense of that phrase) — my boss conscientiously treats his family member like any other employee. I am very impressed with both of them (and I never thought I’d say this in my life).

      Needless to say they don’t scream at each other in the office!

      1. Casper Lives*

        Haha I’m glad it worked out! The one I worked at didn’t have anyone yelling and they didn’t fight in front of their employees. It was a brother, sister, their souses, and a daughter. The brother and BIL co-owned it. The family members had more flexibly with vacation and work hours; higher pay for the same or lower jobs; bonuses/raises either higher or only for them and no one else; and the grandchildren ran around the office where there were sensitive client files. You couldn’t ask the kids to stop running or keep them out of your office without getting an earful from the family. No other kids were allowed in the office. They were huge on butts in seats right on time (like docked if you were 5 minutes late) except for the family members.

        It’s allowed that they did this since it’s their business. All of them did their jobs, more or less. But it caused resentment among the staff. I mean, when they’re talking about renovating their vacation cabins (each owner), then tell everyone the profit wasn’t enough for health insurance or even small raises, it’s bad optics.

        1. Blueberry*

          UGH. Yeah, I have dealt with a family business like what you describe (fortunately as a part time teenage job, but it definitely made an impression). The whole “One set of rules for the peons, another for the overlords” setup is deeply annoying on so many levels. I really hope that one thing that reading AAM does for people is point out that this kind of malarkey is wrong and also not universal, which is the first step in getting away from it.

    2. pancakes*

      The Car Talk brothers, maybe—they worked together for many many years and I’ve never heard a horror story about either.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The majority of my family owned businesses are actively trying to find someone to take over that’s not family when the ownership wants to retire. I come from a long line of businesses with kids who “don’t want none of that.” lol.

      I’ve had owners actually prep me to take over for their companies verses having their kids in line. I have bowed out but helped them build a structure that then makes it sellable on the open market.

      The key is to find people who actually give a shit about their legacy instead of just blindingly faithful to the idea that their family gives a shit.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Exit plans. They are a thing.
        Many people will complain of feeling trapped but not lift a finger to create an exit plan. I can’t understand how a person could have NO ideas on where to go next to extract themselves.

  13. Heidi*

    Not hearing a whole lot about how Rob is reacting to this. If he doesn’t seem to think it’s a problem (this is a family dynamic that they’ve perpetuated for years, after all), maybe he’s expecting you to follow his lead on how to react to Greg. But total yikes!

  14. Queen B*

    I don’t suppose one of the co-workers can talk to Greg directly, something along the lines of “whoa dude not cool to talk to your dad like that”. Sometimes people talk to their family like that because they know they can get away with it, but if someone calls them out on it, it can embarrass them and make them think twice about it. It’s probably too sticky or risky in this case though.

    1. Random Commenter*

      I don’t think that this would help seeing as Greg’s been talking like this with no apparent repercussions.

      Additionally, it’s further entrenching the problem by framing it as how he talks to his dad. It should be about how he talks to his boss. This is quite possibly how he talks to his dad outside of a business context.

    2. AKchic*

      Considering the fact that Greg is the owner’s son, who has been allowed so much leeway and has been doing it for so long; any employee who brings it up to him will be given side-eye and told to stay in their own lane and brushed off. Possibly even canned the first second Greg is able to.
      The message needs to be given to Rob that he doesn’t actually deserve to be yelled at, period. That his other employees don’t deserve to be hearing it, and that it feels hostile-adjacent to be hearing it, and has the added ickiness of “elder abuse” (depending on Rob’s age) when they do hear it and do nothing.

      Unfortunately, Greg isn’t going to stop unless Rob and the rest of the family makes him. The rest of the family isn’t going to stop their own behaviors unless Rob makes them do so, either. And he won’t. He has given them cushy half-jobs (or non-jobs) and they’ve taken full advantage of those perks and connections. That company will be gone within 18 months of Rob’s passing, and that’s only if the family can keep the majority of the staff on board and the clients stay out of sympathy for the first year, chalking it up to “growing pains” and “grief”.

    3. Chili*

      I think calling out specifically that Rob is Greg’s dad unintentionally embroils the LW in family drama whereas saying, “It’s not cool to yell at people like that at work,” keeps LW on the workplace side of things and still addresses the problem as it affects LW.

    4. MK*

      I think this might be feasible for a long-timd employee who is older or the same age as Greg. Not for a newcomer, especially if they are younger.

