Q: I’ve been the supervisor of a small medical clinic for the past couple of years. Unfortunately, I’m having a problem with a secretary who’s been with the company for two decades. She isn’t entirely truthful, and often embellishes the severity of incidents and starts office gossip. Most recently, in talking to another co-worker about some instructions I’d left one day when I was running late, she made it sound like I’d put a huge load on her and she had “fixed” it when in reality I’d offered to do whatever was necessary to get the work done. Many of my co-workers have commented on her sneakiness, but won’t let me confront her on it because they don’t want to be singled out as having “tattled” on her. How should I handle this situation?
A: By not challenging your employee’s behavior you are implicitly condoning it, and the longer such behavior goes unchallenged, the harder it becomes to address. Calling attention to her actions is the right thing to do. The key here is to address the specific problem, rather than criticize her general behavior. The next time your co-worker “embellishes” a situation you’re personally involved with, ask to speak with her in private. Be sure to bring along any available documentation supporting your version of the situation. Then carefully lay out the details of what happened and explain why you’re frustrated: “Marge, your description made it appear as if I’d dumped extra work on you, when really I’d offered to work through lunch or stay late to relieve you of the burden. You and I both know this.” Finally, inform her that if it happens again, you’ll take things further: “Next time I’ll have to make this part of your evaluation. Are we clear about this?” Concluding with the question is important, because this establishes that you both understand exactly what will happen if the situation reoccurs. Good luck.