Q: Shortly after becoming a department head, I began hearing complaints about my executive assistant. From my perspective, “Gwen” is phenomenal. She is extremely organized, catches on quickly and is willing to tackle any task. Without her, our department would be much less effective.
Unfortunately, this is not the picture painted by the staff. Several of them have described Gwen as condescending and disrespectful. They say she criticizes their work and will sometimes just take over, even if the person doesn’t want her help.
Gwen shouldn’t be treating co-workers like underlings or incompetents. However, I’m not sure how to address the issue, because she will immediately know that someone complained. How should I bring this up?
A: Your assistant seems to be suffering from Queen Bee syndrome. This rather common disorder afflicts those who are the “right-hand person” for a higher-level manager. Typically, these are folks with high control needs who enjoy basking in the reflected power of their boss.
Queen Bees tend to be highly competent and super-organized. But while they are great with tasks, they are much less adept with people. To resolve this problem, you must help Gwen understand that a top-notch assistant also needs to develop positive relationships. Here’s one way to begin the conversation:
“Gwen, I have an issue that we need to discuss. First, though, let me say that I am really impressed with your ability to organize everything and keep this office running smoothly. However, I have some concerns about your co-worker relationships. Before we talk about the specifics, I’d like to know if this surprises you or if you are aware of some problems.”
Finally, don’t hesitate to mention that people have complained, because Gwen needs that feedback. But avoid identifying the employees who spoke to you. Although Gwen will undoubtedly ask, she has absolutely no right to know.
Q: I’m wondering whether I should file a sexual harassment complaint. Recently, my manager asked me to find some information on his laptop. When I entered his password, the first image to appear was an extremely pornographic picture. By the expression on my face, he immediately knew something was wrong.
After looking at the screen, he became very embarrassed and apologized profusely. Although neither of us has mentioned the incident again, I can’t get that image out of my mind. I also hate the thought that I touched that laptop, since I don’t know where it might have been. Should I do anything about this?
A: While I definitely empathize with your discomfort and disgust, your exposure to this image appears to have been completely accidental. If your boss is viewing porn on an office computer, he may not be too bright, but he doesn’t seem to be intentionally harassing you.
Should your manager act inappropriately in the future, then you should talk with human resources. But if not, just consider this an unfortunate mishap. And in case you’re ever asked to work on his laptop again, you might want to invest in some hand sanitizer.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”