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I have a huge problem at my workplace for which I can't find a way to solve. Let me start by describing the job and my coworkers (who are part of the problem).

I am the new leader of a team of three people (plus me). You could desribe our workplace as a canteen and our task includes serving and cleaning. As a leader I do all that too and additionallly all the finances and paperwork.

The three coworkers are all much older (2-3 times) than me and have been working together.

One of them (let's call her Alice) has been (temporary) leader before I took the job over from her as complete newcomer. She did not want to do it in the first place and consented to my employment. Now she is a "regular" worker again. During her (and her predecessor's) leadership some of the regulations of our job have been ignored and she did not inform me about them when I took over (not knowing of them).

Betty, one of the other coworkers, seems to have had a quarrel with the third one (Cora) in the past and refuses to work on the same shift with her. None of the three will talk about it ("you better don't know"). So Betty will only work together with Alice which led to some sort of alliance between the two against Cora.

In general the morale seems to be very low. They don't enjoy their work and are in a bad mood most of the time. The payment is bad and we have to do unpaid overtime. There is too much to do and to few people. We don't have enough money to get more workers and we can't do less work because then we would lose the support money from our city office and must close down.

Betty is very unpredictable and kept her anger in until she shouted insults at me this week (because I made a mistake). I was so baffled by this that I could not react but stood there in silence. Later that day I wanted to clear things up in the office, apologized for my mistake and told her that her behavior and language was inaccaptable which lead to her shouting again (roughly: "I don't like how you always command me") and running out of the room ignoring me begging her to stay and talk about what happened.

The next day I talked to Alice about this (she overheard part of it) who told me Betty does not want to work shifts with me alone anymore.

Alice also told me that Betty is annoyed because

  • I am doing some of the office work instead of cleaning up with her and that I am too slow with the office work (probably thinking that I want to avoid the cleanup work)
  • I don't help her when I am around (although I offered her to do so and she declined several times)
  • I got all the credits for good food (because I was waiting the tables and told them in the kitchen that the costumers were pleased)

Alice also said that she regrets having consented to my employment and that she believed I was not trusting her to encash. When I told her that she and Betty should have told me their problems earlier she replied that I am too young and unexperienced (I joined directly from university) and therefore they cannot talk to me. This also is a general problem as we don't share much topics to talk about. The age difference also makes it harder for me to integrate into the team and they seem to have problems to accept me as authority.

Alice also accused me of conspiring with Cora to drive Betty away. I think this is because I get along with Cora better than with Alice or Betty (who are friends).

Especially Alice's regret is pulling me down and I am thinking about leaving but it is very hard to find a job in my area.

TL;DR

  • my coworkers hate their job
  • some of my coworkers don't get along with each other
  • some of my coworkers don't get along with me (and my age)
  • one of my coworkers (Betty) became very abusive (but I can't afford firing her because she works honorary, we don't have any replacement and we are already short on staff)
  • Betty told me once that she is working here to help (but she wants to do as little as possible)
  • my coworkers won't talk to me about problems ("because of your age")

What should I do in this situation?

How can I improve morale?

How can I solve the shift plan issues arising from Betty's refusal to work with Cora (and me)?

  • No offence intended, but I honestly don't think this sort of workplace is suitable for a person your age! People get influenced easily by those surrounding them, you'll end up just like Alice, Betty, or Cora if you stay. If jobs are hard to find in your area, is relocating to another area not an option? – BeyondSora Apr 17 '14 at 20:13
  • I don't know what to say at the moment, except that people create their own hell and that your three co-workers are doing a damn fine job of creating their own hell. As for entangling this mess, I'll have to think about it. If you have any OFFICIAL management authority, it's an excellent time to assert it. You'll be thoroughly unpopular for doing so, but probably not more than you are right now, so you have nothing to lose. If you don't have any official management authority, I am sorry: you are herding cats - ok, wildcats, at this moment. I feel for you. – Vietnhi Phuvan Apr 17 '14 at 20:41
  • @BeyondSora: I'd rather like improving the situation than flat out leaving. I like the job and feel responsible for our costumers and staff. About the official management authority: I may appoint Betty to work a shift with Cora but then Betty will not turn up (at least she says so, but we never tried that). – user18862 Apr 17 '14 at 20:57
  • @user18862, I applaud your attitude in this. :) I think littlellilee's answer is the one you could follow to try to better your position and the work environment. It won't repair your relationship with the others, but I doubt that's part of your priority here. – BeyondSora Apr 17 '14 at 21:00
  • @user18862: it's good that you do have official management authority, hopefuly including the right to hire and fire. You are going to have to muscle your way through this - at least, initially - and you are going to need every ounce of that muscle :) These three characters need to change their perception of you as a co-worker to boss. Otherwise, there won't be peace in the land :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Apr 17 '14 at 21:01
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I find this interesting, because although you say you are a leader of the team, they're very much leading you around. Think of what would happen to you if you had yelled at your boss. And it sounds like you do the scheduling, so what say do they have about whether or not they can work with others. They're saying you're inexperienced because you're acting like it.

