How to Deal With Employees Who Go Over Your Head

by Sara Mahuron

Some employees feel the need to go straight to the top -- right over your head. This can cause friction and needs to be dealt with quickly. An employee who goes over your head attracts negative attention and gives the impression that you are not able to handle issues on your own.

Slow to Judge

Cool your heels -- the problem may not be what it seems. Before you address the issue, try to understand the problem and the reason why your employee is going over your head. Maybe she has taken the open-door policy a little too far. Or maybe this was normal or expected at her last job. Some employees may hope to be recognized for their work by bringing their efforts to the attention of someone higher up by taking this initiative. Before you assume the behavior is a slap in your face, rule out other options that are less intimidating or more innocent.

Educate Your Employees

Remind all of your employees about your expectations, including your preferences for communicating issues to you directly. Rather than singling any one out, gently educate your staff on proper protocol and reporting processes. Explain the benefits and the consequences associated with your request. For example, coming to you directly means you can act more quickly and you can recognize employees for their ideas, courage or ability to resolve problems. Consequences might include disciplinary action for disobeying orders, your inability to protect employees when they go over your head should something blow up in their faces, and the possibility for something to be misinterpreted or taken out of context.

Address the Employee Directly

If the incident happens again -- or you feel it is not resolved by addressing the group -- speak with the employee directly. Fess up that you know what happened, recommends the Rapid Learning Institute. Tell him your expectation that he should always speak to you directly and if he feels a superior must also be involved, he should ask you to arrange for it. Use the kiss-kick-kiss approach. Thank him for his initiative and desire to resolve an issue, correct his behavior with a warning and reassure him that you are confident you are dealing with an isolated incident.

Consider All Options

If the employee refuses to change or continues to go over your head, she risks creating chaos among your staff and damaging the workplace. Additionally, if she is unhappy, her performance will likely slip. Consider moving her to another department. If this is not possible, invest in mending your relationship with her and regaining her trust. You can often repair a relationship by adjusting workloads, adjusting schedules or even by apologizing. Maintain open dialogue and listen to why she is unhappy; make an attempt to address the issue and ask for her feedback. If nothing works, it might be time to let her go.

About the Author

Sara Mahuron specializes in adult/higher education, parenting, budget travel and personal finance. She earned an M.S. in adult/organizational learning and leadership, as well as an Ed.S. in educational leadership, both from the University of Idaho. Mahuron also holds a B.S. in psychology and a B.A. in international studies-business and economics.

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