Employee Is Secluded and Disliked

Question:

What can you do with someone who always seems to seclude themselves from everyone but communicates well with work etc.?

The person gets easily offended by things people do. He is not the strongest person in the team and has been in the workplace for about 4 years now. He has made no friendly relationships with anyone. People do “take the piss” out of the person all the time and can see it effects him. He is quite paranoid and awkward in nature. However work-wise he does perform to a very high standard. He is not liked by the other members of the group because he gets “easily offended”. It has got to the extent where people are just fed up of the person. He is totally alone now, where no-one will stick up for him. How can we deal with this?

Signed,

Watching and Wondering


Answer:

Dear Watching and Wondering:

Work is like Middle School sometimes, in that there are some who don’t fit in easily, but the real damage is done by those who do fit in. Someone who is awkward and not very likeable for a variety of reasons is mocked, taunted or purposely isolated and as a result becomes more awkward and acts even less likable, which causes more talk and taunting behavior. That’s called bullying and those are the elements for school shootings and workplace violence and killings.

Your team and your supervisor needs to think long and hard about what is being allowed to develop there. It’s not all one person or group’s fault, but all have a share in it. If you are the supervisor or manager, you should take control now to bring this workplace back into order and get it refocused on work.

Read your letter to us and see just how screwed up your workplace sounds! If that were read to the highest level person in your company, how do you think it would sound?

As you describe it, this coworker does his work OK–maybe even very well. He gets offended when people make remarks to him–some designed, as you described it, to irritate him. He secludes himself and you say he is alone now and no one will support him.

Consider these ideas for resolving this situation once and for all instead of letting it drag on another four years or letting it end in tragedy.

1. First consider if anything this employee is doing or not doing is harming any of his coworkers unless they put themselves in his path. If it isn’t, they have no cause for complaint. They should leave him alone except to make civil–hopefully courteous–conversation about work. The offensive remarks and picking on him should stop immediately.

Supervisors can help in these cases by monitoring the work environment and ensuring that the talk is appropriate for the workplace. When one person is feeling offended or isolated you can bet there are others who feel similarly but who are afraid to show it.

As for how easily offended he is, there is nothing more treacherous than saying mean-spirited things to people to make fun of them, then complaining that they get offended easily. Stop “joking” with the guy if he doesn’t like it! Just have a normal, human conversation that doesn’t involve personal issues.

If a bare good morning or actions that have nothing to do with him causes him to go to a supervisor and make a complaint, the supervisor should tell him that he is in error and that no reasonable person would think he has a complaint. If he continues to complain Human Resources should be asked to investigate. If there is no grounds for his complaint they should tell him that he is creating disruption. If he continues he should be dismissed. That’s a simple solution if he is the one who is directly responsible for all of the problems.

2. If you are not the supervisor get your supervisor involved if the employee is doing something harmful to work or to any of you directly. Document what he has done or said and ask the supervisor to intervene about it. Just be sure it’s something that is a rules violation or that clearly creates problems for work.

If you are the supervisor, decide who is causing the problems and to what degree are they contributing to it, then take some action about it.

*Is there a rule being violated? *Who starts the unpleasantness most of the time? *Is someone doing something that takes the attention of others away from working? *Who is the leader in the remarks and actions against the awkward coworker? *Does any good come of the remarks and actions against the coworker? *If the remarks and actions stopped would the overall environment be better?

If you are a supervisor you can’t make people be friends or like each other, but you are responsible for the workplace. This kind of situation is a continual distraction and should be treated as such. If it’s the awkward coworker who keeps going up to people and bothering them, stop him from doing it. If it’s the others who keep talking about him and picking on him, stop them from doing it. It’s a supervisory responsibility, but every employee should have a role in that kind of adult self-control.

For example, if you’re a team member, the next time someone says something about him, just say, “Hey, come on. He’s been here four years, he’s doing his job. Let’s move on.” I’d say it in stronger terms than those, but you know what would work.

If you’re a supervisor, you can be more direct. “If I hear you bad-mouthing him again, I’ll view it as directly violating my order to not do it and I’ll take disciplinary about it. I’m serious, so don’t do it again.”

Then, follow through.

3. Perhaps Human Resources can assist. They will be involved at some point probably, so maybe they will have ideas for dealing with the situation in our specific workplace.

4. Put the focus on work instead of personalities. If the coworker is doing his work acceptably, be glad you have a coworker who shows up and does his fair share. Be glad he doesn’t smell bad or whistle incessantly or use bigoted language or curse at everyone or make mistakes that cost thousands of dollars or wasted hours. We hear about coworkers like that all the time! If you are a supervisor, commend him for the positive things he does and commend others for the positive way they’ve changed their actions toward him.

One thing stands out very clearly…this is no longer a work team, it’s a work gang. Lord of the Flies! When something tragic happens, you can look around and blame everyone who stood by and watched it develop.

But, let’s say nothing overtly tragic happens. All that happens is that this one employee is isolated and alone every day and the other employees are on the other side of the workplace talking about him. How good is that? What about the employees who aren’t quite as on the outside as the one person, but who feel isolated anyway? What about new employees who have to make a choice between being a bully or being bullied?

If the coworker is going to stay in the job and isn’t overtly bothering anyone, the rest of the team only has one option: Get back to work.

If the coworker is doing something to antagonize others it should be documented and he should be stopped. Then, they all should get back to work.

It doesn’t sound as though your workplace would lend itself to positive meetings, socializing or gatherings of any kind. But, if it would, take the lead to put those together. Don’t allow any remarks to be made about those who don’t participate, just make it available.

Find more work to be done if needed. When someone is working like crazy to get done for the day they don’t have time to worry about the foibles of others. When they are being inspected to make sure their work is done well, they aren’t thinking up dirty tricks. So, if you are a supervisor, keep people busy. If you’re not, keep yourself busy.

I think you can tell that I feel strongly about this matter. Whatever role you have I hope you will fulfill it strongly and wisely. No matter what our work roles, supervisor or employee, we have a human responsibility to others in our workplace.

I would be very interested in how this is resolved–and I hope it will be immediately. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

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.