1) If Betty yells at you again, give her a formal warning. It is NOT okay to yell at your superior, but by apologizing to her for making a mistake, then "begging her to come back", you're telling her that it's okay for her to yell at you.

2) You're doing office work and such because you have office work to do. Does it say anywhere in your job description that you should do an equivalent amount of work to those who you lead, along with office work? If yes, then you need to fix this. If no, then it's her job to do that work.

3) Don't ask someone who you lead if you can do things, just do it. You're the leader, which means you need to lead. You're being much too passive, which implies inexperience with leading a team.

4) Betty said she doesn't like how you "command her"... you lead her. It's your job, and it's her job to do what you say.

You need to take these points and think about them. If you can't do them, then maybe you are too inexperienced to do your job. If you can, then do them. Set them straight. Don't let them push you around. Discipline where it's due. And schedule despite their "not working with others". If they don't show up, they get fired and you use that money to hire a GOOD employ who is drama free.

You need to set a meeting with these women and tell them that they will be doing their job and listening to you, or they will be getting disciplined. Tell them you will no longer settle for drama (including shift plan issues), because there's no place for drama in the workplace. If you're worried about losing your job because of the job market, they likely are too. And if they quit, you can get good, drama free employees.

Finally: You say you can't fire Betty because she works honorary, but is the detriment that she's causing to you and the workplace environment worth being short until you find someone else? Think hard about this. If your job market is not the best in your location, then others will likely be looking for employment. Consider posting to gauge interest first, and if you find better people for equivalent pay, you know you're in a better place than you think.

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    I still think OP should get out of there asap. OP may not be able to do what you have advised effectively as it sounds like she still needs some time to mature in the workplace seeing she just got out of university. – BeyondSora Apr 17 '14 at 20:23
  • I just got out of University and I'm not letting people walk all over me. She should at least give it a shot, otherwise she may not get chances to improve again. Especially because, at this point, her reference from this job will just say "great server, good cleaner, terrible supervisor." Though if it's not possible for OP to man up, I completely agree. – littlekellilee Apr 17 '14 at 20:25
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    @user18862, but is "keeping her" causing more harm than benefits? Or, do you think you can convince/persuade/pressure/force/threaten her into cooperating? Does Betty even care that much about this work at this point? You said morale is low. Does Alice care? Cora? – BeyondSora Apr 17 '14 at 20:31
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    As well, she seems to be the one causing the problems. She won't work with you, she won't work with Cora... you can't let her run the world just because she's honorary. Who cares if she doesn't lose anything? You should never be dependent on someone who causes these kinds of problems. If you have a boss, you should absolutely discuss it with them. – littlekellilee Apr 17 '14 at 20:35
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    Try using the word "urgent" with your boss. For him, it is. He either loses Betty or you, or if you both stay in this state, your customers will feel the tension. It's hurting the business no matter how you look at it. Just because you need her doesn't mean you should let her walk all over you and hurt the work environment, and the environment of the business in general. At the moment it sounds like you're just trying to have them be happy with you... think of it in a parent being a parent or a friend. YOU are a parent here, not a friend. For the sake of the company. – littlekellilee Apr 17 '14 at 20:52

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