Concerned about a Difficult Employee? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I have an employee who hates me. I have been supervising and managing people for 25 years and this has never happened to me before. I’ve been to training classes, attended webinars, read books on managing, and worked hard to hone my leadership skills over the years.

I am generally a likeable person, so I am flummoxed. He was warm and friendly during the job interview. He had the right experience and skills and he started off fine. However, after the three-month probationary period passed, he had a total personality change.

I’ve been told by others that he complains about what a slave driver I am. He sits silently through our regular meetings without contributing. And it’s not just me—he doesn’t seem to like anyone else either. He does his job but is so unpleasant that his peers avoid him.

I know you will say I need to talk to him, but he canceled his last few one-on-one meetings. I’m going to be traveling a lot over the next few months, so I can’t really catch him in person.

With all the craziness going on in the news these days, this whole situation is getting under my skin.

Hate Being Hated
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Dear Hate Being Hated,

I was going to give you some quick and friendly advice until you mentioned workplace violence in the news. That made things very serious, very fast. I think it is a clue to something you may not have told yourself in so many words, which is that you are afraid of this employee.

You must go to HR and talk about this situation right this minute and create a plan for the possibility that you might have to let this person go. I think it is critical here to honor your Spidey sense—you don’t want to overreact, but you do want to take proper precautions in case the day comes that you actually need them.

I asked a group women in my master mind group once what their biggest regrets around work were. To a person, each of them said they regretted not honoring a strong intuition they had because they didn’t want to offend someone. You really don’t want that to happen to you.

And yeah, you need to talk to him. You can catch him in person if you really make the effort. Make it clear that you are setting up a meeting that isn’t optional for him, and go straight at it. Tell him that you have noticed him acting extremely unhappy, that you have heard through the grapevine he feels his workload is too heavy, and that you are very worried.

Ask him what is going on—and then just stop talking. If he refuses to be candid with you and says something like, “Nothing’s wrong; everything’s fine; I don’t know what you’re talking about,” be clear that this is the moment for him to give you the feedback you need to work with him and help him get to a better place. Make sure he understands that you have his best interests at heart and want him to succeed.

If he continues to stonewall, ask him to behave the way he did during his first three months on the job—warm and friendly, eye contact, contributing in meetings, etc. He will either agree to try, or he will refuse. That will give you the information you need to move forward. It is completely fair to have a standard where people working for you are minimally civil, polite, and not overly stressful to work with. If he can’t maintain that standard, he will need to accept help from HR, work with a professional through your EAP, or he will have to go.

Schedule the conversation as soon as you can. Change a trip if you have to. The health of your entire team is at stake here—and if they haven’t already, they will judge you for not dealing with the situation.

This clearly feels personal to you and your emotional response to it is clouding your judgment. Try to remember this isn’t about you. This is about him, your team, and your business—and you must deal with it head on. If there is danger here, letting more time pass will only exacerbate things.

Don’t duck this. Act now. Be brave.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard Headshot 10-21-17

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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