      1. pancakes*

        It’s pretty remarkable behavior, though – I think there’s room for a newcomer to say something less directly admonishing, more along the lines of “Have you always had this sort of working relationship?,” or a “wow” to no one in particular.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is one reason it would never fly where I’ve been. Nobody here would just stand there and go “oh dear, look at that family squabbling. Gasp.” they’d be running their mouths about “WTF are you talking to your father that way for? He signs your paychecks you dont’ even have to work for, Gregory.”

      But in the OPs shoes, she’s been there so few months, I cannot help but feel bad for her because I agree, a new comer is not the person who should be speaking up, that’s for sure.

      Or perhaps that’s so new that she hasn’t seen Rob lose his crap on Greg at some point, it could easily go back and forth. I’ve seen that in dysfunctional family settings.

  15. Yvette*

    If you need to stay there for whatever reason please don’t let it warp your sense of what is normal and acceptable in the workplace.

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      What’s the thing we say around here? Pretend you have discovered an alien life form in outer space. Obeserve, but don’t involve yourself. Treat it like a movie playing in the background. Don’t get involved. Don’t ask a father why his son is like that. Just Keep your head down like you are doing and know that the AAM commentariat is wishing you the best on your job search!

      1. OP*

        OP here! I love that mindset! LOL! I ended up never saying anything and leaving to work for a much larger non-family run company but this-this is applicable to any situtaion.

  16. landertoo*

    I have an in-law who works for her dad. It’s the only job she has held for longer than a few weeks, because there’s no real accountability. She works what hours she wants, does what she wants, and nobody can say boo. For families like this, the lack of accountability is a feature, not a bug.

    What grinds my gears is that her title is better than any title I’ve held in the professional world, even though I have a ton more experience (and all of it experience not handed to me by my dad). Because when Dad runs the show you can call yourself whatever you want, regardless of what you actually do. If her resume and my resume were to land on a hiring manager’s desk at the same time, hers would look much more impressive. Granted, the HM might blanch if they follow up with her and realize she has never been able to hold down a job outside of her father, but they don’t see that when they scan resumes. They see titles and industries.

    Anyway, Alison is right. This happens with some (not all!) family businesses and the best you can do is keep your head down, and out of their dynamics, until you can find something else.

    1. MK*

      Presumably they also see that the job was for her family’s business, or at least they find out when they call for a reference.

    2. Batgirl*

      Maybe your industry is very specific about titles, but usually it’s shocking as a main method for finding talent. In addition to ‘I work for my dad’ titles, there are too many shady managers who give title bumps instead of overtime pay.
      It’s better to read the quality of the cover letter and CV; I bet your in law doesn’t shine at that particular skill.

  17. Heffalump*

    As to Alison’s speculation about how Greg would do in a normal company: (1) continue on course and get fired, or (2) shape up: It might be (1) followed by (2), or several instances of (1), followed by (2).

    Good to see that the LW is grounded enough to know that this setup isn’t right.

  18. Rainy*

    My dad came from a family business family. He, his younger brother, and eventually their much-younger sister were all employed by the family businesses (yes, plural, my grandfather had profitable business ideas like most people have idle thoughts about sandwiches). My dad is a smart, diligent, responsible guy, who shone in the family businesses but went to university and then into the military and then had a long and varied career. He continued managing one of these businesses on weekends to give my grandparents a break while he was in university and in his post-military career until he married my mum. His brother worked in the family businesses until he went to university (which he did out of state, I believe having decided he didn’t want to spend his weekends working 14+ hours a day). He had a successful career after university doing project management in the public sector.

    His little sister “worked” in the family business but was more interested in bossing people around and bullying them than actually working. My grandparents gave her the restaurant business after she left high school without graduating and couldn’t keep a job. She ran it into the ground and lost it. She subsequently still couldn’t keep a job, and her husband was an unhirable drunk, so she ended up starting to babysit for cash under the table, and eventually transitioned that to a licensed daycare. I would not, myself, leave a child with her.

    I’ve also been employed by a family business, and I watched the same things happen with the person who managed the location I worked at as with my aunt. She rarely came in, her management style was…chaotic at best, I’ll say charitably, and when she was given the opportunity to buy the business from the older family member (each of the younger generation who’d put sweat equity into the various locations were offered the chance to buy their location when the owner wanted to retire), she couldn’t get any earnest money together because she had a gambling problem. One of my coworkers ended up buying it–this all happened long after I’d moved on!–and it’s more successful than ever under sensible management..but almost certainly going to die in the next generation, as she has now employed both her children, one of whom can’t keep a job otherwise, and so it begins again.

    Just my experience, but in general I think that once you realize that this is how the wind is blowing, take advantage of the good parts of this experience, which usually are that if you are competent the big boss is very grateful, and there tends to be a lot of scope for trying new things (because the family members are usually inveterate ball-droppers). Don’t stay longer than three years, though.

  19. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    I had a teammate at an old job eons ago who had only worked for her parents’ business before. I thought it was a yellow flag, but our boss was taken with the person and would not stop talking about how sharp she was, and hired her to be the only sysadmin at our small (100-150 employees?) company. I left (for unrelated reasons) a couple of months after she started. She struck me as someone severely lacking personal skills, but I had no way to judge her sysadmin work. Only thing I remember about her and me working together was her telling me (not advising, or suggesting, she was really adamant that I should) to dye my hair red (like she had) if I wanted to have a career, because my blonde hair color would make employers think I was stupid, and not hire me. One month after I left, they had to fire her. Apparently on a Friday afternoon, she’d told my (now former) boss and grandboss about her plans to do some work on the servers, that they then asked her not to do as it would crash the servers. She waited for them to leave, did it anyway, and left for the weekend. The mail server and the web server crashed. Boss and grandboss came back into work and worked the entire weekend (including an all-nighter) to bring them back up. They were not able to get hold of Teammate until she came back into work on Monday. They fired her on Wednesday. Apparently, after being given the news, she responded with a long, loud monologue about how she was the best in the field and the company was making a big mistake in letting her go, and would regret it later. No idea how her further career played out. Cannot remember her last name to save my life, so I can’t find her on LinkedIn. I also have no way of knowing whether this person was a “Greg” at her previous, family-business job. I just thought, when she’d first interviewed for us, that it would be hard to get reliable references on someone whose only boss before coming to work for us had been their mom – so, maybe, it wouldn’t be safe for us to put them into an extremely critical position right away? I wasn’t wrong.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Should’ve clarified, this is my answer to “how would Greg do in a “normal” company”.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      We had an intern who had worked for her dad’s business while she was in graduate school (which I actually think was fine–probably the best option for somebody with a limited schedule. The work wasn’t client-facing so she could get a lot on off hours). She had some other legitimate personal problems, but we also had trouble getting her to keep the agreed-upon (and required for her graduate degree) hours, reminded her repeatedly about taking bottles of water that we keep for patrons, etc. She’d be OK for awhile and then creep back into fudging her time (*not* her timesheets, just the time she was actually here. She reported her short hours accurately, oddly enough) and overstepping, and finally pushed back on our boss by telling him her dad didn’t call her on this stuff and she didn’t think it was normal business practice to do so. Boss had to remind her that, here, she wasn’t the boss’ daughter.

      We didn’t hire her for a number of reasons, but the attitude was among them.

    3. Batgirl*

      Epic. Would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for the ‘I’m the best there is’ speech.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I know! I was bummed that I’d already left and was working somewhere else when it happened.

  20. CupcakeCounter*

    My husband has worked for a family owned business his whole career and while every family member who wants a job gets one, stuff like this would never fly. If anything, the family members have it drilled into their heads that this is the family legacy and they better not F it up. Most are incredibly hard working but there are a few less than dedicated family members who don’t pull their weight. They don’t get fired but they do get them moved into roles where they don’t block others. One such cousin decided he was getting an unfair shake and decided to leave the company “and show them how much they’ll miss me”. Came back with his tail tucked between his legs about a year later after being fired twice for poor performance. Was a much better employee after that.

    1. Rainy*

      We had clients, brother and sister, when I worked at the family business I mentioned above who had the last name of an extremely large and lucrative field-dominating business, and were very openly glad that their grandfather (who had shepherded the family business into a massive enterprise) had conferred with his children and they’d all agreed that the person who was both interested in and talented at the business (not “business” but their specific business) should be next in line, and then the person in the next generation ditto, etc.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah, I have long line of “if you look bad, I look bad and if I look bad, the business looks bad. Never make the business look bad.” mentality.

      All the kids started out doing odd jobs, all physical and annoyingly simplistic during the summers. So nobody was swooping in looking at lucrative jobs right out of the gate anyways, they were also taught to respect everyone who was there much longer than they were and understood the business.

      And if you left, you could come back but you get whatever job is open and available at that time, if there was one.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      My brother worked one summer for my uncle’s sign shop and my uncle rode him like a rented mule. Brother learned a lot, but they were never really on speaking terms again. Brother was young and new to the work but not a goof-off kid; uncle is a jerk who blames everyone else for his business going down. He’s getting ready to retire and says he hasn’t made money in years, but he’s also bought “toys” like crazy and hasn’t updated or advertised in forever.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        As an in house accountant all these years. I will always say “you should have saved two nickles to rub together if you wanted that in the end.” to this kind of person.

