My colleague is becoming a nightmare to work with, and I'm worried both about our shared projects and about her personally. There's no clear official procedure to follow, and taking it further up the ladder is getting me nowhere. Help!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Me and 'Emily' both work in a small, friendly department in a huge and complex organisation. I'm the newest employee; Emily's been here for around five years now. We're late 20s/early 30s. She's popular and well-liked, and really good at her job.
About a year ago, Emily started going through some personal life turmoil. People were happy to pitch in and cut down on her workload while she dealt with things at home. After a few months, though, I started getting really worried that the stuff she was still doing wasn't coming along very fast, and we had deadlines coming up. Emily's role overlaps with mine to a higher degree than it does anyone else's, so my job was going to really suffer if her part wasn't getting done.
After I shared those concerns with the rest of our team (repeatedly, since at first people just reassured me Emily was good at her job and wouldn't let people down), and people started asking to actually see Emily's files, it turned out that she'd been doing nothing at all work-wise for nearly two months. Cue chaos. Most people were teetering between concerned and furious - on the one hand, it's hard to summon up massive amounts of sympathy for someone who split their work hours between Facebook and going out to long lunches with their boyfriend, but on the other hand this was totally uncharacteristic for Emily.
In fact, most of the personal turmoil she was going through was totally uncharacteristic for Emily as well. She was flipping back and forth between her husband and the new BF, talking divorce one day and dismissing it the next, ditching a huge amount of her old hobbies and interests and getting really negative about everything. She seemed stressed and ill all the time. She would talk a lot about wanting to 'sort [her] life out'. She wasn't herself.
So we were worried, and because of that she didn't get in massive amounts of trouble over the not-doing-any-work thing. (She was offered paid time off or help through our EAP, but refused both.) Instead the department held an intervention-style meeting in which it was made pretty clear to her that she needed to pick up the slack. I was a bit worried at the time that she seemed to be dodging most of the responsibility for it (talking vaguely about things just taking longer than she'd expected, and so on), but was mostly relieved that at least the problem was being addressed. And I thought things would change now.
Except it's been a year, and they really haven't.
It's difficult to describe Emily's approach to work, but mostly the problem is that she's doing very little while constantly complaining about how overworked she is. We're sure that this isn't actually the case; her list of responsibilities is much smaller than everyone else's, and they're responsibilities others of us have had in the past, so we know what's involved. Her boss has suggested weekly timesheets to demonstrate how much time she's spending on what, but she says she doesn't have time to do them. And the responsibilities she does have are being done half-heartedly and overwhelmingly crappily, usually late and never above minimum requirements at best.
But the weird thing is she seems to genuinely believe she's overworked and nobody appreciates her contributions. She's talked about this repeatedly, growing hugely agitated each time. She accepts no responsibility for the project she messed up last year (even when it's couched as 'I know you had a hard time last summer', she responds with 'I didn't let it affect my job', even when it clearly, demonstrably did). She does things like dropping by my desk to complain about how she has ten reports to complete and doesn't know how she'll find time to do them, when I'm sitting in front of a pile of fifty of my own; when I pointed this out she just looked at me baffled, as though I wasn't making any sense. Last time we had a meeting in which people asked her if she'd met any (any!) of her deadlines for the past month, she produced a graph she'd drawn of the number of times people had phoned her office extension over the month and how long each phone call was, to demonstrate how busy she was. It was in full colour and everything; it must have taken her ages. (It also showed less phone calls that most of us get, too.) And no, she hadn't made a single one of those deadlines. It is really, really bizarre behaviour.
As mentioned above, I'm the one whose job is affected by this more than anyone else's, but it's not like everyone else doesn't know about the problem. They do, they're worried and frustrated too. And yet, nothing gets done. Everyone's just stumped, basically; talking to her supportively doesn't do anything, phrasing it as 'you're letting other people down!' doesn't do anything. Our immediate boss has changed four times in the last year, so there isn't even a proper record of what's happened; our organisation is huge and really weirdly structured, and she's just sort of fallen through the cracks. I've spoken to people within our team both formally and informally, requesting that something at least gets done, because this situation is bad for our work and doesn't seem to be any good for Emily either. But nobody wants to make it any more official or aggressive than it's already got, because they're worried about her mental health and think such steps might just make it worse without improving things in the office.
I really don't know what to do. We're working on a new project now that's my first big responsibility, but Emily's assigned to work on it too, and already she's dragging her feet and making it hard to get anywhere. There's nobody else who could easily be swapped in instead of her; I could go over the head of my team manager and officially request it from the next boss up, but that would mean having to make an official complaint about Emily at a very high level, and pretty much everyone on my team has already requested that I not do that. Our HR are useless and don't consider this sort of thing to be within their remit. And hell, I don't want to make Emily's life worse either; I really liked her before all this kicked off, and it's miserable seeing her stressed and unhappy all the time. I don't want to tip her towards a breakdown.
So after all that, and with apologies for the length, what I'm looking for is ideas on how to tackle this situation - with Emily, with my immediate team and immediate bosses, with the big managers above us. Bonus advice on how to stay calm and constructive about the whole thing would be appreciated!