Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a rude subordinate: A manager of two units finds his head of one unit fails to enforce reprimand of this individual. What should the manager do?
I am a manager in a department of a large international organization. My Department is divided in to two units. Recently an employee from the other unit came to my office and was looking for something pertaining to a common project that both units are working on. He was looking through boxes right next to my desk. I asked him what he was looking for and he mumbled something and left. My employee, who was also in the office, made a comment, “What’s wrong with him?”I responded, I don’t know, “It’s kinda rude to come in to someone’s office, go through things on their desk and not say a word”
With that, the employee came running from a file room attached to my office yelling at the top of his voice, “Are you a clerk? Are you? Are you? I don’t need to talk to you!” He was angry and hostile.When I asked him to leave my office because of his outburst, he refused to. So I had to leave my own office in order to diffuse the situation.I documented the situation and immediately notified his supervisor, who spoke to him on it. I also notified the department head as well.
After the employee was counseled for his outburst, he came back to my office to retaliate. He berated me for reporting him to his supervisor. I again told him he was clearly wrong and told him to leave. I documented the second outburst, notified his supervisor and our department head. I also told them I wanted an apology from the employee.
Later, as I was meeting with one of my subordinates, the same employee came barging into my office; He didn’t excuse himself and yelled, “I guess I apologize for whatever.” He made it a big production and laughing. I informed him that I was unavailable to talk at that time; however, if he wanted to speak with me later we could set up at time and I said he was to have his supervisor present.
He threw his hands in the air and left. I documented the third incident as well. This employee had until Friday last to apologize to me – per his supervisor and the department head; he did not do so. When I spoke to the department head about why the employee didn’t do as instructed to do, she said, “Well he has already accused me of being a racist and since you are white, well, you know.”
The employee in question is non-Caucasian as if to imply, based on that, there is nothing she can do.Note: he called her a racist because she had a private party at her home and did not invite him, although there were members of all races there and this had nothing to do with work. It was private. I reminded her of that. I informed her that this is essentially giving him a license to do and say whatever he wants and to continue to be insubordinate to me as a manager in his department. I also reminded her that there are 6 new employee in the department observing all of this and asked her what message is this sending them? I don’t know what to do with this situation. Do I have to accept this or is her statement illegal? I am thinking of going to the HR department, but she is a friend with the head of HR too. Thanks.
Signed, At My Wits End….
Dear At My Wits End….:
Incivility! Incivility in the workplace is more than simply bad manners. It harms working relationships. If I understand what you describe, you have detailed this particular incident that can fester because you see it as unresolved for lack of a civil apology and you think your department head has failed to support you. Moreover you ask if her “Well you” statement is illegal and you wonder if you should take this matter to Human Resources because this department head is a friend of the head of HR.
Untangling what you have described, to say the least, adds up to incivility, accusation of racism, and office politics. I don’t think there is anything that is illegal, but if you do, you will need to consult an attorney. Rather your “wits end” signature suggests that you are frustrated and uncertain if you should pursue this matter further? I think that you should. How?
Not by going to HR with a complaint that your department head has failed to insist on a civil apology. To do so, could push her to side with the employee who has behaved rudely or to see you as the problem. Rather one-way to pursue the matter is to request of your head, with the aid of HR, a formal investigation of inter-unit communication. A rationale for this you could say is that this incident has illustrated that such behavior is destructive to how your units function. For example, apparently there are no clear rules about invasion of office space and access to project files.
An investigation could lead to a departmental meeting in which unspoken assumptions about who does what and where is surfaces and, more importantly, it could spell out dos and don’ts that hurt and help working relationships and project completion. In confidence, you might suggest to your department head that anger management and the accusation of racism also argue that HR should be involved.
Human Resources should not be unfamiliar with the need for diversity training since yours is an international organization.You may be at your wits end over this particular situation and see it as interpersonal bad manners, but it is more than hurt feelings on your part and on that of the employee who exploded “Are you a clerk?” upon hearing your complaint about his invasion of your office to look into boxes.
Keep your focus on inter-unit cooperation and productivity. That is larger than this particular incident. Does this make sense? Think of your self and your role not so much as one with authority, but as a good natured, yet persistent problem solver. Ask what is the meaning and application to your department of my signature: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. I look forward to hearing from what you decide to do and how it works out.