Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Unpopular Employees and The Supervisor’s Role

What should you do when it becomes apparent that Obnoxious Ollie, Irritating Ida or Weird Al, are not accepted by others in the group you supervise? What if they are rejected, excluded and shunned by peers because of behavior, performance, habits, mannerisms, personality, hygiene or other issues that create problems–and over which the employee has control?

The answer to those questions are found in three areas of investigation–What peer employees are doing, what the rejected employee is doing and what you are responsible for doing.

What are the peers of the employee doing? No matter what the situation, all employees must obey rules, policies and procedures, and those should never be violated. Neither should employees do anything that reduces work effectiveness and productivity. Dirty tricks, work sabotage, name-calling and spreading rumors are not acceptable and must be stopped by the supervisor.

If peer ostracism consists primarily of not asking the employee to join the group for lunch or breaks, only being civil but not being overtly friendly or similar shunning activities, there is likely no rules violation. Supervisors should encourage positive relationships, but cannot order people to be friends.

What actions by the rejected employee may have created the situation?  In the situations we’re discussing the shunned employee has created conflict or rejection because of his or her own behavior or performance. For example, in one work group an employee was shunned in personal relationships after she lied repeatedly. In another, an employee’s loud laugh and irritating remarks, caused coworkers to avoid anything but absolutely necessary conversations. Identify the nature of the problems so you can talk to the employee about it. Be specific, rather than only telling an employee they have to “learn to get along” or some other general comment.

Note: If the employee is being rejected, shunned or excluded about things over which he or she has no control, you have a completely different situation. That kind of treatment is the essence of bullying and should be stopped immediately and action taken about inappropriate behavior.

What should you do?

1. Intervene. Do not shrug off your responsibility in this area. You are responsible for the workplace and everyone in it. Do your job to stop behavior by any employee that causes others to be justifiably offended, irritated, disrupted or disgusted. At the same time, stop shunning or rejecting behavior by other employees, if it becomes disruptive, offensive or inappropriate.

Peer supervision is often caused by lack of formal supervision. If an employee does something inappropriate that causes others to shun or reject him or her, you are remiss if you have not done something to stop the situation and start improvement processes. If the situation is not something the employee can control, you are remiss if you allow other employees to say or do inappropriate things in response.

2. Build the team. When all employees are focused on work and must find ways to work together, some of the barriers between them will be reduced automatically. Sometimes personal rejection of an employee continues long after bad behavior or performance has stopped. Work, meetings, projects and activities that require everyone to interact can help highlight improvements.

3. Develop individuals. Every employee has strengths and developmental needs. Sometimes when there is a problem employee, other employees begin to think they are almost perfect in comparison. Help all employees see the need to improve. Put their focus on their own development and they are not so likely to be disrupted by others.

The employee who needs to change or improve should also be developed. Sometimes helping an employee see they can be better than they are in even one area, helps them become motivated to improve in every area.

Your Role: If you have done all you can do to help a problem employee change or improve but they are still being disruptive or problematic, you should have good documentation of your efforts and should talk to HR or those above you, to see about the next step. Emphasize the negative affect on work because of the actions of the problem employee. However, be sure you can show that you have not allowed inappropriate behavior by other employees.

If an employee has mental or emotional problems that make it impossible for him or her to fit into the work group, but you have been told no action will be taken to remove them, there will likely always be a degree of rejection of the employee. You cannot stop that, you can only work to ensure that the group stays productive and acting appropriately. 

You must support, guide, direct, re-direct, reprimand, commend and communicate with everyone as needed. But, you should not become a guardian angel, co-conspirator or merely an observer. You are in this for the long haul. What kind of work environment do you want to have a year from now? Build toward that today.

September 20th, 2008 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Supervision and Management | 5 comments