This was originally published on January 28, 2010.
A reader writes:
I work for a company that has the FDA (Food and Drug Admin) come in often for audits. Every single thing every employee does can be audited. Therefore, procedures are put into place that must be followed.
A co-worker takes many shortcuts and does not follow these procedures. I have pointed this out numerous times to my team leader and even went to Human Resources at one point. We have an employee handbook of sorts that states specifically that if an employee does not follow certain procedures, it is grounds for terminition. I have been told by my team leader and HR that this is none of my business and to “sit down and pay attention to your own work.” Another co-worker and I have documented proof, but no one wants to acknowledge it. Each of us have our own customers and many of them have said specifically they do not want her even to touch their forms.
And as if that weren’t bad enough, she has no sense of manners. She has sinus issues and snorts all day long. Ok, I know some people can’t help it and yeah, I can probably let that slide. She also talks on the phone…all…day…long. Literally, hours. These are personal calls. Calls to her mother, sisters, sons, friends from church. I know everything there is to know about who did what to whom, who isn’t paying child support, who is cheating on their husband…Again, this has been pointed out by not only me, but many other co-workers and again, nothing is done. Supposedly, she has been talked to in 1 on 1 meetings with the team leader, sent emails and also “reminded” in group meetings to limit her personal phone calls. After such meetings, she gets on the phone and complains to every family member she can call about how unfair it is that she has been pointed out unfairly.
Then there is of course the fact she takes her teeth out to clean them while sitting at her desk. She also uses a fork to brush her hair as well as talks with her mouth full of food, even if she’s on the phone with customers! She also listens to her radio (w/ headphones on) but has the volume up loud enough for everyone to hear anyway. And she makes these noises that honestly sound as though she’s about to have a sexual experience. Most days I feel like I’m working in the porno industry.
She says that if you were to come to her and ask her to stop something, she will. However, whenever someone has, she blows up and pitches a huge fit. One day she came to my desk and was very upset because I asked her not to do something that was not procedural. I said it kindly and have witnesses. She stood over me (I was sitting in my chair) and yelled at the top of her voice at me. She and another co-worker got into a shouting match with each other and the Manager of the entire department had to come down and break them apart. Again, nothing is done. I was reprimanded for asking her not to do something against procedures.
I love my job, really I do! But working with her is taking its toll. When she isn’t here, the entire mood of the department changes. She is a joke to everyone. Even my team leader has called her lazy in our 1 on 1 sessions. HR refuses to do anything. Management refuses to do anything. What can I do? Just grin and bear it?
I’m not sure what you can do if your managers are uninterested in dealing with it, and she herself yells at people when confronted.
Your real issue here is less about her and more about having management that won’t address an obvious problem. It sounds like they’ve made a decision — for whatever reason — to live with it. They’ve also told you clearly that they don’t want to hear from you anymore about it.
I don’t know why they’ve made that decision. Most likely, they’re wimps who don’t like having awkward or unpleasant conversations with people. Or, it could be that they don’t really care about having procedures followed. Or they do care but they’re addressing it with her privately and aren’t going to share that with you. Or maybe you work for a company that requires reams of paperwork to be assembled over many months before someone can be fired, and they’re in the process of doing that.
On the issues of her personal habits, as opposed to her work, it could be that no one has presented this to your manager in just the right way. Framed in a certain way, it could sound petty. It could be more effective to explain that her constant personal phone calls make it hard for you to concentrate on your own work and ask if you or she could be moved to a different area. (You might get her moved and/or your manager might take the info about her phone habits more seriously because you made it impersonal.)
But overall, it seems like your managers, for whatever reason, have heard your complaints and told you to stop raising them. That’s the reality you’ve got to accept.
And you know, you’re often going to end up working with people who annoy the hell out of you. It’s just the reality of having a job, most of the time. You can keep looking for ways to be direct with her about what she’s doing that bothers you, and maybe trying to get your coworkers to weigh in too, but this woman really doesn’t sound particularly open to feedback or personal change. Ultimately, you probably have to resign yourself to living with this, as long as you and she are both employed there.
But really, the best way to handle this might be to see her behavior as amusing instead of infuriating. You have someone brushing her hair with a fork and cleaning her false teeth at her desk, for god’s sake — are you really not entertained by this?
As I’ve mentioned before, my sister always advises me, when visiting annoying relatives, to pretend to be one of the many long-suffering characters in Jane Austen novels who have to be pleasant to and patient with irritating relations. It’s remarkably effective; it reframes things in a much more amusing (and bearable) context. If you’re not a Jane Austen fan, pretend you’re on a sitcom. This advice is good for all areas of life.