Dealing with Employees/disruptive employee
QUESTION: I recently became a manager of a new project in state government. I have 5 employees now, eventually will have 25. One of my leads has expertise in the program area, however, had behavioral programs and has had more than 5 supervisors since she was employed in 2008. She is disruptive (loud hole punching and setting up her own space)and interrupts during meetings; she sends me emails on meetings I "need" to go to and trainings I "have to" set my workers up for. She gives me small things for my desk, and coffee, etc., which makes me uncomfortable. At a recent training where she had been expected to work with the private company onsite, the private company asked that I select someone else from my staff to be onsite as they felt she would usurp the employees' confidence of their own supervisors and would set policy on a dime which would be a contract risk if it were not correct. She was asked specifically to not interrupt a certain presentation; she did with a very inappropriate comment about the quality of the contractor's product. THis is all in the past 4 months. I will need to evaluate her performance to see if she is able to keep her grade level (she was promoted at the same time I was). I have to inform her of the contractor's decision to not have her onsite. Also, my other new team members are already resentful as she lords it all over everyone and acts as if she is the lead instead of me. So far, I have been a low key supervisor, I am trying to maintain a nice balance and work atmosphere. On the otherhand, she is great with her knowledge and as a resource of information. Any thoughts? Thank you! (could this be a bipolar person, as she does appear manic at times, and has taken 2 days off in the past 4 months to just sleep allday - also has been on a supervised fast)
ANSWER: Hi Teresa,
I am sorry you inherited a problem child employee. Hopefully, you are up to the task of dealing with her differently than those who have come before you. As you can see, transferring her from one supervisor to another was not the answer to changing her unacceptable behavior.
We could speculate about her being bi-polar; there's a lot suggesting she is. However, that is something you cannot ask about or suggest to her lest you open a can of worms that can lead to liability issues for you.
Here's what I suggest. Do a very fair and honest performance evaluation. Give her high marks for what she does well, backed up with specifics about her knowledge of the job and access to important resource information. Mark her down in all the areas in which her behavior is inappropriate and unacceptabloe and give specific examples of each negative rating. Be very specific in providing examples wherein her refusal to follow directions and inappropriate outspokenness has created workplace difficulties for you, co-workers and even outside agencies. (from what you've noted above, you have a long list of specifics).
Though she warrants a reduction in grade level, I'm guessing none of her other supervisors has previously addressed the negatives this employee presents on the job. If I'm correct, your evaluation will be the first negative one she's gotten. For that reason, I would suggest that in lieu of changing her grade level, she be referred to the Employee Assistance Program to explore why her actions are creating difficulties in the workplace and what she can do to remedy that. Additionally, I suggest you, in consult with your HR folks, develop a work improvement program (WIP) to promote needed changes in those areas which have created the most significant workplace difficulties. Meet with her weekly to review progress with the WIP and have a final meeting in 90 days to evaluate if she was successful in making the necessary changes. If significant progress hasn't been shown, reduction in grade level would seem to be in order and possibly even termination.
BE aware that you cannot require an employee to utilize EAP services nor can you monitor participation (other than to verify dates of attendance if she has signed a release for the program to give you that info). Refusal to attend, however, may be used to justify subsequent adverse action against her you might take should she not make nece3ssary changes. (i.e., employee failed to take advantage of suggested EAP participation to assist with remedying workplace issues.)
There are numerous online resources regarding work improvement program plans, their purpose, how to develop and monitor progress, etc. Take the time to check them out.
This is an employee for whom you cannot be a low-key supervisor. This employee requires hands-on attention, strict and explicit guidelines/boundaries with close monitoring to hold her accountable and consequences for doing other than what she was instructed to do. It will require much time and effort from you and may be quite stressful and tiring. However, the end result should either be a much improved employee or a paper trail to end her employment with your agency. Either way, win-win for you and your agency.
Take a deep breath and have confidence that you are well equipped to deal with this challenge.
Take care. I wish you well.