        It’s called reserves.

        I’m eternally grateful my friend listened to me when setting up their business. I told them to pay into unemployment and to take a check through payroll, none of that shareholder stake bullshit only. Guess who had to close for the lockdown and guess who didn’t get denied unemployment because they did it right [there are new rules in place, some places are allowing business owners who didn’t pay into it to collect but good luck getting that blood out of a turnip after jumping through 798987 hoops while all the states are crumbling under their shitty technology that can’t keep with the old laws, let alone the new ones…]

  21. Essess*

    Personally, if Greg came to me to find out whether he or his dad was right, I would give him a small taste of reality and say “It doesn’t matter who is right. He is the boss and he has the final decision.”

    1. Casper Lives*

      That’s what I would want to say if this happened to me. I think I would then be on thin ice at work. Rob isn’t going to manage Greg, so if Greg complains about me, I’m more likely to get the boot “to keep the peace.”

    2. Heffalump*

      I would say, “Right or wrong, it’s unacceptable to yell at anyone like that, even if he weren’t your employer or your father.”

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I used to get some guys running to me to play into “I was right, wasn’t I?” when they had a tantrum like this. My response is “I don’t listen to “yelling” so I don’t know what the hell you were even talking about, bro.”

      The person who yells first is automatically the loser IMO.

  22. Hedgehug*

    I laughed when I read this letter, sorry. It’s very relateable to anyone who has worked as an outsider in a family business. The dysfunction is real…
    I used to work for a small business owned by two sisters who hated each other. They couldn’t go 15 minutes without shrieking in each other’s faces, cursing and swearing, the whole nine yards. I was once literally sitting between them, they were on either side of me screaming and did the same thing to me: “who’s right!?”
    To answer Alison’s question: one sister was much more verbally violent, but has a real full time job outside this business I worked for, and I am confident that in her professional job, she is most likely totally calm and fairly normal. It’s when she’s with her sister that she goes nuts. Family can be a massive trigger. People let their worst selves out around family, because they know family is unconditional and can’t walk away from you (for the most part). In a family business, the employees are also treated as “family”, so these dysfunctional people feel comfortable being their terrible selves around the employees.
    I’m sure someone could do a PHd thesis in this topic, lol

    1. Tidewater 4-1009*

      “family is unconditional and can’t walk away from you (for the most part)”
      I just want to point out to anyone who needs to know, you can walk away from family. There are no laws against it in the US.
      Abusive families want you to *think* you can’t leave, but you can. I did, and my life is 1000% better without them.
      Ignore the social pressure from people who don’t understand what abuse is like, and keep looking for supportive people who respect your experience. They’re out there.

        1. Tidewater 4-1009*

          I just wanted to make clear to people in abusive situations it can be done, it has been done. :)

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I worked with a woman who did this Jekyll and Hyde thing.

      Our job was a crappy second job type thing and her husband would come in sometimes. I’d always groan. This would entail her ranting for as long as 45 minutes and every other word was “F***!”…. in a public place during business hours. I got so I felt the need to watch out for my physical well-being around her. Yeah she never did an ounce of work during these tirades.

      She worked with woman at her main job who is a friend of mine. I mentioned the tirades to my friend. My friend said she found that absolutely UNbelievable and she knew for a fact our common cohort would never do this.
      Guess again. To this day, I see this former cohort and briefly say “Hi” and I keep moving along. I don’t need that stuff in my life.

  23. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Holy shit, every boss I’ve had to would laugh in his sons face if he ever tried that shit and then tell them to pack their shit and get out. Rob needs to stop babying his grown ass adult children and become a real boss. I have little sympathy for him, he’s accepting this abuse by some no good idiot who is taking full advantage of him.

    I’ve seen fully functioning family businesses for most of my career, with very few actual drama clowns like Greg involved. So I just roll my eyes so hard at this stereotype that’s unfolding in front of you and feel bad for everyone who isn’t family having to watch these idiots on a daily basis.

    I’m sorry you landed here and I hope you get out soon.

  24. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

    It is one thing if the family members are “employees” only in the sense of being on payroll and getting benefits but aren’t otherwise involved. Kinda crappy, sure, but hey, that’s the owner’s prerogative with their business. But if they * do * have duties that aren’t being done, and it falls on people who are paid less to pick up the family member’s slack while they screw around, that’s a surefire way to lose the people that actually make the business money.

