By Linnda Durre, Ph.D., Author of Surviving the Toxic Workplace – Protect Yourself Against Co-workers Bosses and Work Environments That Poison Your Day published by McGraw Hill, February 19, 2010.
As a business and corporate consultant and psychotherapist, I’ve analyzed, worked with, and consulted with many difficult bosses over the years. In order to cope and deal with them, you need to know why they act the way they do and how best to deal with them, in order to earn their respect, get things accomplished, change negative situations to positive ones, and preserve your sanity.
In my twice-monthly column, I will help you cope with a different type of boss, whether male or female. And remember – all of these toxic bosses in all of my columns can be of either gender. Toxicity does not discriminate according to the sexes. The previous ones include: Dick the Dictator, Bashia the Backstabber, Sewell the Sexual Harasser, Carl the Control Freak, Paula the Passive Aggressive, Clayton the Clueless, Greta the Gossip, Susie the Sugar Coater, Ian the Idea Stealer, Al the Alcoholic, Nancy the Narcissist, Donald the Deal Maker, Vernon the Verbal Attacker, Bobby the Boss’s Relative, Cynthia the Silent Treatment Torturer, and Phil the Philanderer.
This week is another difficult boss – Ned the Negligent, the boss who does little if any work, puts the responsibility in your lap, and then blames you when it’s not done correctly. In my book, Surviving the Toxic Workplace – Protect Yourself Against Co-workers Bosses and Work Environments That Poison Your Day, published by McGraw Hill, I wrote about 12 different groups – 79 individual types – of toxic people who can populate an office. The group that Ned fits in is “The Uncommitted.”
SITUATION: Ned may be a total slacker who is inept, works slowly, lets things slip through the cracks, and does the absolute minimum of what is expected of him, never going the extra mile. He makes you responsible to do his work, never or rarely gives you guidelines, and then blames you when it’s wrong. At one second after 5 PM, he is out the door.
Ned may move, think, and work slowly. His output, when he does it, may be good, or then again, it may not be. He may be late for work, unproductive, and negligent. He takes so long to do any task, disappears on long lunch hours, and he doesn’t get his work done on time. Not meeting deadlines slows you down. If you depend on Ned’s work for your deadlines, you will be in trouble.
Then what makes it worse is when you have to cover for him with his boss. You’re the one who has to write the updates, meet the deadlines, and you don’t even know what is supposed to be included in the reports. Perhaps Ned even blames you for not meeting deadlines and you’ve heard this from Ned’s boss and/or the assistant. What a double bind he has put you in.
Ned may be a self-centered narcissist who has no loyalty to anyone or anything except himself. Ned might be irresponsible, selfish, and constantly late because he’s stayed up late and slept in, and he’s paying more attention to his other priorities – which can include a second job, his family, a mistress, hobbies, his rock band, a drug/alcohol problem – or any combination of those demands. The company may be keeping him on because for many reasons that you are unaware of. Ned is dead wood and should be fired, but they won’t do that and you’re stuck with him.
If Ned has a second job or if he’s in school getting an advanced degree or credential, the company may be paying for it, so Ned wants to stay employed, get the paycheck, the insurance, and the degree. He may leave after he graduates or stay with the company. I’m not disparaging his need to return to school or his second job – I’m talking about his attitude. If he said to you, “Listen, for the next two years, I’m getting my M.A. and I’m going to need you to take on a lot of extra work for me. I’ll do everything I can do to get you a raise. I’ll cover your back if you cover mine and we’ll be a team on this,” you might do it because he communicated that, and you may respect him and know he’ll reward you at the end. But he may never tell you this, or he just expects you to cover for him. Whatever the reason for Ned’s negligence, you’ve had it and something has to be done.
EXPLANATION: Ned may have had parents who told him that he was stupid, slow, and lazy, so his behavior acts out his poor self image. He doesn’t dot his i’s or cross his t’s. Ned needs to raise his self-esteem, take seminars and read books to help him feel better about himself and work faster. He should get into individual and group psychotherapy. You can remind Ned of the EAP program and the insurance benefits that would pay for psychotherapy with his co-pay and that it would benefit him to get moving. Perhaps you need to set timers to make Ned work faster – setting timers that YOU control could be one way to motivate him at work. Sheer fear would also be another. Reporting him to your boss and/or to HR would be a boon because he needs to have a fire lit under him and fast! Show him what tactics you are going to enforce to get him moving.
