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Dear Workforce Our Workplace Is a Powder Keg. How Do I Intervene

We added a new staff member who is capable and knowledgeable. Other staff members, however, complain that she talks down to them. Department managers also have remarked about her arrogance, but when pressed they claim they simply are repeating complaints they’ve heard from staff. Initially we chalked this up to jealousy, presuming things would settle down. Now the newly hired staff member says she’s being shunned. How do I improve these interpersonal relationships for the sake of teamwork?
December 15, 2005
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Dear Reluctant:

Congratulations for taking the lead here. This issue affects group morale and cohesion, as well as your ability to retain a potentially valuable employee. Consider these strategic steps:
Start documenting. If you haven't already done so, begin to informally document any new specific behaviors of concern brought to your attention, including any you observe. Note any clear patterns of ostracism or isolation.
Have a one-on-one meeting with the new employee. Share the feedback you are hearing from other team members. At this point, maintain confidentiality. Ask for the employee's perception of the situation. She may respond that others are jealous of her abilities. Don't be afraid to empathize with her sense of exclusion, but ask her to illustrate with specific instances. While soliciting suggestions for improving the work environment, don't push too hard for solutions at this point. Let her know you plan to address matters by speaking individually with other team members.
Conduct individual meetings with other team members. Give them a chance to express any grievances. In addition, ask each person if they are aware of attempts to ignore or exclude the new team member. Gathering this information gives you a forest-and-trees perspective and enhances your ability to intervene.
Recruit problem-solvers. Enlist two team members for a problem-solving meeting with you and the new team member. Select team members who can be objective and emotionally balanced—people who can acknowledge that at this point both team members and the new employee are frustrated.
Outline solutions. Meet with the new employee and the two problem-solvers to propose steps for helping new employees adjust to your workplace. At the same time, explore whether any team members are uncomfortable with her strengths, feel pressured to improve their performance, etc. Some team members require help adjusting to the new group dynamics.
Meet with the entire team to address perceptions of condescension and exclusion. This should not become a bash session. Acknowledge that change is stressful and offer support to get group buy-in.
Conduct follow-up meetings with the new employee to see how she weathered the team meeting. Plan also to meet weekly with your entire team for the next month to monitor progress. You might also want to consider having offering some communication and conflict-resolution skills training for the entire team.
Provide a failsafe. Should any employee refuse to participate in this intervention, you will need to reaffirm your intention to document unprofessional behavior that adversely affects productivity or team relationships.
SOURCE: Mark Gorkin, LICSW, The Stress Doc, Washington, D.C., May 4, 2004
LEARN MORE:The Problem With Know-It-Alls
The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
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 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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