Author Topic: How to handle a difficult employee  (Read 4786 times)

IBelieveICan

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How to handle a difficult employee
« on: May 19, 2016, 08:21:56 AM »
Hello MMM followers!

A new member here and I need opinions on a work situation.

Background: I am a manager in IT field, managing a staff of 15 (3 teams of 5 members each). I joined this company about 2 months ago and started assisting in a major project that has been underway since mid year 2015. I, along with another manager, handle all management for this project.

All the folks who report to me used to report to the other manager till I came on board. This is when the reorg was done by the upper management to equally divide the workforce between me and the other manager.

Here is the issue: There is a Scrum Master  (IT term people! Think of it as an iteration manager) who reports to me who has nothing been a source of trouble since day 1. Lets call him X. I met with the staff, introduced myself and started working with them gradually to gain their trust. From day 1 X has this "I don't even want to acknowledge you exist" attitude towards me. He continues to go to the other manager for all issues, signatures, concerns, even HR related things which the other manager cannot do anything about. I do understand that B (the other manager) is in a better position to assist with issues since he has been here longer. I have repeatedly asked X to "include" me in the discussions so I am aware of the issues and so I have an opportunity to learn. No progress!

I had a frank 1:1 with him one day asking what the issue is. SILENCE. The very same day X had an HR related request for which he went directly to B and my BOSS(!!) behind my back. My boss noticed this (without me saying anything) and he decided to speak to X about it. Fast forward, X's HR request was denied and my boss spoke to him about issues he has with me (met with no answer from X) and reiterated that X must follow protocol and include me in discussions since I am his manager now.

Few weeks later now....the pattern continues. He ignores me completely, does not include me in any conversations, still goes directly to B, and I have a secret suspicion he also undermines me to the rest of the team, B then forwards me his requests and lets me know. B has had a talk with X that it has to stop but still nothing.

The MAIN issue here is that X delivers. He is a good worker and he is delivering whats requested of him. And this project is the red dot priority project for us. So he is needed here, he gets by with disrespectful behavior towards me because B is loathe to let him go. And I am unable to help him with issues as much as B can because I am still learning the ropes myself.

 X is very passive aggressive and there is not much I have been able to document against him. I have tried my hardest to work together with him, I set up weekly meetings t touch base, he threw a fit at that, came and sat down and didn't participate much. I've tried being friendly, I've tried being strict, I've tried to be only professional but he gets by with his behavior. I also suspect me being a female is an issue for him (no proofs though), since he complains profusely about his previous female manager.

So at this point of time I am taking the high road and ignoring his behavior. Its getting embarrassing to be ignored though. I don't want to be a complainy pants about it to my boss.

So suggestions please? Anyone been in a situation where their main employee is purposefully and publicly disrespecting them, while doing a good job and producing results?

pbkmaine

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2016, 08:35:38 AM »
Can he be transferred to Team B?

ShoulderThingThatGoesUp

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #2 on: May 19, 2016, 08:38:59 AM »
Your problem is the people at your level and above who are letting him do this, I think. If they refused to help him with whatever he's going to them for until it came through you, he would have to treat you as his boss. I think it's fair to request that other managers don't give him work and don't help him with issues unless you ask them to.

acroy

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #3 on: May 19, 2016, 08:40:07 AM »
whooo!
yes I have been in this boat
Sounds like you have tried many things.

My suggestion would be
1 Set very clear, specific expectations (ie periodic 1 on 1 meets, requirement to follow protocol for communication, HR, etc). As few as truly necessary. No vague 'communicate differently' or 'attitude' requests.
2 stick to them
3 ensure manager B and HR are onboard with #1
4 document any violations
5 PIP if necessary. No one is 'untouchable'.

If the work is done, and he follows #1, ignore the poor attitude to yourself. 'water off a ducks' back'. You both are there for the job, and he's doing his reputation no favor.

Now if it crosses to insubordination, etc then disciplinary action is necessary.

IBelieveICan

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #4 on: May 19, 2016, 08:47:59 AM »
Can he be transferred to Team B?

He is counting on that for sure! He wants to be transferred back to B. My boss sensed that too and decided its a very bad idea and quashed that expectation instantly. Sets a bad example for the other employees.



COlady

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #5 on: May 19, 2016, 08:59:14 AM »
Your problem is the people at your level and above who are letting him do this, I think. If they refused to help him with whatever he's going to them for until it came through you, he would have to treat you as his boss. I think it's fair to request that other managers don't give him work and don't help him with issues unless you ask them to.

