The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

NOV 2005, Sec. II

Main Essay:

[In a modified form this article will be published by DAYSPA Magazine.]

When a New Employee Comes On (Too?) Strong and Team Members Complain and then Exclude:  What's a Manager to Do?

What happens when you add a new staff member who is highly competent, but her colleagues find her arrogant, someone who talks down to them?  This person is more capable and knowledgeable than her peers.  Is it just a matter of jealousy and things will eventually settle down?  However, what if the new person complains that others are now excluding and ignoring her.  And what if other department managers have also remarked about her arrogant attitudes, but when pressed for further information they claim they are only repeating complaints of the staff.  As a supervisor or manager, what would you do to improve teamwork and the overall interpersonal climate?

Let me begin by posing a question:  do we have a case of a knowledgeable, confident and assertive woman setting off others' insecure "hot buttons" or do you have a stress carrier on your hands?  While I assume there's some truth on both sides, let me begin this response as if there might be a prima donna in the clubhouse?  As the saga of football stars Randy Moss (last year) and Terrel Owens (this year) -brilliant football receivers yet too often emotionally immature and behaviorally dysfunctional individuals - illustrate, too many exceptions or second chances for a shoot from the lips (or moon from the hips) star takes a toll on most everyone in the system.  And, alas, your shooting star will likely seriously injure team morale before burning herself out.

So what to do?  It's good that you want to take the lead in problem solving.  Consider these strategic steps:

1.  Start Documenting.
  If you haven't already done so, informally document any new specific behaviors of concern brought to your attention including, of course, any disruptive behaviors you observe.  Conversely, any clear patterns of ostracism or isolation should also be noted.  In my book, two incidents that are relatively close in time mean that this person deserves closer scrutiny, including having an informal discussion with this individual.  You might ask how things are going.  To use a natural disaster metaphor, two problematic events are equivalent to a tornado warning, that is, conditions are ripe for the formation of a serious weather system (or for disruptive individual behavior or interpersonal interaction).  Three problematic behaviors and you have a serious tornado watch, that is, there will be touch down.  It's just a matter of the precise location and how extensive the damage.   But don't just take cover.

2.  Have a One-On-One.
  Meet with the new employee.  Share the feedback you are hearing from both team members and how people in other departments are aware of the tension.  At this point, maintain confidentiality.  Ask the employee for her perception of the situation.  She may well respond that others are jealous of her skills and abilities.  And certainly empathize with her feelings of exclusion; ask for specific instances.  While you might solicit suggestions on improving the atmosphere, I wouldn't push hard for solutions at this point.  Let her know of your attention to start addressing these matters by speaking individually with the other team members.

3.  Have Individual Meetings.
  Meet with other team members.  Give them a chance to express their grievances.  In addition, in these individual sessions explore whether the person is aware of attempts to ignore and/or exclude the new team member.  Assessing the degree of denial and defensiveness or insight and openness among group members is vital for subsequent intervention.  The latter individuals can become your overt or unspoken allies in trying to change the antagonistic culture.  Gathering this collective information will give you both a forest and trees perspective and enhance your ability to intervene.

4.  Selective Recruiting.
  After your individual meetings, try to enlist two or three team members who will agree to a problem solving meeting with you and the new team member.  These people become the group representatives.  Try to select colleagues who can be somewhat objective and emotionally balanced, i.e., can these individuals acknowledge that at this point both team members and the new employee have reason to be frustrated?  Can your task group recognize that almost any significant social-operational change can prove upsetting to individuals and teams as a whole?

One caveat:  if you discover that a team member truly has entrenched hostility toward the new member you will likely need to speak with this disgruntled individual and perhaps even mediate a joint meeting between these antagonists.  Clearly, this angry individual should not be one of the group representatives mentioned above.

5.  Mediation Meeting.
  The purpose of this meeting is to air issues and, hopefully, get your recruited group proposing action steps that will help the new person better fit into the social climate and working atmosphere of the office.  The goal is to reduce any provocative actions of the new employee while validating her strengths.  At the same time, explore whether any team members are uncomfortable with her strengths or are feeling pressured to improve their performance, etc.  Some team members may need help in adjusting to the loss of old intimacy and to the new group dynamics.

