Working with a difficult employee who is the boss's favorite can feel like an impossible situation. Their conduct, performance, or engagement with the team is unacceptable and compromising your ability to do quality work, but when you share your concerns with the boss it falls on deaf ears. The best way to deal with this situation is focus on solutions within your control instead of waiting for your boss to take action.
Start a file on your computer that catalogues and time stamps your interactions with the difficult employee, as well as your interaction with your boss regarding that employee. You can also make notes on what you observe indirectly. The situation may degenerate to the point where you decide to go above your boss's head for support, and having documentation of the problems is crucial for making your case.
Seek legal counsel, alone or with your coworkers, in the event you witness misconduct or transgression of industry compliance from either the difficult employee or your boss's behavior related to that employee. Depending on your company, you may have access to in-house legal counsel. Additionally, any professional organizations or associations you belong to may have legal counsel as a member benefit.
Speak with the difficult employee directly. While confrontation is unpleasant, it is necessary to discern if the individual is aware of the effect she is having on the team and her willingness to make adjustments. In some cases, the difficult individual may not realize the effect she is having on the team and will correct her own behavior. In other cases, the individual doesn't care or is purposefully behaving in a difficult manner for her own agenda.
Confront your boss as a team about the individual's behavior. It is easy to justify individual grievances, however, when the team speaks as a cohesive unit. The boss will hopefully see the extent of the difficult individual's effect and may be motivated to act out of fear of a strike or walk out.
Search for a new job if the situation doesn't improve. A difficult employee at the very least will compromise your engagement, and at the very worst may actively work to damage your reputation or career prospects. Remember that searching for a new job doesn't have to mean leaving the company. Human Resources should be able to help you identify other open roles within the company for which you are qualified.
- Remain professional at all times, even if the other party is acting unprofessionally.
- Don't share too much personal information in the presence of the difficult employee; you don't know if or when it may be used against you
- Special treatment from the boss in the face of mitigating circumstances may indicate an inappropriate relationship, blackmail, or your boss's personal agenda.
Nacie Carson is a professional development speaker and author who focuses on career evolution, entrepreneurship and the Millennial work experience. Carson's writing has been featured in "Entrepreneur," "Fast Company," "Monster" and "Chicken Soup for the Soul." Her book on adapting your career to the changing job market, "The Finch Effect," was published with Jossey-Bass in May 2012.