Your Office Coach

Each Wednesday, nationally syndicated workplace columnist Marie G. McIntyre, Ph. D., answers your “in the trenches” workplace questions on everything from team-building to getting a raise to dealing with difficult people.

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Question: “Tom, a long-term employee, recently transferred into my unit. He has a reputation of being "difficult," and now I know why. On good days, he’s productive, upbeat and pleasant. But on bad days, he’s critical, rude and hostile.  Unfortunately, the bad days outnumber the good days. As his manager, I’ve tried to be calm and supportive, but he’s exhausting me! What can I do?” -- Dr. Jekyll’s Boss
Question: “I have worked at my company for more than 20 years. Whenever I apply for a new position, I am passed over. I think it’s because I’m older looking and lack the “babeness” of younger women.  What do you think?” -- Not a Hottie
Question: “My new boss is truly a male chauvinist. He has surrounded himself with male managers and completely ignores all the women. After holding a management position for eight years, I was recently reclassified to a nonmanagement level. My boss gave no reason for this change, except to say ‘it would be best for the department.’ Although my title has been downgraded, my duties are almost exactly the same. The boss gave my old title to a man, along with a hefty raise. My boss says this change was not punitive. I believe that he simply doesn’t want any women managers. Should I jump ship or go on as though nothing has happened?” — Discouraged
Question: "One of my employees has a toxic attitude. He criticizes co-workers, blames them for his problems and argues about everything. His rude and insensitive e-mails imply that everyone is an idiot, including me. We have had many long, drawn-out debates about these issues. Sometimes, I feel like we’re making progress, but then he’ll send another complaining e-mail. Talking things through with him clearly doesn’t help. I’m emotionally drained and have no idea what to do next.” — Worn Out 
Question: “I work with someone who is the boss’s pet.  She talks on the phone with him all the time, and he allows her to work extra hours, even though I also could use the overtime. This co-worker reviews all orders and also is responsible for updating the computer records. Whenever a problem arises, the boss calls her to discuss it. There are only two of us here, but he won’t cross-train me on her duties. How should I handle this unfairness?” — The Unfavored One
Question: “My boss recently got upset with a co-worker about some problems with customer orders.  To get her attention, the boss reached across the desk and grabbed “Angela” by the jaw. When I spoke with Angela about the manager’s improper behavior, she agreed that he was probably wrong, although she wasn’t too disturbed about it. I decided to have a talk with my boss. I told him that I found his actions inappropriate, and he agreed with me. But when he learned that I had already discussed the situation with Angela, he became very irritated. My talking to her really bothered him.  Should I have handled this situation differently? What should I do now?” — Appalled Worker
Question: “One of my employees is a good worker, but she’s a real motormouth. “Brenda” talks nonstop to anyone she can corner, repeating the same stories about her marriage, her family and her medical problems. She not only keeps other employees from working, but she also runs off potential customers with her nonstop conversation. If Brenda would just shut up, the office would greatly improve. I’ve been patient about this so far, but now she’s demanding more money because she’s getting divorced.  Brenda has told co-workers that she could earn more elsewhere, so I'm tempted to just tell her to leave. I have invested time training Brenda, and I can’t fault her work (when she’s not talking).  But I don’t know how to correct this problem without tossing her out the door.” — Frustrated
Question: “I was recently let go from my position as a Division Manager. I’ve never been fired before, so this is a new situation for me. I need to start looking for work soon, and I’m not sure how to discuss my unemployment in an interview.  Since I’m in my late 40s, saying that I wanted to take time off to travel would sound funny.  Do you have any suggestions?” — Middle Age Job-Seeker

Question: “My team recently got a new boss who is very green as a manager. Although I have 20 years’ experience, she makes it abundantly clear that she feels superior to me in every way. She talks incessantly about her credentials and all the 'important' tasks she has been given.  I find her condescending, unapproachable and inflexible. Staff meetings have become a painful experience because they accomplish nothing.  Our new boss will not discuss projects in detail nor take any direction from ‘subordinates.’  I have known her manager for a long time and have a good relationship with him.  He’s a fair guy, and he respects my opinion. Should I tell him how I feel about my new boss?” — The Underling

Question: “I have worked with another manager for a long time. Until recently, we got along just fine, but now ‘Sharon’ seems upset and angry with me. A few weeks ago, an employee complained to me about a member of Sharon’s staff.  I had a friendly chat with Sharon’s staff member to pass along the feedback. Initially, he was defensive, but then he corrected the problem. Now, Sharon is giving me grief about my conversation with him. I was simply trying to be helpful and ‘keep things small.’  What should I have done differently?” — Dumbfounded
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