Sick Of New Employee

Question:

I have been working as an associate underwriter in a property/casualty insurance company for 8 months. After a long search, another associate underwriter was hired who will be doing a similar job as mine except she will be working with different Agents and supporting different underwriters.

Before the new employee arrived–I’ll call her Ann–the Manager took me aside and asked me to take her to lunch on her first day and to act as the main point person to show her the computer databases that we use. I have done all this. In working with her, I’ve discovered that she is an experienced underwriter—she has worked in 3 other insurance companies. I guess she was hired under the stipulation that she would work as an associate for 6 months, then she could apply for an underwriter position.

I have done the best I could in showing her the databases, but in some instances she knows more than me when it comes to underwriting. She is annoying in that she constantly compares how procedures were done in her past companies to where she is now and she finds where she is now as lacking. I am still learning the ropes so it’s hard for me to discern what is lacking since everything is new.

I have been going to lunch with Ann and taking my breaks with her. But I want to stop doing it since all she talks about is how much she disliked her previous job and how she should be an underwriter in this present job because she has so much experience. Another thing she does is dig into past policies that have been written to find mistakes. I’ve noticed that she likes bringing these mistakes to me and to other people. What upset me today is that she came to me with a question and I tried to answer it as best I could. I guess my answer was not satisfactory to her so she says to me in front of another underwriter “I’ll ask Sue” and abruptly turns away from me and goes to Sue. I felt insulted. This is not the first time she has done this. The next time she comes to me with a question, I feel like telling her “why don’t you ask Sue, you may not like my answer” I feel like she’s a thorn in my side and I no longer want to share my lunch breaks with her. I do not want to build a personal relationship with her. She has been on the job for about a month and I think she has a good handle on the computer databases. So I think my obligation to the manager has been fulfilled. I just want to disentangle myself from her because I think she likes to create conflict. I want to do it in a way that is not rude and does not come off as abandonment. Please help.

Signed,

Frustrated & Not Sure How To Proceed


Answer:

Dear Frustrated & Not Sure How To Proceed:

Unless you were told to continue indefinitely as this employee’s trainer, you have certainly fulfilled your obligation and now you should let your manager know you’ve done all you can do. This is between you and your manager, and your manager and Ann–not between you and Ann. Keep it that way and make it clear to Ann that you are communicating with your manager. Your manager should have been checking on this before now anyway, and evaluating Ann’s work already.

As for being rude or making the employee feel abandoned, you might note that you are putting much more effort into protecting her feelings than she is putting into protecting yours!

I don’t advocate being mean, but I do advocate being direct when it’s necessary and not being a doormat for unpleasant or unappreciative people. You and your company have done a lot for her, yet she doesn’t seem to appreciate it. Has she said thank you, sincerely, on several occasions? Has she written you a thank you note for your work, or given you a gift or volunteered to help you as a thanks? Has she thanked anyone there for making a workplace where she would feel welcomed? I’d be surprised if she has. So don’t beat yourself up about not being nice to her. And that’s what you’ll do if you aren’t firm with yourself about your job, her job and your desire to enjoy where you work.

If you stay entangled with her, you’ll be stuck with her forever because you can bet no one else will want to spend time with her either. That’s her fault, not yours. So, a big question to ask yourself for those times when you start to give in is, “Do I want to be doing this a year from now?” Remember the song, “There Must Be Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover?” Well, there are several ways to get back to your former work life and away from this person, except as required to do the job.

I’ll suggest the methods I would use and you can adapt it to your situation and personality. First, write a draft email to Ann saying something like: “Ann, congratulations! I’ve just spoken with Mike and we agree that your initial training time is complete and you are ready to work on your own. Your past experiences have more than prepared you for the work you will be doing. Of course, I am always available to answer questions about our mutual areas of work, and I know every other employee is available to help as well. However, now your best resource for questions not related to the tasks we share, will be Mike.

Best of luck here at Acme Insurance!”

(Or something similar to that.) Then, send it as an attachment for approval by your manager before you send it to Ann. In the email to your manager say that Ann has the information she needs, especially given her experience, and there isn’t anything else you can teach her. You need to be getting back to your work and letting her settle in on her own. Ask if the attached email reads OK.

