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

Unrealistic Expectations = Asking For Frustration

The sounds of frustration: Have you had these thoughts when someone hasn’t done what you wanted or expected, or has not responded as you hoped?

“I should have known…”
“I don’t know why I tried….”
“I thought if I gave him one more chance….”
“Well, he did it again.”
“I wish just once, she would…..”
“Was that too much to ask?”

The value of Get real! At work and in personal relationships, we often add to our frustration and disappointment by expecting something from someone that experience and intuition clearly indicates is not likely to happen. Think about your last frustration, disappointment or irritation with someone you know well, work with or supervise. Was it completely unexpected? In fact, have you caught yourself fishing for a response that you know is not likely, so you can say, at least to yourself, “See the way she is?”

  • If a friend or coworker has nearly always been uninterested in one or more topics that seem important to you, you will probably be hurt and frustrated if you try once again to get them to show some excitement about it.
  • If an employee has repeatedly done work that is barely standard, you are setting both of you up for problems if you expect things to change dramatically for the new task you assign him or her. Unless you have done something to intervene and make a difference, you will probably not get different performance.
  • If you have a boss who has rarely if ever said one word of appreciation for even your best work, you should plan on only a nod of the head when you get the big project done early–and be prepared to shrug away not even getting that.
  • If you have never enjoyed collaborating with someone, don’t volunteer to work with that person in the hopes he or she will have changed. You haven’t, so why would he or she?

Few people are so attuned to you, and you to them, that they can be everything you need and want. You probably have friends who are great for one activity, but you call someone else for another activity. You work with someone who is the guru about one thing but not as knowledgeable about something else as another coworker. You supervise someone who is strong in one area but needs help in another–and you get them the help they need to improve. You don’t have it all, either!

The key point is this: You and I are being unrealistic to keep trying to get something from others that they are either unable or unwilling to provide. If we cannot tolerate the way they are, we should stop the relationship. But if we keep the relationship we must accept that the person will always essentially be the same as they are now. Without being fatalistic about it, we should try to keep the attitude that our friends and loved ones are as they are, just as we are as we are. There is no point in putting them to the test one more time to see if they are different today than they have been for the last ten years.

Far too many supervisors do nothing to help or require employees to improve, but continue to supervise as though every employee is able and willing to do every task. This is an unrealistic expectation that is doomed to problems. A supervisor’s main job is to provide the guidance, support, directions and clearly stated expectations, that will ensure good work. It also means you must provide enough oversight to ensure that behavior and performance are at the correct level. There is no point in merely observing so you can say with disgust, “See? He just can’t get his act together!”

Don’t set yourself up for frustration. There are some aspects of friendships and work that will probably never change. Employees can learn new knowledge and skills through training, but they will always have the same traits and personality. Friends may change some behaviors in order to show their caring for us, but they probably will always have the same intrinsic attitudes they do now–and will occasionally revert back to what is more comfortable behavior for them.

Use the team concept, even in your friendships. The value of a team is that each person has strengths that, when combined with the strengths of others, makes for the most effective work. Apply that concept even in your friendships. You know which of your friends can provide the different elements you need–do not expect them to be completely interchangeable. Also realize that the reason they have friends other than you is that you are not all they need either!

Do you know someone who has it all, all the time? If know someone who has it all, and thinks you do too–you are indeed fortunate! Express and show your appreciation every chance you get, be the best possible family member, friend, coworker, employee or supervisor you can, and don’t burn them out or use them up! One way to keep such great relationships going is to keep finding new things to share.

July 21st, 2008 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Life and Work, Supervision and Management | 4 comments

Supervising A Challenging Employee: A Free PDF

Every supervisor and manager has worked with a challenging employee, because almost all employees are challenging in one way or another.  Then, there are problem employees who go far past the term challenging, to infuriating, frustrating and even depressing.

 The two-day class on Supervising Challenging Employees provides a step-by-step approach for supervisors and managers. I’m offering a free PDF file which can be opened with Adobe software, to provide some key information about how to guide both challenging and problematic employees toward a better work product and better behavior.  

 Contact me for your free copy. And, let me know if there are some methods you have used that seemed to be effective–or that were not, or if you have questions about a specific problem.  You can use the comment section or send me an email if you prefer. Use the “Contact Me” tab at the top of the site.

January 18th, 2008 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Supervision and Management | 11 comments

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