+1. This is exactly what I was thinking as I was reading through this. The other Manager who is not his Manager should be saying to him "X, I understand that you've worked with me longer and might feel more comfortable asking me questions, but I am no longer your Manager. Is there a reason you don't feel comfortable discussing these issues with Manager A?"


IBelieveICan

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #6 on: May 19, 2016, 09:03:19 AM »
whooo!
yes I have been in this boat
Sounds like you have tried many things.

My suggestion would be
1 Set very clear, specific expectations (ie periodic 1 on 1 meets, requirement to follow protocol for communication, HR, etc). As few as truly necessary. No vague 'communicate differently' or 'attitude' requests.
2 stick to them
3 ensure manager B and HR are onboard with #1
4 document any violations
5 PIP if necessary. No one is 'untouchable'.

If the work is done, and he follows #1, ignore the poor attitude to yourself. 'water off a ducks' back'. You both are there for the job, and he's doing his reputation no favor.

Now if it crosses to insubordination, etc then disciplinary action is necessary.

I'll give you an example.

Yesterday I got to know of a decision that was made for the project staffing shortage. I got to know AFTER the decision was made with X approaching B and the Program Manager and them making the decision. The staffing shortage is on my team, not Bs.

The decision looks fine to me, I'd have done the same thing. However, "I" wasn't even included in the decision making process, it was more "FYI  we decided this". So, the project definitely benefits. I can't find fault with the decision, so what grounds do I have to raise a stink?

I've spoken to B multiple times about this. B has also spoken to X multiple times, but X continues. B loops me in as soon as X comes to him, most of the times, but it still does not solve the issues with X's behavior. B is entirely focused on the project, only focused on the success or failure of the project, so to him its immaterial.To me, its causing management problems.




ShoulderThingThatGoesUp

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #7 on: May 19, 2016, 09:04:14 AM »
Yeah, B is your real problem. You and B share a boss, right? That person can solve it.

IBelieveICan

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #8 on: May 19, 2016, 09:06:13 AM »
Oh, and one more thing...

X has already informed the management that he'd be leaving the company next April. So he has no skin in the game when it comes to performance appraisal etc.

His behavior is also stemming from the fact that he doesn't care.

I still don't want to take the high road and let him continue like this.

And moving him under B......to em that sets a bad example to the rest of my team.



ltt

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #9 on: May 19, 2016, 09:21:10 AM »
This issue really isn't about the difficult employee, it's about the other manager not managing.  There needs to be a discussion between you, the other manager, and your boss. 

However, if he's leaving in April, then why not see if he can get transferred back to Team B and be done with it.  Unless, of course, he decides to stay. 

little_brown_dog

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #10 on: May 19, 2016, 10:08:50 AM »
I had an employee that had serious authority issues. She worked for another team and we knew eachother a little bit. We were always friendly and got along well in our limited interactions. Then she transferred under me, and the moment I became her manager she changed. She did the same stuff, trying to go above me or around me, complaining all the time, and was visibly rude/disrespectful to me with eye rolling, and snarky comments. Even the nicest, most casual requests or the most gentle guidance were greeted with exasperation. It was almost palpable the amount of disdain she had for me and those of us who were above her in title and education. We set up all these great opportunities for her, and helped her with a bunch of things, but it was never good enough. We had multiple meetings about her issues with my boss, and once even with HR. After she was reprimanded by HR, she got better but always had a chip on her shoulder. Thankfully she left on her own accord. I have had challenging employees, but she was the only one I legitimately HATED managing. I would much rather manage a mediocre, bumbling but genuinely nice employee than a relatively intelligent and productive a*hole with deep seeded insecurities.

Can’t really help much with advice because I have never seen someone successfully fired for just being a jackass. I have also never seen these people just turn around based on any changes made by the manager. Just wanted to say I can totally sympathize.
« Last Edit: May 19, 2016, 10:16:58 AM by little_brown_dog »

MrMoogle

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #11 on: May 19, 2016, 10:18:19 AM »
This person is undermining you to the rest of your team, so waiting until April for him to leave is not an option.

You are trying to assert control over him, and many people don't react well to that.  I would loosen the reins on him, but work more with B and your boss.  You need X to realize coming to you is his best option, without you actively forcing him to do that. 

