12 February 2006

Help!

Normally I don't talk about work here, but I really need some advice. This will be a little light on details, but I hope it's not too cryptic.

I've been at my job for nearly two years. There has been a problem with one of my co-workers since before I came, and because of what his job is, it affects the whole company. Other colleagues come to me when they are frustrated by him, because in nearly every other situation, I can give them advice or fix the problem myself. I have tried, in various ways, to solve this problem, but this co-worker doesn't work for me, so he has no reason to listen to me.

I've talked to his manager. I've talked to his manager's boss, who is my boss, too (and the co-owner of the company). I've talked to them too many times to count, over the course of at least the year and a half. Those two people keep promising change, keep promising serious action if change doesn't come, but change doesn't come, and there's no accountability.

We had a big meeting about it on Friday -- during which the owner of the company who is not my boss pointed out that we've spent hours and hours discussing this problem, wasting money and time, and have never come close to solving it. I said some things that I regret. Not because they weren't true, and not because other people don't agree with me, but my boss is very loyal to the problem worker's manager, and he took it very personally. My position is that if there's a problem with a worker, it's ultimately his manager's fault if the problem isn't fixed. But my boss is not going to change his mind about the manager; this much has become very clear to me.

What I would like to be able to do is detach from the situation. I've said all I can say; the decisions are not up to me, the responsibility is not mine for the worker's failures. It's hard for me not to be engaged with my job (and this situation is taking up more and more of my time), but I'm nearly certain there is nothing I can do.

This is what I need. How do I accomplish this detachment? I need a mantra or something to start saying to myself whenever the conversation turns to this problem so that I don't get involved. Getting involved is a major part of my personality, and detachment doesn't come easily to me, but since it's so clear that the boss, manager and worker are not going to change, why should I keep banging my head against the wall?

7 Comments:

Blogger tammara said...

I asked my husband to look at this one because he was a vp of operations for the last several years (before he decided to quit and go to grad school to become a professor).

He assumes that you are not looking at the option of ultimately leaving your position (if you consider that to be an option at all in the future, he suggests that you go ahead and look now, while you aren't horribly anxious about it).

The other option, as he sees it, is to let others know when they come to you that this person has now been backed by upper management, and that you've done what you could, and they have to make their own decisions. Believe me, he definitely had his share of these types of issues, and if the person in question wasn't doing something they could be fired for, they were rather untouchable. In some instances, he was the one complaining - in more, he was the one having to make the decision.

I think you've made a good decision to detach. You are just going to have to have, as you said, a mantra in place. "I've done all I could; the matter is closed as far as upper management is concerned." What you have to get across to them is that you are not going to be the person sticking her neck out for a hopeless case - no one (who can do anything) is listening. These other people are going to have to lump it or quit. If you can detach, do it. If they value you and your contribution, they will have to learn to not bring this issue - which was there before you were - to your door.

Best of luck to you. It's sad that one person can so muck up a place (feel free to substitute another letter for the "m"), and nothing is done about it. They could lose brilliant employees just to hold onto a moron.

6:32 PM  
Blogger Excellent Walker said...

Thank you! I'm actually an Operations Manager, so your husband and I probably have a lot of job situations in common.

The funny thing is, this employee has done plenty of things that he could be fired for, things that are against explicit company policy. But, he isn't fired! For a while, I thought maybe he "had something" on one of the owners (and, in fact, this is a theory I've heard from other people, since it seems so non-sensical that he's still employed).

I don't want to leave my job now, though this is the kind of situation that makes my work life unpleasant enough to wonder if this company is for me in the long run. I love so many of the people I work with, though, which isn't guaranteed anywhere else.

6:41 PM  
Anonymous Frisket's Driver said...

Where I used to work, I'd disengage from such a problem by realizing that, for whatever reasons, the people who are responsible have made a "business decision" to handle the problem a certain way. The only way they will handle the problem any other way is if they see that the way they've solved it is impacting business.

What I realized is that it's difficult to totally disengage. You can throw up your hands and say "Those fools!" but, unless you actually leave the job, you're still going to have to deal with the consequences. What I also realized was that once a superior has made such a decision, then all problems resulting from that decision are the superior's to handle.

I realize that doesn't really help you. However, if this is the way they run the company then maybe you should consider leaving. Not immediately, but if they allow a problem like this to fester, how will they handle a much more critical problem?

6:54 PM  
Blogger Stuntmother said...

This is not helpful, but you know, the government has this exact problem. I mean, look at the boss and look at his second who just shot his hunting buddy in the face and chest. By accident, even though the dude was apparently wearing a bright orange vest. I think there should be a rule that no one who can't distinguish between a grouse and a millionaire in a neon vest should not be allowed to be Veep. But are they going to listen to me? No. And am I still going to have to go along with their crazy policies? Yup.

Your situation is a microcosm of the larger SNAFU this country is embroiled in. I think your mantra should be something like this:

Chocolate will not make it better.

or

Lalalalalaala I can't HEAR you Lalalalalala.

or

Linen and white wine on a sunny afternoon (that's from Briget Jones, but I bond with this image of the serene, unflappable woman)

or

Remember the Alamo.

I'm thinking you could be like Schwarzenegger in Conan but he's a total idiot. So maybe Susan Sarandon except that she's never had to break out of jail with a spoon. I don't know.

I feel your pain. I've just got nothing useful to offer. Wish I did. Will take you out for gin when next in NYC.

9:01 AM  
Anonymous Prince of Tides said...

You may consider this a completely useless observation but I'll try anyway. Today I was talking to a friend who recently returned from a hiking trip in New Zealand. Where he went apparently gets 15 feet of rain a year. Unsurprising then that on the second day of a five-day trip, it began to pour, and poured non-stop for the rest of the trip (and for two weeks afterwards). You might think he was miserable; instead, he slogged from hut to hut, forgetting about the rain and the "squish, squish, squish" of his boots and thinking only about the next step. At the end, he'd decided it was one of the most challenging, and therefore worthwhile, experiences he'd had.

This reminded me of situations I have been in where something, some one thing, got on my nerves to the point where I thought I would crack. But cracking wasn't an option, and after coming close to driving me over the edge, the "thing" receded into the background. Because I couldn't change the "thing," I had to let it go.

6:01 AM  
Blogger Excellent Walker said...

Thanks for all your advice. I've been able to disengage a little from the situation this week, mostly by putting into practice a lot of what was said here. I hope I can keep it up, because the problem shows no signs of abating any time soon!

12:53 PM  
Blogger Maggie said...

This may be too little too late as I seem to binge on your blog every few months but I would like to add what I have done to disengage and detach myself from a negative situation at work. I carried a mantra with me.
I was working as a scenic painter. I painted a quote on the back of my coveralls as a way of saying what I thought about the situation without getting into a fight with anyone. The quote was: "The most fluent talkers or most plausible reasoners are not always the justest thinkers" by William Hazlitt. It was my way of carrying a mantra with me but for all to see. If I had been in an office my mantra would have been in the form of a little poster or desk ornament but still on display. At the time it seemed trite and petulant but it helped me keep my temper and prevent anxiety.

8:17 PM  

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