update: my coworker told a candidate’s current employer that he’s job-searching

Remember the letter-writer who strongly suspected that a coworker had outed a job applicant to his current employer? Here’s the update.

After reading AAM’s response and the comments, I spoke with my manager (who is also my group’s director) about what had happened. She was disappointed in “Lucinda’s” behavior, but, like me, had concerns about how to address it (since the information came through the grapevine.) She ultimately reminded both my group and Lucinda’s group about the importance of data security and maintaining the confidentiality of corporate information. She went so far as to describe very high level what had happened. As many commenters predicted, Lucinda had no idea the comments were based on her actions. Lucinda’s group is currently understaffed, so I can understand the reluctance to take action over something based on hearsay, even if we believe it to be true.

I took several steps to distance myself from her. Also, Lucinda had several of her clients shifted away from her (as I previously mentioned, she was having performance issues, although I think this was taken into consideration.) She has noticed a shift in attitude towards her and she cornered me in the restroom one day to vent her frustrations. She mentioned she is looking for a new job and is working with a headhunter. Ironically, she is concerned the headhunter might say something to someone at our employer and that would put her in a bad position with our director.

I think Lucinda is in over her head in her job and I recently spoke to her manager with a suggestion to move her into a new role that would let her maximize her strengths and also provide support to the team. Her manager liked my suggestion and is going to think about making a shift and will discuss it with our director. I don’t know if it will ultimately materialized and I’m not sure how Lucinda would respond if her job was redefined (it would downgrade her role, but she could keep her title and pay) but clearly, she’s unhappy in her current role. I believe this would be a win/win and her most likely chance of success at our company.

As for “Adam” and “Brian,” I have nothing new to report. My company recently posted two job openings and I was once again encouraged to reach out to my contacts. However, under the circumstances, I decided not to reach out to Adam again. I know he is looking for a new job, so he will see the job postings. If he decides to apply and/or reaches out to me, I would definitely encourage him and do what I can do help him get the job. But for the time being, I don’t feel right about proactively reaching out to him. Maybe in the future, after the dust settles a bit more. My company has been growing by leaps and bounds and we will have opportunities again.

Thank you, AAM, and all the commenters for their feedback!

{ 21 comments… read them below }

  1. Not So NewReader*

    Lucinda seems disconnected from all that is going on around her. You did well to survive her vent without saying too much. I still feel bad for Adam. Wasn’t his application kept on file?

    Then there is that fallen angel in me that wants to know, does the director know Lucinda is job hunting? Oh, wait, maybe the director is praying Lucinda is job hunting.

  2. Connie-Lynne*

    It’s so great to hear about a workplace where management looks at a low-performing employee and thinks about a new, more appropriate role for them (even if Lucinda ultimately decides to move on). This is an attitude I’ve been working to help implement at my current employer: when we look at low-performers, is it that they might perform well in a different role?

    1. Jean*

      Yes! Keep it up! This is an amazingly humane way to approach the situation. It also seems to be a win-win because the employer saves some of the resources (staff time, aka $; accompanying dip in coworkers’ morale) required to dismiss and replace an employee. I suppose the only consideration–aside from persuading the pertinent managers–is whether the is sufficiently large or flexible to accommodate such judicious staff-shuffling. It may be more difficult or outright impossible to do the Judicious Staff Shuffle (JSS) at a place in which everyone is locked into one specific role due to size or institutional rigidity.

      Then again, too much rigidity impedes doing The Shuffle or any other kind of dancing…

    2. Vera*

      I don’t know. My company does this and I think it’s really discouraging for high performers to see so many low performers still with the company after many years of under-performing, role shifting, changing depts, etc. As a result, the high performers carry a lot of the weight of the workload and the company can’t find additional funds to hire on additional good-to-great employees because they are still keeping around low performers.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, I tend to agree. If someone is truly going to be a high performer — not just okay — in the new role, that’s one thing … but I wouldn’t advocate doing it just to avoid letting someone go, for exactly this reason.

      2. BananaPants*

        As an employee who’s dealt with a low-performing coworker in my group for the last 6-7 years, the rest of us would love nothing more than for him to change departments or find a new job or even to be fired. He was dumped on us from his previous group when his manager there saw an opportunity to unload him.
        It is extremely discouraging to see someone coasting along, openly spending workdays playing fantasy sports or doing work for his other job – and knowing that his paychecks are much bigger than mine while he meets few of his deliverables, and what little he does deliver is stolen from other employees and shoddily laundered to make it look like he did the work. It kills morale like nothing else – especially with the knowledge that our manager is aware of the situation and chooses to do nothing about it.

