Office Coach: Prickly worker needs firmer oversight

Marie G. McIntyre
Tribune News Service

Q. A supervisor who reports to me has a lot of behavioral problems. “Anna” is disruptive and domineering with both her staff and her peers. She even sends me emails telling me how to do my job. I have received several requests from customers asking that she be removed from their accounts.

On the positive side, Anna has excellent technical skills and is willing to take on the most difficult assignments. After six years here, she knows a lot of company history. Anna sometimes acts rather manic, so I think she might have bipolar disorder. She has shared with me that she was married five times and had issues with a difficult mother.

During the short time that I have been managing this group, I have tried to remain low-key and create a nice work atmosphere. However, Anna is becoming increasingly troublesome. How should I handle this?

A. Technically talented folks with dreadful interpersonal skills should never be placed in jobs where relationships matter. Allowing Anna to supervise others and interact with customers was a poor decision for which you cannot be blamed. But even though you did not create this problem, it is now yours to correct.

Unfortunately, you are compounding the initial error with two mistakes of your own. First, you appear to be acting more like a psychologist than a manager. You have absolutely no business assigning Anna a diagnosis or exploring her marital and family history. As her boss, your job is to focus on her workplace behavior.

Second, your choice of a “low-key” management style is simply wrong. Remaining in the background is fine when you have competent, reliable employees, but with someone who is “domineering and disruptive,” you need to be front and center. Otherwise, she will do whatever she pleases and you will lose all credibility.

If you are new to management, then this challenge represents an important learning opportunity. Talk with your boss or human resources manager about the appropriate steps to follow and ask how they can assist you. Ultimately, your objective is to place Anna where she can tackle technical problems without alienating customers or terrorizing the staff.

Q. After four years in my job, I have decided to look elsewhere and am working on my resume. Previously, I spent several years doing temporary assignments for various companies. I’m afraid this will make me look like a job hopper. What would you suggest?

A. This problem can be simply solved by showing your temp experience as a single period of employment. If you worked for an agency that sent you to different assignments, list the agency as your employer and detail your projects under that heading. If you were an independent contractor, use the same approach, but describe it as a period of self-employment.

The good news is that employers almost always give the greatest weight to the most recent job. So after four years of stability, you are unlikely to be perceived as flighty.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”