Stop being a wimp and manage your people

Dear Evil HR Lady,

Is there any law prohibiting an employee's wife from visiting him in the office at any time?

Nope. No law. 

But wouldn't it be great if there was a law that just said, "No spouses at work!"? That way when she showed up you could just say, "Hi, Kathy! It's great to see you but illegal for you to be here!"

Sounds kind of ridiculous, doesn't it? The real problem isn't that the spouse is showing up, but that you're not managing the situation. That's right -- it's not Kathy who's the problem, it's you.

Okay, she caused a problem by showing up inappropriately, but you're allowing it to continue. Spouses, friends, cousins and next door neighbors don't belong at the office. If they aren't a client or an employee, they shouldn't be there. But the real problem is that you're not managing the situation. If she's not bothering anybody else and your employee is performing at a high level, of course you should just ignore her. It's doubtful, though, that that's the case.

So many people love the idea of being the manager -- being the boss is cool and all. But the reason managers get paid more than individual contributors (generally speaking) is that their jobs are harder. And this is one of the hard things that a manager has to deal with.

You can handle this by making a blanket policy of no guests in the office. This includes spouses, children and friends. End of story. But that's a bad way to manage if the problem is just one spouse. If you sent that out via email, everyone who knows that Kathy is the problem will think you are a wimp for not dealing with her directly. It will undermine your authority.

The best way to deal with it is to hit it head on. From here, I can't tell whether your employee is also a problem. That is, does he encourage the visits, or does he dread them and actively try to discourage her visits? If it's the former then you handle it like this:

"John, when you're in the office, you need to be 100 percent focused on your work. You cannot do that if Kathy is here. Therefore, Kathy can no longer visit the office." Then it is his problem to deal with his wife. If she continues to show up, you have to apply consequences, which may include firing.

If, on the other hand, he doesn't want her to show up either, you can deal directly with her. (It's possible he did want her to show up until you told him it was affecting his performance and now he doesn't want her there.) First, of course, tell John the above, but then add, "I've instructed the receptionist not to let Kathy through."

Then you instruct the receptionist (who deserves a pay raise for this) that she is not to let Kathy into the facility. If there is no receptionist, then it's your job to corner her and toss her out. You can do this politely, of course.

"Hi, Kathy! It's good to see you but I'm afraid John can't have personal visits at work," you say. Then you show her out the door.

This should solve your problem. Yes, it involves confrontation. Yes, it involves a potentially embarrassing situation for John. Yes, you may find yourself getting tons of John's marital problems dumped at your feet. (And anyone with a spouse who hangs out at the office most likely has marital problems, since that's not normal behavior.)

However, at the end of the day, you won't have the problem of the annoying spouse in the office, your other employees will appreciate having her gone and you won't have to make a ridiculous blanket policy.

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