On the other hand I would document to defend yourself, I can almost guarantee X is trying to get you to leave. 

If he is performing his job, and not causing trouble with anyone at his level, it's going to be hard to get rid of him.  But look at his colleagues, I am guessing he isn't getting along with all of them.

esq

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #12 on: May 19, 2016, 10:38:45 AM »
Hello MMM followers!

he complains profusely about his previous female manager.


Hostile work environment?  Grasping at straws here.  Sorry you're having to deal with this.  Next April is almost a year, and that's a long time to have to deal with this.  Hope you can get B to start refusing to help out, as that's prolonging the inevitable.

rockstache

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #13 on: May 19, 2016, 10:41:27 AM »
B loops me in as soon as X comes to him, most of the times, but it still does not solve the issues with X's behavior.

This is the problem. He needs to turn X away when he comes to him, not loop you in. He should be sending X to you. If he won't do that, then he is definitely undermining you and that is your grounds to raise a stink. You need to discuss with B and his boss.

MrMonkeyMustache

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #14 on: May 19, 2016, 11:15:37 AM »
^ This times 1000000

Manager B should say "Sorry, talk to manager A. I can't help you". The Boss should say "What? This isn't an issue for the Boss. Talk to your manager".

He can continue to be an ass, but you really have to stop playing hes game.

Axecleaver

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #15 on: May 19, 2016, 12:28:27 PM »
Hi Believe,

You are most likely correct that this individual has a problem with women. I've run into it a few times in my career; the behavior was almost identical to what you describe. Accommodating sexism (by transferring him) is the worst way to solve the problem. Ignoring it (aka "taking the high road") is almost as bad. It must be crushed without delay or mercy.

Failure to respect the chain of command is insubordination. Disobeying your direct order is insubordination. X has demonstrated insubordination multiple times and you haven't corrected him. You've ignored it, which has emboldened him. The best way to correct a passive-aggressive person is directly. Your approach so far has not been anywhere near as strong as it needs to be. Fix this now, or you'll never recover at this employer. His capacity to do the job is irrelevant; no one is irreplaceable.

Usually, you should follow the aphorism, "praise in public, criticize in private." You have attempted to correct X in private without any luck. This was the appropriate first step. The next step is to call him out in front of others. Passive aggressive people hate this because it makes it clear to everyone that they're misbehaving, and they don't like the confrontation. You must challenge him on everything where he isn't following the rules, ideally in public.

Call a meeting with HR, Manager B, and X. If X fails to show, follow steps to fire him immediately. (Does this seem extreme? Then live with the consequences.) With X in the room, lay out your expectations. Use examples where he was informed of the rules and chose not to follow them. Tell him this is disrespectful and you won't tolerate it. Don't ask for his feedback. Dismiss X. Now discuss with B & HR your expectation that B turn X away. Make it clear to B that he's undermining you, and ask for his help in resolving the problem. Then ask HR to start a performance improvement plan. This will demonstrate to B and HR that you mean business; this will get back to X through B.

Throughout this process, your attitude should be one of firm detachment: you really could care less whether B follows the rules, there are simply consequences for his failure, and you will ensure they are executed without delay.

I'll leave you with a little trick I've used in my management career. When you are confronting a passive aggressive person, do it when you're both standing. Get right up in their face, inside their comfort zone. They will instinctively back away from you. They will then be more likely to withdraw or concede, which will demonstrate to people watching that you are in control.

formerlydivorcedmom

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #16 on: May 19, 2016, 01:20:09 PM »
Axecleaver gave excellent advice!

Both X and B have a problem.

If you are reluctant to go to HR yet, then I think your boss needs to have a talk with B.  B is actively undermining you by not sending X your way.  If your boss won't support you in insisting that B get with the program and follow the same processes expected of X (that everything go through you first), then I'd be looking for a new job, because you will not be able to be successful at this company.

I would take the time to identify the successor to X and start training that person now.

rocklebock

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #17 on: May 19, 2016, 01:52:28 PM »

Failure to respect the chain of command is insubordination. Disobeying your direct order is insubordination. X has demonstrated insubordination multiple times and you haven't corrected him. You've ignored it, which has emboldened him. The best way to correct a passive-aggressive person is directly. Your approach so far has not been anywhere near as strong as it needs to be. Fix this now, or you'll never recover at this employer. His capacity to do the job is irrelevant; no one is irreplaceable.


