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Dealing with employees with negative attitudes. How to change?

I have been a manager for 5 months and have two employees. One of my employees formerly held the position I have now, and downgraded to work part time. He was my boss for 12 years. He likes to work on his own, and not be bothered too much. The other employee is where I need advice. She tells me far far too much personal information. I don't need hourly updates about her hot flashes, whether she has wet her pants, or how much money she has until pay day. She is too comfortable around me, and seems to view me as more her friend than her boss. She has actually called me out in meetings. Privately, she has argued with me about completing projects in the manner I specified. In the past, she felt very comfortable spontaneously adjusting my clothing and rubbing dirt off my face. I put a stop to that by telling her that I am a person who likes a lot of personal space, that her actions made me uncomfortable, and to stop doing those actions. She is also a very sensitive person. She has been known to get sick/cry in the bathroom in anticipation of evaluations. (She got a good evalutation.) She gets nervous and needs a lot of reassurance. Ironically, she acts like and has told me that she has a great deal of respect for the other employee who used to hold my position. I know that I need to change this situation. I need to strike the right tone of fixing a bad situation, while not leading to her getting sick in the bathroom and needing a lot of reassurance. The situation is not good, and I am asking for advice for how to improve it. All suggestions welcome.

Answers

Topic Expert
Keith Perry
Title: Consulting CFO and Business Operations A..
Company: Growth Accelerator
(Consulting CFO and Business Operations Advisor, Growth Accelerator) |

Couple of options:
Sandwich it for reassurance; wait for the blowback. Thank her for it.
"You're doing a great job. You're a bit unprofessional in these ways [short list], and I'd like you to work on improving there. You've had a great review and are tracking to another great review, so keep up the good work."
She might blow up, and if she does, thank her as if she had listened calmly and given you good feedback.

Or:
If you've got an HR person, bring them in for a consultation with her. You don't want to back yourself into a hostile-environment claim.

Note: I'm not clear on the "completing projects" and "called me out". On the former, some initiative is good, especially if she's doing a good job. On the latter, it is very bad to hang you out to dry, but correcting you in a meeting is constructive.

Cheers

KP

Anonymous User
Title: CFO
Company: Local Government Agency
(CFO, Local Government Agency) |

I agree with Wayne! Start moving to terminate her.

I have one of these too. She's excellent at completing her AP and Payroll responsibilities. But, she is insecure and a time bomb waiting to go off one of these days.

My biggest regret was not terminating her on the spot as my boss had instructed the Dir of HR and myself to do if she cried when we had to talk to her about an issue five years ago. I told him he was being ridiculously harsh.

He was right actually. I'm now saddled with an insecure, neurotic crybaby at work. She's good at what she does. Put she doesn't play well with others and if she even detects a hint of criticism, crys, throws tantrums and once even packed up and walked out.

But, I'm male and she is obviously not. I didn't take and action when I could have. She is basically tenured now. The fear of legal repercussions and the distance that our CEO keeps from her, leaves me with her as a problem child and I get to deal with her issues on a semi-regular basis. ;-(

Anonymous
(Manager of Accounting) |

Thanks, Keith, good thoughts. The "completing projects" refers to a cross-training effort on one of our major processes, owned by the older employee. There have been issues with sharing information, so we got to the point that I had to designate who would complete each part of the process, and exclude anyone else from touching that part. I found out the woman was having the older employee do a part he was excluded from. She said it was the only way she could learn . . . . that having written and spoken directions wasn't working. She never brought this up until she was caught . . . she said she was going to have him do it, in complete contrast to my instructions.

That's what I was referring to.

Topic Expert
Malak Kazan
Title: VP, Special Projects
Company: ERI Economic Research Institute
(VP, Special Projects, ERI Economic Research Institute) |

I agree with Keith and add the discussion should cover growth and development. Have her gain confidence in advancing her knowledge, skills and abilities, channeling the negative energy to something more productive and positive. Hope this helps.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

Taking what you said:

1. Don't have meetings behind closed doors unless there is a third person present. (Better yet record the sessions and make it clear that the sessions are being recorded by having consent by speaking - talk with your General Counsel).
2. Document, document and then document everything.
3. Speak with the General Counsel.
4.. Make it clear what is and isn't acceptable behavior.
5. Document some more.
6. Discharge her.

