The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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Coworker Issues

My coworker's paranoia causes problems for everyone.

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner:      Mike, welcome to the show.


Mike:               Hi, how are you?


Dr. Kenner:      Very good. Tell me what’s on your mind?


Mike:               One of my coworkers has been giving me a lot of grief at work and all he does is whine. He’s very paranoid. He’s accusing me of influencing other people to give him a hard time. He gives people a hard time and then he turns around and that’s not a problem - horseplay, bust chops - but when they do it to him, he goes running to the office, barking to the boss that we’re harassing him and the boss says that he has issues and we should just be nice to him all the time. So the boss isn’t helping the matter either.


Dr. Kenner:      I don’t know exactly what his “issues” are. I want to make it easier for you, though. Is this a job that you love?


Mike:                Yes.


Dr. Kenner:      What do you do?


Mike:               I’m a mechanic. I’ve been there for 25 years.


Interviewer: So you have a vested interest. And the boss likes you? Appreciates you?


Mike:               Yes.


Dr. Kenner:      And is this a new kid on the block? Is this someone new?


Mike:                Actually I transferred from another facility, so he’s been at this facility longer than I have.


Dr. Kenner:      It’s amazing how one person can make a big difference in the job.


Mike:               We had a new guy that transferred from the facility I was at. This guy came with nothing but rave reviews, and within a month, this guy is nothing but trouble. He tried to get us both fired on his word. I mean, the boss believes him and doesn’t believe us.


Dr. Kenner:      Now what did he accuse you of doing?


Mike:               Harassing him.


Dr. Kenner:      In what way?


Mike:                Staring at him all the time. Telling people to bust his chops. He can go around and do horseplay with all of us, but when we do the horseplay with him, it’s offensive to him. It’s harassment.


Dr. Kenner:      What I’m hearing you need to do is speak with the boss about this, and it sounds like you need to do this as a group. Sometimes you have more success with a few people who are suffering under his rule, this one guy. What’s his first name? You can give a fake name.


Mike:               The guy that is doing it? Tony.


Dr. Kenner:      If you went to the boss and said, “Listen. I know that this has been a problem since we’ve come here and we want to work with you. We want to figure out a way how to make peace here."


Mike:               Tried that.


Dr. Kenner:      You told me you went to the boss the first time and you said he has issues, right?


Mike:                We’ve been to the boss many times. Each time he tells us we’re the problem.


Dr. Kenner:      Why does he think you’re the problem?


Mike:               I’ll give you a perfect example. One day the boss was questioning me on stuff, saying that I should grow up. And my differences to my boss. That afternoon, he brought Tony in and Tony told him what his problems were and what does the boss do? The boss took out a pen and paper and wrote down what Tony’s issues were, and next day he had a service talk to all the employees about his issues.


Dr. Kenner:      About Tony’s issues?


Mike:               Yes.


Dr. Kenner:      What were Tony’s issues?


Mike:                That we should be more courteous to him. That we shouldn’t talk the way we talk to him. We shouldn’t horse around with each other and just do our jobs. A bunch of little issues like that.


Dr. Kenner:      I don’t know why the boss is so invested in Tony, whether Tony is a good worker, whether Tony is a family member or a relative.


Mike:               He’s not a good worker as far as I’m concerned. I can work circles around the guy and so can everyone else.


Dr. Kenner:      Can you find another job? Because you’ve got such a wonderful history, can you move to another location or to go back to your original location?


Mike:               If I moved to any other location, I would be back on nights. I was on nights for 10 years and the reason I went to this location was because I was going to be on days and try and have a family life again.


Dr. Kenner:      Is that working out for you?


Mike:                As far as my home life it is. It’s just -


Dr. Kenner:      Putting up with Tony.


Mike:               Putting up with Tony is aggravating. I come home and I’m stressed out. I’ve taken a couple of stress days just to get away from it. As a matter of fact, I took my wife on vacation last week to Cancun and I was doing stuff at work and then I was in another country! Because other guys were ignoring him, not talking to him, and it’s all my fault. I had nothing to do with work last week. I was in another country.


Dr. Kenner:      What happened at work?


Mike:               Another guy is not talking to him and it’s my fault, because I’m influencing him. This is the boss’ words. I’m influencing these people to do this to Tony.


Dr. Kenner:      I recently went to a conference where you can hire - not you - but the boss can hire an outside psychologist. There are people in this neck of the woods who do this professionally. They come in as mediators and they work in a business to try and work with different factions to try and get them all on the same page and to try to troubleshoot.


Mike:                We have that. I work for the government. I work for the Post Office. We have [inaudible 00:05:45] which is psychologists, but the boss is afraid to call them in because he thinks Tony is going to go over the edge.


Dr. Kenner:      If that’s the case, then your boss is totally wrong. If you have any fear of that, where he could lose it and be a harm to you, you’ve got to call in somebody in advance. You need to be preemptive. You need to be able to anticipate a problem in advance and if you’re a good manager or a boss, you need to get that help in advance. If you know that you cannot manage it, and if you’re just telling everyone to turn the other cheek, then you will have exactly what you’re talking about. The absenteeism, the stress leaves, the tension, the continued conflict. The factoring of different groups. And that’s not healthy for anybody, including the boss.


Mike:               But like last year, in October, Tony had called the CEO or whatever, some person from Providence, the main headquarters in Providence, and all he did is complain about me. All these accusations he made against me and half of them weren’t even my doing.


Dr. Kenner:      You’re probably not the first person. If Tony has worked there for a long time, you’re probably not the first target, meaning the first person he’s had issues with. And so he’s probably made quite a record for himself if he’s as on the edge as you’re describing and he has some history, some dossier. I would recommend going to your boss and seeing if you can get Human Resources involved. Seeing if you can get the psychologist in there to deal with this and take it seriously. I don't think that this is something you should sidestep and I don’t think that continuing to tease him or say anything - I know that it must be very tempting to do that when you feel that frustrated.


Mike:               It’s not because we ignore him and he gets upset because we ignore him. When we don’t talk to him and when we talk to him.


Dr. Kenner:      So it’s a total no-win situation. It can be very provocative to ignore a person. I once had a babysitter who ignored me, who refused to speak with me for an entire day. That was more painful than babysitters yelling at me. So feeling invisible is something that you don’t want to use against somebody who could be a danger to you, but you need to address it at not just your boss’ level if your boss is unwilling to do anything. You need to go over his head. But I would try to go over his head through his head, saying that this is too much. If you have three or four guys who work as mechanics or work in the post office, have them all go over to the boss with examples of exactly what happens. And use a contrast. Compare it to what didn’t happen at the other post office that you worked at, and say, “We got along well here. This person is a problem and I don’t think enabling him, keeping him in here, is doing anyone any good, including himself. He needs professional help and it is way too disruptive on the job for all of us and I think that we can’t just turn the other cheek here. We need to address this head on. Listen Mike, I hope that helps you. Thank you so much for calling.


Mike:      Thank you.