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(Anton Gvozdikov/iStockphoto)
(Anton Gvozdikov/iStockphoto)

career advice

How do you deal with a senior colleague who keeps people down? Add to ...

The question

I’m a senior copywriter in an advertising company and I have had a run-in with a senior colleague who not only doesn’t want to do particular tasks, but doesn’t want me to do them either. This is a problem because the work does need to be done, and although she is senior, she is not my boss, and I could be seen as failing to deliver. I also like my job and owe it to my own career to do as well as I can.

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I know that fundamentally she is just insecure and controlling and unwilling to see anyone else do well because she fears it would downgrade her own achievements. But I am unsure how to handle it. I have tried suggesting meetings and talking it through and including her in any work I do. But now I am fed up. I feel that no one comes out well from disputes between colleagues, so she is dragging me down with her. How do I handle it? I no longer have the will to be generous.

The answer

Lindsey Bell, employment partner at Clarke Willmott, the law firm, says:

It sounds like you have tried to address the issues directly with your senior colleague, which is commendable, but difficult if they are not playing ball.

The first thing you should do is make notes and collate any relevant documentation, such as e-mails, that show the history of your predicament and how you have tried to approach it to date.

You then have a couple of options, of which the first is to explain the situation to your boss or another employee who is more senior than your colleague, with the hope they may help you address the situation either directly or in a more subtle way.

If there isn’t anyone you are comfortable speaking to about the issue, then apart from looking for a new job, your only alternative is to seek formal redress through the company’s grievance procedure. If you go down this route, be aware that it could exacerbate matters.

Before you raise a formal grievance, consider what the options are from an employer’s perspective. Might the company be able to assign you to work with someone else? Are they likely to pull this person into line?

Knowing the business and the people who run it, you will probably know the answer to some of those questions. If you can’t see any obvious solutions to the problem then raising a grievance might not be the best way forward.

Workplace mediation can sometimes be very successful in resolving workplace disputes. In reality, however, raising a grievance regarding another colleague often leads to a very uncomfortable working environment. How bad it gets depends on the individual against whom the grievance has been raised.

Think carefully about the potential end results, be clear about what you are trying to achieve and consider taking formal advice before you take the matter further.

Iain Jenkins, partner at law firm Lee & Priestley, says:

Identifying and acting on grievances early makes them easier to handle. Your senior colleague is not your boss but she may still be an adept political operator.

Assuming you are up to dealing with the office politics, you could try a little flattery, which sometimes goes a long way. Instead of a formal meeting, personal discussions can be more effective away from the workplace.

However, if you feel you have exhausted the non-legal approach, then there are other steps you can take.

Most companies will have a grievance procedure which usually recommends an informal resolution at the first stage. Here, it is important to prepare what you are going to say. Also, check your job description against your actual duties and what you expect to be involved in.

Your employer might wish to help things along by involving a workplace mediator. It is to be hoped your complaints will not fall on deaf ears. However, if the response from your employer is inadequate then perhaps you have misjudged the office politics. At this stage you are now looking at a formal grievance. But bear in mind that this sometimes escalates the problem and the situation could become intolerable for you.

Looking for another job is the obvious practical route. You might also have a legal remedy: a claim for constructive unfair dismissal. The way you have been treated by your colleague might be discriminatory, particularly if you are the only one who is the subject of her poor behaviour.

Ultimately, if you have deeper concerns about her approach to work then you might also wish to look at the company’s whistle-blowing policy. You should take notes throughout the process.

In practical terms it can be difficult to resolve issues with senior colleagues but it is better to raise them rather than carry the can for someone else’s deficiencies.



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