47

I have a receptionist that gets condescending every time management addresses any issues with her.

The other day she rearranged her office and our IT person had requested I talk with her, as only IT should move the equipment around. She had rearranged her office and placed the ink jet printer in front of a window with a 98 °F (37 °C) plus temperature on the outside of the window.

I called the receptionist in and ask her to move the printer away from the window due to the heat.

A couple of hours (?) after asking her I was told by another employee that she stated she was not going to take my reprimands, that she was going to quit and wanted the other employees to quit all at the same time, by just walking out together. This employee came to me and stated the receptionist did a good job, but that he had no intentions of leaving and didn't want her to leave either, but wanted what she was saying and doing about wanting all employees to leave to stop.

Is there a way I can rehabilitate this receptionist, or should she be let go?

closed as off-topic by Jim G., Masked Man, paparazzo, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Lilienthal Jun 8 '16 at 7:43

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave these specific reasons:

  • "Questions asking for advice on what to do are not practical answerable questions (e.g. "what job should I take?", or "what skills should I learn?"). Questions should get answers explaining why and how to make a decision, not advice on what to do. For more information, click here." – Masked Man, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Lilienthal
  • "Real questions have answers. Rather than explaining why your situation is terrible, or why your boss/coworker makes you unhappy, explain what you want to do to make it better. For more information, click here." – Jim G., paparazzo
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 85
    Frankly, I would be inclined to ask her just one question: "I've been told by other employees that you intend to leave the company. Do you want to formally hand in your notice, or would you prefer to just leave your security pass on the desk and go right now?" – alephzero Jun 5 '16 at 21:16
  • 51
    @alphazero - no. You don't give the employee the opportunity to screw things up on her way out the door. If you consider the report of her statements to be accurate you call HR, have her final check made out through the end of the day, call her into your office, and let her go, assuming she's on an "at will" contract - i.e. she can terminate her employment whenever she wants, and you can terminate her employment whenever you want. If she's this poisonous you don't need her around, and any minor inconvenience caused by her absence will be survivable. – Bob Jarvis Jun 6 '16 at 2:42
  • 4
    @A.I.Breveleri : I presume so. OP did say, "She" ... "placed the ink jet printer". Granted, we don't necessarily have the full story. We only have the details that OP provided. Unless we see clear reason to doubt those details, we are typically best off assuming that they are accurate. Otherwise, this whole site ends up second-guessing things so much that questioning the validity of every fact takes up much more time (and reading the most useful information ends up being something that is a much smaller percentage of our time). – TOOGAM Jun 6 '16 at 4:00
  • 19
    Can you explain the "condescending" part? – mattdm Jun 6 '16 at 9:35
  • 3
    It would be really nice to get OP's edit with clarification. I don't like this question, because it barely holds sense and mentions only one situation, stating there was more, and not even being specific on this one. I don't believe a receptionist would try to start up basically a full-fledged protest in the office, because someone forbids her to rearrange the office freely, due to technical reasons (sic!). This seems out of proportions by magnitudes. Btw is it normal that a receptionist have an office? I always thought the job is to receive people at some kind of lobby. – luk32 Jun 6 '16 at 13:35
103

That is open insubordination. Fire her yesterday! No apologies, no warning.

Call a temp service, get help, and walk her out the door immediately.

The difficult here is a far cry short of the pain you're going to have if you give this person one more week in the office. People like this are the equivalent of a cancer. They metastasize and spread the bad attitude to good people near them. You've already seen it start with the employee who came to you with this information.

This is something you cannot wait on. There is no warning. There is no performance improvement plan. This is open mutiny, and the only way to deal with mutiny is the navy way. Fire her. Take the hit with unemployment premiums and temp rates until you can rehire. The few dollars that will cost is NOTHING compared to recruiting and training to replace the half dozen others she'll sour if this continues.

Wothwhile Reading: How to get rid of toxic employees.

  • 110
    Worth noting is that OP didn't hear the receptionist say those things directly, but via hearsay. – congusbongus Jun 6 '16 at 0:16
  • 23
    Depends where you are. In my country, which has freedom (for employees!), you can't fire somebody for this... especially someone like this. You'll be in employment tribunal by the end of the week. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jun 6 '16 at 8:31
  • 4
    Unless thats an at will contract firing may be illegal. In my country for instance you'd have to issue a "Abmahnung", a written reprimand, before firing, and you can't fire for the same action you reprimanded people for. – Magisch Jun 6 '16 at 11:11
  • 3
    Regardless of what country you are in, if you do pursue this path, you should consult your HR department for the appropriate path to take in seeing this employee out the door. But, with that much insubordination (and since she did move company equipment without permission already), you have plenty of reasonable grounds to reprimand her, if not terminate her employment. – Zibbobz Jun 6 '16 at 12:55
  • 5
    I can't believe so many people are upvoting (and so few downvoting) an answer that recommends sacking someone outright, based on nothing but hearsay (and possibly a personality clash with the asker). If she really is such a "problem employee", there will be much more evidence of it than this one report from one person who could have a grudge or agenda. – user568458 Jun 7 '16 at 10:44
56

OK. How to deal with toxic employees has been covered in other answers - but I suspect you may have a different issue on your hands.

