How do I stay objective with an annoying/tedious/high maintenance employee?
March 26, 2008 8:44 PM   Subscribe

How do I stay objective with an annoying/tedious/high maintenance employee? (More information inside)

I have an employee in my team that I find very annoying as a person and as an employee. There are multiple issues, both the way he is as well as performance related, that annoy me. They're not that big of a deal in the big picture. But I find his annoying habits and pettiness annoying.

To give you an idea of what I mean, he'll demand his desk to be adjusted because it's too high for him, when the person before him was fine with it just by raising the chair. Whenever I ask him a question, he'll pause for 2 seconds without looking at me then would say, "I am sorry?" as if he hasn't heard what I said. If I use email to communicate with him, he won't respond for hours even if it's of high importance.

Performance wise, he's not the most efficient/productive person. He requires additional explanations when others understand it the first time.

Anyway, how do I maintain my objectivity as his superior and effectively manage him? So far, I've been trying VERY hard to ignore all his sniffles (then he swallows!!!), coughings on the phone IN to the speaker, gum poppings, annoying questions in meetings that were JUST addressed. I've been doing ok being understanding but my sarcastic, direct, no-BS, no-bitching/complaining, management style seeping through, and I am sensing he's feeling that I am treating him differently, even though it's in reaction to what he says/his behavior/his performance.

In regards to considering firing him, it's too much work and will take at least 4-5mos for me to 'prepare' for it.

Any suggestions?
posted by icollectpurses to Work & Money (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
In regards to considering firing him, it's too much work and will take at least 4-5mos for me to 'prepare' for it

I urge you to reconsider this premise.
posted by jayder at 9:07 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

He's not doing his job. Prepare the paperwork and fire him, seriously.

We had this problem at my workplace; people would not call/not show up, and we'd just let it go as long as they came back the next time. The work of the whole team suffered. We ended up preparing all the paperwork and the written warnings, and eventually fired them.

You're not considering firing him because it's too much work, but he's getting away with acting like his JOB is too much work! Don't be like him. Please.
posted by Verdandi at 9:09 PM on March 26, 2008

Some of those things sound like they would be negatively affecting his interaction with clients/vendors/other employees - in which case you have a duty as his boss to correct them. They are NOT just "annoying habits" when they affect his work performance. Document them, use them as a basis for his performance review. If they are truly affecting performance, he needs to correct them or you need to get rid of him. It's not what you want to hear, I think, but it's the truth. It sucks, but it's what you are there for as the manager.

As for the other things - hangups you have, things you personally find annoying - there is really no way to deal with those except what you are already doing. Try your darnedest to treat him fairly and like your other employees, make an effort and do your best. Unless you get used to them and they cease to annoy you, which seems unlikely, you just have to learn to deal with it. If I thought it might help to talk to him about it, I would say to try that. But I don't think so.

Adapt a positive attitude, make a mantra in your head (like "He is my employee, he deserves respect". "I can deal with anything, it's not that bad." or something to repeat to yourself when you find him annoying, and do your best. Maybe it won't always succeed, but at least you are trying to be a good person. We can't expect to get along with everyone we are forced to work with, that's just life.
posted by gemmy at 9:19 PM on March 26, 2008

If you're managing people now and will be managing people in the future, then I've got bad news for you: he will not be the last. There will always be people you dislike to varying degrees.

For the non-performance related issues, you just have to grow up and learn how not to let it get to you. Stop being sarcastic -- that is passive-aggressive behaviour. Give him honest and blunt feedback on his office social skills. Maybe you can find ways to have him transferred out of your team.

For the performance related issues, "prepare" to fire him if you honestly think he deserves it. It's too much work? It will take too long? Sorry, but it goes with the territory of being a manager -- buckle down and do YOUR job. If he was retained past his probationary period, someone must have seen value in his work in the past, therefore you are obliged to give him a chance to reform his ways. In the mean time, document, document and document!
posted by randomstriker at 9:21 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Turn it around; if this post was made from the employee's pov.

You could either sound like an exasperated manager with a legitimate problem employee problem or a spitting and raving demon boss.

Are certifications or suchnot needed for the job? Perhaps challenge the problem eployee to see if they can pass the basics (and what might be legally required)?

You sound like you don't like your employee for (very legitimate) reasons.

