OD Chatter: Fed-up with Madam


Dear OD Chatter,

I am a supervisor and have an employee ‘Madam Not-reasonable’ who, no matter how poorly she does her job I am blocked from doing anything about it by my bosses.

My manager said that I am picking on her but no I am not. Other employees, who complain about having to pick up the slack due to her poor performance, are sending emails to me with photos of the incomplete work.

I have coached her, re-trained her, sat down to explain how difficult it is for other employees in our department when she doesn’t do her work, and I have even tried my best to get her to see our client’s point of view when they have to see her un-completed work (we work in the hospitality industry) and nothing is working. This causes everyone else in our department to work harder if their shift follows hers so I have to deal with their anger. She is the only employee with whom I am not allowed to write-up, or suspend. Plus causing other problems and I am sometimes accused by my staff of giving her favored treatment!!

My question is this: what are my options when my bosses see the photos, read the other complaints and still tell me that I’m picking on her? I am concerned that when this blows up it will somehow all be my fault! What should I do?


Fed-up with Madam

Pottstown, PA

Dear Fed-up with Madam,

I can hear the pain in your question and from what you share, you are willing to coach your direct reports toward building their skills and at minimum to open their eyes to the effect their work has on the overall department and organization.

Somehow and for some reason that is not openly visible to you there is a dynamic between ‘Madam Not-reasonable’ and your management team/ company. There is certainly a reason why you are prevented from taking the same coaching or disciplinary action with one direct report that you exercise with your other direct reports. More concerning is the comments from your boss that you are picking on ‘Madam Not-reasonable’ and this is where we will start.

Try writing out your concerns on paper in preparation to sit down with your boss. You want to list dates, times, who was involved, and details of incidents (what did or did not happen), results (what the actions or lack of actions caused), and why these results are concerning. In your listing, be sure of two things:

  1. Do not to list anything that is open to interpretation or opinion. For example, don’t list why ‘Madam Not-reasonable’ does or does not do her work just keep to the facts.
  2. Do not list any opinions of your own, stick to the facts only. No comments that start with “I feel…” or “I think…”

The key here is to eliminate the appearance of your personal emotions from what is happening in the workplace situation.

Once you have made a clear picture of the situation on paper and have had the time to collect the necessary supporting documentation such as other employee complaint emails you are ready to schedule the meeting with your boss.

Be prepared that you may walk away from the meeting without gaining any solid, concrete answers that tell you why you are forced to treat her differently. Answers are only part of your objective. Your greater objective is to remove the connotation that you are picking on ‘Madam Not-reasonable’ or that you are personally vested in what is happening to and with her. Keep everything in a business tone.

During the meeting ask your boss questions like these:

  • What do you suggest to improve her work performance,
  • How would you, if you were in my shoes, deal with the disgruntled co-workers in the department who are complaining about having to work harder on shifts that follow ‘Madam Not-reasonable’, an
  • How should I handle the employees who feel that she is being treated more favorably then they are?

Be clear with your boss that you are open to suggestions because you have used everything you can think of doing that is permissible under your boss’ guidelines.

Hopefully your boss will open up and share the full situation. If he / she does not do that and they maintain that you turn a blind eye to her underperformance then I want you to do this: look your boss directly in the eyes and ask why this employee is permitted to be treated differently from other employees in your department.

If you still do not receive answers, then before the meeting ends, ask your manager to give you something in writing that expressly states that you are to treat ‘Madam Not-reasonable’ differently. Explain that you do not want to do anything that could come back to hurt the company or cause a complaint of favoritism that could derail your career.

If your boss does indeed send you an email to the fact that ‘Madam Not-reasonable’ is to be treated differently, then there may be a legal reason for allowing this to happen that can’t be shared openly with you. At minimum that email record will release you from future liability and will give you something to stand upon should a legal issue crop up.

Thank you for sending us your workplace questions!

OD Chatter


Debra Dee Bradford

OD Chatter is written by Debra Dee Bradford, CHRO of ODL Business Partners, Inc. (www.odlbp.com) an HR consulting firm specializing in organizational development and leadership training. She can be reached at dbradford@odlbp.com. Or, send your workplace related questions to OD Chatter at marlenab@odlbp.com.


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