How Do I Handle An Employee Who Has A Grudge Against Me?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a grudge:

I work with someone who seems to have a grudge against me because I forgot to put their name down on the RSVP for a party we recently had for our department. Our entire company also had a party around the same time. This person told me that they would not be at the “staff party” because of other commitments. In her words, she meant the company-wide party but I interpreted it as she wouldn’t be able to attend the department party so I didn’t write her name down. She showed up and noticed her name wasn’t on the list but still attended. I got busy so I didn’t interact with her at all during the party.

The next day, I told her I hoped that she had a good time at our department party and she seemed a little annoyed and said “I guess…”. I jokingly asked her, “It sounds like there could have been room for improvement?” She goes on to sarcastically say “yeah…” and goes about her work. When I asked if everything is ok, she said, “The way the party was ran seemed a bit odd.” Naturally as her supervisor I asked “How so?” The first thing she said was, “Well I noticed that you didn’t have my name on the RSVP list as if you weren’t expecting me to show up. I don’t know why you thought I wasn’t going to the party. It seemed very non-inclusive like if you didn’t want me there.” She seemed very upset that I mistook the information she gave me that she wouldn’t be at the company party. I thought she meant she wouldn’t be at the department party when she called it the “staff party”. Since she called it the “staff party” I thought she wasn’t going to be at the department party, hence why I did not have her name listed on the RSVP list. I apologized for mixing the communication and asked her if there was anything I could do. She said “No it’s too late”.

Ever since then, she’s been treating me differently, not being as open as she used to be and just doing her work (which is a good thing) but does not want to talk to me or gives me short answers when I ask her a question. I can only assume that her behavior is grudge she still has from that day. I don’t talk to her anymore aside from work related things and when I want her to do something, which she will do. I have not had a meeting with her about this behavior because I have a gut feeling she will still harbor these feelings and grudge after a meeting so I kind of see it as pointless to meet with her. This seems like a scenario from high school, more on the immature side.

Even when I try to include her in conversations with others, she has a similar attitude and doesn’t want to partake in it but when she associates with others, she seems joyous and laughs. I also learned from a source that she applied for the position I am in when I applied for it as well and I ended up being chosen for the position, not her, so I wonder if she is also acting this way because I was the better candidate. My question is, did I do something wrong? Should I not worry about her grudge? Is she taking this out of context? Is she being immature? How do I handle an employee like this? Thank you.

Signed–Want Harmony

Dear Want Harmony:

You want your department to be happy and are uneasy because you have an employee (I’ll call Jan rather than over use the pronoun she) who is not friendly with you. Jan blamed you for failing to include her name on an invitation to a party. It was a misunderstanding and you apologized, but she appears not to have accepted that the mistake was unintentional. So you feel Jan has a grudge about this incident that could also be linked to you being assigned for the position you now hold for which you both applied.

You conclude the description with five questions that I’ll answer with answers to which I think you have already given them:

1.  Did I do something wrong? You explained to Jan the reason for not including her name on the invitation. That was right, not wrong.
2. Should I not worry about her grudge? You have worried enough. You have apologized. Now she should move on and so should you.
3. Is she taking this out of context? Possibly she has added your mistake to her resentment about not getting the job you now hold. You can’t eliminate that.
4. Is she being immature? Yes, her attitude indicates a high school like miff.
5. How do I handle an employee like this? You say, “I don’t talk to her anymore aside from work related things and when I want her to do something, which she will do.” Also, you have tried “to include her in conversations with others, she has a similar attitude and doesn’t want to partake in it.” In short, you mostly avoid non-work topics of conversation but have you have tried to include her in some. You wonder if you should have a meeting with her about her attitude.

I think you have handled this situation well so far, and likely as time goes by, all will smooth out between you and Jan. However if she continues to snub any attempt to be included and if this interferes with her doing her job, you may want to confront her more directly. If you feel her attitude is affecting coworkers, it is your responsibility to act. A one-on-one session could address the communication gap you sense. Should it not be time for an annual review, you could request a brief meeting in your office. Once there, if informal conversation about how she feels about her job seems evasive, you could frankly say, “Am I wrong to feel that you are holding a grudge about my failure to include you in the invitation to our department party?” This question should surface the topic of resentment and possibly other issues. It should bring out hidden feelings and explore ways to better interpersonal communication. Possibly you will learn her opinion about how she feels you are doing your job.

Rather than confront Jan one-on-one privately, you might elect a staff-wide skull session approach to improving performance, such as a coach does before and after a game–What did we do well and what can we improve? Although for your staff, this primarily focuses on pleasing internal and/or external customers, such sessions inevitably surface communication problems of attitude and suggestions for collaboration. Spelling out do and don’ts of how your staff wants to communicate with each other and you can psychologically generate ownership in effective interpersonal communication.

I will be interested in whether you think any of my suggestions can answer the questions you posed or if they prompt other answers. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and I’m sure that is what you want. –William Gorden

FOLLOW UP: Thank you so very much William and the Workplace Doctors for answering my lengthy letter! I was told I did the right thing but I tend to doubt myself from time to time. I just needed reassurance from an outside source! I love your website and it has a lot of valuable information, especially since I’ve been a manager for barely a year now. It’s helped me a lot! I’ve been noticing her attitude improve here and there but the feelings still linger around. I will actually am going to have her one year evaluation coming up in the following week so I may gauge at this grudge of hers. Thank you again! I will be recommending your website at our meetings and at networking events and more!

 Dear Want Hemony: it’s very good to hear from you and to learn you have found some value in my response to your question. The real value probably comes from your careful reflection on the several factors that resulted in the unhappy attitude you sense in this individual. Managing is not a walk in the park, but I predict your sensitivity and commitment to the job will make each day an adventure. Please feel free to update us. Also check out our other Q&As, I’m sure you will find my associate Tina Lewis Rowe’s advice the kind a manager will appreciate to half or more of the questions we receive. –William Gorden