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Coping with work-related stress

(18 Posts)
magicmummy1 Thu 25-Aug-11 23:09:24

I am a manager, fairly senior position but within a large organisation so there are still quite a few layers of management above me. I get on really well with most of my team, but have been dealing with a particularly difficult team member for over two years now. The root of the problem is that the employee lacks the skills to do her job properly, not just in a few minor areas but in a serious and all-encompassing way. To put it simply, she adds no value to the organisation, and most people regard her as a liability.

My organisation moves at a very slow pace, and although I am going through the capability process with this woman, it keeps getting put on hold for various reasons - because she has taken out a grievance, because she has appealed against something, or because she goes off on long periods of sick leave. She has mental health problems, so we have tried to make reasonable adjustments, we have provided training, additional equipment and all sorts of other support, but nothing seems to make any difference. She just can't do the job.

HR is dictating the pace at which we move, and I feel like I am just a puppet - doing all the dirty work but taking all the flak. I have asked to take her through disciplinary, because she completely ignores all of my insructions, but HR have told me to focus on capability instead.

This woman is incredibly hostile and aggressive towards me, and I know that she has spread all sorts of unfounded rumours about me to others in the organisation. She is very personal and persistent in her attacks, and doesn't hesitate to tell blatant lies about me. Rationally, I don't think anyone really listens to her, but it hurts nonetheless and I feel constantly compelled to defend myself and refute her claims. I have also had to take on a lot of extra work to cover what she should be doing for me, and I am working very long hours as a result.

Basically, my job is making me ill. I feel physically sick when I see her, or read her emails etc, and increasingly when I just think about her. I can't sleep properly, and am getting lots of tension headaches. I can't switch off at the end of the day, and suspect my blood pressure has probably rocketed! I am also suffering from eczema again, after being clear of it for years. sad

I am just feeling so tired and low, constantly on the verge of tears. Friends have advised me to go off on stress-related sick leave, and I know I probably could, but I really don't want to - I just want to get on with my job. I really hate the unpleasantness of it all, and don't want to go to work to fight nasty personal battles. I have never felt this awful about anything in work before.sad

What can I do to keep the stress under control?

haveigotnewsforyou Thu 25-Aug-11 23:25:09

You need to remove yourself from the situation. If you are tired, low and constantly on the edge of tears you are going to do something you regret which could adversely affect your professional standing.

Get yourself signed off. The company has a duty of care towards you. If this woman is making you ill they need to do something about the situation. It may just be the wake up call you need.

cjbartlett Thu 25-Aug-11 23:28:25

There is a massive issue between you and her
Could you request she has a different line manager?

magicmummy1 Thu 25-Aug-11 23:38:18

Do you really think that's the only way, haveigotnewsforyou? I very rarely take time off and would feel a bit of a failure for caving in to the pressure that I think she is deliberately putting me under. I'd feel like I wasn't fulfilling my obligations properly, not only to the organisation but to the other members of my team. I really don't want to let them down, and I don't want to delay the process any more.

My other concern is that the problem isn't going to go away if I go off sick - it will be waiting for me when I get back. sad I am aware that my employer has a duty of care to me, and I do feel that they are failing in this. It has been suggested that the only way of getting them to consider my needs seriously would be to go off sick, but going off just to make them take notice feels like game playing to me, and I don't want to do that.

I feel like I've lost all perspective to be honest, and don't know what I should do.

magicmummy1 Thu 25-Aug-11 23:40:42

CJ, I would love her to have a different line manager, but nobody is willing to take her on!

Bohica Thu 25-Aug-11 23:45:31

Don't go off sick.

I would push the problem from a management prospective, HR can advise you on the correct route but as management you are the eyes & ears of the situation.

If you really feel as rough as you say I would put a call into HR & request another manager (if possible) takes on the responsibility, I would personally push it through HR as quickly as possible if she isn't living up to her role.

