Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a difficult coworker:
I have a coworker who everyone thinks is the worst. She has a pretty high position and we know she is getting paid very well, but she never does her job and is very disrespectful. Her job is to curate the agenda for a conference that we put on every year. Her job is to put together the agenda and speakers for the conference but puts it off till we are about 50 days away from the conference. She continues to procrastinate by putting off the work and focusing on the non-essentials to the conference ie: decor, food, gifts and etc.
She comes in late to the office every day, takes her lunch break right when she comes in and forces my colleagues to stay very late because of her late start.
She also has this tendency to call people by their full names (Elizabeth rather than Liz, Martha rather than Mary, Robert rather than Bob) and also makes up names and calls my colleagues by the wrong name.
She’s also been caught stealing other people’s food and is constantly demanding her needs to be met right away. How do I deal with this coworker? P.S. There is no HR rep in this building and HR has been outsourced to another country.
Signed–Disgusted With Coworker
Dear Disgusted With Coworker:
You describe a coworker who “everyone thinks is the worst!” I’ll call her Ruth rather than refer to her with pronouns. This list of Ruth’s disliked behavior include: behaving disrespectfully, procrastination and failure to do her job of curating the agenda for a conference an annual conference, causing coworkers to work late, coming in late and immediately taking her lunch break, expecting her needs to be met right away, not using shortened names and calling others by the wrong name, and stealing food. In addition, what galls you is Ruth being in a high position and paid very well.
You don’t mention if you or anyone has confronted Ruth or has approached a manager about her disliked behavior. Therefore, I assume you or your coworkers have only bitten your tongues and expressed your frustration to each other. You add that your HR is in another country. So what are your options to deal with Ruth?
Because I am not as close to the problem as are those of you who work with Ruth, I can only mention various factors that might have shaped Ruth’s unwanted behavior and then make suggestions for what you might do. Some of them probably will miss the mark. Others will overlap. Based on four general considerations, I will list several possible approaches:
Ruth’s status and action likely has evolved over time. She probably has been assigned a higher position and pay because she did good or at least passable work.
Many managers usually base position and pay on tenure and projects done without hassle. So apparently Ruth has satisfied those two criteria.
Ruth’s many disliked behaviors apparently have not become visible to those who manage her and your work group.
Ruth gets by despite her disrespect and inconsiderate action, and that will continue until and unless she is forced to face the fact that she is disliked/disapproved for it.
Options for you and/or coworkers:
4a. Prepare a list of specific incidents of one or more of Ruth’s acts or lack of action that have adversely affected your performance and your work group.
— Confront Ruth the next time any of you encounter one of them.
— Schedule a time-out talk between her and each of you affected.
— If she reacts negatively, inform Ruth you and coworkers who are upset with her are going to meet with the appropriate manager. Invite her to join you in that meeting.
4b. Request a meeting with your workplace manager.
— State your purpose in terms of what in Ruth’s behavior harms performance of those in your work group. Come with a log of incidents.
— Request an investigation and subsequent action.
4c. Request in writing an investigation by H.R. of the problems with Ruth.
4d. Approach the matter of Ruth indirectly.
— In a staff meeting request the topic of work area performance be a priority of your agenda.
— Review what has been working well and that which needs improvement.
— Clarify job descriptions and specify interaction: who does what, when, where and who signs off approval.
I hope these general considerations and possible approaches enable you to reflect on your frustration with Ruth and possible ways to confront it. Almost every organization encounters less than optimal interpersonal work group performance. It is primarily an immediate supervisors/managers responsibility to mediate and resolve problems that frustrate coworker’s best performance. Sport teams pre and post game skull sessions provide a model for work group improving performance.
If none of what I present, make sense for your situation, I hope it will at least spur you to find a more constructive/creative solution. Please share these thoughts with coworkers you trust and determine together what course of action you think is best. Expect that whatever you choose to do will displease some and Ruth in particular. But any displeasure will be minimized if you are careful with the facts and avoid accusation of ill will. If you scan our Archives you will find similar Q&As that might supplement and/or modify what I have said.
Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. — William Gorden