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Whose problem is a problem employee?

Q. I need some advice on how to handle a demoralizing situation. A co-worker was transferred to my department. To put it kindly, she is a lazy, gossiping, drama queen. She arrives late/leaves early, disappears for hours in the afternoon and avoids work at all costs. She thinks nothing of cornering people for an hour at a time, going on some tirade or other.

She very openly speaks disparagingly of our manager and our department - including me. Rather than speaking to management, people are coming to me to report what she's saying. I've told senior managers, including HR, but it seems no one is willing to do anything about this. Our manager is trying to crack down and is writing her up for tardiness and missed assignments but since senior management won't fire her, she just continues her bad behavior. Her latest thing is to complain that she is being overworked while I get "special treatment". I just want the situation resolved. I've been told to be patient and to not let her bother me but I really feel like I'm in the middle. What do I do?

A. Disputes, dislike, and disparagement among colleagues contributes to a total erosion of any positive culture an organization might have. When so much time and energy goes into bad behavior, commenting on bad behavior, and the continued reporting of the same, the work of the organization gets lost.

Everyone involved in these kinds of "daytime dramas" needs to find new and more effective ways to deal with this disruptive behavior. The most challenging person is your new co-worker, and we need to limit the impact she has on you, and your colleagues. Something is working for her in the current circumstances, and she has no reason to change the situation. You, however, are not happy with the status quo, and are motivated to eliminate yourself from the "middle position".

When colleagues approach you to report on her behavior, you need to politely interrupt their rampage, and let them know that you do not want to know. After a pause, where they might be wondering if you are serious, you may need to respond "Really - I do not want to know. I appreciate your support, but I just don't want to be involved with this." You may need to take this approach over several weeks before people stop approaching you, but when said in a positive way, demonstrating professional behavior and conversation in all your other interactions, people will understand and believe you. You no longer have to be in the middle, and those who feel the continued need to report on her behavior can direct their comments to the manager and human resources.

No employee should allow themselves to be cornered by another employee for an hour and subjected to employee tirades. The time taken from the job is significant, and there is typically no problem solving involved in these kinds of conversations. Employees put into this position can encourage the ranting employee to discuss the issues they are having with Human Resources or their manager.

If these issues continue, you can meet with human resources, and your manager to help them understand the impact this person’s behavior is having on the morale. Once you have done that, recognize that the resolution of this and similar situations rest with management taking on a leadership role.

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