Do you have an Eddie Haskell in your workplace?
Are you familiar with the Eddie Haskell character from the “Leave It to Beaver” television show? His character has become synonymous with a two-faced individual: all smiles and yeses to authority, but quite the trouble-maker with his peers.
I’d like your advice on how to deal with my own Eddie Haskell. One of my administrative staff is insidiously, subversively affecting the staff with her negativity and bad attitude, but she is all sunshine and cupcakes to me and my partners. The staff are reluctant to ask her for help, because she makes them feel like they can’t handle their own work – but she will do it and then tell me how happy she was to help. (Part of her job description is to help with administrative “overload” tasks, so we are not out of line asking her to pitch in.)
No one in the office received any salary increases this year, and when I explained to her at her review, in great detail, why we couldn’t give raises if we wanted to keep everyone on staff – she smiled and said she understood perfectly! Behind my back, she complained (and is still complaining) bitterly to the others about what a raw deal she got, making threats about getting a raise and then some next year.
She is extremely judgmental of the other staff – without ever knowing the whole story – she will give attitude to staff for coming in late or leaving early, not knowing that they may have worked until midnight the night before. She will do exactly what is asked of her, but not one iota more. She has taken on additional responsibilities over the years – but only when specifically asked to do so. Again, I get no attitude from her when I ask her to do things, but she is radiating indignation to the other staff. And if any of the staff question her about anything she’s done, she can come up with an excuse so fast your head will spin.
I have a very small administrative support staff, and they’ve asked me not to approach her with specific examples of what she’s saying and doing (I understand from you that is how best to coach someone) because she would know exactly who “tattled” on her - and then they’d have to deal with even more attitude from her. I meet with her monthly, specifically for the opportunity to express any concerns she has about work – but I always get a big smile and, “Everything is great!” I am quite sure she doesn’t realize that others in the office are telling me what she says, but I can’t put them on the spot by repeating these things to her.
I feel like herding cats would be easier than disciplining for something I only “feel.” She successfully completes her tasks. She has no attendance problems. She dresses appropriately. She is nice to clients. But she is poisoning our well – very stealthily behind my back. Help!!
It’s time to change the script. In most cases, it is best to use first-hand examples of behaviors. However, in this case, that appears impossible. And, because her co-workers have asked you not to give her specific examples, your hands are tied. So here’s a new episode of the sitcom:
Co-worker: “She is complaining about X, Y and Z and making me feel stupid every time I ask her to help me.”
You: “Since you are telling me about this, I assume you want me to talk with her about her inappropriate behavior.”
Co-worker: “Oh no! Don’t tell her I complained about her! Don’t use my example! She’ll know it was me.”
You: “So what, exactly, do you want me to do?”
Co-worker: “Just tell her to stop. Or, just tell her in general…don’t use my name.”
You: “How can I say anything if I don’t even see what is going on? I can’t say, ‘Some of your co-workers are complaining about you but I can’t tell you what they are complaining about. You just have to be nicer.’ You are tying my hands if I can’t use any examples. Have you told her how you feel when she treats you this way?”
Co-worker: “No. I wouldn’t dare. She’d take it out on me.”
You: “Not if I know about it and support you. If she retaliates in any way, I will step in. We have only two choices. You have to tell her when she does something that offends you. Or, I have to talk with her and tell her I am hearing many complaints (I wouldn’t name anyone but I would give her samples of things that I am hearing).” I prefer that you and others speak with her first, and if that doesn’t get results, she won’t be surprised when I step in. And when I do, I will make it very clear that I’ve heard things from many sources and any retaliation won’t be tolerated.”
Co-worker: “Well if I’m the only one who says anything, she will blame me.”
You: “I will tell the same thing to anyone who comes to me with this issue. If the group isn’t willing to say anything, I will either assume the situation isn’t bad enough and you’ve chosen to live with it, or I will counsel her as I described.”
Your team sounds inexperienced in direct communication and conflict resolution. You will probably have to role play with the person, so she is ready with specific phrases and approaches. (For instance, “When she complains you could say, ‘If you’re so unhappy, you need to go talk to your manager.’”) After you are finished role playing, say, “I want you to come back to me the next time she does something offensive. I want to know how your conversation goes. I will back you up if you need it.” The key outcome you are striving for is to teach the team to be responsible for adult-to-adult communication, instead of tattling to “mom,” and then hiding behind her skirts.
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) 354-9500, mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
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