Custodian Badmouthed By Second Shift Co-worker!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about distribution of work load:

I and one other employee work on the 3rd shift as a school custodians. We work 10p-6am. We have a day custodian (facilitator) who gives us direction. She cannot reprimand us but sometimes she is one of those troublemakers who starts trouble between employees and then stands back and watches the fireworks fly. There are three shifts in this school. Our problem is we all have areas to do. We have a relatively new coworker who is a known troublemaker in the district. She is on the 2nd shift in our building. My problem is that this coworker bad mouths people behind our back. She has befriended the head custodian. The 2nd shift custodian decided she didn’t like her area and wanted ours. So our head custodian (even though the building needs do not meet their shift and area) decided she was going to make us do their area and they can have ours. I have been in this building for 6 years with pretty much the same area and this employee has been on workman’s comp mostly in the years she has been in the district. She hasn’t always been in our building. She told (because we found a note in the trash) our head custodian that my coworker and I think her area is so easy, so why doesn’t our head custodian give it to us and see how we like it. Well that was two weeks ago.

In a meeting this past Friday we got her area. So its obvious the head custodian believed what she said. We never say anything about her area because it is a hard area. She is just trying to get out of the area. She has relayed to us in the past that she hated that area. We can’t even go to anyone about our knowledge because they will wonder why we were searching through the trash. Our head custodian gives us numerous notes every night to do extra work. All the while this custodian is coming in checking out our areas to make sure they are done correctly and reporting back to our head custodian. It will be impossible to do any extra work with these new areas. But I do have a feeling we will still get notes. I talk to the Union and they said that I can’t defy my head custodian (who is also in the same union and not management) but I can write down that I didn’t have time to do the extras. I don’t know how long that is going to last because if you put those two heads together (the two troublemakers) they will come up with something. I have never been wrote up by Management and have always complied with all requests. But I am afraid that in lieu of this new area, I won’t have extra time and it will be virtually an impossibility to do any extras.

But for some reason or another, my head custodian is buying into what this coworker is saying. When the areas were given to us, this 2ND SHIFT custodian said right out loud..” You mean nobody wants to argue about this?” My coworker and I were shocked that our head custodian believed this girl. Our head custodian likes this girl so much that she is willing to jeopardize her best workers (my coworker and I) We have new management in our district and building now and really don’t want to take this to them. Not yet. We are union employees and I’ve talked to the union and there isn’t much they can do unless we get wrote up. I decided that I am going to work every night and do my job and no longer speak to anyone. I feel as long as I have been in this building and all the extra work I’ve done for her that my Head custodian should of realized that girl was not being truthful.What would your suggestion be? I can leave this building once another position comes up, but I will have to wait.

Signed, Custodian

Dear Custodian:

When I was an active, school administrator, I was the CEO of my building. Anything that occurred had my stamp of approval or disapproval. This responsibility is the norm for the field. By this token, you should set up a conference with the chief administrator of your school or, at a minimum, the assistant. Write a note to the principal stating that you have a work related problem. Ask for direction relative to the appropriate administrator with whom you should set up an appointment. Then do so. In this meeting speak from your strengths. You are a long time employee who has never been formally reprimanded. You are experienced in the field, have a good attendance record, and have found, until recently, your work rewarding. You do not understand why one with less credentials and a less desirable work record has been allowed to jeopardize your success. Finding the note is nothing to be ashamed of. You just happened to run across it. You were amazed with its unfounded conjecture and that the lead custodian would take it at face value and change your work assignment.

You at least deserved a voice in this matter. Cite specific examples, to the administrator, of when “this co-worker bad mouths people behind their back.” Relate that this worker is not a supervisor but comes to your area and evaluates your work to the lead custodian. These occurrences have made you uncomfortable. State that you feel threatened by this situation, which is creating what you term a hostile work environment. The key phrase here is “hostile work environment.” There are legal mandates that make such environments unlawful. In the meantime, beat the negative co-worker at her own game. When she comes into your area have something for her to help you with. Have her hold a ladder while you change a light bulb, clean light fixtures, etc. Tell her, “Oh, I am glad to see you because I need you to help me for a second.” Be dumb about mixing some chemicals and ask this person to show you how she does it. Ask her if she has some supply you need in her building (that you know she has) and ask her to bring you some on her next trip.

Assigning her enough extra tasks when she comes into your workplace will soon make her leery of coming. You might even go so far as to ask her why she wrote the note that you found and that you are disappointed that she would be untruthful behind your back. Find pleasant things about you new assignment to point out to her. Make her think that you are not unhappy with your change in duties. In other words kill with kindness and respect. The co-worker will no longer be winning and just might change her tune. In the conference with the administrator, indicate that you wish a transfer at the first opportunity so that you will no longer be subjected to harassment and hostility unless he/she has other suggestions. Ask this person point blank for ideas to make your environment more positive. Also, ask for a follow-up conference in approximately 10 days to evaluate the situation again. You must impress upon this person that you are determined to have a better work environment and that you expect them to help you create it.

If possible, have another co-worker to collaborate with you in setting up and attending this conference. There may be strengths in numbers in this situation. One last admonishment, next time you find a note about your work performance, keep it. The one you found would certainly come in handy now. Good luck. Let us know how things progress. Put your faith in voice. WEGO means voicing your concerns.

Guest Respondent Barry Hester