Management Doesn’t See Truth About Employee

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about following instructions: He likes to turn things around and never focuses on the problem. He acts innocent when confronted. He is very unproductive and wants all the attention.

I have a employee that has difficulty following instructions. My lead person is having difficulty with the same employee as well. He is a liar, a manipulator, arrogant, controlling and untrustworthy. But around management he displays a charismatic and respectful image. He likes to turn things around and never focuses on the problem. He acts innocent when confronted. He is very unproductive and wants all the attention.

Please help us. I have to convince upper management of this situation they don’t see. I have written him up three times. The last was with a three day suspension. Our upper management thinks that we are picking on him. No one here picks on anyone. I run a positive welcoming office. Everyone here gets along. HELP!

Signed, Frustrated

Dear Frustrated:

It’s very frustrating when those higher in the organization don’t see the problems that lower level managers and supervisors are dealing with. Or, when they don’t agree that the behavior is problematic. On the other hand, it’s frustrating to upper management when they are confronted with disciplinary actions without ample evidence to back up the discipline. Or, when it seems to them that a lower level manager is being vindictive or is out to get someone.In almost every case I have seen, the solution has been for the manager or supervisor to improve situational evaluation, documentation and upward communications about the employee.I’m not criticizing your feelings or actions, because I do know how frustrated a manager can become.

However, the following thoughts may give you some other perspectives worth considering.

1. Apparently you were able to get approval for a sizable suspension. That would indicate you have support for your actions at some level of the organization. Your managers may never agree completely with your assessment of the employee as being a liar, manipulator, etc. etc., but as long as they agree with you about specific situations and approve your recommended discipline, it may not matter that they don’t fully agree on everything else. They don’t have to dislike him just because you do–and its apparent that you do.

2. If some level other than upper management approved the action (I doubt you can give a suspension without some approval somewhere) perhaps that level can explain the problem to those above you in the organizational chain.

3. It could also be that your obvious dislike for the employee comes through and that is a bit of a turn-off for upper management. It’s easy to become obsessive about a problem employee, to the point that nothing he or she could do would be good in your eyes. Or, if instead of focusing on how work has been harmed by his actions, you focus more on his negative traits.Think about how you have talked or written about the employee. If the words have been judgmental, emotionally laden or labeling in a negative way, consider changing that and instead talking specifically about behaviors and the harm to the work. You’re not a psychologist so you don’t know what is going on in his mind. You only know how he behaves and performs and what the results are for the team or the business. Stick with that if you have formerly said other things about him.

4. Situational evaluation for a supervisor or manager is the ability to observe what an employee does and make an accurate assessment of its value or harm. Being clear and concise about that is crucial for supervisors and managers. For example, you started your message to us by saying the employee “has difficulty following instructions.”That is completely different than saying he lies, manipulates and is arrogant.” Someone who has difficulty following instructions may have a learning disability, an emotional problem or some other thing that keeps him from performing as directed. I don’t think you believe that is the situation!So, make sure you stick to “Here is what I instructed and here is what he did and here is the harmful result.” Or, “Here is what he told me and here is the truth I found out.” Or, “Here is what he said and here is why it was discourteous and harmful to the workplace.”Phrases like “manipulator, arrogant and controlling” would not be accepted in a disciplinary hearing if something was challenged, nor do most upper level managers accept them as being valid critique about an employee.

5. Instead of trying to convince upper management to view the employee as you do, ask for their input about how to deal with any employee who behaves or performs as he does. Be honest about your frustration and ask them what documentation they need to ensure you are showing the full extent of the problem. You may want to express that you are concerned that upper management is thinking you are picking on the employee when really you are only trying to get the work done the right way. Ask in what way you could be seen as being fair rather than biased.At the same time, ensure that you are taking appropriate action about other employees who do things in error or who show poor behavior, if there are situations like that. That will be a strong indicator that you are being equitable.

6. None of these thoughts may be the right fit for your situation. Likely some of them can be adapted. The most important thing is to separate behavior from performance and make sure you can link his behavior and/or performance to diminished work effectiveness for him, the team, and the business.Follow organizational guidelines for the various kinds of discipline and consider getting input from HR or others about it.Then, communicate with upper management in a reasoned way that reflects a focus on work not a focus on disliking the employee. If he’s as bad as you say, you will probably be asking for his dismissal one day soon. You want to go into that with a strong foundation of support and a reputation for handling things in an unemotional way. Best wishes to you in this situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe