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How do I deal with a co-worker who refuses to tow the line?

Tagged as: Troubled relationships<< Previous question   Next question >>
Question - (30 August 2014) 4 Answers - (Newest, 10 October 2014)
A male United Kingdom age 36-40, *ark1978 writes:

Hi gang,

Im used to answering questions on here rather than asking them, so here goes. Its not actually strictly a relationship question but it is effecting my relationship due to stress and worry.

I work as an office manager for a small charity and have a team of volunteers that I manage and a group of trustees who are running the wider organisation above me. The organisation puts on performing arts in a rented room and provides a licenced bar at both our own events and at other functions.

Managing volunteers is tough as its not the same as managing paid staff. Volunteers have to be offered work and made to feel rewarded and its very hard to enforce discipline when someone can walk away any time they get fed up. If truth be told I lucked into the job as I was a volunteer with a bit of management experience (but never actually had staff - I wasn't asked so didn't tell in the interview) and was therefore offered the job. Iv been in the role a few weeks and I am part time and minimum wage BTW. I admit to feeling out of my depth and im hardly a natural born leader. I took the role as I was unemployed and would be a fool to turn down the offer of a paid job!

Ive already had an issue with an individual but feel lost as to how to deal with it. Here is a bit of background...

A person who runs the bar, lets call him Bob, had a huge fall out with one of our trustees who I will call Jim. They hate each other over things that happened a long time ago. For the most part they stay out the way of each other and that's not much of an issue.

However Bob, who runs the Bar, refuses point blank to have anything to do with any Bars that Jim has anything to do with. Therefore I am stuck in the middle. For instance if we put on a bar at an event or for another charity, at Jims insistence, then Bob refuses to have anything to do with any beer which is delivered or any clean up. So I have to unlock the cellar and deal with the beer and as I don't have a key have to disturb the key holder from the organisation we rent the room from. This causes friction between our organisation and the one we rent the room from. There time is wasted as well as mine and its even less their fault than it is mine.

Bob looks for any excuse to bring up the past and look for fault with Jim and bears a big grudge.

Yet Bob IS superb with the bar management and well liked generally. He has his group of own volunteers for his bar and they obviously take his side and have only heard his side of events relating to Jim.

Im caught between Jim and Bob. I have no real issue with either of them personally BUT as office manager I shouldn't be unloading beer barrels and running back and forth to open the cellar. Neither should I be lumbered with getting covered in beer by pegging the barrels either as its unprofessional to stink of booze and be stained and grubby. Yet Jim wont do it and doesn't usually come to the office, and Bob refuses at its "one of Jims".

There is no way the two of them will ever get on and that's fair enough up to a point as I cant make them like each other. They wont speak or communicate - Yet Jim is above me and I cannot tell him what to do and he does have a habit of organising things with an air of "oh Mark will sort it out..." While Bob is a volunteer who is suffering depression and won a tribuneral and claims that doing anything that's "Jims" will make him ill.

My question therefore, what the fuck do I do?! I cant make Jim change his ways as he is nearly 80, set in his ways and built the business from scratch 20 years back. He is the boss in honourary terms. Bob is a brilliant bar manager, done a lot to make us more profit and have less wastage and really has good contacts in the brewery industry, plus he is willing to work long hours for no pay including most weekends. replacing him will be tough if he walks out.

Jim will not take kindly to me, a much younger guy with little experience telling him to change his ways. Bob would go mad if I even suggested working on anything that Jim is responsible for.

The main issue is bob wont let go of the past. Wont move on and refuses to acknowledge Jims existence other than to slander him and slag him off. Im giving up so much time and energy doing things which are not my job and therefore need to find a solution.

We ALL need to be working to the good of the wider team, the organisation, rather than refusing to do something because it was signed for or agreed with someone they don't get on with.

I cant afford to loose Bob who can just walk out and leave us in the shit at any time, but don't know how to even begin to turn this around.

I know for a fact that if bob walks away, so would so many of his volunteers who see him as the hero and nasty old Jim as the villain. So I wouldn't just loose HIM but also many others. Jim may be the boss in name but the group of trustees would pass an issue round between them for ever and a day, each claiming so and so will help. Oh crumbs. HELP!

If my question is confusing I apologize. Let me give an example to clarify:

Imagine I run a second hand car dealership and Jim cleans/valets the cars and Bob sells them to the customers. Bob and Jim fall out and REFUSE to reconcile. Bob refuses to sell cars that Bob has cleaned but I cannot afford to loose him from the business as he is the best car salesman in the land. Jim is above me so I cannot stop him cleaning cars that Bob refuses to then sell. Check Mate.

Any advice would be most appreciated.


View related questions: co-worker, move on

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A female reader, TreeDweller New Zealand +, writes (10 October 2014):

I actually have a very similar role at my job (after volunteering fell into managing a community space overseen by a trustl) and have a constant issue with an older generation of folks having a huge sense of entitlement over the space here.

Because they have been here for EVER they know the building in a way I don't and are unreasonably stubborn in their views in things which tend to be pretty polarised between being very much on board and having contempt for any change or things done by people they don't support.