    I work for a family owned business that is growing. We have almost 200 employees, only a handful of which are members of the owning family. But I do know that the spouses of the owners are “employees” like in my first example. And it does bug me since we’re told we don’t have enough for raises, but apparently we have enough to pay salaries to people who don’t do any work for the company?? The family that do have actual jobs are all very hard working and good at what they do. It isn’t enough for me to leave. But it DOES bother me. And it makes the owners seem disingenuous about money a lot of the time.

    If I had to pick up work slack ON TOP of that… boy howdy I’d be gone

  25. Phil*

    Wow. My family had a business and it was the exact opposite of this one. I had to work harder than any one else to show there wasn’t any favoritism. My father when he was starting got the worst jobs in the business. The only break I got was before I could drive I got to start 1/2 hour later because my father had to drive me to work. Unfortunately it burned me out-no school vacations, always worked, high expectations-and that combined with the fact was that it was the 60s meant I didn’t go into the business.
    And my dad busted it out.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      One of my bosses used to say that you had to start with the shittiest nastiest jobs because that showed you how to respect the people doing them at any given time.

      Nobody ever disrespected the guys at the bottom doing all the grunt work because they had been there and they knew it’s hard and it sucks.

      It also was because you never know when you’d have to jump in and do that dirty work either. Even as the person doing all the “glamorous” work in the office, I’d crawl into disgustingly dusty and cobwebbed areas, I’d have to wear rubber boots and count inventory in the mud and rain.

    2. MonteCristo85*

      This is the difference between a family business, and a personal business that somoone is using to fund their children.

  26. Elizabeth West*

    Yeccch. This is awful. I used to work at a business run by a married couple who would sometimes get into arguments in his office and leave the door open. It was cringe-y and annoying. OP, I hope you manage to escape this dysfunctional workplace.

  27. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    Strangely enough, I enjoyed working at a family-owned business. The mother worked hard but her daughter who worked there often borrowed money from the till, her best friend would disappear for a few hours and return with a fresh manicure. The daughter’s parents-in-laws often dropped in for a free meal and get angry with the server because no one (except for the owner) had the authority to comp a meal. Still, the place was well run and the owner accommodated my school and work schedule.

  28. Crazy Chicken Lady*

    In my younger years, I worked for a family business. Big boss was quite old and rarely in the office. His three sons ran things. Two of their cousins had key positions.

    The oldest son was the president. The middle son ran sales and the youngest one ran the warehouse crew.

    The middle one made himself scarce in the office and really was the only one that had a handle on proper business processes. His marriage was the only one to survive too.

    The president of the company was having an affair with his secretary. The youngest son was messing around with any shipping rep that was female.

    That being said, I loved working there. They were a hot mess. But they could party like no others. I ran one of their branch offices for a couple of weeks in another state while the branch manager was out. I was sent down to another branch for a few months to see how badly things were going (answer: reallly dysfunctional). In both cases, one or more of the brothers showed up and took us out mid day or after hours to drink heavily. Their holiday work parties were legendary. It was a great place to work in my early 20s, knowing that I was returning to school. No other job that I’ve had since then had such a partying work ethic, .

    (I went from file clerk to purchasing agent under their employ. Not a bad career, but I was destined to be an engineer).

  29. Interviewer*

    I realize there are some good ones out there, but having been burned myself, I would not work for a family business again, even if I was in the family. There’s a lot of dysfunction in family life that spills over into the workplace. And at the end of the day, their actual loyalty is to the family, not the outsiders.

  30. Cafe au Lait*

    This is when I’d be tempted to buy an airhorn and use it whenever Greg started screaming at his Dad. When he stops to look at you, say “That’s enough of that now.” When he inevitably starts yelling at you, blow the horn again. Over and over until Greg starts speaking kindly and professionally.

    It was a nice fantasy.

  31. Tidewater 4-1009*

    If it helps, I offer some insight into this type of family dynamic. Children learn from what they see their parents doing. If their parents yell, they learn to yell. If their parents are abusive in other ways, they learn that. It seems to be more than just learning – it seems to get hardwired into their brain/personality and the impulse to behave badly takes a while to overcome.
    Parents often don’t behave badly in public or at work – only at home. People outside the family don’t understand why the child is misbehaving because they’ve never seen the parent behave that way. Most likely the son is behaving this way and the father tolerating it because that has been their dynamic for a long time.
    My family was like this. My father was abusive and both my parents yelled. Even worse, neither of them made any effort to teach me and my brother how to behave. But they did sometimes yell at us for behaving badly in public when we didn’t know we weren’t supposed to.
    This situation will only change if the father, or the son, or both, get therapy to help them learn better ways to express themselves and reach their goals.

