Dealing With A Mean Employee

Question:

We have had an employee in our office who consistantly criticized others in the office (of equal or greater status). She consistantly looks for the flaws in the work that is not her responsibility, but someone else’s. While I was friendly with ther for a time, I recognized that to criticize others equal to or above her was necessary for her to bolster her self esteem. The problem was, it was mean. We all have our work issues, may not agree with another’s decisions or opinions. While our meetings allow us to express our opinions, the department head is ultimately responsible for deciding which suggestions are feasible. This persons opinions always criticized anothers work or the entire department. She shared her opinions with every other department and said they never listened to her marketing suggestions. She has no degree in marketing. As a matter of fact, she is a high school graduate with only some college and no degree. When approached about her actions, she said she wasn’t there for a popularity contest.

Our office manager was promoted. I applied for the office manager’s position (I worked there 16 years) and this other person also applied (she worked there 5 years). I got the position. We had to hire another person to replace me. The company chose to reduce the grade level of my previous position because the person who would be hired would not be expected to handle the aspects of my previous position that put me at that grade level. She did not apply for the position, even though the duties were probably something more preferable than she was doing,because she was upset that they reduced the grade.

We hired another employee and she resented her so much that she set out to get her fired by accusing her of being agressive and putting her in fear, and other things that could cause an employee, who is on probation and could be fired without cause, to be fired.

She came to me with her accusations against our new employee, stating that this new employee was schitzophrenic and only displayed this behaviour when she was present. I approached this new employee to find out the circumstances and the employee denied much of it, but stated she wanted to get along in the office and if she did anything to offend this other person, she wants to make amends and let her know she wants to get along.

On a second meeting with the accusing employee, she accused me of not addressing an issue that she presented and that I didn’t do my job. I recognized that there was nothing that would please her. I tried to appease her by telling her the new employees feelings, that she was sorry she offended her, that she hoped to get along and that she was sorry about everything and would like to make up with her and start again.

This employee responded by attacking both the new employee and myself, presenting a picture to HR that never happened. She went from HR, to the district manager, to the CEO of the company hoping to get some satisfaction.

When she got to the CEO, he recognized that she had a problem with everyone in the department, not just me and the new employee, put her on administrative leave, made her see a psychologist and have the report sent back to the office, and when she got back she was assigned to a new area, but still working for our department.

We all belong to a union which seems to be there to protect her. She has sumbitted letters which are total lies. She accused me of spitting in her face (unbelievable, I wouldn’t think of even spitting, let alone spitting in a person’s face.). She is hell bent on causing me and the new employee problems.

I think management recognizes it, but the union has kept this thing going since last Febuary 06 to now, November 06. The thing is, she is not going to let this drop until she sees us bleed. If that does not happen, I fear that she will try other means to get back at us.

At least she is no longer in the office with us daily, but she is still causing problems. My resolution is not to give her any new ammunition, but she still scares me and my husband feels I should leave.

I do not really want to leave just yet, because I had planned to retire in three years, when my pension is at it’s best. Do you have any advice?

Signed,

Tired of Dealing With A Mean Employee


Answer:

Dear Tired of Dealing With A Mean Employee:

Hello! Your situation is certainly not one that can be responded to in a few breezy paragraphs, is it?

1. First, I want to reinforce for you that the most uplifting feeling you will ever have is when you do one of two things: Find a way to bring about a change in the behavior of Ms. Challenge or develop the plan that ultimately results in her resignation or dismissal.

You don’t need to quit your job; and I hope you wouldn’t let one mean-spirited person drive you out of something you need financially. Think about the money represented by the next few years. How awful to say, “It’s worth $120,000 to me, to not deal with her.” Or whatever amount of money is involved.

Also think about those who depend upon you to represent them in situations like this. For example, the person who has also been the victim of Ms. C’s actions. If you don’t want to deal with the problems, how can someone without your maturity, experience and training be expected to? What a tremendous opportunity you have to be everything you thought you could be when you applied for the job of office manager!

2. A foundation for that is something that will probably be difficult at this stage, but that I think is absolutely necessary: Take your emotions and ego out of it. Become a Mr. Spock, Data, or whatever other character you can think of who operates objectively and without emotion.

All the things you have said indicates to me that you are feeling frightened, intimidated, angry, frustrated and anxious. But ask yourself what your are fearful about.

Yes, I understand you just want to gnash your teeth at a union that would protect someone like this! When it comes right down to it, she doesn’t have any real control over you.

3. Here’s what you have to watch: Feeling that everything that happens is her against you and vice versa. Think of it only as her against the organization. And you represent the organization and authority. It is the ultimate acknowledgement of her feeling that you are an authority figure, that she hates you as much as she hates everyone else in authority. It isn’t you. It’s what you represent to her.

