June 19, 2018

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When performance is not the issue

Dear Joan: I am searching for some information and advice on an employee I have. I am at a loss for what my next step is. I can’t fault this employee for anything regarding DOING her job. She does her duties well and in a timely manner. I can always count on her for that. The problem I am having is with her personality.

I noticed almost immediately after her arrival here, that she would try and force a friendship with me, to the point that she would drop in unannounced at your house on the weekends (even when you never told her where you live). And she would always call - just to chat. She started to bring me small gifts and my children small gifts. It was all very uncomfortable.

While I am friendly with all my employees, I try and keep my personal life separate from my job. In the past, I have been good friends with fellow employees and it always backfired. So, I tried to speak with her about it being unnecessary to do such things. None of it worked. Finally, out of frustration, I just started withdrawing from the situation. Since that time, she has "laid off" me and moved on to others.

At that point, her paranoia started to become apparent. Pretty much on a regular basis she would ask me whether or not I was going to fire her. I tried to calm her fears on that subject. None of it worked.

Then, it started getting back to me that she was talking about me behind my back -- and none of it nice. She would complain about every action I took, whether it regarded her, her job, or her division, or not. I tried to speak with her about that. She became very hostile and started shouting that if I wanted her gone to just fire her. It was a very ugly situation. At that time, I wrote her up for her behavior.

Once I was able to speak with her when she was calmed down she expressed to me that she felt like I was trying to get her to quit. Which is the farthest from the truth - as far as her job goes; she is one of few people I can count on. I tried to reassure her that was not the case. But, again - none of it worked. But, I feel like this all stems back to her trying to be my friend. I have tried dropping comments about how I feel toward office relationships. I don't know how to explain the reasons for not being her friend. Nor do I think I should have to.

Sadly, I am now convinced that she is suffering from some disorder that affects her thinking and behavior. I have noticed symptoms of bi-polar and paranoia. I have also had a half a dozen other employees bring certain traits of hers to my attention. I don't know what to do. I do not want to see her go but I want to see her get the help she deserves. And I need some peace in this office. Not only for myself but for all concerned.

I admit I am sure I have not handled the situation to the best of my ability. I have never had to deal with this situation. Please help. What could I have done better? What can I do? What can I say?


She needs professional help, so stop kicking yourself for not handling her correctly. On the contrary, I think you handled the situation quite well, given the circumstances.

If you have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program), I recommend an immediate referral. They will be able to recommend someone who can diagnose her behavior and direct her to a qualified person to help her.

If you don’t have an EAP, suggesting that she get some counseling could backfire. Given her paranoia, she is likely to overreact and explode, just as she has in the past. She will probably think that this is a validation of her worst fears.

Instead, I recommend a straightforward, consistent approach that includes telling her exactly what behavior is problematic and how it is hurting her. Beating around the bush with her hasn’t worked, so clearly explain why you aren’t friends with employees. Tell her that her work is excellent and you would not want to lose her. Explain that her constant need for reassurance is unnecessary and time consuming. Tell her that you will have one-on-one meetings with her each week, to go over her work and give her direct feedback, if she feels it would be helpful. Summarize your conversation and send her a copy.

As an added step, and to be certain that she is on track, you may also want her to summarize your weekly meetings with a brief summary emailed to you. Explain, “Since it seems as if you and I are on different pages—for instance you think I am trying to fire you—I’d like you to summarize our meeting each week, to make sure you and I have a clear understanding of what we discussed and any action plans you have agreed to do. That way, I can verify that we are in agreement and you won’t worry unnecessarily.”

If she continues to have outbursts or other inappropriate behavior, document it and call it to her attention immediately.

If she can’t turn it around and continues to be a serious disruption, I would tell her, “I feel it is only fair to tell you what could happen if this continues. You could lose your job. I hope you won’t force me to do that.” If she doesn’t seek treatment and the behavior continues, all you can do is react to the behavior she displays. Don’t mistakenly think that you can’t fire her because her work is well-executed. Behavior at work is just as much a part of performance as the technical outcomes. Sadly, she is self-sabotaging and I suspect this is exactly how the story will end. You can only hope that she will get help before her self-fulfilling prophecy plays out.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, customized training (leadership skills, presentation skills, internal consulting skills & facilitation skills), team conflict resolution and retreat facilitation. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (800) 348-1944,, or