Don’t Let a Colleague Get You Down

Red Sox fans will recall a talented baseball player called Manny Ramirez who could hit the cover off the ball and win the big games. They’ll also recall how Manny pulled antics that drove us nuts and almost got him traded. The phrase “Manny being Manny” lost its allure after awhile and even his teammates grew fed up with his jogging to first base instead of running out a ground ball.

I saw Manny as a detriment to my beloved Red Sox—not worth the hits he produced and home runs that seemed to come at the right time. He was bad for the team’s morale, in my mind. How could he not be? I honestly wouldn’t want to play with him no matter how outstanding he was. Although only a few of his teammates spoke poorly about him, I’ll bet many others thought he was bad for company morale.

At a previous company I worked with someone who was bad for company morale. I’ll call him Ted (not to be confused with the great Ted Williams). When I met Ted, I tried befriending him, despite his crude behavior and total indifference for the job. I joked with him at lunch and listen to his incessant stories about things unrelated to work. “No wait, Bob, there’s a point to my story,” he would say as I was backpedaling.

At first he seemed like a pleasant man, despite his overtly loquaciousness, but I soon came to see him for who he really was, a saboteur. (In all fairness, I don’t know if he realized what he was doing to me and others.)

At times I would come to him during lunch to discuss an issue of a customer he and I shared in common. In response he would tell me that he never talked business at lunch. I’d have to wait before we could talk about our customer. “No seriously, Ted,” I told him. “I want to run something by you.”

“No seriously, Bob,” he would say, concentrating on his sandwich, “I’m eating. I don’t talk business during lunch.” At first I thought he was joking; I only needed a few seconds of his precious time.

Ted was also a clock watcher; he was someone who came in a minute before work started and left a minute before work ended. None of this went unnoticed by the entire staff; they would merely shake their heads in resignation. But he didn’t care. It was as if he were mocking those of us who were trying to work hard. He more than once asked me why I was still at work half an hour after the “official” quitting time, and acted as if I were breaking a rule.

One time I saw one of Ted’s customers sitting in his office alone, hands between his knees and looking around anxiously waiting. I asked the customer where Ted was. He said Ted was smoking a cigarette and had told him to wait five minutes. The customer shook his head, as if he knew Ted had given up on the job. This customer was perceptive.

Ted’s attendance at company meetings epitomized the total disregard he had for work. He would come in late, often moaning and rolling his eyes, and frequently leave to visit the restroom. I considered that he was ill because he looked and sounded like a 100-year-old man; but it so happened that meetings were the only time he arrived late and left often. He just didn’t like meetings, I guess.

The advice we always give people when they’re in the presence of someone like Ted is to disengage and avoid contact. Rather, surround yourself with positive colleagues who inspire you and want to work in a cooperative environment.

This is precisely what I did after months of trying to be a supportive colleague to Ted. I felt more alive and less stressed when I avoided this guy. When I saw him in the hallways, I would duck into another room, or I would simply ignore him. Or if I needed information, I would try to seek it from someone other than him.

As Ted would count down the days till retirement, I would secretly count them as well. When 65 days were left, they couldn’t come too soon. “How many days left, Ted?” I asked in an expectant tone.

“Sixty,” he said. “I can’t wait.”

I couldn’t wait either. I was five days off and floating on air.

The sad thing about finally seeing Ted go was that he was a humorous man. He often provided me with wisdom and worldly advice. He loved to talk about fishing while floating on a lake in his canoe. One of his missions in life was to study all religions and become an expert on them. I don’t doubt he can do it. Ted coached youth lacrosse and talked about his laidback coaching style, smiling as he spoke of his players. There were many endearing qualities to Ted. But they were overshadowed by his total distain for work.

Something had gone wrong, something in his past life he was reluctant to discuss with me. I think we have an easier time accepting poor behavior when we know the reasons for it. So maybe I would have had an easier time accepting Ted for who he was if I knew what was wrong. Others accepted him, but they also kept their distance. They, like me, knew what kind of bad affect he had on those around him. No one hears from Ted because he wants it that way.

I’m not sad that Ted is gone, even as I remember the things I liked about him. I just hope he finds peace where he goes. I also hope that people who inexplicably hate work know when it’s time to jump ship and seek a more amiable work environment.

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One thought on “Don’t Let a Colleague Get You Down

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