I’m a supervisor of a small group and recently delivered an annual performance evaluation to one of my staff that has caused a rift in our working relationship. I marked one area as “not meeting expectations” because he bottles up issues inside him until it impacts his work performance. We’d been on a first name basis for the last three years (since I started working here). Following this evaluation, he filed a harassment claim against me and no longer calls me by my first name – he’s since begun calling me “sir”. His claim of harassment has been investigated twice (once internally and once by an external labor office) and each of those investigations exonerated me.
I’m retired from 24 years of military service and while I reached the highest enlisted rank (E9) – I was never a commissioned officer and therefore not accustomed to being called “sir”. I’ve asked this employee twice now to not address me this way and the last time I asked, I explained that I have personal reasons for this and I asked that he respect my reasons. Since that time, he’s become more blatant about it, typing “sir” in larger font in emails and on correspondence and it seems he’s using it at every opportunity.
I spoke to my manager about his behavior and she thinks he’s “mental” and she also does not support taking any action – thinking this is a trivial issue. Am I being too sensitive to this issue or do I have a right to ask him to stop?
— Not “Sir”
Dear Not “Sir”:
Your employee is being a baby and your manager is nuts.
Your manager is nuts for not taking this seriously. There’s nothing complicated about this. You are the supervisor and you directed your employee to stop addressing you as “sir”. That was a reasonable request and your employee was obligated to obey. He not only did not stop, he escalated his inappropriate conduct. He is being insubordinate. Tell him that if he does not stop, he may be terminated. Only say it if you mean it. Follow through.
Being called something that is not your name is not a trivial issue. Flaunting your supervisor’s direct order is career suicide. Period. Your employee needs to send his inner child home and let his inner adult be the personality who comes to work.
— Evil Skippy
I agree with Evil Skippy, but with this caveat: You must run this plan by your manager. Be clear that you are thinking only about the conduct of being called “sir”. Document your clear instruction and the clear act of disobeying. The purpose of this consultation with your manager is to avoid even an appearance that you are taking this action because the employee filed a harassment complaint against you. The manager is a reality check to show that you wanted another opinion just in case you were biased in some way. You don’t think you are biased, of course — but you are still being careful. Document clearly that you are not retaliating — you are supervising in a reasonable manner.