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The cardinal-nephew problem is quite common in Greece, where most businesses are (or started out as) family run. Even in larger corporate entities favouritism to relatives and friends is not uncommon.

One specific instance of nepotism I had to deal with in a previous job was with the boss' wife that was responsible for HR. She is lovely, but she lacked common technical skills, to the point that every once in a while I had to re-train her on how to use our internal CRM. Soon it became apparent that it was much less time consuming if she just asked me every time she needed something and I just did the work for her. A particularly annoying, but effective workflow.

A couple of times I hinted that we needed to hire a tech savvy secretary to help her out, but nothing came out of it (and I never got a satisfying response as to why).

Given that the practice usually stems from higher up in the company's hierarchy, there's little, if anything, an employee can do. To me it felt like an impossible situation and removing the option of moving on to another company, the only thing I could do is shut up and deal with it.

Are there any other options to deal with nepotism in the workplace?

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I do like that you included the "sane" proviso in the question - it would be fairly easy to get a lot of the responses I can think of classified as insane in a courtroom. ;) –  John N Apr 17 '12 at 19:59
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@YannisRizos: You use the word "hint" to imply you tried to be gentle and subtle, but is it possible the subtlety was missed and they didn't quite get the message? –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Apr 17 '12 at 20:57
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@FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Oh no, they got the message, and I got a vague response (think something along the lines of "we'll take it into consideration"). Furthermore it wasn't a money thing, at the time we were doing amazing and we were hiring for every other department. My highly speculative opinion is that they didn't hire an assistant because the workload didn't justify two people (and some days not even one). If she wasn't family, she would have been replaced (or probably never hired in the first place). –  Yannis Apr 17 '12 at 21:02

5 Answers 5

Nepotism isn't necessarily the issue here. The problem is you are doing the work of a less-qualified employee. The fact that she is the wife of your boss just makes the situation more sensitive. You really need to focus on the cost of this practice to the business rather than on the individual(s) involved.

From now on, I suggest that you make a log of exactly when, with what, and for how long you spend time helping her. After you have collected some data (say a few weeks worth), you can then present the case to your boss. Detail why doing work you are over-qualified for is reducing your potential and suggest a solution (hire a tech savvy secretary).

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In a more general sense then, my advice is attack the policy rather than the individual. Its the only way of changing things without risking negative consequences. –  Tom Squires Apr 17 '12 at 21:10

Have Faith

No I didn't mean have faith that the person will become competent automatically. Have faith that over time people will realize what is wrong and who is wasteful resource in the larger picture.

The symptoms you showed are applicable to both nepotism as well as for under performing populists (many of them are definitely the cardinal-nephews).

  • The first thing is not to get irritated, angry and spoil your own repo or take on some war of justice just because you see things your way. [May be you are a cool guy so that's not much for you!]

  • Keep up the company/organization spirit! if you can, do help them without really thinking much about "not-my-job".

  • If you do have to fight, fight issues not people. Always be objective in meeting so that no one can accuse you back.

  • Understand that higher ups do want results after all. So keep up your job and keep informing your immediate (or effective) boss that you have fixed the problems (on someone's behalf). Keep improving your repo and first establish that your views gets enough influence.

  • As long as possible, "let them fail". If they are in a roles that doesn't block your work, avoid them till things become a problem. Or answer them sticking to your limited capacity and let them fight their problem. The more of their failures visible, more miserable the management becomes in supporting those people and their actions.

  • Be assertive in meetings and raise the problem issues. All communication (which is visibly unbiased) should be highlighted. Let the under performers just receive their due labels.

It is not that people don't know who are the suckers! It is just that these people are protected. Whenever crises occur, people mostly know whom to turn to; that's where you can pinch anyone and they will listen to you without choice.

Of course, in organizations where appraisals and promotions are not truly performance based, probably there is no other solution than you getting your own influence before you can fight. Till then, wishing you luck!

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Nepotism is a difficult problem to solve unless you are in charge, or the company is serious about tackling the issue. One of the main problems is often family will work for less money and be more loyal to a company than an outsider. Often the trade off is that they are often promoted over more qualified individuals and even put into positions they are not able to effectively handle. The problem exists pretty much through out the free market.

Usually the easiest thing to do is just find a different job. However in some areas(I am guessing where you are in Greece would be included) this is not really an option.

You can take advantage of laws and regulations that protect workers. Often, nepotism leads to unprofessional behavior and a hostile work environment. In the US and many other western countries the law protects workers from this. You can consult a legal professional about your options. This will not win you any points with your management but if are willing to change the company for better at the cost of your career this is an option. Because while the law may protect you from direct retribution it does not guarantee you will actually be considered for promotions, or and extra firm stance on work standards.

If your company is large enough you may be able to unionize. While, I would generally be against this step, if the problems are bad enough, and the company is strong enough, a union may make sense. If you are already in what is generally considered a management position(most of IT is,) this option is probably not going to help you.

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I once worked at a startup where pretty much all the employee's girlfriends and wives were also employed there. It was fun when the times were good, but very tense indeed when times were hard or there were issues between couples.

At one point, a colleague and I accidentally overheard the CTO calling his brother-in-law and negotiating a transatlantic relocation package. This demoralised us further - what was wrong with hiring locally, perhaps take in someone with the relevant skills?

We decided to try to find a way to get our concerns through to the CTO subtley. The office had a lot of 1990's motivational posters like 'There is no I in TEAM' and 'Quitters never win; Winners never quit', so we found the perfect addition:

Nepotism: We promote family values here - almost as often as we promote family members

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Yes, just like that. Initially they just focused on the cute lions but eventually they got the point we were making. –  JBRWilkinson Mar 10 at 7:30

Social fabric is complicated.

The other answers state, more or less, that there is nothing you can do about it. Grin and bear it, as it were. As I understand it, the cause of nepotism is an individual or individuals who want to keep people that are loyal around them, and loyalty is more important than performance. You can exchange loyalty with another adjective in some cases, such as familiar, or just a person they are comfortable with. I think nepotists are concerned with stability, and lack of disturbance, more than anything else. Avoidance of problems in their personal life and otherwise. You can't ask a guy to fire his wife and expect him to have a happy home tomorrow. Ain't gonna happen.

So, in places with nepotism, I've observed, you're not working in a meritocracy. Which is the main reason you'd have a problem with the nepotism in the first place. You're concerned with performance, boss wants people around him that he personally approves of, rather.

I see nepotism as being deeply rooted in an organization, when it appears. So, if you can't stand it that much, you have no choice but to leave, for an organization that is more focused on merit for promotion and retention, rather than loyalty or personality or likeability.

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