4. The next attitude you want to achieve is this: It isn’t your goal to get her fired. Your goal, always, always, is to help her change her behavior and become a productive employee. She doesn’t have to be like you. She doesn’t have to have a good attitude. All she has to do is fulfill her job description and not behave in a way that affects the work of herself and others in a negative manner.

Saying that and working to think it, will help in two ways: It will allow you to say truthfully that your goal hasn’t been to fire her, but rather to improve her work. Second, it will give you a serenity about it, that, combined with the attitude that this isn’t personal, will help you feel more relaxed.

When you think you have to win and that you have lost if she returns or if she makes trouble, you set yourself up to feel like a failure. But if you think that you are just one link in a chain of responsibility and authority, and you can only do what you know to be the right thing, then trust it to someone else, you can accept that whatever the results, you are simply going to do your job, objectively. And collect paychecks as long as you can!

5. I find it helpful to do a lot of visualizing and self-talk when I feel in a turmoil over someone in a situation like this. The best facial expression I’ve found is a wry smile. A smile that says, “Aren’t humans wacky?” And I would say in this case, “Oh my goodness! She is so determined to be miserable and make everyone else miserable. What a shame!” And, “In ten years when I am relaxing with a glass of iced tea, this will be a blip on my memory. I’m certainly not going to let it ruin the last three years of my career.” Or, “She must really have some anger, to be acting the way she does. I’m sorry about that, but I won’t let her poison the office.” Or even, just, “What a mess things like this can be! But, I guess that’s what managers are for!”

The idea is to fix your mind that in the whole, grand, cosmic scheme of things, this isn’t the worst employment situation that has ever happened. It’s just bad. But it’s not impossible to deal with. Let that be the face you show to others.

6. The next thing to add to your foundation is this: Don’t let yourself think obsessively about this one person. There are others in your office whom I’m sure you enjoy, and some who have small problems of their own. Give each plenty of your time. Deal with the issues surrounding Ms. C. as they occur, but engage yourself mentally with the others. I read once that 90% of all our thoughts are the same ones we had yesterday and the day before. It takes something new to push out an old thought for very long. I can believe that! When I was dealing with the worst personnel situation of my career, I caught myself talking to her in my mind at home, in the car and everywhere else.

I never said any of the things I practiced, I just ruined lots of good time talking to her in my mind and out loud! After a few days of that I realized what I was doing and I vowed I wouldn’t let that happen. I took on a task that I had been stalling on at work, and it was so difficult for me; and had enough conflict of its own; that it helped me replace a lot of the goofiness I was involved in.

Incidentally, when that person quit, before she was fired, she told an arbitrator that all she’d been able to think of for a year was the terrible things her immediate manager and I had done to her. She said she had lost weight, was nauseated, couldn’t sleep and cried on her way home from work. You’d have to know how horrible she was to every one to fully understand why we weren’t sympathetic when we heard that! But I did reflect to myself that I was glad I didn’t let myself do what she did: Obsessively think about an unpleasant situation, to the exclusion of anything good in my life.

One way you know you are obsessively thinking about an employee or work situation, is when you talk about it at home or to friends day after day. So that after awhile you give a daily update! This is frustrating to them, takes away from their good feelings and eventually angers them.

You get the situation you now have where your husband is advising you to leave, but you don’t necessarily want to. He probably not only feels badly for you, he wants to make the unhappiness for himself stop too!

You won’t be able to go cold turkey on this, but perhaps you can start tapering off, until one day someone asks, “Oh, yeah, whatever happened to that problem employee?” One way to do that is to commit to going three days without talking about her to those who don’t know her. If someone asks, say that you were tired of having someone like her control your free time, so you aren’t going to talk about her anymore. They will probably try to say something; but don’t let them!

If you must talk about her, put on your serene countenance and say that she simply doesn’t like authority and your represent authority. But you will handle it as each situation presents itself. Don’t sound discouraged, angry or upset. Instead, be peaceful and courageous sounding. Everyone who is tired of hearing about this woman will be grateful! (You may not have discussed her that much. I’m just tossing out ideas!)

7. The final foundation is this: A strong network of supporters, as well as those who you support; none of it focused solely on Ms. C. Don’t let yourself be seen as focused only on her. That presents the picture of a boxing match and you’re against the ropes! Instead, adopt a business-like demeanor and spread your interests around. What else is going on that needs your efforts? Who could use some support? Who would appreciate ideas or encouragement? There is more in the world and in your company than this one person. A leader takes people to good places. Find ways to do that.

8. After you’ve established a foundation for yourself, get the advice of those to whom you report, and who know the entire situation. Ask them for their advice and follow it. Use HR and others, so you are doing what will be supported at the highest levels.

I hope these thoughts will help you start developing a personal plan of action for yourself in this situation. It is possible to end the conflict and I hope you will be able to do so. Please let us know what results.



Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.