Considering the number of people I have worked with over the past thirty years, I can count the really strange ones on the fingers of one hand.
The really rubbish staff go into double figures but that is for another day.
The Smotherer came very close to driving me round the bend; closer than anyone else ever has.
When she first came to do some training prior to taking up her secondment in our office, like the rest of my colleagues, I made her welcome.
I felt I should make a special effort to supportive because I already knew her, and because I had been the one to encourage her to apply for the secondment.
I arranged for her to have access to the IT systems so that she could start training as soon as possible. I supplied her with sufficient training materials and together with the rest of the team, made opportunities for her to observe all the elements of our work.
After a short while I became aware that although she took copious notes, we all seemed to be going over the same ground with her.
When she was asked what she had covered so far, she either got flustered and seemed unable to reply or made a show of looking intently through her notes – but never actually finding the answer.
Given that we had all witnessed what an outgoing person she was, this did not seem to be caused by shyness.
After talking to the Boss about the Smotherer’s lack of progress, I put together two lists of team members, gave her one and asked her to put the areas of the job that she had covered next to the name of the staff member who had gone through the procedure with her.
I passed the other list around the team and asked them to do the same. This was partly in order to see what areas had not been covered but also to see if there was a discrepancy between what the Smotherer had learned and what we thought we had taught her. On completion I gave the sheets to the Boss without looking at them myself.
On a personal level the Smotherer appeared to be a part of the team; always the first to volunteer whether it was to wash up, make drinks or take minutes at the staff meetings.
She seemed very interested in us all, often interrupting conversations to give her opinions and advice. She asked a great many questions, some personal, some work-related but usually in areas where she didn’t need such in-depth information.
I felt that once she had engaged me in conversation she was reluctant to relinquish my attention. I found her over-familiar. She sat too close to me when observing what I was doing, and many of her questions were far too intrusive.
I consciously withdrew and was reluctant to talk to her about anything other than the procedures we were looking at, especially after I overheard her repeating very personal information about an absent colleague. She didn’t say anything hurtful or unpleasant but she gave the impression that this knowledge showed what a close relationship she had with this member of staff, when in fact it was something she had just overheard herself.
The Boss felt that she might learn quicker if she started taking calls. When she was seated near me I found myself frequently interrupted – either by her irrelevant questions or because I overheard her giving incorrect information out .
Virtually every sentence spoken on the phone ended with ‘is that alright, is that okay?’ which made it sound as if she didn’t really know what she was talking about.
She did not take constructive criticism well, becoming flushed and defensive. I did my best not to be pedantic and tried to keep the conversation light but it was very hard work and I found it difficult to concentrate on my own work under these circumstances.
I was relieved when I she on moved to work on other desks, but grew more concerned when I heard my colleagues going through the same process.
In November the whole team attended training with some health professionals.
Whilst the rest of the team turned up in office clothes, the Smotherer turned up in a scarlet satin blouse with a plunging cleavage, skin tight jeans and over-the-knee black leather boots. We weren’t quite sure what to say but if it was an attention-seeking outfit – it certainly worked.
During the training I found the Smotherer immensely irritating. She was loud, domineering, made silly and inappropriate jokes and on one occasion I overheard her making comments to the health professionals that implied that she felt the colleagues she was working with were racist and discriminated against minority groups.
When one of them mentioned this to me later I told her that these opinions were the Smotherer’’s alone and that she was a new member of staff who did not speak for the whole team.
I felt angry with her and that she had let us all down by her behaviour but did not feel it was my place to say anything to her so I spoke to the Boss about it. Up until this point team members had not grumbled about her or her behaviour but these two days seemed to highlight some of the problems we were all experiencing. The Boss was the only male on the course and asked me if I thought the Smotherer was flirting with him because she kept sitting next to him and rubbing her body against him.
After the training we were all pointing out the Smotherer’s mistakes in the hope that she might learn from them but she was very defensive, either blaming someone else for the error or denying that she had been involved – despite evidence to the contrary.
She was the first person I had come across that I could not train and this made me feel demoralised. Once I realised however that no one else was managing to train her either, I felt a bit better but was still frustrated by the effect that she was having on the team.
No one wanted to upset her because she reacted so strongly to criticism but when she was happy she was so over the top that she made you want to scream.
In the busy time running up to Christmas we were spending half the time doing damage limitation on her work. I had to try very hard to bite my tongue where she was concerned. I told the Boss how I was feeling and he advised me to try and let other people deal with her.
I did my best to be polite and pleasant to the Smotherer, but felt that once I stopped training her and kept my distance, she took this as rejection and decided to focus on making my life difficult.
On the day before Christmas Eve we were short-staffed.
At some point in the afternoon I heard the Smotherer say that she was going to get something from the stationery cupboard. We were fairly busy and I remember thinking she had been gone a long while when she came back into the room looking very red and agitated. She rushed down the office towards me and insisted that I come with her to the stationery room as she had something I needed to see.
I wondered why I had to come as there were five other people in the room – including the person who ordered the stationery. I didn’t want to cause a fuss however so I followed her.
The lower shelf of the stationery cupboard had collapsed, spilling booklets all over the floor. I asked her what had happened and she said that she had walked into the room and found it like this.
No one else had been in the room, the shelf didn’t have sufficient weight to collapse on its own and I could see by the way the books were dispersed that someone had tried to put the shelf back. I asked the Smotherer to move the books back against the wall and said that we’d get the janitor to look at it after the New Year, but for the moment I needed to get back to the phones.
I was off over Christmas and New Year and although I had found her behaviour a bit bizarre that day, I thought no more of it.
When I came back to work she was on leave and a colleague asked me how I managed to break the shelf in the stationery cupboard ?
I was told that someone else found the mess after Christmas and when asked the Smotherer had said that she knew nothing about it but that I did, giving those present the impression that I was responsible for what had happened.
Luckily another colleague who was on duty with me that day corroborated my side of the story. The Smotherer had tried to set me up.
I made a conscious decision not to be alone with her again in case she made any further accusations. In supervision I told the Boss about this incident and other experiences I had with the Smotherer.
She was on Induction training after her leave and the atmosphere in the office was completely different. We could get on with things without interruption and gradually everyone admitted that working with the Smotherer was difficult, no one wanted to upset her but she was very hard work.
At the end of her secondment, the Boss told her that she would not be offered a permanent post because she had failed to meet the standards set for the team.
She cried and said that she hadn’t progressed because I was a bad trainer and that I bullied her.
Fortunately the Boss had feedback from all the other staff and had to tell the Smotherer that no one else had managed to train her either and that he had seen no evidence of anyone bullying her.
He asked her if she wanted to make a formal complaint against me, the team and himself.
I was on leave when she left so I couldn’t be held responsible for the fact that no one organised a leaving do for her.