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OT - sort of but boy does this feel like dealing with an alcoholic

Old 06-22-2011, 08:26 AM
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OT - sort of but boy does this feel like dealing with an alcoholic

Hi folks,

Long story short but I work with an assistant who is renowned for being difficult. When under pressure she lashes out - but never to people who she considers to be her superiors.

I'm her superior - I'm one of four managers in a team that's 50 people total. I have an extremely responsible job. My big-big boss has been aware for some time that she's problematic and she has been counselled previously.

She ripped me a new one, for no reason, in March. We work in an open plan office and enough people heard that I got emails when I walked back to my desk checking if I was ok. She apologized later and I was frank with her that her behavior had been deeply upsetting and way out of line. Good resolution and ajbect apology on her part - felt great and I think I even posted about it on here.

The behaviours are back and she has spoken to me three times in two weeks in a manner that can best be described as demeaning. Today was the worst of the three and made her first swipe look like a walk in the park. I took it to HR and they're happy for me to undertake a formal complaints process.

They're also concerned for me because I got harrassed earlier this year by a contractor who spent all of one week with the company before being escorted out of the buidling. I spoke to HR about that one but chose not to formally complain - there were another, six, formal complaints about the guy but I was the only one he made physical contact with.

This assistant is a bully and her behaviour towards me, and others, has escalated. people walk on eggshells around her and she still snaps, regularly. It's just like dealing with an active A. I have no idea what or if she drinks and I don't care - the behaviours are unacceptable no matter what the reason.

I got home tonight and wrote down every incident that I think is reportable. There are four pages.

But I'm wary, really wary, about lodging an official complaint. I don't know why, exactly. I do know that I won't work in a place where I'm treated teh way I was today. I do know that I'm not able to deal with this myself anymore - it's beyond that.

Any advice? My company is great at dealing with this sory of stuff. If I need to learn from it or change my working style - the process will highlight that too. And I'm open to it. But the consequences for this woman could be harsh and boy, can she hold a grudge.

I'm sick of being a target for people with issues, that's for sure.

All feedback will be treasured - throw it at me, pros, cons, howmuch of this might be codie stuff - I'd love to hear it all.

Hugs,

SL.
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Old 06-22-2011, 08:37 AM
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If this behavior is not stopped, it will continue to escalate. Obviously, this person is a loose cannon.

If it were me, I'd follow thru with HR. As her supervisor, you have a responsibility to the other employees she interfaces with to correct this situation. If you do not, it will turn out to be a bad reflection on you, it will be viewed as condoning her behavior.

Just my thoughts,
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Old 06-22-2011, 08:44 AM
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You are handling this the best way possible. In addition to the incidents that you are documenting give HR a list of people who were witnesses to them. Especially those that emailed you or came to your desk to ask if were ok. They were probably exposed to other outbursts that you are not even aware of and this can be used to establish a pattern of behavior.

Be strong and think about this as part of your recovery where you no longer make excuses for other peoples actions. They are not your fault.

Your friend,
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Old 06-22-2011, 08:44 AM
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That sounds awful and if I am going to play pop psychologist for a minute, I would imagine some of your hesitancy about going fwd with a formal complaint might be bc you are worried about whether she will get worse? Those of us who have lived/are living with A's learn to never know what to expect, to be targeted randomly for no apparent reason and over time start to question our perceptions or even when we know the behavior is unacceptable, continue to come up with reasons to not address it as we know we should.

I am not saying this is where any of us are right now or where you are in your home or work like but the correlation popped into my head.

I wonder how many of us have been the targets of bullying types? I tend to think that being co-dependent and overly concerned with not making others be upset with me has often had the effect of making me easy prey for nasty people. Bullies pick on those they perceive (whether accurate or not) as weak.

You definitely are not weak and have stood up to this obnoxious sounding woman (who I can't believe still has a job actually) and I say barrel through the discomfort and file what needs to be filed in order for her to have her behaviors addressed by HR.

