Boss Hasn’t Fired Terrible Co-worker!

Question:

I was recently hired by someone that I’ve known for a few years to be the “manager” of a new retail store that he opened up. I was under the impression that I would manage the store and have one of the girls from his other store working there with me full time. However, at the last minute before the new, second, store opened up, he hired a friend of one of the other women that works for him in the original store. Now instead of the first girl that I mentioned, I work with this new woman. Since January is a typically slow time in the retail year, we are the only two people working in the new store.

Now, my problem is that she is extremely offensive verbally, making the most inappropriate remarks both in private to me, and in close proximity to customers on more than one occasion. From a woman who is older than me (I am 28 and she is 37), it is unbelievable to hear the ignorant and racist things she has to say. Some of her topics of conversation have been religion, whether or not someone was a transsexual, how her boyfriend is too fat to tie his shoes, and that she really has to “pee bad”, and that was in front of customers. In the unfortunate time when I am alone with her, it gets much worse.

I believe I have a vested interest in my boss doing well in the new location. I believe that firing this woman will only help him establish the store as a place that people will want to visit over and over again. However, despite three or four instances where I expressed my feelings about the situation, he is reluctant to do anything about it. I have guaranteed him there would be no issue with having all the hours covered, and in fact he has several current employees who have been with him for quite some time that have told me they would like more hours. These are people that he knows and trusts and have proven them selves. This new woman has not proven anything other than she will potentially piss off some customers and make a bad name for the store. My boss says he is not hesitant because of any loyalty he may have to the woman that made this horrible recommendation, but I cannot see any logical reason why he would not let me get rid of her. As far as I see it, the longer he lets her stay, the harder it will be to do what has to be done when she finally screws up big-time. This is a job that I enjoy very much and I think I am rather good at it, but this woman makes me extremely uncomfortable and I feel that my only option now may be to look for another job for myself. Of course this would be a last resort, but any advice that you may have would be help. Thank you.

Signed,

Look For Another Job???


Answer:

Dear Look For Another Job???:

You don’t tell us exactly what you have said to your boss, the owner of the store, about this woman he hired. In the three or four instances in which you spoke to him about the woman, did you tell him exactly what you have written in this e-mail? Apparently, he did not fire her, nor did he explain why to you. Also you don’t say what you have told this woman after her inappropriate remarks.

Your concern for doing a good job and making the store a success is commendable and should please the storeowner. When you spoke with him about this woman did you express this? Also did you put your self in the co-worker’s shoes and ask your self if you were she, would you want someone to go to the boss to complain about you without your knowledge and at least first speaking to you about what you disliked? You don’t mention anything good she does and if you empathize with her need to have a job.

You say you cannot understand why the man who hired you and this co-worker is reluctant to fire this woman. You are left with the uneasy feeling that she will “piss off” customers. You conclude your description of this situation by wondering if your option is to hunt for another job. Before you do that, is it not time for some straight talk with both your boss and co-worker?

An issue such as this is an opportunity to learn what your role is and how to deal with what you feel is inappropriate performance of a co-worker. I use the title of co-worker because that is what you label her position. If indeed, you have been hired to manage the store, you should have a job description and that job description should spell out what you should and should not do with respect to a co-worker’s performance. For example, at this point you need to learn from your boss if you should speak with this woman about her language in your presence and when customers are present. Also if you are hired as manager, you need to learn what are the tasks that need to be accomplished and how the assignments of those are to be made. This needs to be clear whether or not this woman is your co-worker or someone else. So this is an opportunity to confer with your boss to discuss these topics.

It also a time for you to think through how you might be most effective as a store manager. This is a time for you to look in the mirror and reflect on how you manage your self and then how you want to manage others. For example, how should who does what be effectively managed–the jobs of opening and closing the store, stocking shelves, arranging products or hanging clothing, pricing, taking inventory, handling who speaks with customers, etc.? Do you as manager want to give orders and make assignments? Or is how these tasks are assigned something that is best managed by respectful collaboration between a manager and an associate (in this case one you term a co-worker)? If you do think one person should make all these decisions of who does what, when should the assignments be made–well before hand, on the spot, clearly spoken or written, and most importantly in what tone and language? And if you are manager, what is your responsibility regarding training and coaching this woman regarding how tasks should be performed and that includes speaking to her about what you say are racist and inappropriate remarks about her fat boyfriend and her toilet needs?

The topics you need to discuss with your boss are: job responsibilities, your role with respect to who does what in relation to this co-worker, and who should speak to her to about subjects she talks about. And you need to think though the issue of bossing versus collaborating and coaching. Ideally, you and your co-worker will have a regular time each day or weekly, to review and discuss store matters. This should be times, each of you will come to so clear an understanding about who does what that your working together will be self-managed and cooperative, one in which you both take great pride, cheering each other on and making the store money by pleasing customers. Learning how to work together is a continuing matter of working out unwritten communication rules–especially about talking about how we talk to one another and customers.

Generally not all such topics are addressed in job descriptions, but they are important and should not be left to the whim of someone assigned to manage a store. Sooo, as I stated above, this an opportunity for you to think through the kind of manager you want to be and to learn what is expected of you by your superior.

Do these thoughts make sense to you? Managing is an on-going learning process–hopefully an interactive collaborative mutually rewarding process, not one of ego, but what I refer to as WEGO. Will you let us know how you react to this advice and what you elect to do? What works and what does not?

William Gorden