Talking About Supervisor

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about dispute over what was said: The assistant used to be friendly toward me and now that she reports to me, everything changed

I am a Human Resource Generalist but acting as Manager in an HR department of one. Previously, the payroll clerk (who was formerly an HR Mgr herself) reported to me. From the first day, she was somewhat snippy with me, and when I would try to be friendly, she just put up a wall. At one point, she told some others that I yelled at her and one of the executives said they heard me. That is a lie because I’ve never yelled at her. She had made a big mistake, paying someone $80/hr instead of $10 for 4 weeks (we were never able to recover the money because the person quit). She had to tell me as her supervisor and my reaction was of great surprise, but even then, I didn’t yell. I had to write her up, and previous to this, she had made several small mistakes and I suggested that she check all her entries.When I get excited about something, my voice does raise but not in a mean way.

In the meantime, Finance wanted payroll under them and I was happy to give it up and she was happy also. Then, when they found out they had to check all her data entries, that was too much for them so now she’s on her own under the President, and I still have to check her work.

Then, we were to move to another building and the President was going to have both of us share a large office due to limited space. She got all upset and refused to share an office with me and made a big stink about it. I took the high road and said I would do whatever the President wanted. So, they accommodated her and she shared an office with someone else and I got my own office; that was preferable to me anyway. Then, I needed help and the employee who used to help me was available without work. There was a perfect space for both of us because it makes much more sense to have payroll and HR together so we moved to an area where there is an outer-office (where the payroll clerk & my assistant sit) and an inner office (mine).

The assistant used to be friendly toward me and now that she reports to me, everything changed; however, she expressed to me that she didn’t think she could share space with the payroll clerk because of the music she listened to. My assistant’s husband lost his job and she’s been depressed and has a bad attitude when she doesn’t want to be put out (I’d like to replace her). So now, they go to lunch together and the assistant never used to go to lunch with anyone. I hear them talking softly sometimes, and so of course, I think it’s about me. Also, they can be talking about something else, and I walk in and I can tell the conversation stops abruptly or trails off (this happens daily). I would like to say something because it’s getting harder and harder to ignore. What would be something I could do or say? It’s frustrating and seems so obvious.

Signed, So Obvious???

Dear So Obvious???:

You are managing HR. What advice would you give an employee who came to you with this story and question? I imagine you would say that you have a lot going on:

1. You have a recent history of finding compatible space and assistance. An assistant, who was to report and made costly errors, didn’t like reporting to you nor did she want to share an office with you. She apparently is an assertive and persuasive individual and was able to convince your company’s president that she should not have to be “officed” with you and she’s now transferred. That problem is not solved because you still have to check her work. The problem lingers as to whether this individual is competent and should either be trained or fired.

2. Your space problem is somewhat solved. Finally you are in an office of your own. It is conveniently next to payroll, and because you needed an assistant, one was provided, whose workstation is in the payroll office, if I understand your account. But this new assistant is one you think gossips about you and you’d like to replace her. So manager of HR, what might you say to someone who came upset about a coworker frequently turns quiet when you enter her presence? Would you say, “You have choices: to toughen up or confront the assistant?”

There aren’t many other choices if you rule out what you really want to do; replacing her.Toughen up: Apparently your one person HR operation has had to face the fact that it stress filled. You must deal with difficult and incompetent subordinates. Dealing with an individual, who made a case against sharing an office with you and lied her way elsewhere, has not been a walk in the park. Writing her up and monitoring her is no fun even now that she is elsewhere. Is there someone who works in HR at a different company with whom you could vent your frustration and reflect on how to deal with this individual and also the new assistant whom you think is “talking about” you? Are you acquainted with Susan Heathfield’s site? I find her advice sensible and you might also, on such topics as: When You Fire an Employee… Anyone who works for long in Human Resources or management has stories to tell about the day when you had to fire an employee. Despite all of the recommendations I make for employees about being prepared and the signals to watch out for when I ask: are you In Danger of Getting Fired or Laid Off?, employees are rarely prepared to be fired.

–Avoid Wrongful Termination and Other Legal Challenges · How to Fire an Employee

–Confront: Is there an effective way to cope with what you think is gossip; gossip about you? What have you tried? Have you said to yourself to yourself, “When I come in, why does she and whomever she is talking (I can’t know exactly where this occurs and with whom she is with–her husband or payroll clerk) appear to be gossiping about me?” You have allowed this talk to escalate from annoyance to a broken record that plays in your head? You could say what you’re thinking, “Sally, why do you and so and so clam up when I come in. What were you just saying?” Such a question should generate some sort of white lie or the real topic. Then you could follow up with, “Please don’t grow quiet or change topics when I enter. We are here to work as a team and I’m sure you understand why I wonder what so important that you grow quiet when I come in. Let’s find ways to make each others’ work easier and more effective.” Is there yet another way?

As HR might you see your self as a coach rather than as someone to whom others must report? If so, rather that be communication impoverished and only deal with problems once brought to you, might you engage your assistant and payroll or others with whom you work in skull sessions; skull sessions that meet regularly to collaboratively ask and answer key questions: What are we doing well and what might we do to make each others’ work more effective? Are we communicating as a team? I’ve worked with high level OD people and I found that even some of them failed to ask that two-pronged question. One last thought because of what is not said in your question.

I get the impression that your job is no fun. Might you focus on shaping it to include laugh- a-day? Might you see your self as a cheerleader? Or at least might you find some fun outside of working hours. Life is too short to not be happy in work. Might you ask how my signature sentence could apply in your workplace: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS? The meaning in this sentence is not meant to be pie in the sky. It takes much to do the kind of job you have and its influence promises much.

William Gorden