Problem Employee Is Managed By Someone Else

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors  about an angry confrontation by one not in your line of control:

I am supervising two employees and am operations manager for a cooperative venture. This is a unique situation because there are a total of four member organizations with whom I do not play a supervisory role, they are managed by their respective organizations. I am responsible for only the supervision of employees of the organization I work for. We recently let an employee go prior to the end of her probationary period and it was done by myself and my director having determined that she was not a good fit for the job. We stated why she did not pass the probationary period, asked for keys and offered her the choice of collecting personal belongings at the time of dismissal or packing them up for her to pick up at another time.

She chose to gather her things and before long other employees were gathering in the hallways to discuss their shock at her dismissal as she went about letting everyone know what was going on. I chose to go to my other employee’s office to advise her as to the termination and then returned to my office to put together an email to all employees in the cooperative to advise of the termination and reason an employee from one of for it.

Quite suddenly an employee from one of the member organizations came storming into my office, shut and locked the door, and began to aggressively demand why this person was let go. This employee incidentally was not a manager with any other member organization. I told her that I could understand how this was a shock to everyone but due to confidentiality it could not be shared with others prior to the dismissal. She went on and on ranting about the injustice of what happened and frankly I was unable to get a work in edgewise as her emotions were out of control.

She finally stormed out of my office as my boss was lurking outside trying to get in. My boss and I then visited her in her office to calm the situation and discuss the inappropriateness of her behavior. How do you deal with someone who constantly displays such unprofessional and unacceptable behavior when they are not your employee. I would like to discuss this with her manager but, in the past, she has demonstrated a reluctance to manager this employee. I now have this individual extending an apology but stating that she does not see that she has done anything wrong in “sticking up for someone else”. I would appreciate your thoughts on this situation.

Signed, Frustrated

Dear Frustrated:

The essential issue you have is an employee from another organization who does not see an organizational difference between employee and manager (probably because of the way her own manager lets her behave). So, when she was upset and interacting with you she treated you like a peer–maybe even a subordinate! And was rude, at that! Employees who do not feel an organizational difference between themselves and those of higher ranks or roles may feel no hesitancy about being inappropriately argumentative, discourteous or overly-familiar. They are not intimidated, impressed or even respectful of higher positions or roles.

My experience has been there is a degree of show-off-for-others in their actions as well. “See how I don’t take anything off anybody?” “See how I stormed right into her office to stand up for a fellow employee? Aren’t I tough and strong?”There may also be a need in your cooperative venture to clarify how employees of member organizations are to interact with each other and with managers of each member organization. This may be the ideal time to bring that up with HR, with fellow managers and directors or with higher level managers of the cooperative venture.You were probably completely taken off guard when the employee came in to see you after you fired a probationary employee. But, after the initial shock had worn off, every other action should involve her manager, not her.

You owe her no explanation and she has no standing in your work. I certainly don’t mean that communicating with employees is not valuable, because it is. But, this truly was not her business and she should not have talked to you in that way. Don’t lose sight of the inappropriateness of her actions. It’s not too late to take a different approach. So, if you can keep from doing it, don’t interact with her further about this, unless her manager is present or knows of it.

She is the responsibility of her manager, just as the other personnel action was your responsibility. Your director and you may have already contacted the employee’s manager. If not, do so, giving all the details of what happened and the result it had on everyone, including you. Say that you are very concerned and want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.You may need to spell out the main issues for the other manager. The issue isn’t whether the employe apologizes or not.

The issue is that she must be trained through counseling or a reprimand to acknowledge and respect organizational rank and role differences and communicate in ways that show that understanding. And, since it has happened before, the training will probably take more than simply telling her and hoping for compliance. I also think you should say that in the future you will contact the employee’s manager immediately and have her come to the office to deal the employee, if something like this happens again.

If the employee tries to talk to you about it, let her know how you’re handling it. “Jan, I’ve written to Maureen about the situation and she and I will be talking about it. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to discuss it with you, just as it wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to discuss an employee HR decision with you.”If she pushes it, tell her to talk to her manager, not to you, just as she should talk to her manager about other work related matters. You can explain your thinking about it, but don’t engage her very much, since that is exactly the problem. She shouldn’t be interacting with you in a demanding or argumentative way.I hope your director will support you in this matter, because it really is important for your future and the future of the group. Dr. Gorden often talks about WEGO, which implies working together with hands, hearts and minds to achieve group goals. That is needed here. But part of that concept is to talk about talk.

How are we to talk to each other? What should we do when we hear about things that happen within the other organization? Who is the person to whom we directly report? Do we understand that the managers are responsible for overall work situations and they will interact with each other about some thing, not necessarily with us? Those kind of questions can lead to answers that can be discussed in meetings, emails or one-on-one conversations. If this one employee needs that explained to her, so might others.It sounds as though the problem employee has been allowed to become this way over time, perhaps inadvertently. This is a good time to stop it, in a way that is effective, appropriate and insistent. Then, be consistent about it with everyone.Best wishes to you with this challenging situation. If you have the time to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe