managing an employee who was passed over for your role

A reader writes:

There are lots of posts online about “how to deal with being passed over.” I am looking for perspective from the other side of the coin.

I was awarded a GM role and have to work with someone who was passed over for my role. What is the best way to deal with this person? I am an outsider to the industry but had stronger people management and Profit/Loss experience. I now have to work with someone who was passed over for the role.

Can you offer any suggestions? They are disappointed, a little sullen, and worst of all are voicing concerns to the staff.

She’s allowed to be disappointed — even angry or resentful, as long as she keeps it to herself. But she’s not welcome to behave unprofessionally, behave adversarially to you, spread toxicity, etc. If she’s doing any of these things, you need to address it head-on, by meeting with her in private and explaining your expectations of her conduct and how she’s not currently meeting them. In particular, you want to emphasize that if she has concerns about you, you expect her to bring them to you, not gossip behind your back. If the problem continues after that, you need to treat it like any other performance problem.

If her problematic behavior is fairly mild, you might also offer to help her with a growth plan so that she’s a stronger candidate for a promotion in the future.

What you don’t want to do is indulge the behavior. You want to address it directly, and soon, because this kind of thing can become a poison if left to fester. Sometimes in this situation, managers are more indulgent of problematic behavior because they feel sympathetic or even slightly guilty for getting the job the person wanted. Avoid that trap; the most effective thing you can do is to make it clear that she will be held to the same standards of conduct anyone else would be held to. Disappointments or not, she’s a grown-up working in a professional environment and needs to handle her disappointments like one.

{ 14 comments… read them below }

  1. Karen F.*

    I agree with Alison: Whatever happens, never feel guilty about being where you are now. You were selected for that post for a reason and clearly, your bosses know you deserve this promotion. Deal with the co-worker as things happen, but with caution; it is equally bad form if you automatically assume they are trying to sabotage your efforts when that may not be the case.

    Karen, The Resume Chick (on Google or Twitter for questions, comments or violent reactions)

  2. Anonymous*

    I disagree with the instructions to tell the employee to stop talking with other employees about the boss. That might be considered concerted activity and therefore a violation of the NLRA. I would tell the employee concerns need to be directed to the supervisor and if they can't accept/respect the supervisor maybe it's not the right job for them.

  3. Anonymous*

    Actually concerted activity is very broadly defined by the NLRA in part as 2 employees discussing pay or other work related conditions. Almost anything can fit under "work related conditions." Talking with a co worker about how crappy the boss is seems to fit pretty well in that definition. And of course it doesn't matter whether the employees are unionized or not.

  4. Kara*

    I've done some work in employment law and the majority of what we see as far as employees badmouthing the boss isn't protected by the NLRA. Some is but it's the exception to the rule………

  5. Anonymous*

    Concerted activity is usually protected if the intent behind the conversations between employees is to improve the working conditions. That's why it's a bad idea to give blanket instructions such as don't complain to other employees about the boss.

  6. Anonymous*

    The NLRA doesn't cover things like complaining that your boss is incompetent which it sounds like is what's going on here.

  7. Charles*

    I am curious to know how the OP knew that this person was passed over for the job. Did someone tell you who the internal candidates were?

    As a trainer brought in from the outside I have often been in the OP's shoes here. It is, sometimes, clear who some of the internal candidates were for the job that I got – their bitterness, resentment, and downright unprofessional attitudes shine through. (In two cases, the passed-over people actually came up to me during my first office rounds and let me know that they applied for my job, and not in a polite way. – neither one stayed very long after that – see about digging holes below)

    With some, one solution I use is to try to get them to help with the training, that is if they really have an interest in training (the growth plan as AAM suggests). I let them know that I consider them to be valuable members of the team.

    However, if they are just someone who always has to complain about something, are not really interested in training, or are just plain unprofessional (all valid reasons for being passed over for this position!?); then there isn't much that I can do about it.

    Unlike AAM, I take a differnt approach to this, mainly because I am NOT a supervisor. So, if they are bad mouthing my training, or in any other way trying to undermine my efforts then there isn't much that I want to do about it. I don't want to start a battle with employees taking sides as the "older-timers" will always side with their "friends" against the "new guy/outsider."

    Instead, because I am confident enough in my abilities as a trainer, I just let them go on because I know that eventually they will dig themselves into a deep hole that they cannot get out of.

    And as could happen in the OP's case, professional co-workers will eventually see this co-worker's behaviour and realize that it is a good thing that this person was NOT promoted to be their boss.

    For the record, everyone that I know about who didn't get my job either ended up working with me or they quit because folks stopped listening to them complain and got tired of their trying to undermine the department/company (and possibly take them down with them).

    To the OP I will say:

    I've been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Good luck.

  8. Anonymous*

    OP shouldn't be privy to who the other candidates were. Someone was indiscrete. OP shouldn't repeat their mistake by also being indiscrete.

    Carry on as if you do not know who the other applicants were, and do not treat anyone differently because they did or did not apply for the job.

  9. Anonymous*

    NLRA is very specific in content and area, the OP didn't reference a situation where they could seek relief under NLRA.

    It's not easy because the newly promoted want to be generous with their new latitude, even with jerks that don't appreciate all that new role entails! New boss has to roll with the punches, and assert themselves in the role until the new boss phase passes.

    If the passed over employee (jmho this phrase implies they weren't a contender for the job) has an attitude – they own it. You have to deal with it. Start delegating, overseeing, and working with them. If the attitude persists, lay down the law.

    Don't suck up to them, don't treat them differently, for Gods sake don't pity them but treat them as someone you value, someone that reports to YOU.

  10. Amy*

    In some instances I think it's tough to not know who you're up against – in retail management, for example. If a GM position was open, there were always lower level managers within the same store who would look for that promotion. And in my experience, you knew the others in the district who would be vying for the position as well – and you didn't have to be told who it was. Some industries are just small worlds like that.

  11. Wingmaster*

    Great advice Alison
    I have not started my new position yet but was asked this very question in my interview. All of my new direct reports which are supervisors applied for the position I got. There were actually over 40 other current employees that applied for this position. I was the only current employee that made the cut all the others I was up against were outsiders. They asked me how I will deal with this. Since I was not a current employee of this department experience was another factor that they asked me about. I told them I would deal with them one on one when the issue came up. I would tell them I value them as an employee and value their experience. I would count on them as my content matter experts. I also said that I would help foster and mentor them if they feel they want to advance in their carriers.

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