A few points:

  1. You may want to consider the possibility that the other employees are trying to get the receptionist fired. I don't know the social atmosphere in your workplace, but in many cases, management / ownership are kept out of the loop when it comes to personal drama between employees that has leaked onto the job. In addition, employees (as both individuals and groups) can have their own agendas, which you certainly won't be hearing about.
  2. Workplace Mobbing is real. I've been a witness to it. I've been a victim of it. It happens in a number of circumstances, the least of which could be relationship / sex drama or simple personality conflicts.
  3. As a general rule, employees are well aware that they can take advantage of disciplinary procedure and chain of command to jeopardize an 'undesirable' or strategically inconvenient co-worker's position.
  4. In some situations, this is done as part of a 'Neighborhood Watch' or 'Community Policing' program if an individual is acting in a way that members of the group deem to be strange, or is clearly engaged in illegal activities for which no legal warrant can be obtained for a legitimate investigation. The primary objective in these cases is to drive them out of their jobs and out of their homes if possible. A secondary objective may be to provoke them to do something that lands them in jail for at least an equal amount of time as the crimes they are suspected of committing.
  5. If this is a case of mobbing (no matter the reason), being out of the loop should put the fear of God in you - even as a manager. Once the perpetrators successfully get rid of the receptionist, there is a possibility that they could target you at some point in the future. Or even next. Management is not invincible. I have seen this happen.
  6. If you simply terminate the receptionist without analyzing the situation, you may be helping to propagate a serious form of abuse. This isn't a group of school children taking each others' toys and calling names.

    Lives have been lost on numerous occasions due to this type of harassment.

    Note this well.

But for what it's worth, using only the information you provided, my analysis of the situation would indicate that something fishy may indeed be going on behind the scenes.

Here's why:

  • Both the IT person and the other employee immediately ran to you over a problem that could have been handled by any reasonably mature adult employee without the need for managerial intervention. While it is true that reprimands and orders can only be given by management, this particular problem could have been solved without the need for either.
  • A simple non-confrontational conversation between the IT person and the receptionist could have eliminated the issue altogether. Someone should have been able to kindly explain to the receptionist that she can't leave the printer in direct sunlight, or she will soon no longer have a printer. If she had become confrontational at that point, only then would it have been appropriate to bring it to you.
  • The other employee should have kept his mouth shut. This was an issue between the receptionist, the IT person, and you. No matter what the receptionist verbalized, it was NOT the other employee's place to become involved. It seems rather odd that he chose to do so.
  • As a matter of fact, it is likely that this was part of a 'friendly' conversation, after which he saw an opportunity to stab the receptionist in the back. This is unacceptable. True professionals and respectable individuals always keep their noses out of issues that do not personally involve them.

These are just some things to think about. I'd love to tell you the surefire solution, but there probably isn't one. These issues are always multi-faceted, and never as clear-cut as they seem to be on the surface.

Ultimately, the decision is up to you. But just keep in mind that a wise leader never immediately assumes hearsay or complaints to be true, and good management always investigates thoroughly when any complaint or request for intervention is made.

A solid next step would be to sit them all (three) down individually, then address them in a group meeting to see if anyone's stories or attitudes change. Make note of these changes. If you've been dealing with people for any significant amount of time, it will become quickly apparent who is lying, who is telling the truth, and who you should even be having a conversation with in the first place.

Hope this helps!

34

As an employer, if your employee says she wants to leave, let her go.

If she asks other employees to leave with her, most definitely let her go.

Regarding comments: I wrote "if your employee says she wants to leave, let her go". I did not write "if someone tells you that your employee says she wants to leave, fire her".

  • 13
    Is it fair to fire someone just because she heard something about this employee? What's to say the person heard her complain and just misunderstood it? – Dan Jun 6 '16 at 16:38
21

Let me present a different perspective. Most people do not behave as described just because they are jerks who should be fired. They do this because they are unhappy for some reason. Some people spread bad attitude as a sort of 'cry for help'. This could be caused by various things:

  1. Personal problems
  2. They became pessimistic due to recent changes in leadership or company structure
  3. Highly stressful or demanding work
  4. Feeling of insignificance
  5. Being forced to do tasks inefficiently for stupid/no reasons

... Or they could really just be a terrible person who is difficult to work with.