I have been getting mentoring from a woman who runs a help service for NFP's and her advice was to arrange a meeting laying down the problems and how things need to change to get beyond them. i'm not sure if for you it would work better to do this one-on-one with each chap involved, or acting as a mediator. Either way you need to be pretty frank about how your work is being undercut by these issues, separating the actions into:

1/ Things that have to change and the non-negotiables that they need to accept

2/ Things that need to change and they can have input what those changes are

It is difficult because people do become part of the furniture and it is horrible to be the intermediary in a conversation relying on a wholy historical context that you weren't there for but sometimes you can't really solve things without looking like a dick. The reality is that because they are set in their ways the whole 'change management' thing has to be laid out firmly because they might be a bit irrational and pernickity about the whole thing but damned if they will admit it.

Not sure what help that it but after I read this and it all sounded so disturbingly familiar I thought it may benefit you to know this isn't an isolated case!

At the end of the day the trust should be supporting (through good governance) the work that you, as the manager, are doing operationally day-to-day. Perhaps you need to have a clear discussion with Jim about the strategic direction of the charity and that if you are a living example of the vision for its work what that looks like.

What I have found so far is that if you choose to be kind and diplomatic in how things play out people will generally recognise that you are doing what you are doing for the good of the organisation, sometimes you have to get a little firm with people, but ultimately if it achieves the thing you are working for as the 'big picture' they will make a little fuss, then behave a little better.

Good luck!

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A female reader, Share Bear United Kingdom +, writes (31 August 2014):

Share Bear agony auntHi Mark,

I think the comment about getting Bob to sit down with you and discussing where things aren't working is great. Could you actually explain to him that for things to work there's a cog missing in the machine- i.e. to pick up all the work which you've had to cover yourself! -and ask Bob if there's anyone that he could bring in as an 'apprentice' who could fill in the gaps and also eventually help Bob out with cover for all the long hours he puts in with no pay?

Just thinking that this means;

Bob gets to recommend who he could 'bring on board' to have his back- so he buys into the decision and chooses someone that he could work well with.

You no longer have to cover the extra work caused by the rift.

Bob gets some support when he's already doing a lot.

You end up with a 'back up' who will learn the role/ get to know bob's contacts who can step into Bob's role if he for whatever reason he ever decides to walk out in the future. You need a contingency!

And one of your volunteers gains more experience working with 'hero Bob' -and which they might use on their cv towards applying for paid work in the future.

It could be very hard to read the riot act of 'responsibilities' to Bob when he's not even being paid! So I think you may benefit more by working with him and bringing in another volunteer to act as a middle-person coordinator.

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A male reader, Mark1978 United Kingdom +, writes (31 August 2014):

Mark1978 is verified as being by the original poster of the question

Mark1978 agony auntAnon thanks for the great advice. Part of the issue, which you yourself seem to be also facing, is a feeling of slight bewilderment at office politics. Don't get me wrong after close to 20 years at work I understand it, but now I have to manage it. Personally I feel out of my depth. Office politics is so hard to navigate!

I don't really have any experience of managing staff and now im in a situation where im managing a big team of volunteers. To come straight in with no training or support IS a big thing for me. I look younger than I am and lack confidence in some situation that doesn't help my cause. I have a trustee who comes in effing and blinding because of personal issues effecting his mood, another volunteer who probably has mild aspergers and applied for my job but didn't get it. So he is in a right mood. Plus I went from being a fellow volunteer to being the manager so theres an element of some thinking "oh Marks one of use he wont mind If I sit here doing jack shit..."

Anyway thank you for the great advice. I think tomorrow I will be more assertive. More time managing and less time crying in the toilet. More willingness to get stuck in and less inclination to hide behind my mommies skirt. On second thoughts I might go back to being a paper boy. Ahhhhh!


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A male reader, anonymous, writes (30 August 2014):

I can feel your pain. I've just bought a business myself and I'm struggling to navigate the office politics!

Reading your question, Bob seems to be the problem. Jim is doing his job and arranging events, but it's Bob who is screwing things up.

I understand that as he's a volunteer there's nothing to stop him just walking away, however you've got to handle this properly. I'd would approach Bob and let him know that his behaviour is causing a problem. It isn't your job to do the bits of his that he doesn't want to do. Ask him if he can see any way around this, given that Jim is doing what he's supposed to. Tell him that you are no longer willing to cover for him by doing his job. Make sure that you keep a record of the meeting (have a witness present if possible) and ideally get him to sign the minutes of the meeting.

Bob can then choose to continue avoiding parts of his job and when events go wrong, it will be his responsibility. You can then start the disciplinary procedure (the organisation should have a written procedure in place, if not contact an HR firm or talk to citizen's advice about setting one up).

Otherwise Bob can choose to do his job (with good grace or not) and then you've sorted out at least one problem. The other result is that he could just walk away and you' may lose some staff as well. In that final case, you've got the records to show that you tried to resolve the issue and in the end it was Bob's choice to leave.

It might also be an idea to cc the trustees after your meeting to make sure that they are all in the loop (don't go into details, just give them the heads up).

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