Category Archives: Barbara Jaurequi

Employee Rivalry: Deal with It! 5 Tips for Managing Dueling Staffers

By Barbara JaurequiBarbara Jaurequi

Child Psychiatrist David Levy introduced the term “sibling rivalry” in 1941. Self-explanatory in its terminology, the concept of sibling rivalry is easy to grasp. The mechanism of employee rivalry works essentially the same way, with the employees in a competitive relationship, striving for greater approval from their employer or manager.

Many managers, in a desperate attempt to be perceived as “fair,” find themselves going crazy as they try to distribute praise evenly and acknowledge hard work equally. Moreover, when they are delivering criticism to one, they feel compelled to deliver it to the other, whether he or she deserves it or not, so they aren’t accused of playing favorites. Rivaling employees who are constantly trying to “best” each other don’t always deliver superior work because of their competition. In fact, the animosity they feel towards one another can stifle their creativity and cause them to deliberately undermine their “opponent’s” efforts. Furthermore, the tension between them can corrupt the attitudes of other employees and cause managers to lose objectivity regarding the rivalry.

Managers who recognize troublesome rivalries between two or more valuable staff members, should seek to resolve these rivalries before they upset otherwise harmonious workplaces. The following is a list of tips that are easy to enact. Consistent application of these suggestions is likely to eliminate or lessen the negative impact of employee rivalries.

1) Collect data. Managers should keep their eyes and ears open when milling amongst their staff. Observe the two rivaling staff members as they interact with each other. Notice attitudes, body language, and temperament. Pay close attention to the things that trigger negativity. Write your observations down. See if you can identify patterns of behavior. The important thing is for managers to recognize the symptoms of the problem such as arguing, gossiping and tattling on each other. Total resolution of employee rivalry may not be possible in certain circumstances; that’s when symptom management becomes the goal. Effective management of the symptoms of employee rivalry can significantly improve an otherwise hostile work environment for everyone concerned.

2) Be willing to separate rivaling employees to reduce tension. This particular tip is a good way for managers to solve their rivalry problems with minimal managerial exertion. Consider, for example, that some personalities are very strong and, while not offensive to the majority of coworkers, may grate on the nerves of other employees. It is often like this with rivaling employees: they just don’t like each other. Their dislike for one another causes them to be overly observant about what the other is doing or not doing. They are too aware of the other’s responsibilities, deficiencies, and positive qualities (which are usually deeply resented). Even the most brilliant conflict resolution specialist would not be able to overcome this sort of interpersonal problem, because the problem is personality based and personality traits are enduring aspects of the self. They don’t change. Therefore, managers’ willingness to move people around could help reduce the kind of tension that leads to declines in productivity and employee morale. It may also reduce the number of “tattle-tale” sessions managers have to endure.

3) Know your limits. Managers need to decide how much energy they should spend on the problem of employee rivalry. If it has become a major disruption in the office, managers should address the problem with a plan for resolution in mind. On the other hand, if “conflict resolution” meetings are nothing more than fodder for drama loving gossipers, a simple, private discussion with each of the rivaling employees would be a better way to go. Specifically, don’t make a big deal out of a small matter that might correct itself in time, but don’t ignore a spreading cancer either.

4) Don’t strive for perfect fairness. Managers should not expect themselves to be perfectly fair, as per the opinions of rivaling employees. Rather, managers should strive to treat their employees impartially. For example, if you decide that one employee should be given an extra week to complete a particular project for whatever reason you deem worthy of the extension, then do so. But be prepared to do the same for the other employee if and when that employee needs extra time. However, don’t automatically extend the other employee’s deadline whether it’s needed or not just to be “fair”. Make your decisions on a case by case basis. If one employee comes to you crying “Unfair!” simply tell the employee that he or she does not have, nor is he or she privy to, all the information that went into your decision. Stick to your guns. Be unemotional, calm, deliberate, and firm. Managers should not explain certain decisions or they will open themselves up to an inappropriate debate with a subordinate.

