Ridicule By A Subordinate In Front of Others

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about ridicule by a subordinate: One of the younger female techs printed my notes and proceeded to highlight and verbally comment on each of the grammar and spelling mistakes she found. I walked into the common area where this was taking place and she repeatedly made sarcastic comments, all the while going to town with her highlighter.

I am a working floor supervisor over 18 techs in a department of a large hospital. Yesterday I headed a departmental meeting at the request of the Department Supervisor (my boss) who was absent. A nurse took notes during the meeting and afterwards I typed up the notes and distributed them via e-mail. One of the younger female techs printed my notes and proceeded to highlight and verbally comment on each of the grammar and spelling mistakes she found. I walked into the common area where this was taking place and she repeatedly made sarcastic comments, all the while going to town with her highlighter. She then took the notes and pointed out errors to other employees, all the while laughing about it. She kept coming back to me to point out my mistakes and their “corrections”.

I got angry and said that I didn’t care, I am not an English major. Needless to say, I felt very humiliated and angry. When I went into work today, a nurse and one of the technicians that I supervise commented on this employee’s behavior and said that they thought I should write her up. One even pulled out the Employee Handbook and stated that the employee’s behavior was blatant and made with malice.

My supervisor will be back on Monday and I will need her approval to take any disciplinary action against this employee. I feel that I cannot afford to look “soft” in addressing this, especially since other employees have so obviously taken notice. On the other hand, I don’t want to look like I am using my position to come down too hard because the “victim” here was me. My thought right at the moment is to type up the write-up and along with my supervisor meet with this employee and instruct her to proof-read it.

Signed, Angry But Undecided

Dear Angry But Undecided:

Certainly something should be done about this situation. What should be done and how, is something for you and your boss to discuss.

I think you should write a letter to your boss detailing what happened, using a managerial tone rather than a personal one. You could use some of the following elements:

1. State what happened and be specific. If possible, use some exact dialogue and the reactions of those who were listening to her. (That is frustrating to me on your behalf. If the others didn’t approve of her actions they should have stopped her right there!)

2. State the link to work. Why did it concern you, apart from your personal feelings about it? Some possible concerns are:

*If she feels comfortable mocking a supervisor who was acting on behalf of a manager, how might she act about others? This is especially concerning if she deals with patients and physicians. Is she sarcastic with them? Does she mock the organization to them?

*What effect did her remarks have on others who might now feel hesitant to work with her or to disagree with her, for fear she would ridicule them as well?

*What does this indicate about her overall professionalism? The handbook has a specific section that speaks to the issue of treating others professionally and with courtesy, but she flagrantly violated those guidelines.

*This sounds like a situation in which training and cultural norms haven’t had the desired effect–indicating a need to provide training to this employee and others as well.If courtesy and professional conduct was emphasized sufficiently to everyone, maybe she wouldn’t have made the remarks. If she thought the “organizational culture” would not be supportive of such ridicule maybe she wouldn’t have made the remarks. So, it seems there is some training need evident here.

3. You will need to say something about why you did not take appropriate action at the time. I’m sure you’re aware that you should have. When she was doing it, you should have said, “Mary, that’s not appropriate. Stop it.” You could have told her to come into your work area right then to talk about it–or waited to talk to your manager. But, as a supervisor you really should have stopped her. That points out how shocking it was to you! You can admit that too. You simply were shocked that she would be so rude and unprofessional in dealing with a colleague and supervisor.

4. Close the letter by telling your manager that you would like to talk to him or her about the matter as soon as possible so you can decide what is the best action now. Your manager may have a suggestion or ask you what you want to do.

One thing is for sure: You DON’T want to follow through on your idea to have the employee proofread the write-up. That is just anger speaking and would make it sound as though you were in the same sniping mode as the employee was.Instead simply ask to talk to your manager about it. If the employee has never done anything wrong before and this is not like her, a short counseling time in which her wrong behavior is clearly pointed out, along with a warning might be enough. Or, it may be that a higher sanction is appropriate. Your HR section will need to included if that is the case. The main thing is to not let this drop. Sometimes after a few days, it’s easy for time to dilute your first feelings about it. Instead, remind yourself that it’s not about your feelings, it’s about effective interactions within your organization and discourtesy to any employee, let alone a supervisor.When you see the employee, keep your conversations brief and to the point. Civil but not so overly friendly that it seems all is forgotten. Maybe she will think about it and apologize or at least bring up the subject and say she was just joking.

Let her know how inappropriate her actions were and tell her your expectations: She will never do that again, with you or anyone else.Also, be careful not to talk too much about it to the other employees. That could be viewed as equally unprofessional. Tell those who mention it that you are taking care of it. Tell them that next time whether it is you or anyone else who is being ridiculed, it would be a good thing for them to say something to indicate they don’t find the conversation funny. They could get up and leave or change the subject, or they could tell the employee they don’t think it’s right.Your goal is to come out of this being the strong supervisor who dealt with a personal insult but handled it confidently and effectively. Keep that goal and present yourself in the most positive way possible. Your second goal is to work with the employee to ensure she develops to the level professionally where she would never consider doing that again.Best wishes as you deal with 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.