my new staff resents me — what do I do?

A reader writes:

I recently started a new job where I manage a department of five people. One person on my team applied for my role but didn’t get it — and I’m getting the sense that he and the rest of the team resent me for it. How do I smooth things over and gain their respect?

Walking into a new team can be tricky even when you’re welcomed without reservation. It’s particularly tough when some team members seem not to want you there! Here are five keys to handling it with poise — and hopefully winning over your team in the process.

1. Don’t let the situation make you insecure or defensive. It can be tough to maintain your equilibrium when the team you’re charged with leading seems to be viewing you with skepticism, but don’t let it rattle you. Remember that you were hired for a reason, and your employer believes you’re the person best able to lead this team — if you start to lose your confidence in that, your team is likely to pick up on it.

2. Reach out to each staff member individually and build relationships with each of them. It’s easy to have resentment against a faceless “new manager” who you don’t yet know or who isolates herself in her office. It’s harder to keep up the resentment against someone who’s warm, open and genuinely interested in getting to know you and help make your work life easier — so make sure you’re the latter.

3. Consider addressing it directly. Consider reaching out to the staff member who had applied for your role to talk about what his professional aspirations are and how you might help him reach them. For instance, you might offer to help him create a professional growth plan so that he’s a stronger candidate for a promotion in the future.

4. Nip any toxic behavior in the bud. Sometimes in this situation, managers are more indulgent of problematic behavior because they feel sympathetic or even slightly guilty for getting the job that one of their team members wanted. But if you let inappropriate behavior — like hostility or passive aggression — fester, it can become a poison.

That means that you need to be very clear with people when their behavior doesn’t meet your standards, and you need to be willing to set and enforce consequences if it doesn’t change. For example, if someone makes a snide comment about decisions you’re making, you’d want to talk with the person privately immediately afterwards.

You might calmly say something like, “I’d be glad to explain the thinking behind my decisions, but I’m getting the sense that you’re skeptical of how I’m making decisions in general. What’s going on?” Listen with an open mind, but explain that you expect any disagreements to be raised privately and respectfully — just as you’ll do yourself.

Then, if it happens again, you’d address it with additional gravity. For example, at that stage you might say, “Jane, we’ve talked about this previously and it’s continuing to happen. I value your work, but I need someone in your role who will be a positive presence on the team, raise concerns in a professional manner and not cause tension. Are you able to do that?” (And of course, if problems continue after that, you need to address it as you would any other serious performance problem.)

5. Make sure you’re managing really well. Throughout all of this, it’s essential that you be managing well — setting clear goals and expectations, delegating work effectively, giving useful feedback, and so forth. That should always be your goal, of course, but it’s especially important when you’re the new leader of a wary team.

This post was originally published at DailyWorth.

{ 31 comments… read them below }

  1. anon-2*

    To OP = AAM’s advice in her other article are spot-on — BUT — you could very well be in a no-win situation.

    Just as your bosses stuck you in a situation where passed-over employees are bound to be disgruntled, you are now in a situation handling them.

    When you accepted this position, I would think you CERTAINLY knew what you were walking into. If not, those who hired you *should have* advised you – “uh, you’re walking into a minefield because….” and asked “think you can handle it?”

    1. ABC*

      I walked into that exact situation in my last job and no one told me a thing. Don’t assume that the OP was told anything!

      1. anon-2*

        Then – as a manager – ASK that question before you go in and say “I’ll take the job” … “Were any of my subordinates passed over for this position?” If the answer is “ummm yeah” then it’s reasonable to ask —

        – why was the person passed over, because I have to deal with that coming in.
        – was the person TOLD why?
        – how long was he/she here?
        – be honest – is the person being held back because it’s important she stay in her position (too “valuable” to promote?)

        I’m also rather surprised – if it’s a professional office – did you interview with any potential subordinates who weren’t interested in the position ?

        1. MK*

          I think this will come as extremely wierd to most hiring managers. It’s like you are questioning a) their hiring practices (the same practices that got you the job) or b) you are implying that they didn’t treat their employee fairly (super wierd) or c) that you are so unable to handle confrontation that you are willing to turn down an offer to avoid it. I think it makes you look unnecessarily adversarial and weak at the same time.

      2. Not the OP*

        I’m in this exact situation right now (it’s stressful to say the least) and wasn’t told a thing either.

    2. fposte*

      And you know, sometimes this happens and people get over it; I’ve been the employee that happened to. It’s not always doom on a cracker.

      1. ClaireS*

        I agree; it’s not always the end of the world. I’ve witnessed the exact same thing on other teams. The first little while is rocky but eventually everyone gets over it and on with the work. However, I am very lucky to work with incredible professionals.

        1. some1*

          And I’ve seen this simply because people are apprehensive about getting a new boss and the uncertainty that comes with that, regardless of whether anyone on the team was considered for the role.

          1. anon-2*

            And sometimes, they DON’T get over it, fposte.

