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The seasonal worker is disrespecting me

Dear Office-Politics,

I work in a very small office: boss, secretary, maintenance man, two ‘seasonals’ and me. In theory, on paper, I am #2 in charge. You wouldn’t believe it based on how others treat me/act, especially one of our seasonals. Her job is to ASSIST with programming etc. I am in charge of school programming. This means, she exists to assist me (in this case). As it turns out, she is one who goes right to the boss (who seems to favor her) and will say to me outright that she will not do the things I ask her to do. I’ve asked my boss about this, how this person does not respect my seniority and the fact that she is subordinate to me and in this instance works for me. My boss has turned around and said it is all my fault! I was nice to this person when she started here, but she rubs me the wrong way, so I tend to just go about my own business and ignore her. This apparently means that I am the one to blame for all the problems and that I haven’t done anything to earn her respect.

I’m a nice person. I was raised in a military family and taught to respect the chain of command. People like me. I don’t like confrontation. I avoid difficult situations.

How am I supposed to deal with this? My boss is obviously not going to be in my corner if I go to her with yet another example of how this seasonal is disrespecting me and my position.

Am I really the problem here?

Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

Need Respect

jennifer glueck bezoza

Dear Need Respect,

There’s nothing more frustrating than interacting with an individual who is supposed to be your subordinate, but who actively disregards your authority. For someone who considers herself friendly and affable, I would imagine this work conflict is psychologically draining. After all, it takes quite a lot of energy to actively ignore and avoid a co-worker in an environment with just six team members.

The question you pose to Office Politics is “Am I really the problem here?”

For a mature, thoughtful leader such as yourself, it is always a responsible stance to look for the ways that you contributed to the current situation. If you don’t assume responsibility and continue to treat her as if she alone is the problem, I think it’s safe to say you will be stuck in a cycle of blame-passing and bad feelings towards one another.

I think you’re probably right that your boss doesn’t want to hear you share another example of how this seasonal worker is disrespecting your authority. Consequently, I think the best way for you to improve your relationship is to change your mindset and approach towards her. Below are a few thoughts and suggestions to keep in mind when you approach her to clear the air, and share your commitment to forge a better working-relationship.

A shift to inclusive management in today’s workplaces
Hierarchical management has shifted to inclusive management in many organizations today. You mention that you were raised in a military family and taught to respect the chain of command. For better or worse, culture management norms have changed over the last few decades. Today, strategic managers recognize that leadership exists at all levels of the organization, wherever expertise, skill and creativity are found. This co-worker may infer from your tone and requests that you have an expectation for her to be subordinate to you; she may find it demeaning and disengaging. Perhaps if you are to approach this co-worker with a mindset that she has valuable skills and ideas to contribute, in addition to your own perspective, you will be able to forge a new way of working with her.

Generations often enter the workplace with different expectations and norms.

You don’t mention her or your own age, but it is well-documented from generational research that younger workers (Generation X and Y) are often not as respectful of the chain of command as the Baby Boomer generation and Mature generation are. (You may want to pick up the book, Love’em or Lose’em: Getting Good People to Stay by Beverly Kay and Sharon Jordan Evans, which has an entire chapter devoted to generational differences). Assuming you and this co-worker are in different generations, studying her generation may give you greater empathy and new tools for influencing and managing her.

One has to respect and appreciate subordinates to earn employees’ respect and loyalty. While you are technically more senior than this individual, and she should want to follow your lead, she may sense that you don’t like and respect her. For you to forge a better working relationship, you need to find a way to respect and appreciate her. You may have to choose to like her at first; hopefully this will come more naturally with time and rapport established. You will need to take the time to get to know her as a person, and understand what she is passionate about, what she is looking to gain from her work, and where she would like to be in five years. Understanding her first as a unique individual and then as an employee will enhance your ability to relate to and influence her.

I hope these suggestions and ideas prove useful. In my experience, employees more often than not want contribute to their organization, and it’s most productive to assume that is the case. Miscommunications between two individuals can spiral to a place where neither individual intended. My hope for you is that you can find a way to respectfully listen to one another and forge a new beginning. If that fails, you may be able to funnel your requests for this seasonal worker through your boss. This is not ideal, but could be a workable solution.

Best of luck and thank you for writing Office Politics!

Jennifer Glueck Bezoza, MA

Jennifer Glueck Bezoza has an MA in organizational psychology from Columbia University and a BA in psychology and humanities from Stanford University. She currently works in Organizational Development for the largest not-for-profit home health organization in the country where she focuses on succession planning, leadership development and coaching. Previously, she worked for GE Commercial Finance and HR consultant, Towers Perrin.

  1. One Answer to “The seasonal worker is disrespecting me”

  2. I know how that feels, I have been with my company for over 7 years, and now, new employees are being hired that are friends of the managers, and I feel disrespected. Because the receptionists is friends with the manager, she believes whatever she tells her, and doesn’t listen to my side of the story. What do you suggest.

    By Rochelle Russell on Apr 16, 2009

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