This is a law suit just waiting to happen. From sexual harassment to hostile workplace and beyond. The psychological issues run too deep and unless your trained in dealing with this level of issues, don't.

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

I have an employee that is very sensitive and takes things very personal so my approach would be very similar to what Keith suggests in scenario #1. It's really all about your confidence in your conversation and being prepared. Rehearse what you want to say and be firm but compassionate. Tell her you care about her as an employee and only want to see her improve.

I also agree with Wayne, be cautious and consider liability and heavily document all conversations you have regarding performance or behavior issues. They will come in handy if you do decide to terminate with unemployment.

Anonymous
(Manager of Accounting) |

Thanks for the great advice! I can see this spiraling like you describe, she has started making a point of delineating what errors that I have discussed with her in the past, and what errors she does not remember me mentioning. Her memory is spotty.

Today, she came to work telling me about some additional personal problems. I directed her to our EAP program and gave her the contact information. She went on to talk about needing her friends (me). I took this as a chance to remind her that I am her boss first and foremost. While we all try to get along, she is better off relying on her friends and family outside of work.

I have also mentioned the situation to my boss. I will begin compiling more documentation of situations and our conversations, send more "to summarize our conversation" emails.

I'll keep you updated!

Tim Rodgers
Title: Chief Strategy Officer
Company: UWorld, Inc.
(Chief Strategy Officer, UWorld, Inc.) |

I noticed a lot of advice regarding legal and HR steps to prevent lawsuits, etc. That may be a good idea, but when I was originally reading your post, I got the impression that this was a small-medium sized company. In that environment, its much less HR/Legal and more personal.

Is there a former boss of hers with whom you could speak and confide your challenge? They may have already addressed this situation.

Also, you could simply frame up in 3 sentences or less your challenge with her (i.e., personal too heavy versus professional, etc.) and in a gentle but firm way discuss this with her and ask her to make a recommendation on next steps. Instead of you solving her problem, ask her to solve it.

Mark Matheny
Title: VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis
Company: Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)
(VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis, Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)) |

Avoid any and all situations where you would be alone with her behind closed doors. Then, you need to make an assessment of the situation as it impacts your job. Is she so good that it is worth the high maintenance to keep her around? Or, is the effort you are putting in impacting your ability to perform? If the latter, it is time to come up with a plan to move her out. If she is worth keeping, make sure you are having a conversation with her about the behaviors she needs to change. As for her emotional reaction, that may be her "make up" and you just need to let it happen unless it is impacting others.

Carla Gordon
Title: Accountant
Company: Govt
(Accountant, Govt) |

Usually, it is not worth your emotional and professional energy to continue dealing with these situations. I would move toward termination. Otherwise you will be dealing with this FOREVER. Take it from me. I work in a governmental setting and am dealing with a similar situation. Employee disrespects supervisors, walks out on meetings, blows up, is secretive about their job and is not helpful. It is a verbally abusive atmosphere that has been going on for four years and shows no sign of changing.
Don't be afraid of "legal issues," most employees serve at will. Just get rid of her ASAP.
Good luck.

Jan Wilson
Title: President
Company: Vital Assets LLC
(President, Vital Assets LLC) |

This is a common form of manipulation by which she has learned to get her way and control others. As long as she continues to get the expected response, i.e. people tiptoeing around her and giving her what she wants, there is no reason for her to change. Even if you gave her the most important reason you can to change, i.e. to save her job, she may not know how, or may not be self-responsible enough to follow through and do so. If you have access to an HR professional and/or attorney, work closely with them and your management to manage her back in or out.

