Lynne Curry: Tension in office shouldn't be public

Q: I run a family business and employ my son, daughter and their significant others along with twelve other employees. On the surface, everything works.

Under the surface, and obvious to everyone including customers, is the fact that my daughter can't stand me and treats me with complete coldness. I ignore this, and give her the same bonuses I give my son.

This situation hurts, particularly at holiday time. I don't deserve the way she treats me. Part of the problem stems from my bitter ex-husband, who my daughter bonded with. I'm part of the problem as well. During the marriage, my ex-husband bullied me and it took me a long time to become a functional person again, and in the meantime, my son and daughter suffered.

Although I love my kids, I do better as a business owner than my daughter thinks I did as a mom. How can I keep my past failures and her ongoing resentment from affecting everyone, including myself? The Monday after Christmas I was floored with sadness at work and realized the toll this takes on me and potentially all of us.

A: Most of us drag past failures and hurts into the present by thinking about them and acting based on them. We also try to control others when we can only control ourselves, adding to our and their frustration.

As long as you focus on your daughter's estrangement, you torture yourself and keep it alive for yourself and others. Instead, focus on what you can do. You can completely appreciate your daughter. You can treat her well every day.

You further free yourself by deciding your daughter's treatment doesn't define you or require you to act in line with her perceptions. If you want to appreciate your daughter and greet her warmly every morning do so. Don't let your daughter's cool reaction to your warmth force you to respond unkind. Instead, act from your assessment that you value her, have always loved her and treated her well.

Finally, this family drama belongs to you and your daughter. For the sake of your other employees, don't let the tension bleed over into how you and your daughter interact with or in front of them.

Q: The Christmas holidays made me wonder whether I could openly celebrate the message of Christmas in the workplace without offending co-workers or the employees under me. In the past, and particularly because I'm a supervisor, I've kept my beliefs to myself, but this makes me feel like a divided person. What are the laws?

A: According to the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers cannot force employees to participate in religious activities nor prevent employees from doing so. Employers need to avoid discriminating against employees or applicants because of their religion when making hiring, firing or other employment related decisions. Employers need to reasonably accommodate to their employees' sincerely-held religious practices unless doing so would create an undue hardship for the employer.

For reasons similar to yours, many employees express their religious beliefs while at work. Employers need to allow religious expression among employees to the same extent that they allow other types of personal expression. Supervisors have the right to express their religious beliefs as long as they don't trample on their employees' rights by creating a hostile environment for employees or co-workers when they express their views.

Increasing numbers of employers openly sponsor religious activity. For example, Ford and Xerox host spiritual retreats to spark creativity. Chick-fil-A closes on Sundays to honor the Sabbath and dedicates each new store to "God's glory." Meanwhile, the laws against religious discrimination and harassment equally protect those who lack religious beliefs or practices.

-- Lynne Curry is a management trainer, consultant and president of Alaska's The Growth Company Inc. in Anchorage. E-mail her at lynne@thegrowthcompany. net.