I need some insight regarding an ongoing issue with a direct.  I have someone who is convinced someone is accessing her C: drive and deleting/changing files and changing system settings to prevent her from getting any work done.  This person also feels that these actions are being made "programmatically" while they are logged on. 

We are a large state agency with a very strict computer security policy.  My manager and I have not taken the accusations lightly, and have even enlisted our computer security team to monitor this computer to identify what has been happening.  No evidence was found of anyone other than the employee logging into the machine. 

Despite this evidence (or lack thereof) my direct insists the issue continues, and that the "proof" is in the fact that she cannot get her work done in what she feels is a reasonable amount of time.  She has indirectly mentioned she thinks its because someone wants to steal credit and prevent her from succeeding.  She has never specifically accused anyone, however, she has alluded to a few suspects on more than one occasion.

Because of the time she spends "researching" (her words) and dealing with these perceived security issues, her performance has begun to suffer.  She is beginning to spend more time focusing on these issues instead of her work. 

It's basically an accusation of sabotauge.  And she has admitted she feels singled out since this isn't happening to anyone else.  However, there is no evidence (other than her experiences) of this happening, and neither my manager nor I believe anything is happening and feel the issues she experiences (if they even are true issues) are due to her disorganized workflow.

I am not sure how to proceed.  Nor am I sure on how to address this type of behavior using the feedback model, or if this is even a situation in which the feedback model would work. 

My manager and I have met with HR and say a performance improvement plan would be the next step, but how do you coach someone out of this type of paranoia?  Can you?

tplummer's picture

If you shown that her computer has not been tampered with and show what was done to prove that, and she still doesn't believe it, then there is a bigger issue at stake. She is either saying it to "play" you into why she is missing her deadlines or not producing as much. Or, she may have mental health issues. In either, a performance improvement plan is in her future. But tread a bit lightly and with respect.

I would recommend perhaps saying something like, "I know work can get stressful. We have a lot of deadlines. We've determined that there isn't any tampering on your machine.  Our company provides many services that you may want to look into to help with the stress-side of work. What else can we do to easy your mind or help with you achieving your goals?" I'd reword that a bit, but you get the idea.

In the end, she has to achieve her performance goals and must be held accountable to them. If she is having mental health issues, you should work with HR on how to accommodate her if she gets help. In either case, be open and honest about her performance and solicit recommendations from her on how to improve her workflow. But don't let her miss her deadlines.

I hope this helps, and I hope it isn't health issues at the root of the problem.








aloe01's picture


That was actually the initial recommendation that our employee relations manager had - was to refer her to our EAP.  However, our HR Director wasn't comfortable with the idea of potentially telling her "she's crazy" from a legal standpoint and wants us to proceed with an improvement plan first. 

I honestly believe that she believes something is happening with her machine/files.  I've given her the benefit of the doubt probably more times than I should, because I really do like her and she is a very smart individual.  However, when I've asked her "what can I do to make you feel more secure in your work environment" her answer has repeatedly been "nothing since you don't control my computer."  So, that makes the issue even more difficult to manage.

She's been given tools (secure sever folders, external hard drives, new computers) to help accommodate her fears but she doesn't seem to trust the accommodations either so she won't use them or stops using them after a certain point in time.

But, I do like the idea of working with her to remedy the situation.  Maybe have her set her own goals - she already knows her performance is slipping, so putting the ownership on her to set weekly (or even daily) goals, and then also have her formulate a game plan on what to do should she run into technical problems (perceived or real).


donnieknightjr's picture
Training Badge

It sounds like HR is more interested in creating a path to getting her out the door and that's not necessarily a bad thing. My primary concern would be your time. The time you're spending on this unsubstantiated issue is time that you can't dedicate to your work or your top performers. 
All the technical allowances that have been allotted to this user have jeopardized information security (the external drive can walk out the door) and increased the on-going work loads of another department (IT supporting the user and maintaining backups of these new targets). 

duplicate_account_MarkAus's picture

In your second reply you said:

"She's been given tools (secure sever folders, external hard drives, new computers) to help accommodate her fears but she doesn't seem to trust the accommodations either so she won't use them or stops using them after a certain point in time"

Sorry - not good enough and this is a big(ger!) red flag.  You've given her a solution to her issues and she just decides to not follow through?  She probably hates change, but she has to meet you half way on this.   She should be required to use the new work process until she proves it doesn't solve anything.    (I am assuming of course she has had adequate training on all your systems)

Next time something happens, she should call IT immediately (and you should have briefed them in advance and got a dedicated expert assigned to this case) and not "research it" herself.  This will allow everyone to work off of concerete examples of the problems (and gather data) as they happen.    The immediate loss of productivity while you all sort it out is better than having everyone chasing heresay.   It also eliminates alibis.  

Just explain to her that "researching" IT problems is not her job or her expertise and you want an expert to get involved to help her.  Tell her you are going to micromanage her work and work flows until the problem gets solved - explain that you're going to get a lot of people looking over her shoulder all the time because this is a very serious problem and the company needs to solve it urgently.    Which is true, but you see where I'm going...   If she's telling the truth she'll be grateful for the help.

Also, it is admirable that you are so concerned with accomodating the employee's side,but I think you need to trust your gut.  If there's no evidence of sabotage and you believe (as you seem to) that this is all of her doing to avoid work, then you can certainly proceed on this basis.   The facts are on your side it seems.

As to the EAP, I've had to recommend this to an employee and it is uncomfortable - but for the best.  I don't see any harm in presenting it as one in a suite of possible solutions.   You don't need to make a big deal of it - just be understanding and compassionate that this whole situation is stressful for her (which it is) and that some people like to take advantage of the free help.   There's no obligation on her to follow through.

Good luck!


leanne's picture
Licensee Badge

Presumably IT's done virus scans and all that. I don't mean 'the regular antivirus is installed and presumed to be running' - I mean 'an IT guy has sat down, made sure the virus definitions are up to date, run it, run defrag or whatever else to improve performance', etc.

Has she:

a) made sure to lock her screen every time she stands up, even to go to someone in the cube next door

b) Identified to you when something has happened that is different

c) Identified whether there is any kind of 'pattern' to the presumed changes or deletions - they happen at a specific time, or when she's working in a specific application, or whatever?

d) Actually identified, or had IT identify, what settings have changed and how those settings impact her getting work done? ('Settings have changed' is actually something that can be *checked*, and she needs to be able to prove it. Here's the settings at the beginning of the day, here's the settings at the end of the day - but she needs to focus down on where this happens)

I agree with the micro-managing work thing, much as I loathe being 'watched'. She needs to be helped to get past the presumed changes. Problems or not, she has to get the work done, and she has to learn to move past the suspicion.

And, um, just to be contrary...make sure there's nothing, absolutely nothing, plugged into her USB ports. I, um, um... Just in case someone does have a nasty 'prank' streak. Just to make sure there's nothing something like this involved: