Making the most of a challenging coworker
September 7, 2009 11:40 AM   Subscribe

How do I make the most of a work situation with a co-worker whose behavior is just annoying enough to disrupt work regularly, but not annoying enough to cause him to be fired?

I work for a non-profit educational organization in a small department that is a sub-set of a larger department. I am the manager over one person, the said annoying co-worker. I say the following because I think it has some bearing on the situation: all members of the department are women except him.

Our office is pretty laid-back. He's worked here longer than I and even applied for my position. My boss and other members of our department are aware of his attitude and behavior. But it's not enough to get him fired, just enough to piss me off and others who might work with him.

Annoying traits:
- He is strictly reactive, and resists planning ahead, including using something like Basecamp.

- He routinely comes in late and takes longish lunches.

- He does things and forgets he does them - projects mentioned in meetings, meetings with others, etc.

- He says he tracks all of his stuff, but I've caught him unprepared. He still claims he does.

- He doesn't like to delegate to interns.

- He takes initiative, which is good, but on "fun" stuff like social networking, and I don't hear about it until he's spent a few hours on it.

- This is going to sound petty, I know, but I feel I must say it - I make an effort to thank him for his positive work, encourage his positive behavior, but I don't get the sense he sees or appreciates the effort that goes into some of the managerial work (big picture thinking, managing interns, assigning projects, being proactive) that I do. I guess I feel that the balance of positive appreciation is a little off?

- He complains... about our clients, about his workload, about meetings.

- He gets pissy with me if he senses that I'm micro-managing a little (ie asking about projects multiple times, asking what he's working on, giving priorities - doing my job).

He's basically been able to do what he wants until I got here. We've been able to make some strides in the department and his behavior has improved some, and we have even had a few "come to Jesus" meetings, but the problems are still there.

Not annoying traits:

- He has very good ideas on occasion that have helped us move forward.

- He does handle less complicated tasks well.

- We get along on a non-work, personal level. And this has complicated things even further.

When do I say when and put my foot down with my boss and ask her to reprimand him? My boss thinks we're outputting good work, but I see that we could do so much more - that's not really a "get you into big trouble" offense.

I have shared my concerns with my boss. I've tracked his lateness and his attitude. It's not quite enough to pull out the big guns so to speak, so I'm coming to terms that I may have to deal with this long term.

So, if I have to live with this - which it looks like I will - how do I make the most of it?

posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
He routinely comes in late and takes longish lunches.

This would get me fired in a heartbeat.
posted by mollymayhem at 11:43 AM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I managed people, I managed several people like this. In my experience, people like this do not change no matter what. The long lunches and coming in late almost every single day (and up to a few HOURS late) cost one such person I supervised more than one promotion. But she was a lovely lady and we got on well otherwise. She just didn't have a clue how her behaviour cost her.

Managers are aware of this kind of behaviour, and this person won't be promoted. Spend less time on this staffer and try to involve him in the project idea stage of projects and move him out as you go to implementation.
posted by wingless_angel at 11:48 AM on September 7, 2009

It reads to me like you're sending mixed signals. You want him to be ok with being micromanaged (ie, "your job"), yet you also want him to plan ahead on his own. You think his ideas are good once completed, yet you think they are just "fun" excursions from what he should be doing while he's working on them. Your workplace is very laid back, yet you want him to buckle down, be more serious and rigorous. Your department has made great strides, yet you must solve all the problems you perceive in his work NOW or else he is a problem employee.

I think if you want him to become more proactive in delegating, planning, etc., you need to micromanage less. Bring him on board at the beginning of projects, and make it obvious that he can suggest ideas now, but not later. There is just no way for an employee to be "proactive" and have responsibilities while at the same time following a set and detailed path given to him by a superior.
posted by shownomercy at 12:03 PM on September 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

Was he like this before you became his boss? Did you work there before you became his boss?

Sounds to me like a "new boss" syndrome: he's now insecure about his job after not getting yours and you're finding more and more problems. He's keeping everything on his plate and not delegating due to not wanting to become irrelevant. Not to mention that you sound a bit needy in wanting him to appreciate your praise correctly and in micromanaging him. It's not the underling's job to tell you you're doing yours well, that should come from *your* boss.

Wingless angel's suggestion is only going to make things worse, and is only a way to passive-aggressively attempt to get him to quit. Keep in mind that this could possibly result in a constructive-firing claim. The micromanaging has got to stop: giving priorities is fine, but "asking about projects multiple times, asking what he's working on" is textbook micromanaging. You're probably making things worse (or at least, my onetime boss did when he did this to me).

Oh, and asking your boss to reprimand him is only going to make you look weak. You want your boss to start asking you repeatedly whether all of your reports are doing OK, like you're unable to deal with them yourself? If you don't think of yourself as unable to handle your reports, then don't think your report is unable to deal with their responsibilities: it's the same mechanism.
posted by rhizome at 12:36 PM on September 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

He is strictly reactive, and resists planning ahead
He complains... about our clients, about his workload, about meetings.
He routinely comes in late and takes longish lunches.
He gets pissy with me

That's enough to get fired, honestly. All of those factors indicate a lack of willingness to buckle down and do real work in an intelligent way. Put your nice personal feelings aside and put some effort into replacing him with someone productive and positive. Outline some clear criteria for improvement that you would like him to meet and when he fails to meet that criteria at the deadline, replace him. Don't just resign yourself to "living with this." Create a situation where he can either improve drastically or move on. Because if you just suck it up and live with it, it'll get worse and worse and your patience will decrease.
My manager is exactly the same way and I would LOVE, LOVE to see him under the axe. His bad attitude and poor organization throws our workplace into chaos and screws us all over routinely. A while back, I resigned myself to just sort of ignore it or put up with it, but he has no external motivation to improve, so he just gets crappier and crappier which wears on our collective patience more and more.
Look into replacing this guy, seriously. Unless you're infinitely patient, you'll have to get rid of him eventually anyway.
posted by Jon-o at 12:50 PM on September 7, 2009

Sounds like his behaviour would be enough to get him fired in a lot of workplaces... just the lateness and taking long lunches would be enough. But if there are no consequences then why should he behave any other way?

You say you're his boss but how much authority do you actually have over him? Are you allowed to reprimand him? Fire him? Because really you should be moving toward firing him - starting with official warnings about his inappropriate behaviour. If you want him to change there needs to be very real and serious consequences for not doing so.
posted by missmagenta at 12:57 PM on September 7, 2009

Assuming he is your direct report, have you tried to address any of your issues directly with him? If you've talked about all of this with everyone but him (which it sounds like you have), it's not really fair to him.

Of course, before you do this, you'll really need to separate out things that are merely irksome to you (such as not being "appreciative" of you--really?) from things that really cause issues for you and the rest of the team, so that you can have a constructive conversation with him.
posted by carrienation at 12:59 PM on September 7, 2009

From my point of view, your post comes off as a peeved co-worker. If you're his boss, then you need to push this person in the direction you're expecting. Separate your social and professional relationship here at all costs.

I've fired a friend before, because the friend wasn't performing the job that he was hired to do, at the level I expected. After he was fired and he got over me firing him, he could admit to himself and to me that he was certainly taking advantage of the situation in little ways.

"Ohh, Gravitus is my boy, he won't fire me for being 30 minutes late, nor calling in and letting him know"

"It's okay if I don't meet this deadline, because Gravitus will cover for me as he is my friend."

You give people an inch, they will take a mile. Lay out your expectations and hold him to it. The fact he is a guy in an office full of women is irrelevant to me. His job description certainly doesn't say he gets extra slack because he works with a crap ton of ladies.

