Neurotic Co-worker!

Question:

I have a co-worker who is quite “neurotic” to say the least. He doesn’t speak with anyone in our office except my friend and I. My friend started before me and she befriended him purely out of pity. When I came on, I befriended him as well simply because he was a friend of a friend. His personality can change in a blink of an eye. He can be happy one moment and then he acts like he hates you the next, for no reason whatsoever. He went through a phase a year or two ago where he would start picking on us (like a ten year old child) and then he would say very violent – nasty things directed at me mostly. I couldn’t retaliate simply because I was (and still am) afraid he would retaliate. Both my friend and I have taken our concerns to our boss, but considering his temperament, we were too afraid of what he would do if they confronted him, therefore they can’t do anything to reprimand him. We completely ignored him for a while and it stopped. We are still nice to him, simply because we don’t want us to be on his “list”. Lately we’ve noticed he’s starting to go back to that same routine. Tolerating his behavior is more than a task. Now he’s been asking us for rides at lunch because his vehicle needs repair. We both enjoy quiet lunches on our own and we’re tired of having him tag along with either of us, or coming up with excuses without him lashing out. Do you have any suggestions on what we can do?

Signed,

Fed-Up in PA


Answer:

DearĀ Fed-Up in PA:

I can imagine how frustrating this is, but it is likely to stay exactly the same–or get worse–until you and your friend decide you’re so fed up with the strange-acting co-worker that you insist on supervisory and management action, then support the supervisors and managers when they do something. Your supervisors and managers should have taken action with or without your consent, once they realized there was a problem. But since they didn’t, it may be up to you to provide the reasons for them to do so. The key for supervisory intervention is this: What is the link to effective work? In this case, that means, does his behavior affect the work of other employees or his own work? Are supervisors very happy with his work and that is one reason they won’t take action? It would seem that his refusal to communicate with all but a select few would be a sign of trouble to most managers!

Can you show some way in which your work is affected by your concerns over his behavior? Most importantly, are you truly afraid of him in a physical sense, or just don’t want the issues of him being upset? If you are afraid he will harm you or your friend, you have a much more serious situation and should insist upon a well-planned response before any action is taken.

Among the things a supervisor or manager should do: Evaluate the employee’s communication abilities and the problems caused by his style; use the specific examples you provide to determine the level of seriousness of his remarks; direct him to communicate effectively with all employees as needed for his work and to refrain from making remarks that cause negative feelings and a bad work environment.

Among the things you can do: If he communicates with you in a hurtful, negative or threatening way, you should tell him firmly and in a controlled way, to stop it and stop it now. He sounds like someone who has been allowed to do what he wants, without any repercussions. Maybe having someone shut him down will have an impact. Avoid him as much as possible, while still being courteous about work related issues. Make sure you do not give him cause to say that you treat him badly. However, do not tolerate his lashing out or saying inappropriate things to you. Document every one of those situations and report them immediately, while asking for definitive responses from managers and HR.

As far as the lunchtime situation goes–that is very difficult in any setting. One way to handle it would be to be honest and tell him that his behavior doesn’t make him a very good lunchtime companion–but I’m sure that isn’t going to happen! So, consider stopping going out to lunch for a while, to break the cycle. Then, when you do go out, tell him you have personal things to discuss and want to have time for that. Or, invite others he does not want to be with, find places he does not like, say you’re going shopping along with lunch or discuss things you know he will find uninteresting. Make going to lunch with you two an undesirable event.

It’s unfortunate that things have developed in this way, especially if this employee has been a long-time problem, even before you and your friend were there. This type of thing points out how important it is for supervisors to be aware of the work environment, intervene when necessary and encourage employees to deal with interpersonal issues quickly, before they become unmanageable. It also is a reminder of the role co-workers can have in documenting unusual or ineffective behaviors and asking for supervisory help in resolving them.

I hope these thoughts will help you start developing a plan of action that is effective for this awkward, but potentially very harmful, situation.

There are good places to work; free from intimidating coworkers. Thinking WEGO entails begins with self-interest and building interdependent supporting relationships.

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.