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An employee’s abusive home environment spills over into work and causes supervisors to rethink their role

Dear Annie, I would like to ask you for advice on a difficult situation with a member of my team. The relationship with this employee has been turbulent and marked by frequent ups and downs, which have left me and the rest of the team unsure and uncertain about how to proceed.

This team member has significant personality issues that manifest in several significant ways. Whenever her abilities or work product are questioned, she becomes offended and reacts negatively. Early in our collaboration, she expressed that she had trust issues with me and accused me of fostering a toxic environment. This attitude seems unique to her, as no other team member has expressed similar concerns.

Our interactions often follow a pattern. After a period of tension and conflict, she experiences what I can only describe as “clear periods” where she expresses her satisfaction with my management and team dynamics. However, these periods are short-lived and she soon relapses into her previous behavior. I have learned that she has serious domestic problems and is a victim of abuse, which no doubt contributes to her erratic behavior. She is also on approved family and medical leave due to these “episodes.”

The rest of the team, with the exception of her best friend, is deeply affected by her behavior. They find her presence toxic and have expressed a desire for her to leave the organization. This feeling is understandable given the impact on team morale and productivity, but it also adds to the complexity of the situation.

I’ve tried to handle this with empathy and fairness, but it’s challenging because she takes advantage of everything that’s done to her advantage. She actually makes me feel like she wants me to fall into her trap. I realize her behavior is probably influenced by her difficult personal circumstances. I’ve done my part to support her as best I can, but it feels like it’s not working. Ultimately, I have to consider the well-being of the entire team and the entire work environment.

Annie, I don’t know how to balance these conflicting needs. I would greatly appreciate any advice you can give me on how to handle this delicate situation. – Challenging Team Member

Dear Challenging: First, immediately notify HR, if you haven’t already, about how she’s affecting morale. Set clear, consistent boundaries and expectations, offer support, and make it clear that her behavior needs to improve. Keep clear documentation of this woman’s behavior and interactions. If your organization has one, bring in a consultant or mediator to help with regular check-ins, feedback, and monitoring progress.

If her behavior doesn’t change despite this structured support, you and your colleagues will need to take stronger measures to maintain harmony and productivity within the team. It sounds like you’ve tried to be considerate of this woman’s situation, but ultimately you have to do what’s best for the success of the rest of the team and your company.

Send your questions to Annie Lane at [email protected].

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