Firing the receptionist now is just an easy way out. If she is otherwise a good employee who gets stuff done, you should at least try to work with her to figure out what's wrong. Perhaps you will uncover some problems in your organization you were not aware of, or which seem irrelevant to you but are a big deal for the receptionist.

My advice is this: Schedule a one-on-one meeting with her, make it feel safe for her to talk about anything and see where it gets you. This is a good idea regardless of the ultimate outcome. If there is a reason for her to be unhappy with her job, there is a good chance that the replacement receptionist would end up being unhappy as well.

The good outcome is that you will work with her to address her concerns, end up with a productive and happy employee and will have fixed some problems in your organization as a bonus. Or you discover that there is nothing you can do to help and get a new receptionist. At least you will know that you tried to fix the problem.

  • 4
    The OP said "...every time management addresses any issues with her...". This isn't a one-off event. Remember the old sayings "the first loss is the cheapest" and "don't throw good money after bad". – alephzero Jun 5 '16 at 21:13
  • 6
    @alephzero: I mostly agree with you, but we do not know how management usually addresses issues with the receptionist. It is extremely easy to descend into a downward spiral because of a completely stupid thing, such as, for example, failing to provide a sufficient explanation of a management's decision when it is enforced. – JohnEye Jun 5 '16 at 21:24
  • 1
    This classic explains it all: bizjournals.com/bizjournals/how-to/human-resources/2012/01/… – Wesley Long Jun 5 '16 at 21:34
  • 7
    @WesleyLong: The article does explain how to safely get rid of the employee, but I do not think it explains much else. The first step is to determine whether the employee really is toxic, or whether it's the company itself. Employees are humans and working with humans is hard, much to the dismay of the inhuman and soulless corporations. – JohnEye Jun 5 '16 at 22:22
9

Let's combine some of the partially good answers into a more complete one:

What you have so far is hearsay. If the following are true, you need to get rid of her:

  • She tried to get others to quit in order to harm the company, over the placement of a printer.
  • She gets condescending every time management addresses any issues with her.

Talk to HR to figure out the legally correct way to get rid of her. The alternative is for management to address the issues with her, but obviously that doesn't work.

However, there are some assumptions you must confirm first.

  1. The claim by the other employee is just a claim - see if you can verify it, so it becomes a fact. If you can't, you should look into whether you want to keep the other employee.
  2. You said she wouldn't "take my reprimands". Is she upset because she's not allowed to move the printer, because she's been reprimanded, or because of the way you reprimanded her? There are many ways you can screw up when reprimanding someone, berating them in front of their colleagues, shouting at them, or not letting them tell their side of the story are some of the more obvious mistakes. Talk with your mentor to find out if she's right to be upset. If you don't have a mentor, find someone you can trust to be brutally honest with you.
  • 2
    + 1 for the advise to verify the hearsay before acting – Arsak Jun 6 '16 at 16:28
8

Sounds like she over-reacted. I don't think you should do the same thing. Work with your HR department and go through formal channels for repremanding an employee.

Who knows what was going on with her personal life at the time. Everyone makes mistakes. The real problem would be if she does not feel like you have the right to tell her what to do. If that is the case, she can reconsider her position. Let her know if this happens again, further action will be taken. It's your policy and legal requirements to determine what that is. She needs to be told explicitly what will happen if things don't change. She needs to be told not to discuss this with other employees.

Hopefully this is an isolated problem that will not occur again. You get to keep an otherwise useful employee who learns to appreciate what you've done for her. No one is perfect. The other employees didn't take her seriously. Tell the informer she has been given a second chance.

There is the risk that she has set a bad example and someone else may try and pull the same thing thinking they can get away with it. Well what will they get away with? Leaving?

  • 1
    "Well what will they get away with? Leaving?" -- even worse, talking about leaving as if it's a viable option ;-) – Steve Jessop Jun 7 '16 at 0:19
  • We don't even know if she did over-react. For all we know, the asker might have an overbearing manner, the receptionist might have made a casual meaningless frustrated comment after being reprimanded like "I wish she'd be less rude to everyone. Imagine if we all got fed up and walked out one day" then got back to work, and someone with a personal grudge or agenda saw it as an opportunity to score points with the boss at her expense. There's simply not enough to go on yet. – user568458 Jun 7 '16 at 10:49

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.