Devilish Employees: They’re a Year-Round Threat

Managers say the ghouls and goblins who traditionally show up on Halloween can strike at any time in the workplace. In fact, some spend about one-fifth of their time untangling personality conflicts among co-workers.

Certain problem behaviors haunt executives throughout the year. A poll of 150 senior executives from the nation’s 1,000 largest companies revealed that 18 percent of their time is wasted resolving staff conflicts.

The survey was developed by Accountemps, the staffing service for accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals.

Here are some common workplace goblins and tips on managing them:

  • The Ghost Employee — This employee is away from the office — a lot —and can’t be found when you need him. These ghostlike figures appear only occasionally for meetings or group events. This behavior will change only if managers regularly remind the entire staff of the importance of being accessible, Accountemps advises.

  • The Witch’s Brewer — This employee concocts microwave lunches that can drive their co-workers out of the building. Managers shouldn’t single anyone out, but tell everyone that it’s hard to concentrate when they’re overcome by pungent food smells coming from the next cubicle.

  • The Office Spook — This doomsayer can’t stop the scare tactics, describing the boss as the devil himself and spreading tales of workload woe. “If you think we’ve had it tough so far, just wait …,” she may be heard to say. Managers should address this employee individually.

Accountemps advises addressing small problems quickly, before they fester into full-blown crises.

Rosemary McCaslin, a professor of social work at California State University, San Bernardino, told the Wall Street Journal that older employees can mentor new professionals, explaining the expectations of the office and helping them adjust. These veteran staffers can also mediate meetings to discuss workplace conflicts as soon as they start, before both sides are too entrenched.

Some experts have suggested that workplace conflicts often crop up between two people with similar personalities. According to David Hardcastle, professor of social service administration at the University of Maryland, if these employees are forced to work together, their disagreement may be resolved because similar personality types often do things the same way.

Managers should coach employees so that they can resolve their own conflicts, according to Cheryl Stinksi and Karen Dorn of Alternatives Resolutions, Inc. of Appleton, Wis. They advise coaching employees to do more listening than talking. Conflict resolution is 80 percent listening and 20 percent problem-solving.

"It's a curious thing to watch two people in conflict resolution. First the animosity is so thick, you could cut it with a knife," said Cynthia Brownstein, associate professor of social work at Bryn Mawr College, in the Wall Street Journal. "Gradually, they begin to recognize that the psychological harm caused by the conflict is really debilitating for both people."

Employees who work out their differences often "truly respect and admire the very person they disliked so much before," Brownstein said.

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