receives compensation from some of the companies listed on this page. Advertising Disclosure


How to Deal When the Power and Praise Go to Horrible People

Suzanne Lucas

The person on the pedestal doesn't always deserve the prize. But how does that person's coworker handle it? Our HR expert weighs in.

Have you ever encountered a person who had all the grace and charm of a slug?

An angry, power wielding slug?

Or maybe a power hungry electric eel?

Either way, they exist in the workplace, and sometimes you get stuck working with them.

Sometimes, they are your boss, the HR manager, or a sleazy coworker who senior management seems to love and reward.

Take, for example, this poor soul with an immature HR Manager:

I am 8 months into my new position here at Company ABC. We are an 80 person company, a highly technical engineering firm with two owners and a handful of senior leaders. One of the few non-technical senior leaders is our HR representative...and she is a verbal bully! (She has told me on at least three occasions, she is not a "people-person.") She is a mom of 2 rowdy boys and treats the employees like we are one of them.

She has said to me things like, "What's up slacker?" "You look like [bad word] today." "Yaaaaaah, you're just a stupid man who doesn't know any better."

However, the two owners seem to love her "straight talk!" Is there any advice you could provide on how to navigate this situation?

It's not terribly unusual to find an HR manager who isn't a "people person." You'd think that would kind of be a career killer, but after you spend years listening to people whine and disciplining people who cannot seem to understand that they should actually be working when tey are at work, you can kind of lose your mad people love.

However, in this case, she's crossed a line. It's legally okay to be a jerk, as long as you're an equal opportunity jerk, but when she starts insulting you based on your gender, "you're just a stupid man" it's not only not okay, it's illegal. Her other behavior is not okay either but either needs to be ignored or confronted, but this needs to be reported.

Normally, I'd tell you to go your HR manager and complain, but since she's the problem, you can address it with her bosses. Do so in writing. Write up a list of all her misandrist statements. (Misandrist means man-hating.) Try to identify dates and times and other witnesses. If you can get your coworkers onboard, that's even better. Write an introduction and give it the subject heading, "Official complaint of gender discrimination." Email it to her boss and copy your home email address.

What does this do? It provides official notice that her behavior is not appropriate. Legally, the company cannot ignore your complaint, and if they take any negative action against you, you can sue for retaliation.

But, if that was just a one-off comment and there isn't enough to claim discrimination--then you need to start they playing dumb. When she says, "What's up slacker?" get a puzzled look on your face, "I'm sorry, was there some task I was supposed to do for you that I haven't done?" And then keep asking her questions, trying to come to a deep understanding of what the problem is. This takes away all her fun, but it can be fn for you.

But, what if the problem isn't an HR manager that calls you a slacker, but a coworker that truly is a slacker? Read this:

I have a coworker who refuses to do anything that isn't explicitly on his job description. This means that the rest of us have to do the extra work. We've complained to management and they do nothing about it. We have a new manager starting soon, what can we do to make sure he understands that this guy is lazy?

The reality is, your problem isn't your lazy coworker, it's your manager. Or, it may not be an actual problem. The reality is, we rarely know what deals our coworkers have made with our managers. It's possible that, when this slacker was hired, he struck a deal where he didn't have to do anything that wasn't explicitly no the job description. It might have been because he had specialized skills. It might have been in exchange for a reduced salary. 

Or, he may be a complete idiot. But a good manager will deal with the bad employees. Because yours hasn't, it's an indication of bad management. You're getting a new manager. This means you'll have the opportunity to see this new manager take care of the problem. You don't have to say a word. A good manager will spot this problem within days. Heck, even a bad manager will spot the problem quickly--she just won't do anything about it.

If nothing is done, you then have to evaluate if the new manager is a good manager or not. If everything else seems good, then this employee probably has a special deal, and you should ignore it. If your manager shows indications of being horrible in other areas, then you have to decide if you would like to stay at this job or look for a new one. Both are rational decisions. Sometimes the good outweighs the bad. Sometimes it doesn't. But, regardless, it's not your problem.

See, slacker coworkers aren't your problem to fix. Your job is to do your job. If your coworker's behavior affects your job, then you can address it based on that. For instance, you can say, "A, B, and C need to be done. I only have time to do two of them. Which ones would you like me to do?" When your boss states that all 3 need to be done, you can add, "I understand that Jim has some bandwidth. Perhaps he can do C." But, that's the extent.

Do your job and do a good job. Don't let rude remarks go ignored. And, have fun at work. Or, at least, work hard at work.

Image Credit: BongkarnThanyakij / Getty Images
Suzanne Lucas Member
Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate HR where she hired, fired, managed the numbers and double-checked with the lawyers. She now writes about how to make your business a success and your employees happy. Send her an email at