“Georgia” started out as a good employee–or so I thought. When our company grew, I promoted her from executive assistant to Office Manager. That turned into a huge mistake.
Georgia seemed to work hard. I didn’t realize until later that she came in early to research everything she could find in my office and on my computer.
Georgia excelled at worming her way into my good graces, in part because she treated clients very well, and also seemed to develop herself. Clients are the lifeblood of our business, and I’ve always supported employees who want to learn new skills. I spent hours every month mentoring Georgia in grammar, math and marketing. I gave her a small stipend to enable her to take college classes.
The only odd note was that she gave me cards every several months, telling me I was the greatest boss she’d ever worked for. I’m a good boss and was spending extra time with Georgia, but Georgia’s notes always felt a little “over the top.”
I didn’t know at the time that she was doing the same thing with everyone in the office, doing whatever she could to ingratiate herself. I realized she brought brownies and cookies for everyone, but thought she was just being nice, and she seemed to want to “mother” everyone.
She sometimes gave me small plants along with the cards. I didn’t learn until later that she was giving gifts to others as well, and not just for their birthdays, but “just because.”
Fast forward to the second week of March, just before COVID began. Georgia asked me for a personal loan of two thousand dollars. Not only did I not want to loan an employee money, but I didn’t have that much in savings as I’m the sole support for my two children, as well as my mother and aunt.
I felt bad about turning her down, and she took the turn down badly. She felt that because I had a business, I must have money somewhere. When I told her I didn’t, she said that because I had a business, I had the capacity to borrow money. I told her that didn’t make sense, that I didn’t want to borrow money just to be able to lend it to her, that she needed to find a bank and borrow it herself.
She had a tantrum and called me names. She was so out of control that she somewhat scared me. It was told the end of a workday and I told her she could go home early. She called in sick the next day and took sick leave all week, using up her paid leave. When she returned she asked, “miss me?” I said, “of course,” but she seemed to expect more.
Right after that, things got awful. It took me a while to figure it out. At first she was simply chilly, but I didn’t think too much about it. COVID had hit, and we were all dealing with that.
I didn’t know until much later that Georgia started lying about me in various ways to every employee. Even though I had good relations with them, each considered Georgia a personal friend and began to doubt everything I said or did.
It didn’t help that COVID came along, because that also strained relationships with employees as I put everyone on reduced hours, and we could no longer work together in the office.
While I was struggling to keep the business afloat, Georgia was doing what she could to exact further revenge. During the late spring and summer, Georgia reached out to several of my key clients and to every individual I did business with, other than those who were my close friends. Because Georgia had always been friendly and outgoing and had bent over backwards to be personable with all our key clients, they liked her.
She was very subtle with what she said, but told them stories that made them question my business practices and prices. Ultimately, that’s how I learned what was happening, though not before I lost several clients. One client called me, and told me what Georgia had said about me. I called another client who’d fired me and asked about if Georgia had said anything that had led her to doubt me. When I learned what it was, I realized that Georgia had dug through my files.
I finally fired Georgia, which caused an uproar among my staff, but in the process learned how Georgia had made them treasure her. I never saw any of this coming. Nothing like this every happened to me before; how do I make sure nothing like this ever happens to me again?
You fell into what is known as the drama triangle, which has three corners, victim, abuser and rescuer.
Georgia’s regular cards and gifts provided the clue. You sensed that her repeated “you’re the greatest” cards were “a little much” and they were. The drama triangle, a phenomenon that helps unravel many workplace puzzles, gets its name because it is full of drama.
When the drama triangle surfaces in a workplace, supervisors and coworkers wind up in a front-row seats or even on stage, unless they recognize the triangle and exit it.
In the classic workplace drama triangle, an employee finds a “rescuer” boss and takes care of the boss in term. The relationships you describe Georgia developing with you and others also seem to fit the definition of enmeshed, where one person “takes care” of the other person to win favor.
When Georgia “called in her chits” with you, she expected you to “repay” her for what she’d given you and your company. She also saw you as the “white knight” boss willing to invest time in developing her.
Drama triangles are fluid, in that a victim can turn into an abuser and a rescuer can become a victim, as when Georgia lost control and you felt scared.
When you, the “good boss” turned Georgia down, and because she felt you had the power to give her what she wanted, she perceived you as an abuser who had “betrayed” her. She then self-righteously moved into the abuser position.
Georgia may even have had a past pattern of similar behaviors with other employers, given what you said you learned about her sleuthing in your office.
Luckily there aren’t many Georgia. Your best protection?—notice the clues.
© 2020, Lynne Curry
Lynne Curry, Ph.D., SPHR, is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016, https://amzn.to/30V5JO6) and “Solutions”, https://amzn.to/2GYlnAN (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com). Send your questions to her at Ask a Coach at www.workplacecoachblog.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or www.communicationworks.net or follower her on twitter @lynnecurry10.
Subscribing to the blog is easy
If you’d like to get 3 to 5 posts a week delivered to your inbox (and NO spam), just add your email address below. (I’ll never sell it.) I’m glad you’ve joined this vibrant blog. Thank you!