Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about difficult subordinate who exhibits very childlike behavior. :
I have someone working under me who seems to be very unstable. She cries very easily for no apparent reason and exhibits disruptive work behaviors (raising voice, accusatory, etc. although she is better now that its been brought to her attention). She has been referred to HR and Employee Assistance Program. She seems to have a huge sense of entitlement. When she said I’m not treating her like a colleague, I told her its because I am her boss. She responded several times then if this is the case “I will just tell you everything is OK”. When I try to discuss something with her about workplace rules, conduct, etc. she tells me she does not want to talk about it. I told her recently that we must communicate if we are to work together. She said she does not like coming to work. I asked her to elaborate and she said she has learned to work with me as long as she follows my rules but that she does not like working with me. I have incredible support from my boss who is in another state. I have 5 yrs. of very good history at this employer. This employee has been here since July and has caused a lot of havoc. None of my other subordinates have any complaints about working with me.
The problematic employee has some admitted mental health issues. Please help. I want to stay in my job… but it is hard to work with someone who is difficult especially when it is such a good organization. Thank you.
Signed, Got Problematic Subordinate
Dear Got Problematic Subordinate:
Assumptions I am making as I respond to the current “difficult working relationship.’ One is that your organization sounds like it has the infrastructure and resources in place to be pro-active for all parties involved. Two, it appears that the employee must have presented herself professionally and persuasively during the interview & hiring process to convince you to invite her on board. Third, is that you appear to have made and effort to communicate, include HR in the process, and recommend resources such as EAP. Last, and most important, is that you state you have your boss’s support, 5 years of good history, and other employees who work well with you – and your style.
Coming from a position of strength: think rationally, not emotionally. You stated that she does not like working with you, she does not like coming to work, she refuses to discuss some things about the workplace, and that you do not treat her as a colleague. You are her boss, you have reminded her of this. No doubt – you have done so professionally.
You say want to stay in your job. Be rational. Think big picture. If you want to grow with this organization , know how they want you to handle this issue. Review the situations that have arisen. Review the corrective procedures. Review her personnel file: her job description, company mission, performance objectives, any 3-6 month reviews, upcoming reviews. Review past documented issues, when did they begin, is there a pattern? Were any goals set, was/is there follow-up. Think of the other co-workers input – good or bad. You mentioned “disruptive’ actions, were issues addressed professionally, away from co-workers. Were your concerns discussed with HR personnel who know your success record? Is there someone else to consult? I hope prior discussion of issues with HR included employee, your self and an HR person to show mutual understanding/concerns? If not, it should. If yes, again – have any goals to improve behaviors been agreed upon? Is follow-up scheduled, is it truly pro-active?
Since it appears you are taking this personally, it may help you to think about whether she is different from your other employees. Brainstorm! Include, i.e. personality, skill sets, productivity & contributions, team or non-team oriented, goal-oriented or content. Why ask these questions, perhaps it is a new challenge for you. Perhaps you’ve been lucky and have not been faced with such an individual. What strengths does she bring to your team? Is she instrumental in your success, could she be? Could you learn from this experience? Who can be your mentor, your boss? Others? Are you getting support?
Now: is she getting the support she is entitled to? Assure her that her well being is of concern to you and the organization. EAPs are confidential, does she know this? Is she afraid, since she admitted to mental health issues? It is important for you to recognize behavioral inconsistencies, but it is not your responsibility to fix them, it is hers. In closing, you provide constructive open-door supervisory support, and direct her to the organization’s resources & tools. She decides to accept them. My assumptions aside: Stick with the facts and the organization’s process and objectives. Stay confident but be willing to learn & grow, too. You can make this work for everyone! Successfully working through difficult situations is a collaborative process, we call WEGO.
Feedback: Thank you very much for the excellent feedback… it really helped put things in perspective for me. My gut feeling is one of anger… but you helped me see that my energy should go to trying to managing this situation.It is very beneficial to see in written word what the overall big picture goal is. Although it is not fun, I suppose it is an excellent growing experience for me. Wasn’t sure if you wanted a response to the questions… or if they are just rhetorical….?The answers to all of them is YES, we are doing everything in our power to make things right for this employee. I requested and sat in on her meeting with HR… to see what I could do to make things better for her. We have given her all the tools necessary to make it work. My boss has written to her that she needs to examine her role in this situation.
My boss has asked that I document everything just in case it is needed. She feels bad for me that I am “living” with it daily. My assistant, who has been here since November has mentioned that this difficult employee exhibits very childlike behavior. My boss has said the same thing all along. Basically I do not like this person but from your response, it just seems that I have to manage the situation and be fair to her. Any additional feedback is more than welcomed.
Kamila Cooprider, Guest Respondent