Fixer: Employee reduced boss to tears

27 Sep 2017 By PM Editorial

Sam Sales answers a reader's plea for help with a difficult employee

We have an employee who has constant problems with managers. In each team she has been in, she starts off being nice and then slowly turns the team against their manager. She reduced two of her bosses to tears.

I have tried mediating but it has only worked for a while; when she leaves the team, things return to normal. Her performance is fine and she has no attendance issues.

She claims to suffer from hypertension (although she has provided no proof), which means people tend to tread on eggshells around her, particularly as she is very emotional. I have no idea what to do with her.

On the face of it, hypertension is not the same as stress or a behavioural issue; it’s essentially a case of high blood pressure and a range of factors are thought to cause it, of which stress may be one. But there is some evidence, my medical experts tell me, that high blood pressure could affect behaviour, so it’s important to take this aspect of your employee’s issues seriously.

Clearly, you need to talk to her, and the basis of the conversation must be the impact she is having on other members of staff. If she raises hypertension, involve your occupational health team or a doctor and encourage her to seek help.

But regardless of her medical situation, you have to find a way of making your workplace harmonious again. My instinct is that your employee is the type of person who wants to make herself a ‘rescuer’ – the one who solves the team’s problems, and who’s always on hand with some helpful advice. She’s probably subtle in the way she undermines her managers, but you can bet that when she’s on holiday, the rest of the team realises the boss isn’t as bad as she makes out, and her games begin to unravel.

Some people, both individuals and teams, thrive on tension and chaos, often because the constant turmoil means nobody’s ever properly held accountable. But you can’t let it carry on. By gathering testimony from colleagues, you can confront her with her behaviour and its effects on team dynamics, and ask her to think about how she can interact more positively.

If she doesn’t respond, you could, depending on the firm’s circumstances, try to find her a role where she is working in a smaller group or even on her own. But really, that is avoiding the problem. Formal performance management is the next step, but that sounds like a better option than the vicious circle you’re currently caught in.

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