A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem
Working in a Family Run Business
Dear Sue: I have a dilemma and need your help. I supervise the
son of my boss. He is nearly 30 years old and dresses inappropriately for
his job. He looks sloppy, is not always shaven and sometimes goes without
socks, although he brings them in his pocket. We work in a professional
atmosphere and he has management responsibilities and is in view of the
public. I have given him warning after warning, yet he continues to do his
How far should I go with this? My boss has told me to give him a
warning, and if necessary, let him go. He has already been fired twice
from this company. I feel very uncomfortable with the position I am in, so
I continue to try to bring his son around. Last week I told him if he
didn't get a haircut (he was wearing his hair in a small ponytail) that he
could no longer work here. He did get it cut, but had highlights put in
his hair, which doesnít look much better. I feel I am in a constant battle
with him and do not understand why he continues to challenge me. How do I
handle this delicate situation?
Ė Managing the bosses son
Sue Says: You are, indeed, dealing with a delicate situation.
Your boss appears to understand his sonís ďproblem,Ē and has given you
full authority to deal with him in whatever manner you choose. The son may
be well aware of the delicate position you are in, and willing to push you
as far as you will allow him to. Your boss clearly acknowledges his sonís
lack of professionalism, and likely has done his best to influence him in
the past. Chances are he does not like what he sees anymore than you do,
and may not want to be the one to have to fire his own son. He probably
has decided that the best way to deal with his son is by not dealing with
him, allowing you to instead.
With that said, I can understand your hesitation to fire your bossí
son, and although you have been given permission to do what you wish, it
remains a difficult position for you to be in. Other than demanding he cut
his hair, it is unclear if you have been specific in your expectations.
Assuming the son wants to keep his job, if he is given clear guidelines as
to what is expected, it may be easier for him to comply. If there is a
dress code policy, you may need to revise it. If there isnít one, create
one and be very specific as to what you include in it. Leave no room for
personal interpretation and address all clothing requirements, including
personal grooming specifics.
Stop battling with him and have a talk with him. Let him know that you
do not want to give him an ultimatum, but are being forced to if he
doesnít change his ways. Tell him that you want to help him help himself,
and that if he canít resolve his issues now that the same problems are
likely to follow him wherever he goes.
It may help to explain to him why his image matters and how it impacts
the organization as a whole, including the perception others have of him.
Because he may fear losing his identity, reassure him that you are not
trying to change him, but merely trying to help him maximize his
potential. Provide him with a written dress code policy and review it with
him. If the boss agrees, give him a certificate to a clothing store to
help him purchase a few new pieces of clothing. Many retailers offer
personal shopping services and the right personal shopper can help him
select appropriate clothing; you might suggest this or prearrange a
meeting with someone.
Once you have this meeting with him, let him know that you will be
giving him feedback on his appearance, and that you expect him to abide by
the guidelines. Determine the consequences of any future lapses in his
appearance, and inform him what will happen should he deviate from the
policy. Make sure you acknowledge him for any positive changes, no matter
how small. Inform your boss of all that you are doing, and get input from
him as you work on a dress code policy.
If the son still defies you, you may decide there is nothing more you
can do and choose to let him go. You may be sure you have the support of
your boss before you make any final decisions by discussing your options
with him to prevent and reduce the chances of any bad feelings or blame in
the future. If after all of your efforts, the son does not change, you
will know you did your best to help him, and realize that he simply is not
willing to help himself.
Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She
is author of the newly released
101 Tips for Graduates and
How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her web site at
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