You need to stop. Really. — Coping with that annoying co-worker

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“Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.” Billy Madison, the movie 1995

That line from Billy Madison is one of my all time favorite quotes. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear or read it, I literally laugh out loud.

There is a lot of literature out there on how to handle a co-worker that might harass or bully you but what about if they are just generally annoying. You know the one that tells the never ending joke and you just want to scream, “You need to stop. Really.”  Then there is the co-worker that rambles endlessly about their credentials and why they are too good for this job or how they could do the bosses job better than they can and so on and so on… While you’re standing there trapped at the water cooler thinking, “Then QUIT. Do us all a favor and QUIT for goodness sakes!”   It isn’t appropriate to call them an idiot, although inside you are just dying to.  Your need to pay the mortgage and afford groceries supersedes the satisfaction you think you might get if you just finally unleash.  While on some level this is pretty comical, when you are actually dealing with such an annoying coworker daily it can create a tremendous amount of anxiety for everyone on the team.

Managers need to be aware of the real stress this causes their team.  The advice I’m about to give isn’t earth shattering, I know. However, all too often, as managers of people, we dismiss employees coming to us with complaints about the random musings of that annoying co-worker.  Rather, managers should pay attention because it negatively affects productivity and can eventually drive some of your most quality team members to new jobs. Stress has a direct negative impact on absenteeism, as you know. In turn, absenteeism is also detrimental to productivity and your company’s bottom line.  So what do you do?

  1. Encourage employees who work through lunch to take their lunch breaks.  If at all possible, encourage them to leave their desks and have lunch away from the building. Even if it means sitting on a bench at a nearby park. The fresh air will do wonders to help them relax and release some of the stress. They will come back to work refreshed and ready to take on round two of Ms. Annoying Co-Worker.
  2. Promote your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP).  EAP programs are not just for face to face counseling and their services are grossly underutilized. They offer free team building exercises you can use with your team and online materials to help educate staff on how to cope with a number of life issues. There is usually a phone counseling option available as well. In my experience, EAP counselors take their commitment to confidentiality very seriously so you can feel comfortable opening up to them. The service is invaluable and usually free to employees up to 10 or so sessions.
  3. wellnes. Wellness. WELLNESS. Your HR department probably has a wellness program that isn’t promoted well.  Call them and ask. If there isn’t one, suggest that one gets started and volunteer to contribute to making sure a wellness program gets implemented.  The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or Obamacare) offers incentives to employers who promote real wellness initiatives. Regardless of the controversy surrounding it, PPACA is coming to town as of 1/1/15. Employers might as well get on board and benefit from the promotion of wellness programs.  The savings to employers is estimated to be up to $6 for every $1 invested in about 3 years.
  4. Handle the performance issue.  An employee who is as much of an irritant as the person in the example above can not possibly be very productive or effective at their jobs.  Don’t be afraid to address the productivity issue with that employee and manage their performance by being clear in regards to your expectations, goal setting and holding them accountable. The other team members will respect you for showing true leadership and not ignoring their concerns.

Buena suerte (good luck) dealing with your Billy Madison today. We all have at least one.

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