You deserve a hostility free work environment. And unlike life with an A where we have to change/leave to create peace in our homes, you are not the one who needs to leave your job or office space in this situation. She does.

So sorry you're dealing with someone so nasty. And you're right to say you could care less whether or how much she drinks. Bad behavior is bad behavior.
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Old 06-22-2011, 08:45 AM
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She's already escalating. What does it matter if she escalates further due to a formal HR complaint, or merely because that's her current pattern?

Also, if she has a formal HR complaint filed against her now, other people may finally start reporting things. Or as she continues to escalate, they can take further action to remove her as well.

Your big-big boss is already aware of the issue, and your coworkers are aware of her problems already, so I'd say your support system is already in work should she try to backlash over a formal report.

It's a tough thing, to file a formal report. Look at all the people walking on eggshells, because they view it as easier than reporting her.
The bottom line, though? You deserve to be treated better than this. And formally reporting to HR can help you get that, since trying to talk to her about it obviously isn't working.

EDIT: And I absolutely agree with m1k3, give HR a list of witnesses as well, that will certainly help. They may be more willing to talk about how they saw you treated, than to speak up for themselves.
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Old 06-22-2011, 09:55 AM
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I kinda smell a flavor that you are not completely trusting in HR - that by lodging a formal complaint and getting it on record, along with your other history of running into problems, they may someday turn on you and use a "record" of "problems" to move you along their agenda, which might not be your agenda. I think this would be a valid fear. But it is also one that you haven't control over.

Following the correct procedures, and also standing up to unacceptable behavior is technically the correct thing to do. It does help everyone else who is subjected to this bad behavior.

I guess this is an instance where you listen to your gut about the trustworthiness of HR/Company, make a decision, then Hand It Over.

IMHO, it's valid to have these fears, and thoughts.

CLMI
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Old 06-22-2011, 10:00 AM
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My boss from the last job, in health information at the hospital, was much as you describe, in addition to being a backstabber.

I didn't have the luxury of filing a formal complaint against her after she renigged on a position she put me into, with no notice period.

She was holding my evaluation papers for my first practicum, and my back was against the wall.

If it were me, I wouldn't hesitate to follow through formally through the proper channels.

We live in a dysfunctional world, and that involves the work place often too.

Please keep us updated on what happens!

Warm hugs to you from Kansas.
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Old 06-22-2011, 10:15 AM
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Originally Posted by stilllearning View Post
Any advice?
Since you asked, yes.
The workplace is stuffed with unemployed people and the economy is terrible. This behavior should not be tolerated at all.
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Old 06-22-2011, 11:31 AM
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Several years ago I inherited this crew of direct reports and all of them were great folks, for the most part. One was a chronic HR problem who had this really weird behavior of sneaking up behind female coworkers and standing there until they noticed him. Apparently this had been going on for a while and the previous manager didn't do crap about it. I had females coming to me in scared to death by this guy and begging me to do something about it. Unfortunately there were no "inappropriate interaction" rules in the HR policy books but luckily this guy was a bone head tech that made plenty of other technical mistakes. It took me three months, damn near my full attention to document, provide verbal warnings then written warnings then progressive disciplinary actions, hours on the phone with HR and Legal until finally I could fire his ass for technical incompetence.

You're a manger, she's a (direct?) report. If you don't handle this the appropriate way with HRs blessing then all you're doing is punting her to the next Manager. You can do this.
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Old 06-22-2011, 11:43 AM
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I work at a small company ~ we didn't have an anti-bully policy. My secretary was in another office, and his coworker (another secretary) was doing this, and even bullying the dog! He wouldn't stop, so I carefully went to our HR director and suggested that we have a policy in place. I didn't name anyone, because they'd assured me it had been dealt with between them. Still, I wrote it up, and it was adopted by the company the next week; my secretary (and his dog) moved into my office. My boss thought the policy was about HIM! So everything worked out for the best...