Do your staff have quarterly appraisals?

Bohica Thu 25-Aug-11 23:46:02

Sorry about the spelling, I'm tired & on cat duty.

beckybrastraps Thu 25-Aug-11 23:50:22

What does your line manager say when you have raised the issue with her/him? I have had a similar issue with one of my department, and my line manager has been fantastic in supporting me through it.

haveigotnewsforyou Thu 25-Aug-11 23:53:43

This has been going on for two years. Your company/HR department need to up the ante. It sounds they are not taking this particularly serious. If you are as professional as you sound then you probably look as if you are coping with the situation. In reality, you are on a downward spiral. You are stressed. Stress leads to illness. Illness leads to disease. Disease can be terminal. Fact.

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health if not more so. Just because you don't have an illness you can see, hear or feel does not mean you're not ill.

It is not a game. This is your health we are talking about. Perhaps you need to put yourself in the centre of the picture and not this woman for once.

redsun Fri 26-Aug-11 03:31:57

I'm really sorry to hear that you are not only dealing with a stressed employee but an ineffective HR dept.

Does your work offer a confidential helpline that you could call to get some help on this?

Stress is awful.

magicmummy1 Fri 26-Aug-11 09:11:28

Thanks all for your replies.

Bohica, I have already been told that transferring her line management is not an option, but I have asked for my own line manager to play a more hands-on role and hope that he can at least provide some support in meetings etc. I have said that I will no longer meet alone with Christina without a witness, as she lies about what has been discussed.

We only have annual appraisals but I haven't even done one of these with the employee in question because she goes off sick whenever I try to schedule one in. I'm not even trying now, because the capability process has taken over really. As for pushing HR to resolve the situation quickly, I am trying but don't seem able to make them move any faster. Maybe I'm doing something wrong, but if I am, I don't know what I can do to put it right. sad

Becky, thankfully my line manager has been very supportive, and I probably would have quit by now if it hadn't been for his encouragement and support, but he seems as powerless over the pace at which this is all moving as I am.

Haveigotnews, your post made me cry. You're right, I do need to take this seriously and I need to get HR to take my needs seriously. I think it is all a game for them, but it isn't for me, and I owe it to myself and my family to look after my own health first. I am still reluctant to go off sick, but I will have a long hard think about what I can do to protect myself from all of this.

Redsun, you are so right, it is awful. I never imagined it could be so awful. There is some support available through work, which I have accessed, but tbh they weren't that helpful. Maybe I'll try again.

Thanks again for all of your advice & support.

An0therName Fri 26-Aug-11 12:44:28

that is awful -I agree only meet with this person when your line manger is present.
I would suggest going to your GP for a chat though -they won't sign you off if you don't want to but it can give you some perspective on the situation
and do you have an occputaional health department - I would talk to them
BTW you used her name in one of your posts you might want to ask if it can be removed

haveigotnewsforyou Fri 26-Aug-11 15:47:20

Oh, magicmummy I didn't mean to make you cry! The fact that you did means that I have hit a nerve.

In the past, I have worked for some very difficult people with huge workloads and little support. I know exactly what you mean when you say that you can't even look at her and are on the verge of crying all the time.

If you take some time out, you create space and will gain clarity. If you believe in your heart that the solution will come to you it will. There is a message here and you need to understand it to move on. It might mean you need a new job in the company, a new job in a new company, putting your foot down with HR by no longer refusing to manage this woman or staying where you are and approaching the situation differently. Only you know what is right for you.

Also, taking time off is not copping out. In fact, I think it is more admirable to hold your hand up and say, "STOP! I'm not up with this any longer. SORT IT OUT HR!!!". it's amazing how quickly some people move with the short sharp shock treatment. You could find this is resolved within two weeks. If you stay as you are it may be two years.
Same action = same result
Different action = result

Let us know what you decide.


haveigotnewsforyou Fri 26-Aug-11 15:49:09

Meant to say...
Different action = different result

BerylStreep Sun 28-Aug-11 00:19:56

OP, I will reply only on your first post - I haven't read through the other replies yet, as I wanted to give a completely off the cuff response. Will read responses later and will come back to you again.