Remind the new person that you are not looking to shut down her individuality; designing a better working fit is your goal.  Finally, help these folks identify the key points for improving communication and cooperation that will be shared with the entire team.

6.  Hold a Team Meeting.
  The team as a whole now has a chance to respond briefly to the initial concerns; this should not become a bash session.  The problem-solving steps proposed should be the primary focus.  The goal is some ventilation around both issues of condescension and exclusion, acknowledgement of change stress, further refinement of conflict problem-solving and team building plans and, finally, group buy-in to action steps.  When people see that anger can be expressed appropriately and safely, that is, when no one feels emotionally attacked or belittled or no one experiences retaliation then a greater sense of relationship or group trust may well emerge.

7.  Follow-up Meetings and Training.
  I would follow-up with the new employee within a couple of days to see how she weathered the team meeting.  And plan to meet with the team weekly for the next month to monitor the social atmosphere and progress toward the goals of improved communication and cooperation along with effective integration.  Also, you might want to consider having some communication and conflict resolution skills training as part of ongoing team building.

8.  Fail Safe.
  If any of this sounds daunting or if the process breaks down, for example, the new employee (or any employee, for that matter) refuses to participate in this intervention, then meet again with the recalcitrant individual.  Firmly state your intention to document formally unprofessional behavior that negatively impacts either work productivity or productive team relationships.  Of course, this supervisory step also applies to any team member engaging in exclusionary behavior.

If your organization has the resources, call in an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor to help guide the process.  (You might want to avail yourself of a coach from the get go.)  Or if needed, hire an outside conflict mediator.   If your goal is to:  a) help this employee be productive in her work and working relations and b) have an effective -- task-focused, inclusive and cooperative -- working team then these steps become an investment by management in group morale and cohesiveness, as well as retaining a potentially valuable employee.  And in today's litigious society, such an intervention may preempt possible grievance procedures.  All in all, steps to help one and all…Practice Safe Stress!


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Make check to:  Mark Gorkin
Send to:

9629 Elrod Road
Kensington, MD  20895

a) Really Hot:  The Paperback Version of Practice Safe Stress:

Practicing Safe Stress:  Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout, & Depression; Stress Doc Enterprises

Published:  2004; Pages:  372

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Practice Safe Stress tackles the "Toxic-Traumatic Trio" -- stress, burnout, and depression.  Learn practical and playful, inspiring and insightful strategies for transforming these toxins into life-affirming energy, creative focus, and goal-achievement.  Bringing a personal, professional, and organizational perspective, the book is alive with imaginative language and memorable "how to" ideas for:

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The "Four Faces of Anger" presents an elegantly simple yet intellectually powerful model that will challenge your beliefs about anger -- both regarding its range of emotion and its potential for positive communication.  The book is a dynamic blend of popular psychohumor articles, essays, case examples and short vignettes, as well as Stress Doc Q & As and even "Shrink Rap" ™ lyrics.  You will gain ideas and tools, skills and techniques for personal control, playful intervention and conflict mastery.  Learn to:

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Published:  2004; Pages:  114

Paperback:  $20 + $4.95 priority shipping in US; $3.95 in Metro, DC area; $27 in Mexico and Canada; other international destinations to be determined

E-Book:  $15

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™,
is a psychotherapist and "Motivational Humorist" whose Interactive Keynotes and Kickoffs draw wide and "amazing" acclaim - from Fortune 100s and Federal Agencies to around the world with Celebrity Cruise Lines.   An OD/Team Building Consultant, Mark is the author of Practice Safe Stress:  Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression and of The Four Faces of Anger: Transforming Anger, Rage, and Conflict Into Inspiring Attitude and Behavior.  Also, the Doc is AOL's "Online Psychohumorist" ™ running his weekly "Shrink Rap ™ and Group Chat."  See his award winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- (cited as a workplace resource by National Public Radio (NPR).  Finally, Mark is an advisor to The Bright Side ™ -- -- a multi-award winning mental health resource.  Email for his monthly newsletter showcased on  For more info on the Doc's speaking and training programs and products, email or call 301-946-0865.

(c)  Mark Gorkin  2005
Shrink Rap Productions