  32. SDSmith82*

    I work in an industry that historically is either giant companies (like the one I’m in now) or small family run business. I’ve learned through out my career that I don’t want to ever work in a place that is family run AGAIN. As we’ve heard so many times on this site “We’re like a family” is a giant red flag to me. After 17 years of being at various “family run” operations, I decided it was time to look for the opposite. My giant company that I’m at now still has some old school family elements, but there’s also a publicly traded company with it’s rules and HR department preventing issues that are typical in family run businesses. Like so many others have said- try to get out of this one OP. It’s only going to get worse, and you don’t want this to warp your sense of how companies are supposed to be run.

  33. Camille McKenzie*

    It’s pretty frightening to wonder how Greg treats his father in private if this is how he acts in public.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, maybe someone should check Rob for stab wounds.
      It’s true though, people are willing to do much worse behind closed doors.

  34. Risha*

    I’m wondering if it’s a good idea for the OP to say something to Rob once she has a new job in hand and gives her notice. On one hand, she’ll have the satisfaction of being able to say “you don’t need to let yourself be treated like this” and “allowing this is costing you and may continue to cost you good employees and is damaging your business,” but on the other hand, it may make future references tricky.

  35. Jessica Fletcher*

    Does Rob yell back, or is he sitting there being passively screamed at by his adult son? This letter makes me worry a bit about Rob. Does Rob seem happy to keep his kids on the payroll without them putting in work, or is that a form of financial abuse? Screaming at Rob in front of the entire office may be an intentional way to humiliate and disempower him.

    In advance, please don’t respond to say this doesn’t happen, unless you’re LW coming to give some additional insight.

    1. OP*

      OP here! Rob just took it like it was his job to get yelled at. It was obviously embarrassing for him and it was so sad to watch. Rob told me once that the reason he worked so hard and will never retire is because he promised all of his grandchildren a private school education so that makes it even worse! I think maybe he took the abuse so that his grandchildren could have every opportunity growing up and he could keep them around if that makes sense.

  36. Savanna*

    This happened to me recently at a new job. Small-ish family owned company and the son would have loud fights with the parent. I mentioned it discreetly to the co-worker who was training me, like, “Wow is that a thing here? I can’t believe the way Fergus talks to Parent!” The next day the co-worker repeated, loudly, what I said to a few other people, but in full hearing of pretty much the whole office. I was mortified! (And also realized this co-worker has no discretion at all and you can’t say anything to her in confidence, so that was good to know.) But the arguing stopped – at least what we can all hear. And things are fine. I have good relationships with everyone, so maybe he realized it’s actually not cool and decided to tone it down.

  37. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

    I went to work a few years ago for a small construction company that was started by a man in the 80s. His two sons each worked in adjacent fields, so they got their start in a similar way, but not working for their father. Eventually the dad convinced both his sons to come work for him. The older son owned his own company, but it was easy enough to combine the two and start doing business together. They would butt heads sometimes, but for the most part we all did pretty well and had happy clients. When the dad decided to retire he had a lot of discussions with the two sons about how the business would run when it was left to them. He had all these ideas about how things should go, but didn’t want to listen to either son when they told him their ideas. So the sons got together and decided it would be better for the older brother to continue running his own company, which could be separated back out of the combined business, and let the younger son continue the dad’s company. There’s enough work in our area that we didn’t really have compete for business, and they decided to focus on slightly different markets anyway.

    Things have worked out really well with that arrangement. We actually house both companies under one roof, since we can cut down overhead that way, but there’s no overlap of employees. 3 of us work for one brother’s company, and 2 work for the other. Honestly, it’s been really nice to have everyone still “together” so we don’t feel like we had to be divorced from the company. The accountant who worked for the original company retired along with the dad, so each company hired a someone to take care of accounting – they were adamant that they should not “share” an accountant who worked part-time for each company. Each month one company pays rent and utilities and invoices the other for their share.

    I think the brothers made a smart decision to not work together. They recognized that their family is healthier if their companies are independent. I don’t think the dad was happy that they didn’t continue with his great vision, but in the long run it wasn’t his right to dictate their futures. The brothers and the dad were all arguing quite a bit before when it was all going according to his “plan.” Not all the employees knew about the arguments, but my office was right next to the dad’s and I could hear them when they raised their voices. It was a great relief of stress for me when the companies split and the dad retired, and I think everyone else in the office has felt that relief, too.

