Sleeping, Smelly Co-worker!

Question:

I work for the County Government in Florida. There is a woman in our office that has worked there for over twenty years and makes about $50,000 per year. In addition to coming in late, talking sometimes up to two hours for lunch, and possessing a foul body odor every day, she neglects her job duties, spends little time at her desk and for the past two years, has even fallen to sleep at her desk. At first we were amazed. Now we are disgusted.

When management was made aware of it, we were basically asked why we did not wake her up. After a few more complaints, the boss finally confronted her, and she said it was her blood pressure and she would see a doctor and get better. We were then told to leave her alone–she was going to see a doctor.

There is nothing wrong with this woman except for not getting enough sleep. She is an aging lesbian who parties late into the night and simply doesn’t get enough sleep. Now two years later, she is still at it. She actually sets it up so that you wouldn’t know she was sleeping unless you actually walked up to her. She sits at her computer with her hands on the keys and when she is startled hits the print screen button. You would think she was busy. Other times, she will sit at her desk with a sheet of paper in her hand and head down. At first glance, she appears to be studying the paper; however, she is actually sleeping. We told the boss that she is still at it and he had another talk with her. He told her that this couldn’t continue. He said, “If I hear of it again, you will be written up and if again, you will be terminated.” We were pleased. However, two days later, she went into his office crying, and told him the reason she sleeps is because of a “medical condition”. She was never asked to get any kind of doctor’s excuse, nothing. However, we were asked to “let up” on her because after all, we are all getting older and have had medical conditions. Yes, we have all experienced “medical conditions;” however, sleeping on the job is not one of them.

I am so disgusted with this situation, it is affecting my life. I carry it home with me and moan to my husband. I am writing to you today because I cannot get it out of my mind. Other than this woman, this is the best job I’ve ever had. I need to get past this, but I am having a hard time doing it. I believe the County is putting up with this because they are afraid she will sue them for and “Old Age” thing. But basically, they have let us know she is “hands off”. As a co-worker and taxpayer, I am just disgusted.

P.S. During a training seminar recently, we were all asked what we thought were our best qualities. When it came to her, she stated that her “honesty” was her best quality.

Signed,

Disgusted County Worker


Answer:

Dear Disgusted County Worker:

The first thing that needs to be addressed in this situation is your own personal and emotional health. One method of doing so is to create a plan. With a plan in place, you will have a positive program to address your frustration and might even solve the existing work problem. However, it is not an easy situation to correct since your immediate manager seems to demonstrate poor/ineffective leadership. Are others, affected as you are? If so collaborate with them in a solution as outlined below.

PLAN ONE Step 1 Meet informally with your co-workers over lunch, an early breakfast, or late afternoon beverages. Discuss the situation and get their input relative to a solution – -a plan. At some point, in this setting, you might want to share that you have contacted an expert and discuss Step 2 as outlined below. Schedule a second meeting with this group in two weeks.

Step 2 Document the employee’s work violations by keeping an incident log for at least 10 days. Include date, time, incident, and witnesses. When this employee comes to work tardy, log it showing the exact amount of time she is tardy. When she takes extended time at lunch, log it and show the actual amount of time taken. When she is away from her desk, log it to show how long she “disappears.” When she sleeps at her desk, log it showing the amount of time she does so.

At the end of 10 days, analyze the log. Is the problem as severe as you think? If not stifle your concern. If so, prepare for your next group meeting. In doing, so compose a letter to your immediate supervisor, stating your continued concern and attach the log. Gain consensus from your group and have all of them sign the letter. At the same time, schedule your next meeting with the group and a procedure for sharing your letter and log with the manager in question. A face-to-face meeting with this individual, which all of you attend and at which you present your letter, would be emphatic. If this can’t be arranged, put it in office mail to him. In your letter give the manager a time frame for the co-worker to significantly improve her job performance- -possibly 30 days. Indicate to this manager that if the problem is not handled then you group is considering an approach to the County Board of Commissioners or County Manager with your concerns. Tell him/her that you also reserve the right of notifying the local news media in your community as well. (The Commissioners will most probably act swiftly once they view you log and united front. They should react quite negatively relative to tax money being misspent).

Step 3 Continue to keep you incident log and try to meet with your collaborative group approximately every 10 days. At these sessions, analyze your documentation and determine if the worker is improving. If not approach the parties as outlined above.

Side Note If you want to be really empathetic, send your group letter and log by certified mail. You will, at the same time, be creating a document that will strengthen your case with the Commissioners if management does not effectively respond in an acceptable time frame.

Possible Intermediary Step It might be possible to avoid steps 1-3 by meeting with the employee in question. Perhaps if she sees a united front of concern/disgust she might take action herself. If you follow this step, do not reveal to her your strategy of keeping a log etc. Be aware, that this step is risky. She will probably speak of her medical condition again. If so, suggest that she take medical leave until the problem is rectified. If she does not agree with your group’s summation, she will probably run to the manager crying. If so, tell him that your group is united and wants results. Indicate that past action has not solved the problem and you expect better answers. If he brings up the medical condition, suggest to him the medical leave solution and move to Steps 1-3.

The taxpayers in your county deserve to receive proper service for their tax dollars. If your manager does not take action to assure this practice, then your collaborative group should take action. Failure to do so would be irresponsible on your part.

PLAN TWO The employee’s foul odor can be directly addressed. I have seen this plan work. At your collaborative meeting, suggest that the group place a can of room freshener in a conspicuous place. Each time the odor becomes a problem, one of you should spray the room. However, all of you need to use the spray, not just some of you. The worker will eventually ask why. Tell her in a tactful way that you do not want to embarrass her but her hygiene is not as it should be, and she is fouling the environment. In the incident I observed, the individual did not inquire until his workspace became the only area sprayed. Nothing had to be said; he got the point and solved it himself. Drastic and bold? Yes! Effective? Definitely!

Good luck! Let us know how these suggestions plays out.

Think through these suggestions and determine what is the best for you and your co-workers. Think of the welfare of all concerned. Think WEGO

Barry Hester