This! In your first post you said you don't have anything you can document. You have TONS! You've given him specific instructions and he's ignoring them. Over and over. Even after your boss got involved (!!!) You can document every time that happens. You don't have to prove that he has a problem with women, or that he's trashing your reputation, or anything that dramatic. Just that he's disobeying your direct instructions repeatedly.

I think you're probably softening your language too much by asking him to "loop you in" when he goes to B. He shouldn't be going to B and "looping you in" later. He should be going to you. The end. I would be very clear in re-framing things this way. And yes, have a parallel conversation with B and your boss about this. B is almost certainly part of the problem, but let's hope it's just because B is kind of clueless about the problems it's creating.

I also don't buy the "he's irreplaceable" line, followed by him leaving in April. I mean, presumably you're going to replace him, so he is by definition replaceable. Honestly, I'd probably be shooting for some mutually agreeable solution where he leaves even earlier.

Fishindude

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #18 on: May 19, 2016, 02:37:40 PM »
This is simple stuff.   Have a meeting with X, discuss what changes you want to see, obviously hearing his viewpoint, document and date everything that was discussed and keep records in his personnel file.  Have a follow up meeting or two providing reasonable time to see some change, documenting all of these conversations also.   If he continues to be troublesome, you have record and have built a case to terminate him.   Doesn't matter how good someone is at their job it they are giving the team problems.   We can all be replaced.

whodidntante

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #19 on: May 19, 2016, 08:56:21 PM »
 Document everything. Involve HR in your next discussion. Make your expectations crystal clear and follow up in writing. Discuss with B how his behavior is harmful and what changes you need.

Goldielocks

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #20 on: May 19, 2016, 09:24:19 PM »
I have seen this a few times, with men who do not acknowledge the presence of a woman boss or woman technical person on their team.

It was like a comedy...   she would say something directly to X at a team meeting, like answer a simple question about her product, and X would ignore the answer, ask again, and have his boss repeat exactly the same words that the woman said, leading with "Like Janice said",,,   or "Ask Janice"...   etc.   to no avail.

Truly, it was like he was deaf and blind, that is how little attention was paid, like    Completely slowed down the programming project they were working on, which was a problem.  The one fellow only lasted another month or so before being fired, and the other was a consultant, that went away with the project.  (Janice received a promotion and bonus, though)

rocklebock

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #21 on: May 20, 2016, 10:37:16 AM »

It was like a comedy...   she would say something directly to X at a team meeting, like answer a simple question about her product, and X would ignore the answer, ask again, and have his boss repeat exactly the same words that the woman said, leading with "Like Janice said",,,   or "Ask Janice"...   etc.   to no avail.


Uggghhh...this is happening right now to someone on my team. She is assigned to liaison to other departments about a software implementation. One group in particular is insisting they want to meet with a "technical person" to re-answer simple and well-documented questions she's been handling perfectly. So yeah, this sucks but we're calling in a dude to go to their next meeting with her, be generally pleasant, and defer as many questions as possible with responses like, "Karen is really the best person to answer that," and "Karen, what do you think?" We'll see if it works.

BFGirl

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Re: How to handle a difficult employee
« Reply #22 on: May 20, 2016, 11:17:00 AM »

It was like a comedy...   she would say something directly to X at a team meeting, like answer a simple question about her product, and X would ignore the answer, ask again, and have his boss repeat exactly the same words that the woman said, leading with "Like Janice said",,,   or "Ask Janice"...   etc.   to no avail.


Uggghhh...this is happening right now to someone on my team. She is assigned to liaison to other departments about a software implementation. One group in particular is insisting they want to meet with a "technical person" to re-answer simple and well-documented questions she's been handling perfectly. So yeah, this sucks but we're calling in a dude to go to their next meeting with her, be generally pleasant, and defer as many questions as possible with responses like, "Karen is really the best person to answer that," and "Karen, what do you think?" We'll see if it works.

I've had this with male attorneys not wanting to listen to my answer about the law and procedures in our court.  One time I had an attorney ask me a question and I told him that the law says "xyz".  He kept questioning me and I kept telling him that the statute did not require what he was proposing to do.  We ended up talking to a male attorney in the court on an ancillary issue and the attorney asked him the same question I'd already told him the answer to.  The male attorney in our court said, "I don't know.  Did you ask BFGirl?  She's the one who knows all this stuff."  Perfect moment!!