I have worked for a company for almost 30 years. About 10 years ago, the man who owned the company handed over the running of it, and the ownership, to his two children. Since then, things have been very difficult. The two, a brother and sister, initially followed in the manner of their father, but as the years went on, they became more and more estranged from each other and now they do not speak to each other at all.
I was Godparent to one of the children and was also invited to all their dad’s family events – Communions, weddings, etc – so I know the present owners since they were kids. My difficulty is that I am caught between the two of them. I believe they both trust me and seek my support for their position, but this then means that I have to tiptoe around the workplace trying to keep both of them happy.
As I have shares in the company, I am very invested in it succeeding, but this situation is ruining my life. Any decisions made by the owners do not involve their sibling and so it is up to me to translate it (sell it) to the other person and then report back to the decision-maker. As they are joint owners, they are obliged to agree on the strategies and policies, and all of this happens through me – it is becoming a burden I am being swamped by.
My partner tells me that I should leave as life is almost not worth living, but I am loath to give up my life’s commitment and I have been part of the success of this company. However, if things stay as they are, I can see the company failing and maybe I should leave while there is still value in my shares.
It would be wise to go and see a business adviser so that you are including objective financial advice in your decision making. However, it is clear that this decision is also an emotional one for you.
There is no doubt that we get our sense of esteem and validation from work, and this is why so many people struggle so intensely with their workplaces. You are in an impossible situation as currently you are pulled in opposing directions and there is no end in sight. However, your position could also help in overcoming the impasse in the company, but you will have to decide if it is worth the effort to you. Clearly, both owners and their father regarded you highly and with your input it may be possible to initiate a mediation-type process.
The combination of family and business is an intense one and often the structures and conditions of one interfere with the other: for example, sibling rivalry tumbles into business with chaotic results, or the requirement of business to focus on results has catastrophic results on family relations. What might be needed here is a combination of family therapy and business negotiation, and this can often be found in consultancy organisations as this is a familiar story.
You need all your self-confidence and resilience to make hard choices and so focusing on your own wellbeing is paramount
Your starting point can be to invite the owners to a conversation about the success of the business. Focusing on what everyone wants (a thriving business) allows for at least one point of agreement. Then, before going any further, you can outline your concerns for the future of the company, and you will need to do this honestly. You are worried that no one will listen, that anger and resentment will cloud everything and more seriously, that if this situation continues, you will be forced to leave a job that you love and have invested in.
Do not try to come to any resolution at the initial stage, what you are looking for is an agreement for all to engage in mediated discussion with a professional facilitator. If there is some acknowledgment from the siblings that there are difficulties, you can proceed and have a number of conversations that progress the matter. However, it they continue in their entrenched positions, you have no choice but to accept their inability to manage a business and then plan your exit in a way that is advantageous to you.
Many people stay in jobs for years beyond the time when they should have left and their continued suffering clouds decision making, often to the extent that they are depleted by the time of departure. You need all your self-confidence and resilience to make hard choices and so focusing on your own wellbeing is paramount so that you have clarity and surety in what lies ahead. Take time off to get a break from the constant conflictual demands and when you have some mental clarity, talk to those you trust and listen closely to the advice they offer as they have your best interests at heart.
The loss that might ensue (relationship with your Godchild) is serious but you did not create this situation and if your suggestions for mediation are not taken up, you have to take charge of your own direction and welfare and take action quickly.
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