5) Conduct an honest self-appraisal of favortist behaviors. It’s important for managers to be aware of how their behaviors and attitudes may be perceived by those they supervise. It’s only natural for managers to have preferences when it comes to personalities and work habits. You may have a particular affinity for an employee who has, for example, a similar sense of humor as yours. Unintentionally, you may be favoring that person to a degree that is obvious and offensive to your favored employee’s rival. Consider if your preference for one employee over another is personality based or is that employee truly superior in terms of quality of work? If your favoritism is fueled by the former, it would be wise to check that! Better for you to make some behavioral changes than for you to lose a valuable employee who legitimately views your management style as inequitable.

One final thought about conflict resolution: Do some research about best practices before launching into a process with which you are totally unfamiliar. Better yet, get some hands on direction about how to proceed. You will gain indispensable knowledge about how to handle similar situations in the future. Any consulting fees you may pay for such training would be money well spent. You will learn where, when and how to conduct resolution sessions. You will learn how to be objective, judicial, and specific when laying out your directives and expectations and you won’t be blindsided by new cases of employee rivalry in the future as you are sure to encounter them as long as you are managing humans.

Barbara Jaurequi, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Nationally Certified Master Addiction Counselor, speaks on a variety of personal and professional topics and is the author of A.C.E.S. – Adult-Child Entitlement Syndrome, available on Amazon and other online booksellers. A.C.E.S. teaches parents of adult-children how to compassionately launch their adult-children into the world of personal responsibility in a straight-forward step-by-step approach. Contact Ms. Jaurequi by email at Barbara@BarbaraJPublications.com or phone her office at 909-944-6611.

Is Your Co-worker a Jerk, or Does He Need a Doctor?

By Barbara JaurequiBarbara Jaurequi

Most Americans spend the bulk of their waking hours at work. Some say that Americans’ “best” hours are given to their employers. If workers like their jobs and/or workplace, they can accept that reality without a fight. Yet, when employees find themselves working with really difficult people, life at work can be extra trying or downright exasperating!

Why certain people are “really difficult” isn’t always clear. It’s true that some people are simply annoying or interpersonally inept. However, some difficult coworkers may be legitimately mentally ill and in need of professional intervention.

Consider that, according to the National Association of Mental Health, incidences of mental illness in the workplace are not uncommon. The NAMH reports that an estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. For example, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a mental illness that can be well managed when treated properly, occurs in 4% of American adults and mood disorders including Major Depression, Mania and Bi Polar Disorder occur in 9.5% of American adults, all of which can trigger undesirable behaviors in workers. Likewise, certain Personality Disorders, such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), can cause the sufferers to demonstrate symptoms remarkably similar to the personal traits of someone who is simply obnoxious.

Based on the statistics above, it’s not at all unlikely that at some point we may find ourselves working side by side with a person who is clinically mentally ill. Differentiating between clinical symptoms and personal traits can be tricky; only a licensed therapist or a medical doctor should be diagnosing mental illness. Recognizing the difference between people with legitimate Personality Disorders and people with chronic “Jerk-itis” is a bit tougher; you have to know what you’re looking for.

How can workers tell the difference between someone who needs mental help and a garden variety jerk?

ADHD: ADHD can cause sufferers to be irritable, careless, hyper, forgetful, disorganized, extremely talkative and distractible. A non-ADHD “jerk,” however, would not necessarily demonstrate all these symptoms simultaneously. She may talk your ear off when you need to get back to work. She may “forget” to do certain tasks because she’s lazy, rather than careless. She might keep her desk a mess because it doesn’t bother her to have it messy.

Mood Disorders: A mood-disordered individual with Major Depression, for example, may demonstrate excessive lethargy that is chronic and changes little from day to day. A non-Mood-Disordered jerk might just be a slacker and feign low-energy to get out of doing her fair share of work.