I can sympathise - I have been there, and come through it! I had a member of staff who was completely useless, and had been mismanaged for years. I'm sure if you search under my MN name, there must be related threads. I was tearing my hair out - not only was I having to make copious notes about all action I was taking in relation to her, I was also having to do her work, as well as my own. She was completely antagonistic towards any form of 'development'. I had a useless manager (he still is useless!) who basically left me to it, with no support. I had all sorts of allegations of bullying etc - however my meticulous records stood me in good stead.

I stuck with it, and although the outcome was not exactly as I wished (she was transferred from my unit, and then took early retirement 6 months later), I was absolutely elated when she moved from my team (I literally popped champagne, and got quite drunk in celebration blush).

However, the long-term impact has been that the rest of the staff in the department know, in no uncertain terms, that I am not a walk over, and I have had no issues with any other staff since.

Honestly, bloody staff angry. The saying is true - 10% of your staff will create 90% of your work.

BerylStreep Sun 28-Aug-11 00:52:35

OK, having now read the rest of the thread, I think you need to up the ante.

Can you do the appraisal in her absence? e.g. 'I invited X to conduct her annual appraisal, however she failed to attend, having gone off sick, this being the Xth time this has occurred. I therefore am appraising this staff member in her absence and will be sending the document to her home address by post....'

Can you get someone else in your organisation to mentor you in this, who is removed from your line manager? They might be able to give a more detached view on things - remember, your line manager just thinks this is more work for him / her.

You also need to be firm with your HR Dept - don't let them dictate the pace - if there are clear disciplinary issues, these should (and must) be dealt with as such, and can be done in tandem. What do your policies say?

Finally, in terms of your health - I completely get your state of mind - you don't want X to claim victory because you have gone off sick, and you also care about the job that needs done. Having said that, this has been going on for over 2 years, without resolution (let me guess, are you, like me, public sector?), and it is taking a toll on your health. I would be inclined to agree with the previous poster that your illness may precipitate prompter resolution of this issue, (as perverse as that may be).

You also need to find a way of distancing yourself from this woman, in your own mind - I know, easier said than done - but objectively, your role is to manage, and that is what you are doing. Her negative reaction, is her problem and says a whole lot more about her than it does about you.


wompoopigeon Tue 30-Aug-11 21:09:31

Just to say
a) I really really feel for you, and indeed I left my last company because I was so stressed by a similar situation. I felt sooo relieved.
(sorry that may not be very helpful for you!)
b) you named her on Friday which isn't a great move unless you were clever enough to use a fake name! Just don't want you to get in any more stress. If you report it to MNHQ they will remove it for you.
c) could you ask formally for your line manager to take over her management, given that you cannot make headway with her?

LoveBeingAtHomeOnMyOwn Tue 30-Aug-11 21:52:39

Hi op

I remember those days with a shudder, some people really manage to drag it out don't they. It's very hard going when you are the one on the front line with it. The employee basically thinks it's all you, you get all the pressure from line managers and HR and basically get stuck in the middle.

Does your company have an employee support system? Have you told your line manager how this is starting to make you feel? Do you have 1-2-1 HR support or does the person advising vary?

One thing that does concern me is your comment about her annual appraisal, I know you said she goes sick when it's booked but it is really important that normal processes that everyone else would have are still completed. One thing that worked well in similar circumstances was getting the person to complete the paperwork prior to the meeting for you to review and then discuss. It's also another way for an action to be set that can be tangible if she does not achieve it.

It is draining. Part of the reason it bothers you so much is because you care about your job, maybe a little too much where this person is concerned. I speak as someone who has been grately affect by employees previously, crying and stressed at home included.

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