Alice J. Bogert
Alice J. Bogert
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Hi Alice - I just wanted to let you know that I took your advice and have worked with this employee over the past 5 months. We can't meet weekly due to schedules, but bi weekly. There have been ups and downs, however, she had sought her own private therapist rather than EAP, and while I do not ask about the experience, I can see that there are some improvements, and she has offered some information, for example that this is her time to work on herself, kids out of the house etc., and she has not done it before. We meet often and talk quite honestly - she tells me no one has ever called out these behaviors (which is most likely true) so this having to deal with it is new, and she has asked for more time to really be able to work thru it. It is 55 years of behavior that probably won't change overnight. THe time is coming, though, that I will have to decide whether she warrants this promotion. Her work is very valuable to me, she is not strong on some of our computer work but is very good at training and organizing the office which is growing extremely quickly. I could not do my job without that assistance, as my job is frantically busy. She is, on the other hand, needy for reassurance often. There have also been whispers in the office (about 20) though about her interrupting, her disrespect of others (talks to them like children) on occasion, and her general annoying behavior (she comes on extremely nice sometimes to the point of annoying). However, no one will come directly to me. I just hear a couple episodes of issues (for example, she had words with one of her subordinates on a day I was not in the office, and the subordinate was not happy - she went to her later to discuss and they worked it out. I was told this in confidence and therefore, can't act on it. So I basically want to tell the workers if you won't come to me directly and let me know, then don't tell me things I can't act on as everyone wants them held in confidence! Seriously, this job is work that i LOVE, however, the drama is pushing me to early retirement.
My question is - can a person with a dx of anxiety really ever change their behavior? And I believe it would be a longer process than a few months, do you agree? So do I make the decision based on what is happening right now -- or put faith in the future for this person who appears to really want to work hard to change. You are right, this is totally draining for me. My supervisor stated there is really no where else for her at this time, however, the office will be expanding again next year so if there is a better "bit" transfer would be discussed. She also confirmed the fact that no one really dealt with it before
Thank you for your help. I know that managing people is hard, but it really bugs me that very few people confront issue - ridden employees, they let it go for years, and of course, the person is not going to get it when they all of a sudden, after 8 years, get called on it.
I applaud you for the work you have done with this employee. I know it has been very taxing, yet you have seen some progress. The question is has there been sufficient progress to warrant
keeping her at her grade level. I don't know the answer to that.
Go over the requirements for her position. Compare her work and overall performance on the job with someone else in the same grade level. How does she stack up?
It sounds like she excels in being a good office assistant to you, at least until she has to interact with coworkers. I think you have to keep hammering her about her faulty interactions with others. Make it clear to her there has been progress but a major issue continues to be the way she interacts with others. Make it clear that her promotion carries the expectation that she will serve as a positive role model to others. Ask her how she sees herself as a role model for others in the unit. Then ask her how she thinks her coworkers would answer that question. If her perception doesn't match yours, tell her how your perception differs from hers and provide support for your perception. You can tell her your job requires that you know what goes on in the unit, and you are still getting negative feedback about how she deals with people. You don't have to name names with her.
When employees come to you with stories about her they wish to remain confidential, let the employee know you are willing to help; however, you can do nothing unless he/she agrees to discuss the problem collectively with you and her. Otherwise, there is nothing you can do with the information.
Is it possible to assign her a mentor or have her pick someone to be her mentor, someone in the same grade level as she? Someone trustworthy with a good reputation who will work with you in keeping her accountable and caution her when she is creating disruption in the workplace?
In the final analysis, you can't hang in there indefinitely with this employee. I think it's in her best interest, yours and her coworkers to either make a special job for her where her interactions with others is very limited or set up a very specific work improvement plan which has to be met or demotion will occur.
It goes without saying that transferring her to another supervisor will do nothing to maintain the changes she has made, and you will simply be repeating the game of kick the can down the road that went on before you got her.
Take care. I wish you well.
Alice J. Bogert