            Yes, there is apprehension over a new boss, because there are uncertainties going forward concerning personalities, style, and expectations. I agree with that.

            1. fposte*

              Sure. Never said that wasn’t the case. But plenty of people were talking about times when it wasn’t surmountable, so I thought I’d mention that that’s not that only possible outcome.

            2. MK*

              In my personal expierience, in most cases that they didn’t get over it, things turned out badly for them, not the new hire. I am sure there are cases where management is too lazy/indifferent/wimpy to deal with the situation, but most managers I know would not allow a disgruntled employee to cause such a disruption.

              Also, keep in mind that when an employee is “passed over”, the company might be prepared to lose him/her over it. And I am highly sceptical of the “too valuable to promote” rationale you mentioned above; all too often i have seen it used as a way to soften the blow of the rejection. Usually “but you are so great at your current role” is shorthand for “we don’t think you will be all that great at a higher position”.

          2. Laura*

            I’ve seen it because people didn’t like it going to someone external instead of internal when no one internal wanted the job, too. They wanted someone familiar and who “knew the land” and didn’t get that. No one who knew the land wanted to step out on it.

            1. anon-2*

              Different circumstances, Laura. No one was passed over there. The team will probably welcome a new manager with open arms. Quite different from someone perceiving his/her career was just derailed, and the staff agreeing with that observation.

              1. fposte*

                Nonetheless, it doesn’t have to turn out terrible in that situation either. All the rainbows of possibility still exist :-).

              2. Laura*

                No, actually, my point was that in the case I saw it, they _did_ resent the new guy for not being internal – despite the fact that none of them wanted it, they wanted someone else who “knew the company” already to have wanted and gotten it.

                The point I was trying to make, probably badly, is that _lots_ of things can cause disgruntlement and dislike of a new manager. No amount of questioning is going to find all of them out, although some of it may help in advance.

                Someone internal got passed over? They may be fine with that, if the company handled it well. Or it might be a steaming mess. No internal candidates applied? They may be fine with things…but it still could be a steaming mess. Or they might have been fine if the new manager were not X, for any number of X’s.

                If you’re going to be hired as a manager somewhere, the possibility of a new employee who doesn’t think you should have the role is always a possibility, sadly. More or less so depending on circumstances? Sure. But still possible.

      2. Kelly L.*

        Yeah, at my current job, I had someone take me aside and tell me that someone else in the office had been passed over and was angry–but in fact she and I ended up getting along great and having no issues. I worried for nothing.

        1. anon-2*

          You were lucky.

          I guess the rule of thumb is – don’t be so enamored with a new job that you forget to ask the appropriate questions before you go into it.

          This is more of a problem today than it was in more robust economic times.

          If someone was passed over, he/she would just go find another job and leave. The passed over person will assess his/her career checkpoint, realize that “a better job awaits” (sorry careerbuilder. com) and move on to greener pastures.

          And what he left behind, is of no concern to him or her. While there is pain – no one likes to leave a comfortable position – but reality dictates, you must take care of yourself, your family, your career, and your future. I left a job that I loved – because I was passed over for a promotion – for a job I had been effectively doing for a year. I regretted having to quit and move on – my manager even went to bat for me when this was done – I told him “thanks, but this group is NOT my family.”

          Today – the passed over candidate is often “stuck”. He/she can’t go anywhere in this economy. Employers know that and can use the “pass over dance” to keep good people down. So there may be resentment and anger.

          An incoming manager – if he/she is to do the job effectively – had better know what he/she’s walking into.

          When I finish “Dinner Table Stories” – there will be a number of incidents where someone was passed over.. and the consequences that were paid.

          1. fposte*

            While I think we agree that employees may well be unhappy to be passed over, I think, judging by your comments on this in several posts, we have a disagreement about what’s appropriate for an employee and employer to do in these situations and whether it’s always the employer’s fault and mistake.

            As I said, I’ve been that employee, and I’ve had the resentment and anger and felt trapped, in the middle of a not-robust economic time. But it also didn’t turn out horribly. I agree that it might flame out, but I feel like you’re locked into a narrative where such a hire is always clearly a dreadful move by the employer, that it will never work out, and that it’s the employer’s fault if the disappointed employee takes it out on everybody around her. And that’s too simplistic for me, and I disagree.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think you’re seeing this from only one point of view. There are certainly circumstances like you’ve described. But there are also circumstances where the company made the right hire and were correct to pass over the internal candidate, and where the external hire works out beautifully, and where the internal hire manages to handle their disappointment professionally and works happily with the new manager.

            And I’ve yet to see a great performer who would openly show resentment toward a new hire, at least not for more than a minute (and that would be a minute they’d be mortified by).

            1. anon-2*

              I don’t disagree, quite often the external hire is the correct choice. It does work out. It just doesn’t work out all of the time.

              But – if you go the external route, precautions should be taken. At times the internal hire will handle things professionally – and, at times, he won’t. The external hire should be apprised of any situations as described.

