How To Handle Irritating Teenage Coworker?

Question:

I have worked for my company about a year. A few months ago a new receptionist, a teenage girl, was hired. She is a bratty and snotty person.

I am back-up for answering the phones, so I have to pay attention to what is happening out in the reception area. She acts nice when management is around; however, her attitude changes when they aren’t. Her day consists of half-heartedly doing her work, surfing the internet (including myspace and looking at wedding sites), playing solitaire, sitting in my coworkers office with her feet up on my coworkers desk, and trying to be the center of attention. She also feels the need to inject herself into others conversations. When she does, she nearly always has something cutting to say or says something to make herself sound better than the other people. It just never ends, with her smart mouth remarks! Our supervisor told myself and my coworker that someone has to sit at the reception desk while the receptionist is at lunch. So when I sit up there I have been helping scanning some documents into the computer. The receptionist told me today that she talked to the supervisor and I’m not going to be scanning anymore and that I don’t have the experience she has to run the scanner (which she doesn’t because she is goofing off all day).

Also, she dresses horribly and inappropriately, but the supervisor doesn’t want to hurt her feelings by telling her about it.

I really don’t feel like I can address this with our supervisor because she is known for singling people out for not being a team player, and I think she would hold it against me. But, I don’t know how to deal with this situation. I have tried ignoring the receptionist (besides assisting with the phones when needed) and her constant babble, but I’ve heard through the office mill that she thinks I’m rude!

I’m not the only one who feels she has a major attitude problem and is appalled by her dress and work (or lack there of) ethic, but I am probably the most affected by it. How can I best handle this situation?

Signed,

Had Enough


Answer:

Dear Had Enough:

I can imagine this IS irritating, but you will want to keep your focus on how you are perceived by coworkers and your supervisor, and how well you fulfill the best interests of the organization.

Think about this from the viewpoint of the teenage coworker: She is young and ignorant of the work world and getting no help at all from her supervisor! She probably thinks she is doing just fine. She seems to have poor social skills in a work setting, but she is not learning them there! She does sound youthfully arrogant and offensive, but when she acts that way, nothing corrective occurs so there is no reason for her to improve. And, she can tell you don’t like her so you will not be able to influence her now. All the way around, it is not a good situation! Consider the following as some thoughts to help you get through it until she is gone..which she inevitably will be! 1. Many of your concerns are the responsibility of the supervisor, not you or the others. If things are bad enough, the supervisor will have to take action. If she does not, the supervisor will look bad to those above her. But they are things that do not really have an affect on the rest of you-except to be irritating and frustrating.

2. If everyone, or at least many, coworkers feel as you do, maybe you could ask them to help you present a united view to the supervisor while the receptionist is away from the office. There is no reason for you to do this on your own.

3. Do not make this a feud between the two of you. Be the adult who models how to handle a conflict. For example, this issue of scanning. That is a supervisory decision, so talk to your supervisor about it without sounding angry or peeved. If you were not assigned to do it, and it is the task of the receptionist, you might have been viewed as taking on something that was not yours anyway.

Talk to your supervisor and find out if she wants you to do it if you could learn to do it the correct way, and ask what you were doing wrong. If the receptionist is doing it correctly, you may have to choke down your feelings about it. Or, tell the supervisor that if you aren’t going to be doing the scanning anymore, you’d like to find something else you can do to help when you fill in at the receptionists desk.

3. You are not responsible for the behavior of this employee. You only need to ensure that you look good, work well and do not add to the tension in the office. If you are going to talk about this employee behind her back, make it a problem-solving conversation that involves what you and the others will definitely do, not just what you don’t like but don’t intend to do anything constructive about.

If the receptionist is obnoxious or offensive in her remarks, as you described in the examples that we did not include here, say so to her directly. When she makes the snippy remarks you mention look at her in shock and say, “Tiffany! Do you realize how rude that sounds?” Or “Well, I guess that brings a halt to this conversation doesn’t it?” Then go back to work. If you do not like her comments, you can let her know. If you do not, how would she be aware she was inappropriate?

This situation could very easily build into an ongoing battle…which you do not want. Express your views in the right way and to the people who can make a difference. Otherwise, work to adopt the attitude that this employee has a lot to learn, and find ways to tolerate what is apparently acceptable to your supervisor. As I mentioned at the beginning, you know she will not be working there long. If she does stay something will be done eventually. If not, you will come out of it looking better than if you fume and fuss over her the entire time she is there.

I know it is hard to accept and tolerate, but you only have two choices…Confront appropriately the things you are directly involved with and tolerate the rest, or go to the supervisor and state what this employee does that affects your work to such an extent that you cannot be effective. Other than that, it is not your challenge to take on.

Good luck in this! 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.