1. Business

Career Q&A: Go to management with concerns about 'obsessive' co-worker

Q: One of my co-workers makes me very nervous. I was hired four years ago after "Dennis" convinced management that he needed additional help. Dennis has worked here for 18 years and is responsible for tracking complex projects.

From the beginning, people warned me that Dennis was obsessive, withdrawn and hard to communicate with. Nevertheless, we worked well together for three years. He helped me learn the job, and I was patient with his communication issues.

However, the problems began when our boss decided to expand my responsibilities. After learning I would no longer be assisting him, Dennis became angry and passive-aggressive. He refuses to share project information I need to do my job. When I pass him in the hall, he usually ignores me. But if he says good morning and I fail to respond, he will turn around and follow me, yelling "good morning" over and over.

Whenever Dennis leaves the building, he goes out of his way to pass through my area, even though the exit is in the opposite direction. He always peers into my cubicle to see what I'm doing. Because I feel as if I'm being stalked, I have begun taking videos of him.

I try to avoid Dennis as much as possible and only communicate with him through email. He complains about this, but being around him scares me. I'm afraid to go to my boss or human resources because I'm terrified of how Dennis might react. I love my job and don't want to leave, so what should I do?

A: There's a big difference between a difficult person and a dangerous one. Unfortunately, based on this description alone, it's not easy to categorize your intimidating co-worker.

Dennis may just be an immature chap who doesn't know how to control his emotions. On the other hand, your intuition could be picking up subtle clues to something more sinister. Either way, you need to share these concerns with a helpful person in management. If this is simply a childish reaction to losing an assistant, then someone should help Dennis adjust. But if he has developed an unhealthy or harmful obsession, then you must protect yourself by giving this information to the proper people.

Set clear goals for disorganized staffer

Q: One of my employees is extremely disorganized. Unless I remind him constantly, "Ethan" overlooks details and fails to complete important tasks. He refuses to make lists or use any other organizing system.

Unfortunately, Ethan likes to work independently and does not appreciate my meddling. I don't want to micromanage him, but unless I stay on top of everything he does, items fall through the cracks. How can I fix this problem?

A: The first thing to be fixed is the way you and Ethan are defining the manager/employee relationship. As Ethan's boss, you are not "meddling" when you try to improve his performance. And as your employee, Ethan does not have the right to ignore your feedback.

The real question here is whether Ethan has the ability to do this work. To find out, you must establish specific expectations and advise him that his job could be in jeopardy if he fails to meet them. Indicate that you will no longer provide reminders but can suggest some strategies if he needs organizational help.

This approach has three possible outcomes. If Ethan succeeds on his own, praise his efforts and state that you expect continued success. If he struggles, but requests assistance, use that as the start of a coaching process. But if he neither does the job nor asks for help, then you need to begin planning his departure.

Ask that interview remain confidential

Q: After applying for a job with another company, I learned through LinkedIn that two former colleagues are already working there. If these people find out that I'm interviewing, I'm afraid they will tell someone at my current employer. Since I don't want my boss to know I might be leaving, how should I handle this situation?

A: Simply explain your concerns to all of those involved in the interview process and ask them to keep your application confidential. It is generally understood that job applicants prefer not to advertise their potential departure, so this will seem perfectly reasonable.

Should you happen to encounter a familiar face, just make the same request. If you can't do so on the spot, send a message through LinkedIn later in the day. And if you have a positive history with these folks, perhaps they will put in a good word with the hiring manager.