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MANAGING STAFF

How to end the jealousy when a sharp newcomer threatens longtimers

A tenet of management is “people require care.” And nowhere is that more evident than in the situation where a bright-eyed, eager, and well-qualified new staffer comes in and threatens the long-term staffers.

The cure is recognition, says Venus Opal Reese, PhD, of Creation Consulting Practice, a firm specializing in professional and business development. And it has to come fast because, left alone, the situation can degenerate to the point where a veteran staffer —or even a group of veterans—gets sour enough to undermine the newcomer’s work.

The why of it

To the people already on board, a super qualified newcomer can be an unwelcome addition to the office.

“It’s as human as it gets,” Reese says. The veterans see the newcomer getting praise and attention they have come to see as their own and they think their contributions are being overshadowed. They feel threatened and try to reassert their value in ways that aren’t attractive.

Sometimes there’s ridicule, maybe a joke about the newcomer not knowing how to use the phone system. Sometimes there’s exclusion. The newcomer asks about some office situation and the veterans say, “You don’t understand.”

Sometimes there’s outright sabotage involving staffers who withhold information from the newcomer or even deliberately give inaccurate information.

Enter the recognition solution

That’s where recognition comes in.

The manager has to make the veterans see that their work is no less appreciated or important and that their jobs are not in jeopardy.

Do it publicly “and do it live” at a staff meeting, Reese says.

People pretend not to like public recognition out of fear of appearing egotistical but, in truth, they crave it. It makes them feel valuable and secure in their jobs.

If one of the veterans does a good job managing the database, recognize it: “Staffer A manages the database so efficiently that we never have to make any corrections.”

That ends any threat the veteran feels that the newcomer is taking over the stardom.

It also opens the door to communication between veteran and newcomer because Staffer A has been recognized as the database expert and Staffer Newcomer knows to go there for questions about it.

What’s more, Staffer A is willing to help the newcomer because expert status is now firmly established.

A sort of in-house school

Another approach is to have everybody write the answers to two questions. Then the manager reads the responses aloud.

The first is, “What am I willing to give?” In other words, what skills and abilities do staff have that they are willing to share with the rest of the office?

Answering that forces staff to identify their skills and admit that they are willing to share them with anybody who needs them—including the newcomer. One person might be willing to teach others how to use new software; another may be willing to help plan a meeting.

The second question is the reverse of that: “What requests am I willing to make?” or “What things do staff want to learn from one another?”

Use the answers to pair people who need specific help with those who can give it. And in doing so, pair the newcomer with the veterans who are most resentful.

Again, recognition solves the problem because the pairing establishes a teacher/student relationship. Staffer Veteran gets the status of being the teacher expert—far ahead of Staffer Newcomer who is only the student.

People like to be asked for help because it recognizes them as experts. “And when people can give what they think they’re good at, they give better,” says Reese.

A joint project with a report

Another solution: assign a joint project to veteran and newcomer. Make it something the veteran is passionate about or has expertise in. It can be anything from planning an office lunch to making a presentation on new software.

Afterwards, ask the two staffers to outline the project at a staff meeting, and at the same time ask, “What did you each learn from this?” and “Tell us what you liked about working with each other.” Talking about a mutual effort and success makes them a team.

She cautions, however, that the project must be worthwhile and should not require a large amount of time. If it gets labor intensive, it’s liable to become just an unpleasant chore for both parties.

Seeing it for what it is

One more solution is to have staff write the answer to another question: “What things am I willing to forgive?” And again, read the answers aloud at a meeting.

Putting that in writing gives people “public permission” to bring their issues to the table, Reese says. At the same time, it makes staff identify whatever grudges they are holding, and when the answers are read aloud, “it creates a clear space” where people can talk about their resentments in a positive atmosphere, she explains.

Be prepared for some ludicrous answers, Reese says. She cites one company where a staffer wrote, “I’m willing to forgive Secretary New for not bringing doughnuts to staff meetings.”

When the manager read the comment aloud, the new secretary laughed it off.


Related reading:

A six-question oral survey can help the manager and improve morale


Ohio staff spend one day a month in each of the other positions


How to end 3 costly kinds of office conflict


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