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Seperating emotions from job duties

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Question: I manage several administrative support assistants in an executive, senior management environment. One of the assistants has difficulty separating emotions from her job duties. She internalizes many business decisions either as personal attacks on her or reminiscent of personal relationships not related to work. Her feelings factor into many of her business decisions. As you can imagine, it is difficult to manage her performance.

Her interpersonal relationships with her co-workers and me are occaisionally strained. For lack of a better word, she is almost a bullying personality and is frequently moody. She is making minor mistakes on a more frequent basis, and appears to increasingly resent my corrections of them.

When confronted about her performance, she appears willing to accept and make changes, but is very emotional (crying) during these meetings. And as each issue corrects itself, it seems another one appears.

What is the message I am not understanding from her? What am I not doing that I need to do? How can this situation be corrected?  -- Anonymous


Comments

I think after repeated conversations with this person, it just bluntly needs to be said that if she can not seperate personal issues and feeling from work related ones, that she will either have to be placed elsewhere (given the opportunity for that) or that her services are no longer needed with the company. That may sound a little harsh, but how many times to you talk to a person and don't you think this also reflects onto others jobs always having to watch what is said to her for fear that it will be taken personal?
Thank you

I think the best thing you can do for this co-worker is to send her to a seminar/workshop that deals with her weakness. You can downplay your intentions of sending her there because it might help her, rather tell her that you would like to cover this area in a staff meeting and ask her to give a presentation on what she has learned. You know, everyone can use information regarding office emotions. Put the ball in her court. Assign her to go, let her learn, and come back and share it to other co-workers. She'll learn and then be reinforced by her presentation. You should address this manner in that it's something that everyone can improve in and be reminded of. Plus, you're building her confidence by giving her this assignment!

I agree with Debbie. I've been an Administrative Assistant for 30 years and I would find this kind of behavior annoying and very unprofessional. A good assistant learns to keep personal feelings and emotions at home, and be at their best at work. I would find this behavior like dealing with a school child. Why should everyone at the office walk on eggshells around this person, when they don't have to with each other. If she cries during a performance review, I would take that as a sign that this girl is not going to work out. How can you effectively talk about one's performance when they're crying in front of you? Makes it hard to be objective then, don't you think? If she can be transferred to another department where no one cares about her being emotional all the time, then fine. Otherwise, I would remind her that the company is paying her to perform a service as a support person. If those she is supposed to support are supporting her all the time, then I say it's nonsense and I'd release her from her postion. More time would be wasted trying to be delicate with her than productivity in the office. Let her go people.

I have to agree with George! Employees are not CHILDREN and should not be treated as such (or ACT as such!)
Thank you - I'll shut up now!

I commend you for asking "What is the message I am not understanding from her?" and not writing her off as a difficult employee. So often we are quick to judge others without knowing the personal life challenges they may face -- a terminally ill family member, marital problems, personal health issues -- that affect their job performance.

If your company offers an Employee Assistance Program for counseling, perhaps you should make her aware of it and offer to help her make that contact. From a far-away view, it seems to me this woman is troubled by something she doesn't feel comfortable sharing. While you have a responsibility to maintain a professional environment, I believe a sincere show of compassion towards this woman would be effective.

This sounds like a personal issue, affecting her professional life and I agree in large part with Cynthia’s response. Instead of just talking about work, ask her if there is something going on in her life that is creating an emotional overload. There may be family or medical issues that you are unaware of. Point out that crying during your discussions underscores the fact that her emotions are out of control. Be sympathetic but firm. One solution would be to require a leave of absence to allow her time to deal with matters, or get counseling, stressing that this is a last chance opportunity, and then follow through. When she realizes that her actions have more consequences than just repeated talks, she may take steps to get to the bottom of the underlying issue. If this does not solve the problem, let her go. You owe it to your company and the rest of your staff to put an end to this problem.

Here is another thing to consider. This may be just emotions out of control, but your description of her as having a bullying personality and frequently moody, suggest the possibility of a mental illness or drug problem.

Sorry, I meant to say I agree in large part with DEBBIE'S response, not Cynthia's.

And how long do you do this 'sincere show of compasion' before you move on? I think repeated talks do nothing but set a precedent to other employees that it is okay to wear your emotions on your sleve and let your emotions interfere with your work. After all...how much you 'allow' from one employee pretty much tells the rest how much THEY can get by with...unless you like spending time in court defending your companies actions of discrimination. Conseling of employees can only go so far. There is work to be done.

If your company has an HR Department, then you should seek some guidance from them. I would be careful about asking an employee about what is going on in their personal life or with their health. These days with HIPAA, employees have rights with regards to privacy issues.

It would be best to be careful with any termination. If this is a health problem, she may come back and say that this was an ADA issue (she has some sort of disability affecting her work).

Has she ever worked well for the company? She sounds like she may have self-confidence issues. I would also recommend an EAP if your company provides it.

I agree with P.S. and T.J. Lewis. From a past experience, it sounds to me like depression. Give her the benefit of the doubt, refer her to your HR department for possible evaluation. The person I recall greatly benefitted from the help offered and is admired and respected in her field today. Fortunately for her, her supervisor was not so quick to judge.

I agree with Jeannette that, if you do have an HR Department or don't, this person is not getting along in this environment for one reason or another. It is not fair to the others to have to baby this co-worker, and if there are underlying issues, in all honesty, she should be willing to let a supervisor know this. If there are not, then it would seem appropriate to put a foot down and say that this is not appropriate behavior and give warning to her, possible solutions and that, if they don't work, she cannot remain with the company.

I don't think firing her is a good idea. I agree that you should send her to a seminar/workshop. There are several very good training seminars that address how to keep your emotions in control at work. Everyone deals with stress and criticisms differently. You should try to find out what the real issue is. Don't dismiss this employee she sounds as though she is having a very difficult time. I had a co-worker who was having a difficult time at work, she was very short and curt with people, and sometimes a little rude. Her behavior continued for about a year, later we found out her mother had been battling cancer for several years and she had taken a second job to assist with the medical expenses. She was drained financially and emotionally. I commend you for wanting to get to the root of the problem. Clearly this employee is having personal problems losing her job shouldn't be another one. You can't avoid working with difficult people and the solution can't always be to fire them. You may want to consider having a meeting with her and include HR or encourage her to call your EAP office if you have one. While you do have to be careful when asking about her health issues, you can always start off by mentioning that she seems distracted and ask if there is anything you could do to assist her, etc.

I agree with the other inputs which suggest using every avenue that the company can offer to help the young lady. As stated in a few other posts, there may be underlying issues and she may need to learn coping skills. However, after using all resources and avenues available to help her, and if her behavior of separating her professional and personal life has not changed, you at least have the documented proof that the company attempted to rectify the problem, thus avoiding legal issues if she is terminated.

It always amazes me how harsh and judgmental people can be of others. The woman obviously has a problem and needs help. You never know when you are going to find yourself in a similar position. Try to help her get the assistance she needs. When your life is over, you won't be asked about what a great job you did. You will be asked about how you treated others.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Marianne Myrick April 19, 2010 at 10:21 am

There is a misspelling in the title of the article.

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