Perhaps Ned has a physical problem – lack of energy could be poor metabolism, a bad diet, not enough exercise, thyroid problems, overweight, or lack of iron, just to name a few. Caffeine is not the answer. He should have a full medical examination and a blood workup and see a nutritionist who could put him on a healthy diet and prescribe the right vitamins. An exercise regime with a trainer may also be a solution. If he’s got a drug and/or alcohol problem, he needs to get into rehab and 12 Step Groups, like AA, CA, or NA, and if he does, you need to inform HR so they can order him into rehab.
SOLUTION: Depending on the circumstances, here are two approaches, and you can tailor make what you say when you evaluate what you want to say: “Larry, I enjoy working here. What I have a problem with is you don’t tell me what I’m supposed to do, I end up doing your work as well, and I resent you making me do your work, not telling me exactly what needs to be done and not reading or checking my output. I’m not getting paid two salaries – to do my job AND yours! You have totally abandoned me and you don’t care about your job or your work. I resent you making me totally responsible for your work, so that I get blamed for it with your boss. It’s not fair. I need a substantial raise if I’m going to do two jobs. I don’t want to report you to your boss but I will if you don’t start doing your own work and stop dropping it all in my lap. I depend on your work to meet my deadlines, so when I don’t get it on time, it’s very frustrating for me. You MUST learn to work faster and be here on time. Get more alarm clocks and get here at 9 AM, not 9:30 am or 10 am. Perhaps you have a metabolism or thyroid problem, or an energy issue, or maybe it’s a lack of iron, oxygen, amino acids, or enzymes – it could be many things. Perhaps you need to exercise, do cardio, start jogging, and generate endorphins so you have more energy. If I were you, I’d take advantage of your insurance and go have a full checkup including blood work and meeting with a nutritionist. If you’ve got an alcohol and/or drug problem, you need to get into rehab and go to 12 Step groups like AA, CA, or NA. Please take care of this. And please do your own work because I don’t want to report you to HR or to your boss. I like working here and want to continue so let’s cooperate to work productively together.”
If Ned is going to school for an advanced degree or a credential you may want to say this: “Larry, I know you’re also going to school to get your degree and I have a lot of admiration for you to work full time and go to school full time (or part time). However, I find myself getting increasingly annoyed with you because I feel you’re dumping your work on me. The company expects you to do your job, not study on his time when you’re on his time clock. You can study during your lunch hour or during coffee breaks. However, it’s not OK to study during work hours or try to get other people, like me, to do your work for you. I have enough work to do myself without taking on your job load as well. So please do what is expected of you and what you’re getting paid to do. I’d rather not have to report you to our boss or to HR. I know how much your degree means to you. I hope you get all A’s, earn your degree, and find a job that you love and are dedicated to. For your stress levels, I recommend that you take vitamins and exercise in the morning before you come to work to get your energy levels up so you can do both well and efficiently. I enjoy working here and I hope we can resolve this issue and work together cooperatively.”
If things don’t change after you confront Ned, then your other options are to ask for a transfer to another department, tell HR and/or Ned’s boss about the situation, or look for another job in a different company. Good luck!
—Linnda Durré, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, business consultant, corporate trainer, national speaker, and columnist. She has hosted and co-produced two live call-in TV shows, including “Ask The Family Therapist” on America’s Health Network, which was associated with Mayo Clinic and aired from Universal Orlando. She is the author of “Surviving the Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against Co-Workers, Bosses, and Work Environments That Poison Your Day” (2010 – McGraw-Hill). The book’s website is: www.survivingthetoxicworkplace.com
She has been interviewed on Oprah, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Daytime, Good Morning America, Canada AM, and The O’Reilly Factor (twice), and the national and/or local news on ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR, PBS, Fox and CW. She has written for Forbes, CareerBuilder, Monster, A&U Magazine, Orlando Business Journal, and American Cities Business Journals. For more information about her consulting or speaking, contact her at Linnda.Durre@gmail.com and 407-739-8620.