I probably won’t have time to write a post today, so instead I’m posting this interesting letter from a reader about a frustrating situation with a coworker:
There is a bad employee in my office. He has a long history of being shuffled from department to department, doing little to no work, but filing copious complaints and lawsuits to keep his job (one department fired and rehired him three times due to his lawsuit threats, before finally dropping disciplinary procedures and transferring him). In my department, things came to a head with my Old Manager — there were so many disciplinary procedures started by her and so many lawsuits started by him that the entire department was stalled completely. In a spectacular show of bad management, the upper-level managers decided to send a second manager to our department. New Manager managed Bad Employee and everybody with his job classification, and Old Manager managed everybody else. Both New Manager and Old Manager were generally okay managers, but when there were two of them in one department, they both became terrible managers. It was like divorced parents — one manager gives you an answer you don’t want, you go to the other manager, who will give you what you want to spite the other one. Bad Employee buddied up to New Manager, who was his bestest friend and total defender. Complaints and lawsuit threats from him stopped while she protected him from the consequences of his behavior, which was upper-management’s goal, I assume.
Old Manager left, and New Manager now manages the whole department. As a result, she’s had to deal with the consequences of the Bad Employee’s actions upfront, as there’s nobody else to pass the buck to, and with a bird’s-eye view of the whole department, the pattern of his behavior in all aspects of work became more clear. Bad Employee has started cold shouldering New Manager now that she’s trying to get him to do his work and face consequences when he doesn’t, and she’s generally moping around like she’s been dumped, since he used to act like her best friend (invited her to house parties, had her meet his parents), and now says things like “You betrayed me! I thought we were friends!” when she won’t delete bad reviews he’s gotten from customers, or give him a bigger raise than allowed in policy.
So, the whole situation is very touchy. New Manager is sometimes on board with hearing about Bad Employee’s shenanigans, and then sometimes he shows her a little friendliness and now she doesn’t want to hear anything bad about him in case it starts him cold shouldering her again.
Your website has been invaluable in figuring out how to deal with this. Most of the time, my work doesn’t intersect with the Bad Employee, but when it does, it’s very difficult to deal with (no kidding, the other day he asked me how to access his email — he hasn’t looked at it in 6 months, and forgot how to open it). The urge to tattle is extremely strong, but I’m never sure if New Manager will be in management mode or “I want to be Bad Employee’s friend again” mode, and the last thing I want is to get dragged into a punishing and endless complaint/mediation/lawsuit scenario with Bad Employee, as he tends to do to any employee who complains about him.
So, your little trick of phrasing complaints as a request for feedback has been invaluable. Whenever Bad Employee completely drops the ball on a work task we share, I tell New Manager what happened in non-judgmental language (via email, so she has documentation for the future lawsuit that will inevitably appear) and ask if there is anything I could have done better to get the results she was looking for on the project. She usually tells me no, and whether she follows up with Bad Employee after that, I try to consider it none of my business, since I wasn’t asking about how he should do his job, but just how I should do mine. I feel relieved of the need to do something about him, because that’s not my job, and am able to focus on my work again. So, thanks so much for your very helpful advice! Without it, I think I’d be falling into some very bad, gossipy, angry work habits about now, and I’m glad to be spending this time being generally productive instead (and focusing on gathering skills for a new job search, because you don’t have to tell me that this is not a good place to settle down).
Me again. I’m so glad you’re handling it this way! However, I can’t resist adding that Old Manager and New Manager are not “okay managers.” They are terrible managers for allowing this to continue! Someone threatening a baseless lawsuit is not a reason not to fire someone, and the fact that they’re being cowed by that is silly. I don’t know what this employee’s legal threats are based on, but it doesn’t matter how many protected classes someone belongs to: If someone’s work is sub-par, you document the issues, warn the person, document some more, and let them go if they don’t sufficiently improve. There’s no exception for someone who happens to be really litigious; it just means that you might want to be extra vigilant in your documentation — not that the person gets to hold you hostage with fear of a lawsuit.