  38. Batgirl*

    The good news OP, is that Greg’s professionalism is not your problem and his father’s failings as a boss and a dad aren’t your problem either. They will have to find their own way. One thing you don’t appreciate at times like these is how they turn into funny stories later, so make room for mental popcorn as you appreciate the absurdity of it. Though you mught not fully enjoy it till you’re on your notice period. Greg is constantly trying to drag you into it because he’s used to being the centre of the world, but evading him is entirely the right call. It’s not your problem! I really like what you’re already saying but if you need some new scripts:
    “I honestly don’t know because it’s not my business”.
    “It sounds like that was a very personal conversation, so I couldn’t say.”
    “I don’t have any experience in that area at all.”
    “I have loads of photocopying to do, so excuse me.”
    “Really.” *look like paint is drying in front of your eyes*. “Huh. You don’t say.”
    “Sorry to change topic on you but I’ve been meaning to ask: where is the paperwork for the y account?”
    I would be so, so tempted to say: “Well I don’t know what it’s like to be allowed to back chat the boss because I’ve never worked for my father on a free ticket” but dont get pulled into being his nanny and respond to the siren call of cluelessness.

  39. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I’m sorry you’re going through this and I hope you can find a new job soon. That being said, nothing is going to change. Greg is being an ass because his father is ALLOWING him to be an ass. Greg has zero respect for his father, and that’s on the father (and mother if she’s in the picture). Kids get in trouble and fight with their parents, but you teach respect from an early age.

    When Greg tries to get you to take his side when they fight, I wouldn’t even joke about it. I’d just say in a matter of fact tone “I’m not getting involved”.

  40. Wintermute*

    It’s tough because people often are heavily invested in defending their children’s bad behavior, even when they’re the targets. Also, child-to-parent abuse doesn’t match any of our cultural “scripts” for talking about abuse, especially if the parent is young enough it doesn’t really meet the criteria for elder abuse.

    Because of all those factors and how much it could blow up on you I wouldn’t say anything while still employed. But on my way out the door I would be tempted to say something along the lines of “I’ve seen how you’re treated and it’s not okay, you don’t deserve it and it’s not right.” and give them some resources for if they feel they’re in danger or are just sick of living that way. The good news is that once they recognize the dynamic for what it is, parents have a much higher success rate of getting themselves away from abusive dynamics.

    Because if this is what is PUBLIC, It’s probably much worse behind closed doors.

    1. Batgirl*

      Children abusing parents isn’t as accepted or as invisible as you might think, because the kid hasn’t been taught to accept anyone’s authority. In my school, you can spot the ones who’ve gone into unacceptable territory quite easily, even before you speak to the parents. When it becomes clear that the parents are struggling and the kid is failing at basic behaviours, we work with both parent and child – it all comes out- and we do make it clear that certain behaviours are abusive and unacceptable. If we don’t, nothing changes, kid gets expelled and if it’s a physical temper from a large boy with a petite single mother it can get dangerous if he doesn’t grow out of it while still a child.
      Unfortunately the cause is usually low expectations from the parents (they don’t really believe their child can do well without seeing it first) and only fear for the child’s future keeps them on track with what we ask them to do (basically don’t give in and roll over). I’ve definitely come across small business owners and farmers who are all “Ah school’s not for them, luckily we have a job for them that doesn’t need exams” and its the same lack of belief that stopped them having high expectations of their toddler.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Having an elderly auntie who is financially and verbally abused by her grown children, it’s absolutely a thing that happens and is often something that cannot be dealt with unless someone is over the age you can call elder-services for them. Even then, it means that the elder is then threatened with being placed in a home to remove them from their situation.

      Every single one of the family has told her over and over again that it’s not right. Given her resources. Given her the ability to get out. I’ll go there right now, pack her shit and close out her lease on my own dime. Leave these rats in the dust, etc. Nope. Her motherly love for them still won’t allow it to happen.

  41. Jean*

    Ugh, family businesses. I managed a real estate office for a year, for a realtor, her husband, and their son, all of whom were agents on the same “team.” Never again. It was always, always me against them in every situation, no matter how minor. My mother also works as the manager of a department where she manages the daughter of the owner of the company. The daughter is pretty useless, and creates a bunch of extra work for my mom, but at least she’s a nice person who means well and doesn’t intentionally slack off or otherwise abuse her position as the big boss’s daughter. Still annoying though.

    Sounds like Rob needs to convert Greg’s position to a full time “mafia job” (i.e. a job where he’s on the payroll with benefits, but never, ever darkens the office door with his presence).

