Monday, 12 December 2016

The Dilemma of the inexperienced Daughter-in-law

I am writing the dilemma series after a long time . 

This case is a real one and I need your help on this .... 

Recently I attended a four day workshop on Developing leadership potential among women professionals in one of the most premier institutes of the world. In the workshop we had an "inside-out" session. It was an emotional experience where the participants spoke about their innermost feelings and recounted a few of their life changing event and problems. 

This was narrated by one of the participants and I found it really unique and wanted to share it with my readers. I have changed the names to keep anonymity. 

Alpana , an engineering graduate was wed in a business family. They owned a multi-specialty hospital . It was run by her Mother-in-law, her husband and her elder brother-in-law.  Alpana was also inducted into the organization as a Technical Director.  She was young and inexperienced but had a lot of enthusiasm and zeal. When she took over the post, she was very motivated and gave several new ideas and suggestions . She was modern and technical and hence her thought process was also technically inclined. But after a few days, she was dismayed to find that none of her suggestions had been taken seriously and there seemed no plans to implement the same. 

Her mother-in-law ruled the administration of the hospital. 

Her decision was the last word.  Whenever Alpana said something, she was dismissed very subtly , indicating that she did not have the adequate experience and the knowledge. Her husband looked after the sales and marketing and was out on tour most of the times. So, he was unable to empathise with her dissatisfaction and said that she should learn from his mother !

At her  brother-in-law's suggestion, she enrolled herself in a Executive MBA course and came out with flying colours . But this too did not change the situation and neither did the attitude of her family changed.  

She became so frustrated that she contemplated quitting her post and sit at home !  At that very juncture, Alpana's mother-in-law became severely ill and the doctors suggested her bed rest for 4-6 months. 

It was March - financial year end and lots of work needed to be done. Alpana rolled up her sleeves and dived into the work. She worked very hard , went through each and every file meticulously. She herself was surprised when she was able to take tough decisions . She guided the staff and the staff started respecting her. She implemented automation in the accounts, purchase and a few other departments. Within the next two months,  some of the cumbersome processes became smoother and faster.  Customer satisfaction improved. Alpana spent time with the staff and talked to the customers so that she knew what was happening on the floor. 

Within 3 months, she was being consulted for important decisions by the senior members of the hospital. The function heads started looking at her as their boss.  

Alpana was glad that she was doing a good job. She was satisfied that she could hold the business together in the time of crisis. 

But ... 

After 6 months, her mother-in-law was back at work ...

She did not like Alpana being treated as the boss and started removing her from important emails.  She made sure that the function heads reported to her and not to Alpana. 

Things were back to square one !!

Now, here is the dilemma ... what should Alpana do ? 

Should she fight for her position ... if yes , how ? Remember, she is not just an employee ... her family life is also associated with her work life ... 

Should she quit and work somewhere else ?

What should Alpana do ? 

Dear Readers, help in the decision making and put your remarks in the comments !


  1. Itis a typical sas-bahu complex. Alpana should not give up.She should continue very tactfully.Situations and the people in the administration will definitely recognise her ability which is better than her mom- in -law.She will win .Only patience is needed.

  2. She should quit and take up a different job. It is always a bad idea to bring family dynamics into the workplace. That way both the family relationships and career suffers. There will be an initial resentment and difficulty about her decision, but it will be better for her in the long run. This way family entanglements won't hurt her professionally, and neither would happenings at workplace interfere with her personal relationships. However, she will have to be tactful about the whole resigning thing. Make the career transition as quiet as possible. It is always a good idea to be in a position where your in-laws cannot control your life.

  3. Persuade her husband to gift his mother a 6-month Round-The-World cruise. On a serious note, I don't think the MIL will give up her position easily. From what I see, this is THE most important position in the business and her MIL will not let go. It's not only an emotional or relationship thing, it's business. Show me a Managing Director/President of a company who's willing to give up his/her job and I'll show you either someone who is 70+ and willing to retire, or someone who can't hold his/her job.

  4. Power! That's all. Either she enters the ugly dirty war of sacking her MIL, with possible colateral effects (mostly within the family web of relations) or she leaves and finds her own territory of power. This is beyond usual organizational behavior.

  5. The world moves in mysterious ways - always... choices: 1) ride it out, allow own competency, expertise and integrity to build (it will) - the system will recognize this and pull her back in; 2) above plus a well-designed/facilitated intervention of productive dialogue with the son, mother, wife and maybe a senior leader or two (needs to be set up well); Resign and move on...

  6. Family businesses sometimes need a family therapist. Her competition with her mother in law is more difficult because of the family dynamics. It might help to pull in a consultant to work with whole system. I had a very dominant MIL and the only battle I won was I outlived her. Putting the focus on what's best for the business and pulling in an outsider to consult might create a shared vision, clearer role definitions, and cleaner communication.

  7. The daughter in law one day becomes mother in law and behaves exactly like the one she hated the most. Greatness lies in breaking the cycle.