Employee I Recruited Has Become Mean To Me

Question:

I was hired by a very small (primarily women) family insurance company. A friend of mine knew of someone who was looking for a job. So, I offered to talk to her and we hired her based partly on my recommedation and referral. The work place was already hostile, the office manager is ‘gossipy’ and Miss ‘know it all’. She is quite annoying but a necessary evil according to my boss.

The employee I recommended was as sweet as could be and quite grateful, then gradually became very quiet and then rude and threatening. Now several months later she takes advantage of my boss; when he is out of the office she sneaks out and the office manager lies about her whereabouts.

She is combative with me and somehow she thinks I am a ‘brown noser’ for my boss. I have never told on her to anybody. And this treatment is unfair and incohesive. I love my job but now most of the women barely say Hi to me.

I have a great marriage and happy life outside of work. But my workplace is both toxic and depleting. My boss thinks highly of me and pays me well, but also in some ‘sick’ way wants to correct the disconnect between my co-workers, and also wants us to be at odds . It sounds twisted but I guess he feels it keeps us on our toes. I disagree. We would produce more if we were working and creating together.

I have no plans to leave my job. I am not this woman’s boss but do have senority and a college business degree under my belt coupled by eight years of managerial and admin experience. In some ways I want to give up and just completely ignore her. HELP!!!!

Signed,

Wanting A Better Workplace


Answer:

Dear Wanting A Better Workplace:

The two key statements you made are these: You don’t intend to quit your job. And, you are not a boss or a supervisor. That pretty much says you will be staying right there–but any changes in the behavior of other employees will have to be accomplished through the office manager or the owner of the company–which frankly doesn’t sound likely, as you describe it. You might be able to encourage a change through your own good example, or by appeals to the others about the chances for an improved workplace. But, your relationship with others does not seem conducive to that.

The company is not a large one where there are layers of supervisors and managers, or HR sections, to work through. You appear to be the one who is most upset by the situation. That leaves you with only one option: Find ways to tolerate what is happening. You don’t have to learn to like it, but you may have to learn to accept it as an unpleasant reality of your workplace.

That sounds rather fatalistic, but think about the situation as it now stands: You don’t indicate that business is suffering because of the hostility that is present. The Office Manager apparently likes the other employee well enough to allow her work liberties. You don’t indicate that the other employees are angry with each other, just that they are cold to you.

You think of the workplace as toxic, but it may not seem that way to others. Your boss may very well feel that though he wishes things were more pleasant, it isn’t so bad that it can’t be tolerated. And apparently he doesn’t see any negative impact on the company’s success–that’s usually the most important issue to a business owner.

We often suggest that people do a quick problem-solving analysis in this way:

1. List the things that are most bothersome at work, then note what aspects of it have an impact on work effectiveness for you or others. That clarifies the sources and negative impact of your concerns. At least it gives you a place to start. 2. List the changes required to make things better. You might want to consider this thought process: What do you want to see more of, and why? Less of, and why? What do you never to want have happen again, and why? And what do you want to see in place of those negative things?

3. Determine the role of each person, as you see it, to make the workplace more acceptable, based on those issues above. What would each employee have to do, the specific co-worker, the office manager, the boss? You?

4. Which of those things can you personally require someone to do? (That usually requires supervisory authority.)

*Which do you think you can encourage and perhaps see a change?

*Which might be changed if you were to complain strongly to the boss? (For example, you can’t make someone treat you courteously, you can only state your feelings about it strongly, then if that doesn’t help, go to the boss about it and he could require it.)

*Do you have enough influence to help change the thinking and actions of any of the people involved?

*Do you have any allies who would also like to see changes and would work with you to perhaps have office meetings about issues, or would support you when you talk to the boss or office manager?

The reality in most workplaces is that one employee can rarely create major changes on her own, unless others can be brought to see the need for change and will support the process. Or, unless there are legal issues involved where outside resources can be brought in. That latter isn’t the case here.

Your influence with other employees is your main tool. But what you say sounds as though you might not have much personal influence with the other employees for whatever reason.

So, that brings us to the last item:

4. If none of the things change, how are you going to learn to adapt, react, respond and work around the behavior that bothers you now? And, can you do that?

It sounds as though you are considered a good employee by your boss. You may need to keep your focus on your work and try simply to be civil and courteous to other employees, in spite of their behavior.

But, it seems very doubtful that your boss would fire two employees–one of them the office manager–unless he was presented with evidence that the employees have harmed the business. And you say your boss wants to keep the Office Manager as a necessary evil. So, those two employees, and the others, will be there, whether they change or not.

That brings us back to the beginning. You say you don’t intend to leave. But sadly, the environment you describe does not sound to me as though there is anything you alone can do to bring about change. And, you also describe a situation in which no one else is likely to do it, even with your encouragement.

The one thing that is left is for you to communicate directly with the people you are having the most conflict with and see if you can find out what might help bring about more effective relationships. Talk to the co-worker you recruited and see what brought about the change. Talk to the office manager and see if she agrees there are some human relations needs in the office. Those would be very difficult conversations, but would certainly show your good faith effort.

I’m sorry there is no easy solution to this–and perhaps no solution at all. Dr. Gordon often refers to WEGO–the concept of each member of the team working together for the good of the group. Often one person has to take the lead in that effort, and you will likely need to be that person in your group.

I hope you will also keep an open mind about the fact that there are other workplaces for you where you would be more fully appreciated and where you would not have to be the only one trying to save an entire office! Best wishes as you develop a personal plan of response and action to this situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens. Your solution might help many others!

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.