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In my department we have 2 areas and we interact but not often. When the area I manage was short staffed we asked for help from the other area (2 ppl there) and they said no. We do day to day work and have more urgent matters, theirs is geared towards audit and year end, so not time sensitive until year end.

One lady in particular is late most every day, comes and goes as she pleases and doesn’t offer to help when needed so she has lost some respect of people in our department. Two of the ladies in our area will sometimes go for coffee and sometimes I’ll join them. The particular lady in the other area went to her boss to complain she is being left out. Her boss then went to mine to tell him the same. My boss then went to one of my staff, went in her office with the door closed and asked her to invite other lady for coffee next time.

No one said anything to me until my staff came to me upset that the vp is telling them they have to invite someone. Also, I don’t feel it would have been my place to tell anyone who they can and can’t take their coffee breaks with. I also feel that this should have been dealt with between lady and her boss.

I feel like this is ridiculous and I feel like we’re back in elementary school. I need to know how to approach this. If I should bother talking to my boss about what he did, or how to talk to my staff member that’s not impressed. I can’t say I blame her!

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One lady in particular is late most every day, comes and goes as she pleases and doesn’t offer to help when needed so she has lost some respect of ppl in our department.

This is the real problem - people don't like her for a work-related reason.

Her boss then went to mine to tell him the same. My boss then went to one of my staff, went in her office with the door closed and asked her to invite other lady for coffee next time.

And management is only hearing one side of the story and acting on it.

No one said anything to me until my staff came to me upset that the vp is telling them they have to invite someone.

And it has now become at least partially your problem.

I feel like this is ridiculous and I feel like we’re back in elementary school. I need to know how to approach this.

I see a couple of issues here.

  1. You were left out of a private talk with one of your employees.
  2. You disagree with the decision from your manager

Let's deal with these in order. First, go directly to the peer manager and ask why they escalated it without talking to you first. It undermines your authority. Say something like.

You went and talked to Jane about Jill without my knowledge. Never do this again. If you have an issue with one of my people you need to talk to me first, and we'll decide a course of action together. I can't effectively work with you and your team if you continue to go behind my back.

Second, you disagree with the choice. Sounds like your boss already made a decision, so you'll have to begrudgingly follow it. That doesn't mean you can't talk to him about it. Hopefully, you have 1 on 1s with them. During the next one say something like

I know there was an issue between Jane and Jill that you intervened with. Why was I not part of the discussion? I found out the issue from Jane. I want everyone to work together, but it's hard to manage my team if I'm cut out when there is a problem. Do you trust me to give my team tough feedback?

Listen to what your boss says. The last line is highlighted because it's important to drive home you could have handled this, and likely without making Jane as upset.

The reality is Jane will likely just stop getting coffee, so it may come up again. Try to figure out the rationale behind the decision.

You can't change office culture by management edict.

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    The question makes it clear that the peer manager went to the OP's boss and it's the OP's boss who then brought this to the person. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Oct 4 at 23:30
  • And edited - though it was 2 different chains of command but re-read I see it's just 1 – sevensevens Oct 5 at 0:51
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Neither boss said anything to you, because they are dead wrong and they both know it, and they don't want to confront how wrong they are.

The whole point of taking a break is to get away from the stresses of work. Asking your staff to include a particular lady in their private social coffee breaks, when they obviously don't want to, is asking them to remain under work stress during their breaks. This is the same as asking them to give up their breaks.

These bosses are not true leaders. They are the kind who just want to avoid confrontation and trouble, rather than seek justice and fairness. So when this lady came to them with her distressed whining, they put their heads together and decided to do the wrong thing.

But these bosses are also not true villains. They can only plot to discomfit their employees this way if they don't examine their own actions and motives too closely. This kind of conspiracy is very fragile and would not survive even describing it to you, much less trying to justify it.

The first thing you must do is find out exactly what your boss said to your staffer when he bypassed you. Did he actually ask her to do anything, or was he merely trying to make her aware that a certain lady was uncomfortable?

Then ask for a meeting with this boss and tell him that his action was unacceptable. Here you must be careful to be respectful and obedient, but make it clear that you know he was wrong.

Now, your boss has declined to include you in his plan to fix up this unpleasantness between his employees. Begin your conversation with him from the position that this was just an oversight, and now you want to plot with him. Keep firmly in mind that asking that someone include someone else in a social gathering is an evil plan, and maneuver your boss into justifying it.

You have the moral high ground and probably a few other enabling cliches as well. If you are familiar with transactional analysis, you must enforce a parent-to-child transaction (you as parent) because your boss has been naughty.

Do not drive this meeting to a resolution of the problem. It will be sufficient to merely make it clear that he should not have bypassed you, and you don't think his suggestion was proper. Don't make him admit it.

It will be better to leave the meeting without a clear conclusion.

Then tell your staff that they certainly don't have to take anyone with them when they go on break.

After that, your boss will probably never touch this issue again. If he does, tell him that you thought that you and he had decided at that meeting not to force your staff to socialize with anyone.

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Go directly at the source and clear things up.

Assuming the meeting are improptu you can go see 'The lady' and indicate that the impromptu coffee meetings do not require invitation and are not exclusive. You can state that they are not coordinatedand and whoever can come chat.

Once this is cleared up if the complains arise again you can restate this via email and cc whoever is needed. Hopefully by this time people will realise that this is silly.

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