Borderline Personality Disorder: People with BPD struggle to maintain stable relationships, including relationships with coworkers. They vacillate between idealizing their coworkers and demonizing them. Borderlines are highly defensive and tend to demonize those who criticize them. Ultimately, they see themselves through the eyes of others and have a very weak sense of self, which facilitates the development of unstable relationships across all relationship sectors. Obnoxious coworkers don’t necessarily have unstable relationships in all realms of their lives. They may take more credit for accomplishments than they deserve; they may brag about their successes. But, once again, those things just make for obnoxious coworkers. It’s important to note that BPD affects a very small portion of the population (approximately 6% per the Diagnostic Statistical Manual IV) so bear in mind that your extremely annoying coworker may not be mentally ill.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder: A person with NPD is different from a coworker who is conceited and selfish. A clinically diagnosed narcissist knowingly exploits others for his own personal gain without remorse because he sees it as necessary to get what he wants. He is miserably unhappy when the spotlight is removed from him. He feels entitled to special treatment and is obsessed with his “wonderfulness.” A non-NPD jerk doesn’t exploit others without guilt or internal conflict. He would typically feel some remorse and shame for exploitive behavior and might even apologize. Narcissists rarely (i.e., never) apologize. A jerk can be fair. He may grumble about certain parameters, but he typically follows the rules. He may brag about himself but doesn’t go out of his way to elicit compliments from others, as would a narcissist. Furthermore, he is not devastated when excessive praise does not come his way. And NPD is fairly rare; only 6.2% of Americans are clinically diagnosed with the disorder as per the Diagnostic Statistical Manual IV.

It’s important to note that other medical problems can cause coworkers to behave in ways that are unusual and concerning or annoying and obnoxious. Brain tumors, head injuries, medication side-effects, hormonal imbalances, and stress can all trigger troublesome behaviors. So it’s important that employers and employees alike not jump to conclusions when suspecting a fellow worker is suffering from a mental illness. If, however, you suspect mental illness in a coworker, subordinate or supervisor, you need to determine if you can or want to handle the challenges presented when working with that person. Keep in mind the following:

  • If a coworker is the problem, it’s best to take suspicions to a supervisor rather than confronting the coworker directly.
  • If a subordinate is the cause of the workplace disturbance, deal with it directly but with sensitivity. Be observational in a non-confrontational way. For example, don’t say “You clearly have a personality disorder” say “I’ve noticed that your attitudes and behaviors change significantly from day to day and I’d like to talk to you about that privately.” Be relaxed when addressing the issue. If a supervisor is relaxed and approachable, suffering staffers are more likely to open up.
  • If the employee acknowledges that there is a problem, help him or her make a plan for recovery and/or symptom management. Talk about some job-related goals the employee can tackle once the disorder is under control. When a troubled employee has something to look forward to, he or she is more likely to follow through on getting necessary treatment.
  • If it’s a really difficult supervisor employees are working with, they may need to consider all their options, up to and including transferring, changing positions or leaving the company entirely.

One last thought workers may want to ponder: if one is currently sane but working in a crazy environment, it may only be a matter of time before he himself becomes mentally ill, or quite possibly, becomes a jerk! It’s better to face the problem head on than expect it to go away on its own because, without help, mental illness gets progressively worse over time. And of course, left unchecked, jerk-like behavior will continue to serve as an energy vacuum in your workplace.

Barbara Jaurequi, MS, LMFT, MAC, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Nationally Certified Master Addiction Counselor, speaks on a variety of personal and professional topics and is the author of A.C.E.S. – Adult-Child Entitlement Syndrome, available on Amazon and other online booksellers. A.C.E.S. teaches parents of adult-children how to compassionately launch their adult-children into the world of personal responsibility in a straight-forward step-by-step approach. Contact Ms. Jaurequi by email at Barbara@BarbaraJPublications.com or phone her office at 909-944-6611.

Employees with ‘Attitude’: How to Reverse the Entitlement Attitude of Your Problem-Staffers

By Barbara JaurequiBarbara Jaurequi

Sherrie is a 25 year-old woman who works for a large mortgage banking firm. As a junior analyst, she receives a generous salary for her few years of experience along with a considerable benefits package. Soon after joining the firm, Sherrie began coming in late to the office at least a few times a week. When her supervisor confronted her about her repeated tardiness, she became defensive, stating that since she can’t control the traffic she should not be penalized for coming in “a few minutes late.” For the rest of the day, Sherrie pouted at her desk, was generally unfriendly and behaved like a victim of unfair criticism.