You need to set goals, inform him of them and then take appropriate action if they are not met. Do not let your boss know so he/she can handle it, give the info of what you want to do, they will either agree or disagree with you and point you in a certain direction. Most certainly you need to quit looking for praise from him about how hard your job is. Shit and praise all roll down hill. Praising up is AKA Ass Kissing, and no one likes an Ass kisser (I think).
posted by Gravitus at 1:19 PM on September 7, 2009

Sometimes a person is not going to get fired because of the cost-benefit analysis, the work situation or culture, or some other reason or combination of reasons. Sounds like that is what is the case here. I would try to think about what is possible.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 1:22 PM on September 7, 2009

Give him concrete expectations, then monitor him concretely. The One Minute Manager might have some good ideas for you.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:53 PM on September 7, 2009

I had a boss feel this way about me before. Then again I felt that way about him. From his point of view I wasn't happy to doing what I was told. From my point of view his mis management was leaving my coworkers and I scrambling around to clean up his messes, messes which we received the blame for.

When I quit he was very happy to see me go. He was less happy when I turned in some paperwork to his boss detailing the things he was currently doing which were strictly against policy even after being warned.

I went on to be the favorite employee at my next job, which was doing the same thing for different people. They were happy with me and I was happy with them.

There's a point to this rant.

He's attitude is probably a reflection of how he feels about his job. If he is feeling micromanaged he probably won't be happy about it. If you don't like him it's probably showing up in the way you treat him. Just because it is unsaid doesn't mean he won't pick up on it. I'd say the first thing you need to do to improve his output and behavior is improve your own. I haven't personally seen come to Jesus meetings actually solve anything but short term issues. You need to figure out what management style will keep the two of you on the same page. You need a system of accountability that will allow him to do his thing and you to still get results with out all the micro managing. What I've seen to work is a once a week meeting talking about about what is going to be done this week. Set the goals and he meets them or he doesn't but you don't have to micromanage it. If he constantly doesn't meet the goals, well, that could actually get him fired. Once a week works for me, but maybe you work on lots of smaller projects and you should have a scheduled meeting twice a week instead.

Now the other option is for the two of you to part ways, but that doesn't look like it will be happening.
posted by magikker at 2:29 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have shared my concerns with my boss.

What did your boss have to say about it?
posted by orme at 2:43 PM on September 7, 2009

Absolutely with the concrete expectations and goals, as Gravitas & St. Alia point out above.

He clearly has a different set of priorities than you and that's what you need to manage. Your conversations (and emails - make sure he has a written copy so there's no weaseling out) should go along the lines of "Today you need to do X for the Y project. It needs to be finished by Z time." Then let him go away to do the job. Touch base once ("Oh, how's the X going?" and if he doesn't complete the task, then call him on it.
I've managed people and I've been managed - everyone has their own styles, but what I've noticed is that women (and I've been guilty of this too) tend to be too "nice" and it comes across as passive and lacking urgency (and thus, consequences). It's "Please can you do this..." instead of "You need to do this". The first makes the task seem almost optional (Yeah. I could do that) but the second puts the onus more on him and it's direct.

That said, there have to be consequences. Why are you going to your boss to reprimand him? Do you not have the authority to do that yourself? Or do you feel that you can't? One or the other, it's an issue that should be looked at. It makes you seem soft and weak, so of course he's not going to take you seriously and pull finger. Why would he? It's not like anything is going to happen to him. And THAT needs to change right quick. There's no point in handing him a carrot if there's no stick.

You're already tracking his lateness and attitude, but failure to complete work is more serious. I don't mean that you should micromanage him - he's been hired to do a job and he seems reasonably able so let him do it - but you need to be very clear about your goals. It sounds like he's aware of what needs to be done as a bare minimum and is doing only that. This might be a product of the work culture - if your boss is happy with the work now, what's the incentive to work harder?

Sorry for the long ramble. I hope some of it is helpful.
posted by ninazer0 at 3:13 PM on September 7, 2009

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