Simply put, be very specific about what behaviors she is doing that are detrimental to herself and her team, and how; what she needs to do to change them, and by when; the resources that are available to help her change, like EAP; and what will happen if she fails to follow these clear, fair and non-discriminatory management instructions. Clarify that this is a professional environment, you recognize her as a professional who wants to be treated and perceived as such, and this is how she can do it. If she throws a hissy fit, let her go and pick it back up when she calms down. Make that a learning moment to point out that this is the very behavior you are referring to that is unacceptable in a professional environment. Then document everything with dates, times, places and details of discussions and behaviors. Follow up, follow through with actions as promised, and do not let it go on forever. If she improves, then falls back when things cool down again, pick up the process where you left off, not back at the beginning. If she threatens to sue for discrimination or unfair treatment, so be it. People can and will sue for anything, but if you have properly followed your policies and processes, given her every chance to improve, and treated her the same as anyone else similarly situated, she will not have a legal leg to stand on. Better yet, you will be rid of a destructive energy and productivity hole.

Aaron Lowery
Title: Payroll Consultant
Company: Payday Payroll Resources
(Payroll Consultant, Payday Payroll Resources) |

Has your company ever provided a copy of "employee handbook" and/or a document to the employees which clearly identifies thier individual job description and performance requirements,dress and conduct policies etc? If so, have they signed a letter stating that they have reviewed the information and understand it?

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

You've taken some time to articulate in detail what the behavior is, so I have no doubt you will discover the answer. I agree with the people who have received positive votes here. Every person is an individual, so don't take a one size fits all approach.

Outline the behaviors required for her role and explain how you benefit from those behaviors. Also outline the negative behaviors and how you are negatively impacted by them. She sounds like she is trying hard to please, and may have some emotional trouble with rejection, so help her understand how to be successful and tell her what you are looking for, but try to keep direct criticism at a minimum. Tell her you are there to support her, if you are comfortable saying that. She will calm down.

Since you have been promoted over your old boss, everyone will be nervous about your ascension in that they will think they are next on the chopping block, particularly if your office is clerical.

I agree with "no closed door meetings" because when you are the only witness, you will be held accountable for her complaints about you.

Try really hard to spread your attention evenly across the staff so there is no perception of "favorites" or special treatment.

Document and let your boss know what is going on.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

Anonymous -

It's been about two months since you posted. You've gotten some great advice.

What advice did you try and how what was the outcome?

Thanks

Anonymous
(Manager of Accounting) |

Wayne, I appreciated everyone's responses and ended up taking a mixed approach. It's combination of frank discussions and social cues/engineering.

Before we go to any meetings, I talk to her about what her role is expected to be in the meeting. I'm very clear.

I have more formal communications with her - anything of consequence is discussed in person and follow up with an email summarizing the discussion.

Regarding the high drama, I found ways to not play the game. I had a frank talk with her that I expect her to "be here" when she's at work. If she comes into my office to overshare, I keep typing and say that I have to meet a deadline. If she persists, I walk about of my office to get some water. Alternately, when she takes a breath, I jump with with a question about how her work assignments are going.

We had a conversation about physical space. Also, I changed the furniture arrangement in my office to make it much more awkward for anyone but me to come behind my desk.

I changed her job responsibilities from some high-profile to mostly low-profile.

The situation has improved, more improvement to come.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

Glad it is working...

ArLyne Diamond
Title: Owner - President
Company: Diamond Associates
LinkedIn Profile
(Owner - President, Diamond Associates) |

I think it is wonderful that you (and others in this thread) realize the importance of treating individuals based on how they learn and how they work. Yes, in the beginning of a new relationship with an employee you need tight controls - but as you learn their style and the two of you learn how to understand each others communication you can loosen up.

Some people want detailed instructions - others are happy just being given the challenge and delivery date.

On the issue of the woman coming to you in a personal manner - step back - this is potentially dangerous for a whole variety of reasons. Involve HR, involve an outside consultant, and protect yourself from even the perception of involvement.

I'm not sure you should terminate her - this might be a temporary emotional turmoil she is going through - you need to get help doing a thorough assessment.

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