A reader writes:
Someone I used to manage recently sent me a request for an endorsement on LinkedIn. Only, I’m not sure if I should give him one.
I worked with him about two years ago at a very small company: I was a brand new manager, and this was his first proper job. Overall, his work was fine. I cut him a lot of slack because he was so new and still learning, and the company was going through some difficulties– it was a difficult environment with a boss who wasn’t handling the problems well. Towards the end of my time there, he started to slack off a bit– coming in late, calling in sick, taking “mental health days” and playing a lot of Bejewelled. Still, the work he did was good.
Once I left however, I found out from a friend who still worked there that he started badmouthing me. A lot. Every problem, concern, or failing was my fault– when approached by my replacement about why X wasn’t done, or why he’d done Y this way, he’d lay the blame firmly at my feet. He also criticized the work I had done, my management skills, even my personality as a whole. I have to say, it hurt: here was a person I had mentored, trained, and I thought I had had a good work relationship with, throwing me under the bus publicly. I’m not saying I was perfect when we worked together, but he apparently spent the entire transition period after I left badmouthing me. He even went so far as to blame the overall company problems on me. I’m not sure exactly why he felt the need to do this: whether it was just to establish himself as a perfect employee for the new management, whether it was sour grapes, or whether he was just angry I’d managed to get out of a negative work environment while he was still there, I don’t know. Whatever it was, I’m now torn.
He’s requested a LinkedIn endorsement from me. At first, I just ignored it, but now he’s sent several follow-up emails asking why I haven’t sent him something, and explaining he’s looking for a new job, and as the company was quite small and he didn’t have a lot of experience before working with me, he really needed my endorsement for his future employers. I think he’s gearing up to ask me to be a reference as well. What do I do? Based purely on my experience of him as an employee, he was fine: needed supervision and wasn’t a great self-starter or terrific at taking initiative, but his work itself was good. Can I, or should I, allow my personal feelings about how he behaved after I left to colour this? Knowing what I know about his negative behaviour, I wouldn’t want to work with him again — and if I were hiring and someone badmouthed their past managers or companies, I’d be reluctant to follow up (to me it shows a lack of accountability to lay everything at the feet of someone who is no longer there to defend themselves. It’s just too easy). I want to be professional though: is it right to make a decision based on my personal feelings for what he did? And if so, how do I handle his requests without seeming petty?
Hell no, you don’t owe you him a recommendation. And this guy has an awful lot of nerve.
First of all, even taking his badmouthing of you out of it, what you’re describing is not work that deserves a glowing recommendation — the work was good when he did it but you had to push him to do it, he spent a lot of time slacking off, and wasn’t at work reliably? That right there warrants a mediocre recommendation at best. And then add to that that he badmouthed you repeatedly after you left? No way.
As for how to convey that, I’d probably just write back with something like, “I don’t think that I’m the best person to write you a recommendation.”
If he follows up and asks why, you can (a) ignore him entirely, (b) ignore the question itself but respond with something bland like “I wish you the best in your job search,” or (c) tell him the truth: that he didn’t display much motivation to perform at a high level when you were working with him, and that you had the impression he was highly critical of you after you left.
It would be nice to do (c), because it’s good to be straightforward and honest with people, but you don’t owe this guy anything, and so if you don’t feel like having an uncomfortable conversation (and/or possibly turning him into an enemy), you’re under no obligation to do so.
And in response to your question about whether you’re letting your personal feelings color your professional judgment: I think you’re seeing those as two entirely separate domains when they’re not. If someone is a jerk or unpleasant to work with, that’s relevant and you’re allowed to factor it into your decision-making. This is different than disliking someone because they remind you of your ex-boyfriend or because you don’t like their politics — it would indeed be inappropriate to let things like that affect your judgment. But jerkiness, slackerhood, and significant public badmouthing of you? Those things matter in the professional sphere just like they do in the personal one.