Coworkers harrassing employee hired by friend of family

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Dear Joan:
I have an employee who is the daughter of a previous manager.  She was hired by the manager who replaced the previous manager.  The two managers are long time family friends; therefore all the other employees believe this employee was hired because of the family connection and friendship.
 
So I inherited a bad situation.  The feelings against this employee are very strong and it has caused some animosity in the office.  The other employees will not work with this employee and they dump on her all the time no matter how hard she tries to get along with them.
 
Communication is bad and sharing information and help is limited.
 
I am looking for ideas to turn this around.
 
 
Answer:
I don’t need to tell you why hiring friends and family is usually a very bad idea—you could write the book on it.
 
First, some questions: Is she qualified? Is she a good, hard-working employee? Does she reach out to help others? Do the other employees need to work with her to get the job done?
 
If she is blameless, and merely the victim of her parent’s good intentions, you can take some mitigating steps to try to improve the dynamics. However, once a group of employees has formed a strong opinion about unfairness, it is sometimes impossible to root out (even if the case can be made that she is qualified and deserved to be hired).
The person in charge of the workload distribution is you. You are also in a leadership position and can set an expectation of collaboration and teamwork. To that end, I recommend that you “recalibrate” expectations.
 
For example, employees should not be allowed to dump on any one employee. If that happens, you need to step in and redistribute work in a more equitable manner. If there is a logical work flow and they are cutting her out of the process, or disrupting the work as a way to pick on her, you need to make it very clear that it won’t be tolerated.
 
This gang mentality is hostile and designed to drive her out of the job. If she decides to take action against you and the company for not stepping in, you will have a bigger mess on your hands. This is true no matter which employee would be in this position. The fault lies with the hiring process and she shouldn’t be punished for it.
Since you are looking for some alternatives, here are three:
 
  • Work with an outside facilitator to design an off-site retreat. I’ve had good results in cases like this by helping the group create some guiding principles they want to use for their team. When they create the ground-rules, it’s easier to get buy-in and compliance down the road. This can all be built into a number of agenda items covering upcoming initiatives, goals, and other team-related work. The goal is to have them reset the expectation, rather than having you mandate it.
  • Another approach is to reset expectations in one-on-one conversations with each employee. I don’t think gathering them together to make a big announcement is the way to go. It will be embarrassing for the employee who is being victimized. She isn’t the problem, and would be mortified if she had to sit through a meeting like this.
  • Another approach is to address this as situations arise. If someone obviously dumps on her or refuses to work with her, that is the time to call the person in. However, this will feel more punitive than explaining your expectations upfront. 
This boils down to your own ethical standards. Obviously, you are troubled by what is going on in your department. The question is do you have the backbone to hold people accountable if they ignore you? If you don’t draw a line in the sand and stick to it, the group will be running you—not the other way around.
 
If your diligent monitoring of this situation only results in surface compliance, and the group goes underground with passive aggressive behavior that is hard to document, the employee may decide to move on. Frankly, I would have left a long time ago. But even if she does leave, the group needs to know that you set and enforce standards. If they think they have the control to overrule or ignore you, you will never regain credibility with this group again.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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