Time to lobby the top boss

Marie G. McIntyre
Marie G. McIntyre

Q: I have repeatedly attempted to discipline one of my employees but it hasn’t done any good. “Shelby” likes to stir up trouble and constantly tries to intimidate her co-workers. Although I have warned her many times, her behavior hasn’t changed at all.

The problem is that Shelby works closely with the owner of our business. If I give her a performance warning, she goes crying to him and says I’m picking on her. He has frequently told me to just leave her alone.

Because the owner won’t allow me to do my job as office manager, Shelby knows she can get away with anything. Everyone is frustrated with her behavior, and several people have left because of it. What can I do about this?

A: To find a more effective approach, you need to consider three facts. First, without the backing of higher management, disciplinary actions are completely meaningless. Issuing empty warnings might make you feel more like a manager, but you’re actually just wasting time and energy.

Second, to have any hope of success, you must get the owner on your side. While a larger organization might provide other avenues of support, in a small, privately owned company, the owner has complete control. Despite having the title of office manager, you only have as much power as he gives you.

Finally, your biggest obstacle is that Shelby currently has more leverage than you do. As long as the owner keeps ruling in her favor, she can safely ignore your warnings. So you must help him see that she’s a problem which needs solving.

To get the owner’s attention, keep the focus on business issues. Instead of complaining about Shelby’s irritating personality, calmly describe how her behavior is hurting the company. If she’s driving people away, for example, you could discuss the cost of turnover and the time required to train new staff.

When employees gripe about Shelby’s behavior, consider suggesting that they take their concerns directly to the owner. If he views this as a personal conflict between you and Shelby, hearing from her unhappy colleagues may paint a more accurate picture.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author. Send in questions and get free coaching tips at, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.