I wasn't even directly involved, but the whole situation was triggering for me because of previous abuse. Everyone is more productive, and happier. Except the bully, who is avoiding me, my secretary, and work in general...

Pull up your boots and file the complaint. Retaliation is an instant fire in this office, so ask your HR people.

- Sylvie
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Old 06-22-2011, 11:49 AM
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Oooooo, that is unacceptable behavior. I'm glad you are writing down everything you have experienced with this woman so far. Good luck, and I agree with the rest, you are doing the right thing!

Hugs, HG
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Old 06-22-2011, 05:08 PM
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I put up with unacceptable behavior from someone over whom I had (limited) authority recently, and I think what upset me more than anything was that I wound up apologizing for setting him off, when I had done nothing wrong. I have a very hard time standing up for myself dealing with people like that. Fortunately, he was 2 weeks from retirement at the time, so I knew I wouldn't have to deal with him much longer.

I have some leftover crap from my last assignment--certain people with authority over me don't like me, so I'm always wary that any rocking of the boat will wind up tipping me into the soup.

I hope you will do better than I did, though, and stand up for yourself and the others in your workplace by stopping the bully before it gets worse.

Hugs, I wish I could be more inspiring. I think this time YOU will have to inspire ME.
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Old 06-22-2011, 06:46 PM
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A few thoughts from me on this one...

1) She is creating a hostile workplace for you and co-workers. The big boss is aware of this and should have done something about it, but big-boss didn't. So now she has nothing holding her back. However, it could become such a problem with other co-workers that they eventually sue the company.

2) Ripping her supervisor (a new one), is insubordination. This is not a social club where everyone is on equal footing. She reports to you. You are her manager. UNACCEPTABLE. It's also a cause for termination in every company I've worked for.

3) If she loses her job over this, it is NOT YOUR FAULT. It is the natural consequences of HER behavior...behavior SHE CHOSE to engage in. Not once, but several times.

Report her, have her written up and if it happens one more time...sounds like time to fire her to me. Letting one person control the entire company through their bad behavior makes the rest of the employees feel they are not valued and you guys could end up losing a lot of really good people.
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Old 06-23-2011, 03:43 PM
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Hi folks,

I'm overwhelmed with the wisdom and sound advice on this thread - I didn't sleep very well the night it happened so I wrote and edited my formal report and decided to look at it on the way to work the next morning.

There were two incidents that I think are serious breaches of our code of conduct and two that were less serious but still breaches. This started in February. It has gotten worse. She's not my direct report (she's the assistant to another manager who she's careful not to display this kind of behavior in front of) otherwise I'm certain she wouldn't have behaved this way with me. Because she's not my direct report I take it to HP who take it to her manager and then she gets right of reply to the allegations. I'm sure it won't be fun.

But I couldn't not take action. It was unacceptable to me. I can't change her behavior. But I can let HR know that I cannot (I put this in writing) work in an office where I am degraded in front of my coworkers. And that's the truth - I just can't. Not if it's a routine occurence, and it has been.

They (I hope) can't condone an office environment where that happens, either. Or ... they can. What I've done is given them, and her, a boundary. I will leave and find another job where someone doesn't scream at me in public if I have to. I hope I din't have to - but I'm willing to do what I have to to keep my serenity. That whole day I felt the crazies again - fuzzy thinking, heart beating, my own boss siad I looked traumatized when I came into his office - I was.

Can't live like that anymore. Not even when its cause by someone who only does it intermittently.

I hope I finally got the message that it's my job to keep myself safe - the world is going to be full of people and situations that aren't good for me. I know I can't change her - but I work in a company where there's a commitment to keeping a healthy culture. THat's why I chose this job. And if it means waitressing, picking vegetables or doing a paper route - no job is worth my serenity.

Peace out folks, I'll let you know what happens next.

