A reader writes:
I was blindsided today. My boss informed me that a coworker had come to her with concerns about my morale and well-being. My boss wanted to know if all was well and if I needed to talk with HR. It was made clear that the coworker felt that my issues were affecting others at work.
The coworker in question is the newest hire (6 months ago) and most junior member of the team. Since coming on board, she has been given increased responsibilities, done well with her work, and is generally liked by everyone. But she is shy and seems to be very sensitive. A few weeks ago, she complained to our boss that I chatted more with one colleague than with her and she felt left out and wondered if she had upset me. I approached her and assured her it was simply that I am very close with that particular coworker. Since then I have made efforts to involve her in at-work lunches, but I try to keep my distance when working. Obviously, that has backfired.
I told my boss that I am fine, happy in my work but very confused to be having this conversation. I asked if she wouldn’t mind digging into the matter to obtain some examples of my low morale behavior and how it has affected the team.
On Friday, two days after the initial meeting, I asked my boss for an update. My boss admitted there had been no details forthcoming so she had advised the colleague to approach me directly, and gave her a deadline for doing so. I assume this will happen early this week.
I told my boss I was frustrated by the incident because the new coworker is very sensitive and I felt it was unfair that I was made to have a conversation about my morale when the concern would be more appropriately placed on our young coworker’s oversensitivity. My boss admitted that the young lady’s sensitivity is annoying but assured me that I needed to go through the process she had put in place, and she knew I would come out of the other side concluding this was not about me.
I left the meeting by letting her know I felt annoyed that I was pulled into this, did not feel I needed to go through any process, and expressed my hope that the sensitivity would be handled, and that I would continue working as I always have since there was no actual problem with my performance or attitude in the first place.
Now I feel I am dealing with an inexperienced boss who didn’t handle the situation appropriately, AND an immature coworker. Any advice on how to handle this would be greatly appreciated.
Wow. Well, ideally you wouldn’t have asked your boss to dig into the issue for you, let alone followed up with her for an update. Ideally, you would have kept the focus on the coworker’s oversensitivity causing distractions in the office, rather than charging your manager with finding out more details — because that put the focus (unintentionally, I realize) on you, rather than on her.
But regardless of that, your boss is handling this badly, of course — you don’t need her to micromanage your relationship with this coworker.
And the coworker sounds like she has some serious problems with judgment, maturity, and boundaries.
In any case, if/when the coworker talks to you about this, I’d tell her in no uncertain terms that your focus at work is on your work and that you’re not interested in getting pulled into drama about how much you talk to Person A versus Person B, that your morale is just fine but that she’s welcome to approach you if your behavior even makes her work more difficult, that you’re baffled that she’s now gone to your boss on two separate occasions about things that were non-issues and that she could have spoken to you about, and that you’d appreciate her conducting herself differently going forward.
And I would not circle back to your boss after all this unless specifically required to, because your boss doesn’t belong in the middle of this at all. If she brings it up herself, say: “I don’t plan to engage further with Jane on this, as it’s distracting me from focusing on my job. If you have concerns about my work, I’m sure you’ll tell me.”
Model good boundaries for both your boss and your coworker, since both of them seem fuzzy on what that should look like.