Co-worker Dynamics: “my co-worker is a monster”

Let’s face it. We have all had the experience of working with someone who is difficult. You know the one. The Bully, The Do Nothing, The Obnoxious Loudmouth, the Negative Nancy, The Trouble Maker and The Know It All. Maybe you were one of these at one time. Actually, it is easy to fall into these traps without even really knowing it.  These employees can be toxic.

The other day I received an email from a friend that was having a problem with a co-worker. Now, this co-worker fits into a couple of these categories. My friend, whom we will call Pamela, is very much non-confrontational and struggles from time to time with seeing her own value.

The co-worker whom we will call Natalie continually asks Pamela to clock her in, or clock her out in the remote office in which they work. Pamela has refused to violate the most sacred of company policies and to her knowledge, no other person that she works with has either. To add to the issue, the company has recently begun using a software program that some of the employees have been reluctant to adopt. Pamela has implemented the new software which Natalie objects to. Natalie has been quite negative and even belligerent with Pamela because of this. She also comments to Pamela ” you are making us look bad because you are doing too much”.

I believe that many of you will say “Rat” her out to the manager”. And you would not be wrong.  After all, she is creating a hostile work environment. You would also not be right. These situations rarely are as straightforward for the employee as I have painted in this case. In this particular case, with the manager being remote, simply informing on the employee could paint Pamela as the one who is negative. Natalie, in the past, has always had good reviews from her past managers, her male managers. Some of these managers who are in the same office stop by sometimes to “chat” with Natalie. According to Pamela, Natalie flirts and is always “happy” when she gets these visits. So, it might not be as straightforward as just telling their current manager.

Pamela would be quite content just doing her job, regardless of what Natalie does or doesn’t do if she would just leave her alone. There is a negative impact on the group because of Natalie’s activity but Pamela is willing to trust management to eventually deal with that. Unfortunately, and I hate to tell my friend this, a lot of managers aren’t as smart, or on top of things and you think that they are, especially when they are working remotely.

So, what should Pamela do in this situation? I have some things that can be done, things that shouldn’t be done, and some things that might be done. I am sure that many of you will have ideas as well and I look forward to your comments.

Here are my suggestions:

  1. Relax. This situation is “probably” correctible for everyone without a lot of pain for anyone.
  2. Plan to have a conversation with them. Unless you are willing to start with “scorched earth” and tell your supervisor what your issues are with the person you are going to have to initiate a conversation. Remember, unless you have tried to talk to them, you might be the one who gets scorched. I recommend the following prep for your conversation:
    1. Write down what your issues are and make sure you understand how to address them. Two or three issues tops. You don’t want to overwhelm them.
    2. Ask them if they have some time to talk.
    3. Address the issues one at a time. Ask passive questions Can you help me understand, can you explain why you think this way, do you realize that what you are doing is making you look bad to the company?
    4. Make sure that you let them explain what they are feeling, thinking about the issues. If you start feeling nervous, angry, etc, try using Mel Robbins “5-Second Rule” It is a pretty good technique for gaining control of your behavior.
    5. Be sure you explain what your issue with the behavior is. How it makes you feel, how it affects you, etc.
    6. Another tact, that will require less interaction, might be this: Write down the supervisors phone number and email address on a sticky-note or a piece of paper. Hand it to the employee and politely say: ” You are obviously having issues with what we are being asked to do. I can’t help you but here is the contact information for a person you really need to talk to”
  3. Make sure that you understand what is going on with the person. They may be having issues at home, health issues, etc. Even the best of us can let these outside issues influence our performance. That is not an excuse but an otherwise good coworker may be struggling.
  4. If the conversation doesn’t go as you expect, or your co-worker gets defensive then apologize and let them know that you appreciate their time. Let them know that you hope things can change.
  5. If this plan of action doesn’t work then you will have to resort to plan B. That is going to require that you talk to your manager. If the manager asks if you have talked to the offending co-worker you will be able to answer in the affirmative.

A note of caution: If you feel uncomfortable or feel threatened to have the discussion with your co-worker then don’t. This has to be an open and frank discussion and that won’t happen if you feel like you can’t speak your mind. If this is the case you will either have to put up with the situation or go straight to plan B… Telling you your manager.

If you are the manager and you know of or are informed of such a situation what you should do is very straightforward. Act, Act now and Act decisively or you risk putting your job and the company’s future in jeopardy!


Author: Patrick Cowan, CFO

I have over thirty years experience in Finance, Accounting, HR, and Business Management. Most of this has been at the Senior Management and Executive Level. I believe that small ideas can be big winners if the right dynamics are applied.

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