Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010


Q: My boss has hired his daughter to work with me as a deputy. At 23, she has no relevant experience and no particular qualifications for the role Her salary is ridiculously high, and it's coming out of my budget. On top of all that, I constantly have to drop what I'm doing to help her with her work. Should I say something to my boss?

A: Does your boss have a boss or is he also the proprietor? Because what you describe is the sort of cosy little set-up much favoured by family businesses: fine and dandy if you're family and a potential nightmare if you're not. So it seems to me likely that the problem of the daughter is not actually a daughter problem at all but a symptom of another, bigger problem - and one that you may well have been trying not to face up to.

The very best companies to work for, whether big or small, exude a strong and unspoken sense of impartiality - just one set of rules that apply to everyone; merit and contribution recognised equally from whatever source; no favouritism, no inner circles, no cronies, no cliques. Some family businesses miraculously manage to maintain these demanding standards, but many don't. So among non-family staff, there's always a lurking suspicion that they may not be playing on the levellest of playing fields. Your boss' action in imposing his daughter on you and your budget will certainly have confirmed you in this suspicion. From now on, it will infect even your smallest dissatisfaction - and it won't go away.

So you need to think of moving on. Once you've come to terms with this decision (and make sure that it is a decision, not just a watery sort of tentative possible option) go to your boss and tell him that you're planning to go and exactly why. Don't make your reason daughter-specific: it would sound too petty and, besides, it isn't. Paint the truer, broader picture. If he's ever going to change his ways, now's his chance. But I doubt that he'll take it.


Q: A colleague recently told me - confidentially - how much she was earning. She is at a similar age and level to me and assumed I'd be on a similar rate after my first pay review. I was surprised how high her salary was. Despite a positive appraisal, I've been offered a measly pay increase. Could I get more if I tell my boss I know what my colleague earns? And should I break my colleague's confidence?

A: I'm glad you asked me this before doing anything, otherwise you might have made several dogs' breakfasts out of your life.

Unless your company believes in grades - which it clearly doesn't - you should never assume that people of similar age and level will be earning precisely the same salary: there are far too many other factors at work.

It's perfectly possible that your company had to pay a premium to attract this indiscreet colleague of yours; and few companies are saintly enough (or insane enough) to give their existing staff an automatic and equivalent rise in compensation.

It's also possible that your indiscreet colleague is being a little economical with the truth. Whatever the motive, people's inclination to flatter the size of their salary continues to amaze me. She may, of course, have simply wanted to wind you up; in which case, she's certainly succeeded.

Work well, be patient, make sure of your facts. Then, politely, ask for more money. But under no circumstances refer to your colleague's notional salary.


Q: I've been deputy director of a small retail chain for 15 years, and have always been widely tipped to become director. But at 55, the present director is not contemplating retirement for another 10 years and, frankly, I'm not getting any younger. To complicate matters, there are rumours that the director might be considering the finance director as his successor. At 45, should I just cut my losses and leave?

A: You probably don't see your boss as Winston Churchill but I'm pretty certain that fate has cast you as Anthony Eden. Fifteen years is a long time to be a deputy anything. In another 10 years you'll have been director-in-waiting for most of your working life. By the time that Eden finally got the job, he was well past doing it; and, harsh though it sounds, the same will inevitably be true for you.

The appointment of a new director, particularly after 20 years or more, should usually be a trigger for change, for the introduction of new ideas and new energy. Everyone on the payroll should feel a sort of tingle: revived expectations with maybe an invigorating touch of apprehension. It's everyone-on-their-toes time again. Through no fault of your own, it's just not possible that as familiar and comfortable a figure as you would be able to generate such a sense of excitement.

The fact that you've been content to wait on the touchline for as long as you have suggests that you aren't obsessively ambitious. But you must have certain skills and enthusiasms. So put your present company behind you and wallow in fantasy for a bit. What's your absolutely top dream job - one that would send you whistling off to work of a Monday morning? Identify that; then go for it. The sooner you start, the better your chances.

Jeremy Bullmore, former chairman of J Walter Thompson, is now a director of Guardian Media Group and WPP.

Please address your problems to him at: Management Today, 174 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7JP.

Or e-mail: management.today@haynet.com Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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