    1. Heffalump*

      I once worked for a very dysfunctional (although non-family) business. A coworker once commented that the business would have run much better if the owner and the bookkeeper had hired a manager, drawn salary, and stayed away. I have quite a few war stories about this place.

  42. X. Trapnel*

    Ooh, this is lots of farming jobs ( the industry I’m in).
    It’s a running joke amongst farm workers like myself – the farm owner’s pwecious widdle diddums adult kids who float in and out as they please and pick up full pay and perks for doing so. For us regular workers, they’re a prize PITA – they get in the way, they break gear, leave vehicles unfuelled and are never around when the real mucky jobs have to be done. The worst thing is when they come down giving the rest of us orders, which then causes all kinds of issues with the boss. Trying to talk to the boss about his grown up sooky bubba son/daughter gets you nowhere, so it’s off you go to another farm ( having first asked the all-important interview question about adult children and their “input”, ahem, into the operation).
    I’m so sorry you’re going through this OP and I think you need to brush up your CV and get outta Dodge. :-(

  43. HS Teacher*

    I worked for a small family-owned business once. Never again. I should’ve known it was going to be toxic when told during my interview I’d need thick skin to work there. I’m pretty thick-skinned, but holy cow, it was awful. I left the entire industry after that job (old boss had effectively black-balled me). In fairness, he did me a favor. Lesson learned. Loudly.

  44. Lora*

    I’ve worked at 2 family owned businesses and they’ve all been terrible experiences. The first one was co-owned by three brothers, with one brother pulling all the weight while the other two just did nothing. Any time an argument came up where the working brother got frustrated at the other 2, they would bring in their parents, who would scold the working brother and tell him to go easy on his siblings.

    The second one wasn’t exactly a family owned one, but the president hired his son and all of upper management hired their own kids as well. This expanded into regular employees getting their siblings/cousins hired so it led to this weird dynamic where the majority of employees were related to someone else. If an employee wasn’t working, it was almost impossible to fire them without pissing off their father/brother, so this led to problem-workers getting shuffled from one department to another.

    It was an utter shit show and I’m glad I got out of there.

  45. Editor*

    If there is a murder mystery where the death occurs because of the toxic dynamics in a family business, maybe the intern should buy the paperback and lend it out at the office, particularly to family members… Sorry, just kidding.

    But a bunch of these dysfunctional family business stories seem ripe for novelization.

    1. Heffalump*

      “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

      –from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina

  46. PotatoEngineer*

    The Roman Empire generally did fine when the current emperor had no sons of his own who could inherit — he’d adopt someone competent, and pass the empire to them.

    The Roman Empire did badly when children inherited the throne.

    Some things never change.

  47. Not So NewReader*

    Years ago I was day-dreaming out loud by telling a family member (FM) I was thinking of starting a business. I talked about this and that, just talking out loud. The FM chimes in with, “And you can employ ME! I could come and go as I please. I could work the days I feel well enough to work.I could go home if I did not feel good. You could just give me tasks that would take into consideration my list of 27 limitations that I have. This would be great!”
    And this is how dysfunction junction gets born.
    I thought, “Love ya, but stay home I will just mail you a check each week.” I happen to know that I am good at modifying job layouts to accommodate many type of constraints. So I was very much aware that I would never craft a position that would fill all of FM’s criteria.

  48. MissDisplaced*

    #1 Right or Wrong, it does sound like all parties need some sensitivity training.
    But Archie and Edith are being real jerks here, insisting this is ageism when both have a track record for destroying company property and not following IT procedures to prevent malware. And let me guess, they probably claim these things happen because they didn’t understand. It’s bullshit because I’m in their age bracket and have absolutely zero issues with my computers or phones, installs or updates. Your HR is a weak joke, and in no way should a formal reprimand be issued to an IT employee for trying to explain how to do something correctly step-by-step.

    What kind of power do Edith and Archie wield at this company? Unfortunately, there are times when there is the unspoken rule that you can never, under any circumstances, tell the C-suite members they are incorrect, even if they are blatantly so to the point of it being a lie. I hate that, but it does happen.

    I’ve sort of faced this with someone on my C-suite because they objected to a particular word I used. No amount of explanation or proof that this word was the accepted industry terminology would suffice with this person, and unfortunately my whole project got shut down because of that word. Meanwhile this person continues to use a different term that is not correct, and it makes the company appear foolish and out of touch with our customers who all use the correct terminology.

    Sometimes you will never win, and you just gotta shrug and let them sound stupid. Because you’ll lose the battle either way.

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