SL xoxoxo
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Old 06-23-2011, 03:44 PM
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HA!!!!!!! I wrote "HP" instead of HR... I took it to HR (oh, boy - does it show I've been reading some program materials in the last few days....????)
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Old 06-24-2011, 08:57 AM
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Originally Posted by stilllearning View Post
HA!!!!!!! I wrote "HP" instead of HR... I took it to HR (oh, boy - does it show I've been reading some program materials in the last few days....????)
Actually, sounds like you took it to both.

You are a strong person, and you are setting good boundaries, and you are leaving what you can't control up to the people who can control it to see what they do now.
Great job!
Please let us know how it goes.
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Old 06-24-2011, 09:07 AM
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I hope both HP and HR handle this swiftly for you. (((hugs)))
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Old 06-24-2011, 09:52 AM
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It's time to fire her. Why make it take longer? Also, the last time I had a direct-report speak to me like that we had a "little talk." I set him straight on how it is he get's to speak to me, and how not, and that I'd fire his ass if he did it again to me or anybody else.

It sounds like your company has some codependency issues if she's repeating these behaviors and still employed.

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Old 07-09-2011, 03:35 AM
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Hi folks, an update.

HR took my complaint, scoped out what was investigate-able (is that a word?) and advised me that she would have the opportunity to respond to the claims in writing before they decided on next steps. Gulp. Talk about feeling vulnerable. I had a quick meltdown before realizing that if -I- had been out of line, or had done something to provoke the behavior, I wanted to know about it, warts and all.

Apparently her response was "detailed and thorough" - but the investigation closed last week and they couldn't breach her confidentiality by telling me what the exact outcome was - but the upshot is that she was out of line and there was "an outcome." I'm guessing this was a first verbal, or written warning. We have a room with a big glass door and I saw her sitting in there with two HR managers last Wednesday. She then took Thursday and Friday off.

Having her out of the office changed the whole mood of our floor. Seriously. In the last two weeks since the incident she had been even louder, even stompier and trying to make nice with people she had previously chewed out. She had also been spending an unusual amount of time around my workspace - kind of an alpha, territorial thing. All pretty stressful and really upsetting. My guess is that she didn't believe for a minute that she would be pulled into line (why would she? hasn't happened so far) and the "outcome" was a shock to her.

In the meantime ... unprompted and without my engaging, I've had several people from other business units raise with me that her behavior has been unacceptable. I was helping our CFO's assistant with some paperwork last week - this woman is in her 50s and pretty fearless - she was talking about papers she'd had to submit to the assistant I complained about and described her as being "terrifying" to deal with. That about sums it up. I just smiled and changed the subject. The payroll manager mentioned her in passing and said "you work up there, tellme - what is wrong with that woman?"

Anyway - it hasn't been a pleasant process and I don't think it was a "win" for anyone but I'm glad that HR has started a file. They really are serious about culture and she'll be out of there if it keeps happening, of that I'm confident. They're talking about letting the dust settle and seeing if she and I can both sit down at a table - we'll absolutely have to work together again at some point - and I'd welcome that too so that it's closed out.

Just wanted to let you all know how it went - thanks for the support and advice. It was much needed and helped get me across the line to take action. No more being bullied without speaking up - ever, I hope!

Hugs,

SL.
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Old 07-09-2011, 07:10 AM
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Sounds good, sl. These things do take time if they are to be done correctly. And you never know, the "problem child" just might work on changing her ways. I know that when it was brought to my attention that the ways I (occasionally, and unintentionally) interacted with SOME people stressed them out (and I think it was partly their issue in terms of being overly sensitive, but some of it was me), I made a conscious effort to mind my tone of voice, my demeanor, made a conscious effort to ask about how busy they were before asking for something to be done, and it made a big difference in how we all got along.

Either way, you handled it the right way, and it sounds as if the company is handling the followup well. Good job!
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