The moody employee: Dealing with personality problems

Figuring out what’s to blame

Many difficult employees produce quality work in spite of their personality issues. That makes disciplining this kind of employee even more complicated.

That’s the situation Liza Estolano found herself in when a solid performer threatened staff morale with her volatile moods.

Never know what to expect

“I’m fed up!” employee Steven Hicks said after taking a seat in Liza’s office. “I’ve always made an effort to be nice to Jackie, since she sits near me. But lately she’s been driving me crazy. I can never tell what she’s going to do or say next.”

“What do you mean?” Liza asked.

“Sometimes she’s super sweet and will do anything you ask, or she’ll come over and say something nice for no reason,” Steven said. “And other times, if you even say ‘Hello” to her, she gives you a mean look or snaps back some nasty reply.”

Still a good worker

“Jackie’s been with us a long time – and sure, she’s never been afraid to show how she feels,” Liza said. “But that’s never interfered with her work.”

“Well, it’s interfering with my work,” Steven said, “or at least my ability to do it well. It’s tough to stay positive during these times, but having someone like that around sure isn’t helping.”

‘Which Jackie today?’

“Have you thought about taking to her about it?” Liza asked.

“No, because it’s hard to tell which Jackie will show up each day,” Steven said. “I’m afraid to say anything to her for fear I am going to get screamed at. I’ve seen it happen to other people. It’s not pretty.”

“We can’t have people getting screamed at,” Liza said. “I’ll see what I can do.”

The big question

Liza knew Jackie was a bit temperamental, especially when things didn’t go her way. But she also has a long track record of success.

If Steven’s claims were true, this was a real problem. Liza couldn’t risk having another member of her staff yelled at again.

At the same time, if Jackie had always been this way, it’d be harder for her to change.

Liza didn’t want morale to sink any lower – but she also wanted to keep Jackie on as a hard-working employee.

If you were in Liza’s situation, what would you do? Perhaps one of the ideas offered by our readers below might provide you with some guidance.

Set down rules of courtesy and respect

I’d sit down with Jackie for a one-on-one chat – and find out if she was dealing with anything that might call for some advice or counseling outside of work. I’d also remind her to be courteous to her co-workers, even if she’s not having a good day. She needs to remember it’s company policy to treat all co-workers and managers with respect. As long as she’s able to accept this constructive criticism, I wouldn’t press the issue any further – after all, Jackie’s personality has never interfered with her ability to do a good job.

Janet Jackson, HR Director – Tazewell County Health Department, Tremont, IL

Ask for concerns and offer help

I’d take the time to observe Jackie on my own, and see if there was any truth behind Steven’s statements. If so, then I’d talk to her and explain I’d noticed she hasn’t been acting like herself lately. Then I’d ask if everything was OK, and if there was anything I could do to help. It’s especially important during these times to keep an eye out for moody, stressed out employees. Supervisors should make an effort to talk to them and offer assistance – that way, employees don’t feel like they’re being reprimanded. And often, they’ll open up about problems they’re having. It can be therapeutic.

Carolyn Baumel, VP/Human Resources Officer – Citizens Bank of Northen CA, Nevada City, CA


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  1. Priscilla says

    Hi there,
    I have this issue with a staff member. I have talked to her nicely saying “just wondering if everything is ok, it seems like youve been a bit upset or angry lately. Normally I woukd let it go, but a lot of staff are feeling uncomfortable. I thought there might just be something going on” to which she replied “yeah, everythings all good”

    Since then there has been no change. Im at a loss. Nobody wants to be around her. Including myself.
    Any advice? Ive tried talking to her. And so has her previous manager.

  2. says

    Hi Priscilla,

    Seems like a frustrating situation. You can make part of a person’s job requirement – the ability to get along with and effectively work with others…. It sounds like this employee is not doing that – and negatively impacting the morale of others on the team (including you)…

    If you can show examples of how this employees’ attitude has impacted morale/productivity/business – you should be able to get your management’s support…

    Good luck with this tough one…

  3. Nel says

    I have recently accepted a new job as an office manager in a new company to me. My best employee who is far more knowledgeable than I am as far as operations and procedures is also my manager’s best friend. They work closely together and their desks are next to each other. At first she was very helpful and is an excellent trainer, but that didn’t last long. Her attitude has changed quickly. I have been there for a little over a month and she has begun to be moody with me. On several occasions, I have approached her to make a simple statement or ask a simple question. I have to come to her from behind as her desk faces the wall. When I say her name to get her attention, she slams her hands down on the desk displaying annoyance in her body language. She comes and goes as she pleases. I am not sure if this was acceptable in the past as her knowledge and experience makes her the biggest asset in the office, but it is unacceptable to me. The problem I have is that I am supposed to manage her, but my boss is her best friend and has allowed this behavior to occur with her for many years in the past. One more issue, I found out yesterday that she interviewed for my job before I did. My manger told me that she declined the position because she enjoyed her current position and didn’t desire the management position, however the GM of the company told me that he denied the position to her. There is so much drama in this office, I am there to work, not participate in an office soap opera. Do you have any advice?

    • says

      Sounds like a very frustrating situation. The best advice I can get you is that you have to get alignment with your boss as to what is and isn’t acceptable…That alignment will allow you to move forward with the changes you would like to make…

  4. Gordon VanVaren says

    I have been hiring and firing folks for over 30 years and will offer the following advice.

    Let her go. Although it may seem “easier” to keep an employee that is already trained than to go through the extra effort to replace that person it is always the best choice in the end.

    One rotten apple will spoil the overall work experience for many employees.

    Say to yourself: “I will replace that employee with someone who is superior”. Then do it and don’t look back.

    I would rather hire someone who wakes up every morning in a good mood (with little experience) and train them. This always works better than hiring an expert with an attitude.

    You can train an intelligent nice person to do almost any job. What you can’t do is train someone to be nice.

    The world is filled with friendly, reliable folks that love their jobs and get along very well with others. Staff your company with these people.

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