On another occasion, she was asked to stay an hour past her normal quitting time. She refused on the grounds that she was not given enough notice and that she’d already made other plans that were “unbreakable.” When her manager commented on her unwillingness to help out, Sherrie explained that she felt she should be paid more if she was expected to do the work of other employees. In spite of her mediocre job performance, Sherrie expected to receive a large bonus at the end of the year. When her supervisor explained that her bonus was based on job performance, and that Sherrie would not be receiving one, Sherrie claimed she was being treated unfairly Regardless of how she performed her duties, she believed she was entitled to a large bonus and special consideration for things like tardiness and absenteeism. She ultimately decided to quit her job without giving notice.

Sadly, Sherrie’s attitude of entitlement is not a rarity in the workforce of today, particularly amongst employees under the age of 30. Employers often find themselves playing the part of “cheerleader” with staff members like Sherrie. They fear negative reactions to criticism and tolerate mediocre job performances to avoid dealing with their employees’ poor attitudes. Employers can feel trapped when dealing with attitudes of entitlement amongst their staff members. They endure offensive demeanors to avoid the hassles of retraining new staff, wrongful termination lawsuits and defensive hostile reactions from would-be terminated employees.

Fortunately, reversing course with problem staffers is not as difficult as some employers may think. The following are 5 easy-to-master tips that can turn around negative attitudes and allow employers to assume their proper roles in the workplace:

1) Establish the relationship with each staff member from the very beginning. Employers should not concern themselves with being friends with their employees. In fact, doing so promotes a dysfunctional workplace where roles are ill defined. This leads to power struggles, resentment, and possibly stomach ulcers! Employers need make it clear that relationships with their staff members will, in no way, resemble peer relationships. The relationship between employer and employee works best when the relationship is kind but formal as opposed to friend-like and casual.

2) Don’t over thank employees for doing the jobs they’ve been hired to do. It is fine to express words of appreciation for exceptional job performance from time to time, but it should not be routine. Compliments and words of affirmation mean much more when they are earned. There is a school of thought that for every criticism an employee receives five positive pieces of feedback should follow. Frankly, this practice is questionable at best. It’s important that employees grasp the principal message employers are trying to convey. If employers want to deliver a clear message, disguising it with fluffy compliments will have the opposite effect.

3) Minimize emotional communication. Less is more when it comes to emotional exchanges between employers and staff. Consider this example of a corrective message delivered emotionally with a pleading tone: “I really, really need you to be on time from now on. I know it’s hard with the traffic and all, but please try to be on time.” Now read the same message but delivered unemotionally: “You have not demonstrated that being on time is your priority. I expect you to correct that immediately.” The second example is not harsh, hostile or overly critical. It is simply an honest observation with a clear directive. The first example puts the employer in the role of a child asking for something from an adult. The second example reinforces appropriate roles.

4) Don’t be arrogant or unkind to exert your power. Employers that behave like they are above the need to be courteous only succeed in provoking feelings of resentment and defiant behavior, and can compromise employees’ overall efforts to please the employer.

5) Don’t give universal rewards. Many employers make the mistake of giving all staff members the same reward even when individual performances vary tremendously. For example, if an employer gives each of his sales staff a $500.00 gift card when only a few employees earned the reward, it may demoralize those who worked hard enough to earn the reward and reinforce the entitled attitude of those who did not. Individual incentives tend to encourage extra effort, while group incentives allow slackers to ride on the coattails of others. Group rewards have the potential to further reinforce attitudes of entitlement.

A rule of thumb for employers is to always make their expectations clear, not just in regards to job duties, but also concerning attitude. While changing the culture in any work environment can be difficult and uncomfortable, it is likely to be worth the effort. Remember, if nothing changes, nothing changes.

Barbara Jaurequi, MS, LMFT, MAC, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Nationally Certified Master Addiction Counselor, speaks on a variety of personal and professional topics and is the author of A.C.E.S. – Adult-Child Entitlement Syndrome, available on Amazon and other online booksellers. A.C.E.S. teaches parents of adult-children how to compassionately launch their adult-children into the world of personal responsibility in a straight-forward step-by-step approach. Contact Ms. Jaurequi by email at Barbara@BarbaraJPublications.com or phone her office at 909-944-6611.