If your manager asks you how Ann is doing, be cautious about your reply. Say something like,”As I told you, she has as much if not more knowledge about the databases as I do. You’ll be in a better position to know if she will do well here in general. I certainly don’t feel comfortable evaluating another employee. Jane, Mary and Ted have worked with her too and they probably had different kinds of interactions than I would have had because of the training.” I don’t think you want to get involved with telling him all the things that are bothering you. But if he asks directly, ask him if there is a specific area he’s interested in knowing about and respond to that honestly. If he wants the whole scoop, you may have no other choice. You know your manager and what he would be like in that situation. I just don’t think it would be good for him to charge into Ann’s area and say, “Joan tells me you’ve been finding fault with our policies!”

The one thing you don’t want to do is lie and say everything is fine, she’s doing great and you think she’s wonderful. If things don’t work out fine, you’ll be the one who gave her a glowing evaluation.

Send your graduation email to Ann, and tell her you did so. Smile and say something like,

“Ann, I just sent you an email letting you know your training time is over. You have all the information I can teach you and now Mike says it’s time for you to be on your own. I’ll be here for questions related to regular work, but from now on you can be checking most of the other things with him. Congratulations!”

Then, find something you have to do at lunch for the next couple of weeks, if you can leave for lunch. If you must stay on-site, bring material for letters and cards, or bring a cookbook and plan a dinner, or bring a catalog with things you have to order right away. Whatever you do, be too busy for lunch, or be gone for lunch, until the habit is broken.

If she questions that or wonders why you’re busy all of sudden, you can say that you often had things to do at lunch, but had to stop when you were in the training phase. Now, you have things stacked up you’ve been waiting to work on. Say it with a smile, but be absolute. Say you’ve started a different eating pattern now and need to bring your lunch, or eat at a special place, or whatever. Don’t make your lunchtime miserable just to avoid her, but find something to do that doesn’t include her. You might want to tell her that you think it will be good for her to get to know everyone else better, so she should check with them about lunch.

You will probably have to go to lunch with her now and then, but at least you can avoid the daily routine.

Do the same thing about coffee. Stop taking breaks at the times you did formerly, so she will either have to go with others or go alone. And don’t give in to your idea that she’ll be abandoned. If she wanted to have you as a friend she would never have treated you as she did and would have made a point of making it a pleasant time being with her. That’s what you would have done if the roles were reversed!

But what if, for some reason, you do spend time together and she once again starts complaining about her former jobs? Some minor remarks are probably OK, but once they get past that, laugh and shake your head in an indulgent way and say, “Ann! That job is over and done with and you’re here now! You’re out of training already! Move on!” Smile as though being reasonable with a friend. If she continues, say it again, more firmly. At some point you’ll probably have to tell her that you don’t want to hear negative things and think she ought to find something positive to focus on.

The next time she brings a policy to you that has a mistake, say, “That’s interesting. Let’s go in and show it to Mike.” Or, “Hmmm. What do you want me to do about it?” Or, “Why don’t you write that up and let the person who wrote it know?” When she says she can’t do that, you can say, “Well, if it’s bad enough to drag out of the drawer we need to do something. I’ll let them know you mentioned it if you want me to.” Put her on the spot for change!

As you can tell, I’m not much for being Ms. Nice Gal to people who come into a job and create bad feelings in a short amount of time. Being falsely nice to such a person makes them double the problem they’d be otherwise, because they think their actions are being validated. If no one ever says anything to let her know her actions are irritating and frustrating, she will continue.

And it doesn’t help much to be tough after the fact. For example, the next time Ann has a question, if you say, “Ask Sue,” you just sound surly. Instead, the next time Ann has a question and turns to Sue instead, say immediately, or shortly afterwards, “Wait a minute. I can understand if you don’t like my answer, but you were the one who asked the question in the first place. It’s not courteous to turn your back on me that way and act upset over my answer. What’s going on?”

I often suggest to people who find it hard to confront someone, that they write a few responses down and keep them where they can refer to them. That way, even if they can’t think of the thing to say right away, they can in a few minutes, then they can ask to talk to the person and say the right thing.

The biggest key for you now is to stay focused on your biggest issue: Your job and your relationship with your boss. As long as that is doing well, you don’t need to worry about how Ann feels if you cut the cord.

If there are office tasks you’ve put aside or would like to start doing, do that. If there’s a knowledge or skill you want to learn, do that. Be so busy with your own work and being a good team member that you don’t have extra time to spend with Ann. Just don’t ask her for advice if you can ever avoid it! This was a long response, but I felt you might like to have some specific suggestions, whether or not you feel you could use them. Perhaps they will trigger your own thinking about a strategy that will work well. If you stick with it, in another month at least, you will be unencumbered again and happily doing your own work!

Best wishes with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what results.

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.