Straight out tell them that their behaviour is non-norm. Picking nose? e.g. "Boogger picking works much better during or right after a hot shower."
posted by porpoise at 9:25 PM on March 26, 2008

To give you an idea of what I mean, he'll demand his desk to be adjusted because it's too high for him, when the person before him was fine with it just by raising the chair. Whenever I ask him a question, he'll pause for 2 seconds without looking at me then would say, "I am sorry?" as if he hasn't heard what I said. If I use email to communicate with him, he won't respond for hours even if it's of high importance.

Performance wise, he's not the most efficient/productive person. He requires additional explanations when others understand it the first time.

"I have trouble with repetitive stress injuries that can make it painful for me to work, but I've learned to set up my work station in an ergonomically correct manner that helps prevent trouble. However, when I asked my new boss about getting my desk height adjusted, she implied that I was a nuisance because previous employees didn't mind the desk.

She comes to my desk and starts talking without waiting for me to look up, breaking my train of thought on whatever I'm working on. Sometimes I have to ask her to repeat herself, because I was trying to finish up whatever thought I was thinking at the moment as she burst in, and she acts like I'm stupid or something.

I work best when I can get into a "Flow" (a.k.a. "The Zone"), so I only check emails every few hours. Most productivity researchers and bloggers recommend this approach. But when my boss has an urgent message, she emails about it and then seems upset that I don't respond within 10 minutes.

Finally, when my boss explains tasks, she often leaves out certain details. I'm never sure if that's because those details don't matter, or because she hasn't considered them. I don't want to do all the work and then have her decide she wanted it done differently. But when I ask for clarification, again she acts like I'm stupid.

Any suggestions?"

Any of that may or may not be accurate, but seeing it from your employee's perspective might help you empathize with where he's coming from.

If the coughing on the phone or sniffling is hurting his ability to do his job, then your job as a manager is to be honest about it with him, rather than passive-aggressively fuming about it at your desk. He's not going to change if he doesn't know his behavior is unacceptable. If you document this conversation with him, you've either helped him improve or started your paper trail for getting rid of him. But it's in everyone's best interest if you confront the situation head-on.
posted by vytae at 9:50 PM on March 26, 2008 [18 favorites]

Out of curiosity, is English this guy's first language? The phrase "I am sorry?" rung a bell for me because it's the sort of thing various first-generation, English-is-my-third/fourth-language people I know say when they actually do need something repeated (depending on what their first language is). In addition, if that goes hand-in-hand with being first generation, that might come with a different set of behavioral expectations, too - maybe sniffling/swallowing isn't a big deal where he comes from. And besides, if it's something really important, why are you emailing him about it? He could be away from his desk for a variety of issues - family emergency, networking lunch, explosive diarrhea - if you can hear him swallow, surely you can walk to his desk and ask him in person.

Either way though, I have to agree with vytae - it's your job as his manager to address the issues he's having in a straightforward way, and you don't mention that you have yet.

I think the way to remain objective is to constantly ask yourself if YOU are doing YOUR job - the onus can't be entirely on him to read your mind and magically produce results in line with your expectations.
posted by universal_qlc at 12:16 AM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Divide the issues into performance and annoyance. Suck up the annoyances, because people are sometimes annoying. You're annoying; I'm annoying. Everybody is annoying sometimes. The chair thing - let it go. Sniffling - ignore it.

As to performance issues, you need to set expectations. "When emails are sent that are marked high priority, I expect a reply within 90 minutes." Then you have a clear, and if need be documentable, standard. Also, communications skills are something that you should discuss with an employee. If the gum cracking and poor phone skills are impacting his performance you should let him know.

You're the boss. You lead the pack and set the standards. When you've made your standards clear, then the situation will probably resolve itself.
posted by 26.2 at 1:33 AM on March 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

You must be prepared to have a frank discussion with this person.

List your concerns, have a quite private meeting.

People can be annoying, you need to separate such traits from performance and deal with performance issues only.

I'm an employer, and it took me ages to work up the courage to have frank discussions with staff- it's hard but has to be done.

26.2 has it
posted by mattoxic at 4:09 AM on March 27, 2008

Remember that this person has LESS POWER THAN YOU. Have mercy.

Take all the suggestions above, but also examine areas in your own life that are causing you stress. Work on them (maybe they're a lot easier to solve than the problems caused by this colleague) and you will have lots more energy to deal with this person.
posted by By The Grace of God at 5:16 AM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Echoing what 26.2 said. My experience has been that if I can't come up with a reasonable standard for a behavior, then that behavior is probably one of those things that's just annoying and isn't a bad performance behavior.

So, for example, it's reasonable to say "I expect a response to high priority e-mails in 90 minutes," but it's not so reasonable to say "no one is allowed to ask for a desk or chair adjustment." I think it's also reasonable to ask people to save their questions until the end of a meeting; but not so reasonable to ask them to not sniffle and swallow.

I think it's natural for people to feel like "we're all adults here, why do I have to spell out things like 'you have to actually reply to e-mails when I tell you to,'" but spelling those things out gives you something more objective to measure against -- and to use as evidence if someone's annoying-ness is a bigger problem than just a few bad habits.
posted by korres at 5:19 AM on March 27, 2008

Performance wise, he's not the most efficient/productive person. He requires additional explanations when others understand it the first time.

Icollectpurses, please consider whether this employee is new to your organization, or new to the tasks you set for him. I was accused of this very thing when I first started working, and it stemmed from the fact that the manager conveyed no clear explanations or expectations to me on how to do the job. Not wanting to displease, I asked lots of questions and took longer to do the task than other, more experienced employees. But incurred the wrath of the manager anyway, because I asked too many questions and took too long!

Nthing 26.2. Convey clear expectations to your employee. Either sit him down and explain clearly want you want from him with regards to a task, or assign him a more experienced employee to act as a kind of mentor.
posted by LN at 6:57 AM on March 27, 2008

Have you communicated clearly and directly what the expectations are? It doesn't sound like it. As a manager you need to be a people person first and foremost, and a great communicator as well. That means that both parties have a clear understanding about what the expectations are. It doesn't seem like that's happening and since you're the manager, that's your job, this is your fault.

What does it mean to have a "sarcastic, direct" management style? Sarcasm is not direct. You shouldn't be a sarcastic manager. You should be seeking clarity. Maybe you need to take some communications courses.

Being a manager is a tough job, and it takes a certain type of personality not many people are cut out for.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 7:02 AM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just as a data point, I absolutely require a keyboard tray to work without discomfort. Raising the chair is not an option, because then my feet can't rest on the floor in the correct position.
posted by nev at 7:15 AM on March 27, 2008

Manage the person and the behaviors. Make your expectations very clear. Document everything. Be bland and impersonal, but do not tolerate bad behavior.

Every time the person is rude or disrespectful, like coughing into a speaker, respond, i.e., "X, could you cough away from the speaker, please? It's quite loud in my ear."

Define how often he needs to check email. Put an expected response time in high priority emails. Document. "As we discussed, it will be important for you to check email at least every X hours." "I need a response to the following issue by this afternoon."

Inattention at meetings: "X, we just covered that; but I'd be happy to review it for you after the meeting."

Don't worry about people liking you. Manage this employee calmly, and document your management. If you decide to put the person on probation, you'll have a ready-made paper trail. If X decides to shape up, that will be good, too. The rest of your staff will respect you more.

Be careful that X doesn't become the repository of all your frustrations. Don't just say you're fair, be dead certain that you're giving X every opportunity to succeed. If your company has management/supervision courses, take them.
posted by theora55 at 7:32 AM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking about this since my last response, and it has occurred to me that, when you KNOW your annoyance is irrational, having someone point the irrationality out doesn't help dissipate the annoyance. So, I hope my previous answer didn't just frustrate you more. I still think you'd be less annoyed if you made a sincere attempt to understand why he does each behavior that bugs you, but here are a few more concrete suggestions:

- Ask him NOW what would be the best way to get a quick answer from him in case you have urgent questions in the future. As a manager, you have some power to lay down the law if you want to ("Everyone must check their email at least once an hour and respond to anything marked urgent!"), but you also have a responsibility to enable and not hinder your employees' productivity. I'd wager that you'll get faster responses, more efficient employees, and HAPPIER employees if you ask them what method of communication works best for them, and then respect what they ask for.

- A lot of people aren't aware of the priority markings on email. If you're hitting the red exclamation point in outlook (or something similar) to indicate when a message is urgent, make sure your employee knows to look for that on incoming messages.

- When you go to someone's desk to talk to them, wait for them to look up at you and give you their full attention before you start talking. The quick "Who's that hovering next to me?" glance doesn't count. Many jobs require a person to finish a train of thought, or risk having to start over at the beginning after the interruption. Think of what would happen if you're counting a huge stack of papers, and you're almost to the end, but then somebody walks up and launches right into a conversation. After they leave, you have to start back at 1, 2, 3 because they interrupted you somewhere around 340, but you can't remember exactly what number you were on. Programming, problem solving, creative work, number crunching, composing an important email... All of these job functions and many more can require someone to finish a train of thought or lose their last 10+ minutes of work.

- If someone seems to be asking a question that was already answered in a meeting, try to determine why they didn't understand what was said. Was it not stated as clearly the first time as you thought? Is their question trying to get at a nuance of the issue that wasn't previously covered? Were they daydreaming, and do they deserve a private chat about that after the meeting?

- As so many others have said, you have to communicate your expectations clearly and objectively. This is like all those stereotypical relationship questions where the woman wants the man to just "get it," and the man is frustrated trying to read the woman's mind. The issue is NOT that your genders happen to match that stereotype, but that you, as the manager, seem to be expecting your employee to read your mind, and he can't. "Please respond to any emails marked URGENT within 30 minutes" is clear. "I need an answer on this issue by 2pm today" is clear. "What do you think about XYZ issue?" is not clearly urgent, even if YOU happen to know that you've got a conference call about XYZ in half an hour and need an answer before then. Even if you've been running around the office all morning loudly talking about the upcoming conference call. Even if you KNOW he knows you have that call. Tell him explicitly when you need the answer by. If you make your expectations crystal clear, you allow people to meet your needs. If you wait for people to figure out your needs on their own, you should expect to be disappointed.

- Similarly, if gum chewing is not ok around the office, tell him that. Don't wait for him to figure it out. Or if it's just the bubble popping that bothers you, pull him aside and say "Chewing gum is ok as long as our clients can't hear it on the phone, but popping bubbles isn't acceptable in our professional work environment." Once again, it's all about making your expectations clear.

- He sniffles and then swallows. I get why you think that's gross. Next time it bugs you, think of how much more gross it would be if he were spitting into his garbage can or an empty bottle on his desk or something. I'd say swallowing is his least obtrusive option, if he's got a mucus issue.

And finally, the million dollar question: How do you maintain your objectivity? There's no easy solution, but here are a couple ideas:

- Imagine yourself sitting down with him and saying "This behavior X needs to change." Is the conversation uncomfortable because you don't like confrontation, or uncomfortable because you know it's ludicrous to mention that behavior? If it's the former, have the conversation. If it's the latter, try to laugh at yourself for being so annoyed.

- Imagine that your mom (or your best friend, someone you care about personally) was working for you, and was doing the same behavior X. Would it still bother you, or would it be easier to let it slide? If it would still bother you, how would you address it with that person you actually like? Gently but honestly, is my guess. Use that as your guide to talking to your real employee.

- The most important thing to notice is this: Does this behavior X hurt the company? If it does, then you have a right and a responsibility to talk to the employee about it. If it doesn't, then you need to try to ignore it, even if it annoys you.

- In many situations when you're trying to change your own internal responses (annoyance, anger, whatever) that you logically know are irrational, self-deprecating, internal humor can be your best weapon. Can you gently make fun of yourself in your head for letting the sniffles get to you? Can you roll your eyes at that part of your brain that wants to yell when he asks you to repeat yourself? Think of that part of you as a toddler, and you're the in-control adult. You can tell the toddler to shush, smile and shake your head at how immature she is, and then go on acting like an adult.

Sorry this is so long. I hope some of it is helpful. It seems I've done a lot of thinking over the years about effective management and overcoming unwanted feelings.
posted by vytae at 8:05 AM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have you tried having a discussion with him about the performance related issues? If I was in your employee's position I would much rather my manager told me what issues I needed to work on than made sarcastic comments which I didn't understand the reason for.
posted by Laura_J at 8:36 AM on March 27, 2008

« Older How to craft a condolence card?   |   I'm going without a car for half a year or so... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.