A reader writes:
I have worked 5 years for an international nonprofit as a regional coordinator for a certain region of developing countries where I oversee local consultants hired to implement our projects with our beneficiaries. These consultants are on year-long renewable contracts (and in the past have tended to be treated more like employees, but we are now handling it more like normal consultancy contracts). I was young when I was promoted to the position (26) after having been one of those consultants myself for one year. When I came into the position, it was originally on interim during my previous boss’s 9-month sick leave. I was managing remotely in three countries with three consultants: two with whom I managed to build great relationships, they worked great, no complaint, and a third who was always very difficult to work with. He resented me having been promoted to “oversee” him and kept referring to me as interim even after it was clear my former boss wasn’t coming back and I got officially the position. He had done very bad work before, but my previous boss thought he could improve and liked him as a person. His work never improved. With my immediate manager, we spoke to him many times, making reports on how he needed to improve his work, and put him on “probation” at least twice. He’d temporarily improve, then get bad again (no reports, bad attitude, not meeting timelines, etc). Eventually, at the end of 2011, with the approval of my manager, I decided that we would not renew his contract, as it was expiring. I was new into the “management” world and tried to get as much mentoring and training as I could, but this was a very intense way to “learn on the job.”
He has since been on a personal vendetta against me. He has been sending mass emails to all our stakeholders, beneficiaries, partners, all the board of our organisation, etc. saying how badly I have done my job, how awful I am, etc. Within my organization, nobody doubts my actions and they all stand by me and highly value my work (I have since had one more promotion). My managers recognize in his vendetta the sad side of a disgruntled ex-worker. Both my manager and higher managers have responded to him very professionally and have followed up (without copying in all the stakeholders of course), but he keeps on attacking, every three or four weeks over the past six months, with roughly 80 people in copy. He has taken his crusade to many of the people we work with who have never met me, and many partners he copies on emails are potential places where I might want to work one day. I have gotten feedback from some of them that they do not take it seriously at all (his ramblings do seem slightly paranoid or schizophrenic), but I am drained emotionally by this. Letting him go was one of my first difficult management decisions, and although I do not regret it for the better of our organization, I wish I had not opened that Pandora’s box. I have learned from it and would handle future layoffs differently, but in the immediate situation I am at a loss. My manager seems pretty overwhelmed and doesn’t know what to do either.
Legally, we can’t do much; he lives in another country, and my organization would not take on an international court case (if that even exists). This is a strange complex situation, But in general terms, how would you deal with ex-employees / workers who have been fired for bad behaviour/ poor performance when they start harassing the company or their ex-manager?
This is going to sound counterintuitive, but do nothing. Ignore it.
The way this guy is acting is so counter to how normal, rational people act that anyone who receives his missives isn’t going to take them seriously. (Frankly, cc’ing 80 people is enough to ruin his credibility, and that’s before we even get to the content of the emails.) And the fact that his letters are rambling and seem to come from someone unstable — believe me, people are not taking these seriously. Imagine, after all, if you were on the receiving end of these letters about someone else. Would you think, “Wow, Jane sounds like she really treated him horribly; she must be a bad person,” or would you think, “This guy has some serious problems and he’s annoying me”? You’d think the latter.
So I can promise you that no one is putting stock in these letters. You are, of course, because they’re about you, and it’s horrible to feel that someone out there dislikes you so much and is sharing it with the world. And you’re questioning how you handled the ending of his contract, and you’re feeling that he’s exposing you as having done wrong in some way. But he’s not.
I don’t know the details of how you handled the end of his contract, but certainly the decision to do it sounds more than justified. And if you were awkward in how you handled it because it was your first time doing something like that — well, welcome to the club. Most managers are awkward in the early stages of learning how to do that. It’s not ideal, but it’s reality. And 99.9% (more, really) of their employees don’t react like this guy is. The issue here is him. It’s not about your actions.
You had the bad luck of having an unhinged person on your staff. And people hearing from him see that.
So I would ignore it, and keep reminding yourself that other people are too. It will go away in time, I promise.