Those of us who haven’t been laid off returned to the office two weeks ago. I’m somewhat ostracized; this makes it difficult as I’m new to the team and depend on my coworkers for information.
Here’s what led to this:
On my first day of work in January, “Kevin” approached me, dishing the dirt on my new supervisor, saying he thought I might appreciate the “lay of the land.” After that, he came into my office several times each week, always when our boss was out of the office and closing the door behind him so no one would overhear us.
Kevin told me that our supervisor was an insecure woman who had ruined the positive morale and “vibe” he and other employees had enjoyed under the previous supervisor.
I didn’t know how to take what Kevin told me but listened in case there were kernels of truth in what he told me.
In early February, our boss convened a staff meeting. Kevin sat across from me and winked at me when our boss announced proposed new regulations for clocking in and out, requesting paid time off, and filing documents on the main server rather than on each employee’s computer. I noticed Kevin also winked at others, as if we were all in a conspiracy together against our boss and oppressive new regulations.
At the end of that meeting, our supervisor asked that we each comment on what we thought of the planned regulations. To my surprise, she started with me, saying, “Let’s see what fresh eyes have to say.” I initially said I had no opinion but when Kevin smirked I didn’t like the undercurrent I felt and before the next person spoke, I added that I’d worked in far more restrictive environments and had no problem with the announced regulations.
After the meeting, Kevin came into the office and closed the door and said, “You made it harder on the rest of us, having to file things on the general server.” I responded, “I called it the way I saw it..” Kevin’s mouth tightened, and he said, “I make a better ally than an opponent,” and left.
I then learned Kevin labeled me a “teacher’s pet.” Several employees who had greeted me warmly when I passed them in the hallway gave me cool glances.
I’m not good at office politics and a few weeks later, COVID hit. What do I do now?
Any new employee that hears negative stories about a supervisor needs to ask whether the employee giving the “lay of the land” raises legitimate issues or is a passive-aggressive saboteur. These employees often hold a grudge against their supervisor and act out their unhappiness, by vocalizing their dissatisfaction and attempting to sabotage other employees’ enthusiasm.
Kevin cultivated your allegiance and didn’t like it when you didn’t fall in line. He appears locked in a control battle with your supervisor, and because he views you as in “her camp,” he wants to limit your limit your influence.
Luckily, Kevin’s not very smart because he didn’t predict you’d be an independent thinker. You have three options.
Confront him. When Kevin next chats with you, ask him if he wants to be part of the problem or the solution. Hold him accountable for his dissatisfaction by asking him what he plans to do to improve things.
Worry less. Other than the employees who now react with coolness, Kevin may have fewer allies than you think. Further, the pandemic gives us all greater issues to worry about.
Out him. If your supervisor doesn’t already realize the games Kevin plays, tell her. She called on you first for a reason; perhaps she hoped you’d think for yourself.
What do you do now? You can learn to recognize saboteurs earlier — it’s never a good sign when an employee repeatedly dishes the dirt behind a closed door. You can act, or you may find that Kevin’s games to fall apart on their own.
Finally, Kevin is your supervisor’s problem, not yours. Unless she’s the problem herself, your supervisor needs to ask herself why she allows someone so unhappy to make the work environment toxic for others.
© 2020, Lynne Curry
Lynne Curry is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016) and “Solutions” (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com). Send your questions to her at email@example.com or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.