              Worst-case scenario – external hire doesn’t work out. And has to be let go. What do you do with internals who were passed over? Of course, they’re gloating, thinking “I coulda told you that!”

              Do you eat humble pie and reconsider their candidacy? Or stick to your guns and go outside for the next hire? Hiring the internal candidate at that point ???? Good idea? That’s the $64 question ….

              1. MK*

                Horrible idea, I would think. After all, the reasons the internal candidate didn’t get the job haven’t changed in the slightest; the fact that the ectrenal candidate didn’t work out doesn’t mean the internal one should have gotten the job. And, if they have behaved badly towards the original hire, there is an additional reason not to promote them. Why reward unprofessional behavior?

                1. anon-2*

                  Of course, if the internal rejectee acted unprofessionally – yeah, don’t consider him. But I didn’t mean that. What if he acted professionally and the new hire flopped?

                  Do you CONSIDER him again? Of course, as a manager you would be admitting “I made a mistake, I hired the wrong guy – and – I need you to fix the mistake.”

          3. Annai*

            I am the new Mnager at a Retail store. I walked into an enviornment that is very hostile yowards a new manager. They had, prior to my starting, gone to thje district manager and said that they don;t need a manager. They had been without a real manager for more than a year! It is dyfunctional and hostile for me. My asst. manager was the one that was passed over for my position because of her poor problem solving skills and negarive attitude. Ar first I thought that I could change that. I was positive all the time working on all working together. She has poisoned all the employees and I am finally going to write up her bad behavoir. She is overly emotional and combative!

    3. MK*

      I am really confused about what your perspective is here. Your comments seem to be implying that hiring managers should favor internal candidates to avoid disgruntled employees and people should think twice before accepting positions that an internal candidate applied for out of fear from the department’s reaction. Basically that the hiring decisions of the company and the career path of potential employees should be dictated by an employee (one who was not chosen for promotion, no less) throwing a hissy fit.

      To begin with, an employee who was “passed-over” (a term I dislike, because it implies that said employee was done wrong by in some way) is not “bound to be disgruntled”. Sensible people understand that hiring decisions are informed by many factors and don’t pesceive every rejection as a huge injustice doen to them. Reasonable people, even if they feel the promotion was owed to them, don’t take it out on the person who got the job, since the situation is not their fault anyway. Professional-minded people, even if they feel disgruntled, don’t act out on their feelings, because they know such tactics are pointless and immature. All of the above goes double and triple for the rest of the team, who have no personal stake in this and who shouldn’t behave like they are in kindergarden.

      Also, the approach you suggest for the hiring managers to handle the situation sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. If they have reason to believe that the rejected employee is going to cause trouble, they should address it before the new hire starts: “We know you are disappointed, but we expect you to act professionally towards your new manager”. The same goes for the rest of the team. If that’s not the case, pre-emptively warning the new hire and prejudicing her against her new team is hardly a good idea. And suggesting that they are not sure she can “handle it” is beyond insulting. Anyway, what self-respecting professional would respond “Oh no, I couldn’t possibly deal with a team that doesn’t adore me”?

      I would agree that the new hire should be given a discreet hint that one of their employees was rejected for the job, along with reassurance that management will support her. And then, if problems do arise, actually supporting her handling of the situation.

  2. Bend & Snap*

    I have a friend who was run out of a job after 4 months because of this issue, and no, management didn’t warn her or support her. She was in a leadership role and the woman who lost out on the job rallied her clique and basically made it impossible for my friend to be an effective manager. Insubordination, low performance, snarky remarks, outright hostility, and the departmental leadership turned a blind eye and told my friend to figure it out.

    She quit instead.

    1. Alano*

      That sounds horrible. I also faced this issue when I started my current job, but thankfully I was warned and I had solid support from my supervisors. I think that can make all the difference in these situations.

  3. GrumpyBoss*

    I’ve been the person passed over and I’ve been the manager in this scenario before. The best thing to do, IMHO, is sit down with each person and just let them vent. What don’t they like, what do they wish was different, etc. Don’t argue, don’t defend. Let them be heard.

    After you process their thoughts, you’ll be able to determine how to position yourself and your style in a way that doesn’t upset these pain points. You may even get some very useful information! But ideally, they will see that you are trying to build a relationship and have given credibility to their concerns.

    1. OhNo*

      I like this advice. From the employees’ side, sometimes all they really need to do is vent their frustration out before they can get on with behaving professionally. Plus, they might have some really good suggestions or some legitimate concerns that you can address.

  4. Artemesia*

    I think the most important thing a new manager of 5 people can do is to pretty immediately sit down privately with each member of the team and get their input about the team’s goals and issues. And listen. And listen some more. BEFORE laying out whatever your plan is with the group. It is critical to make a personal connection quickly and in the case of someone passed over to address that directly immediately and privately as AAM suggests.

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