        I think there’s a difference between someone who is legitimately not a good fit for their current role but would be a solid contributor elsewhere in the organization (assuming there’s a spot open for him/her), and someone who’s just a lousy employee regardless of what role s/he is in. The key is to honestly assess the situation.

        1. JM in England*

          Had such a person at Old Job. As you say, when you see them doing so little work and your manager not lifting a finger either, it makes you think “Why bother?”

  3. INTP*

    The OP is a better person than me, because I would have been so, so, tempted to tell our higher ups what Lucinda said about looking for a new job to give her a taste of her own medicine!

      1. Mephyle*

        Yes, I would have been tempted too. I imagine it as:
        Lucinda: But what if the headhunter lets something slip and they find out here that I’m looking for a job! It might kill my career here!
        Me: You mean like what happened to Adam at his company after you told Bob that he had applied here?

        1. Raine*

          I don’t see any reason at all why the OP couldn’t have said something like this to Lucinda (if OP had wanted to, that is). No one needs to help an adult fare on in life — but OP is actually trying to help make it possible for Lucinda to stay on in another role. Being someone taking an interest in Lucinda, if Lucinda did out Adam and her job at her current employer has pretty much unraveled as a result, it might actually be helpful to alert her when she leaves so it doesn’t happen again.

    1. MK*

      Quite apart from it being unethical (and Lucinda being unethical too wouldn’t cancel that out, in my opinion), there still a possibility that it wasn’t her who gossiped about Adam’s job search.

      1. Jerry Vandesic*

        I agree. The OP seems to be making a lot of assumptions, and is doing a bit too much gossiping for my taste. She needs to be careful or her reputation is going to be tarnished regardless of what happened at the other company.

        1. OP*

          I found this comment to be ironic. My entire purpose of writing in to AAM was to see if an objective point of view would see me as gossiping if I told my manager what happened. I did not want to go to my manager if it was likely she was going to write me off as a gossip and a pot-stirrer. Also, I am concerned about my reputation, although more along the lines of others thinking it was me who let the cat out of the bag on Adam’s job hunt. Did I make assumptions? Yes, but they were well founded having known and worked with most of these people for the last seven years.

          I did not go to Lucinda’s manager to talk about her in a gossipy sense. We were discussing the staffing situation and lack of resources. I suggested creating a certain type of role on her team to address a gap and then said I thought Lucinda would be good for it. She agreed.

          And yes, it was very difficult not to respond to Lucinda’s statement about the headhunter. I also thought it possible she was trying to gage my reaction in case she actually did think our director was talking about her. I made a neutral comment that it wouldn’t reflect well on the headhunter to do that. As karmic as it might be to give her a taste of her own medicine, it’s not really my style. Also, as someone else said, I think they wouldn’t mind if she left. Unfortunately, we have two backfill positions that are really difficult to fill and creating a third would be devastating to the current staff. Better to work with what we have and see if there is a place for her that will benefit everyone. If not her, it might be a good fit for someone else (internally or externally).

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, I don’t think it’s gossipy. The stuff that the OP is discussing isn’t gossip; it’s stuff with real consequences and importance to the employer, and she’s bringing it up to do something about it, which is pretty much the opposite of gossip!

      2. Melissa*

        In the original letter, OP said that she had lunch with a colleague at her former employer, and that colleague specifically said that Lucinda had reached out to Adam’s boss, Bob (Brian in this update), and told Bob that Adam was interviewing for a job at OP’s new company. Now perhaps the former colleague is mistaken or outright lying, but it’s more likely that she’s not.

  4. Clerica*

    Ironically, she is concerned the headhunter might say something to someone at our employer and that would put her in a bad position with our director.

    Well, I’ll be tasting banana smoothie for the rest of the day.

  5. YaH*

    “I think Lucinda is in over her head in her job and I recently spoke to her manager with a suggestion to move her into a new role that would let her maximize her strengths and also provide support to the team. Her manager liked my suggestion and is going to think about making a shift and will discuss it with our director.”

    This, to me, seemed really inappropriate. I didn’t get the sense that OP was in any sort of superior position to Lucinda, which means that this was a case of one employee going to the manager of another employee to say “hey, your employee isn’t good at her job, you should move her to another position.” If I were in management at OP’s company, Lucinda wouldn’t be the only one I’d be keeping under close watch for causing problems.

    1. Biff*

      I recently had to go to management about another employee, and while I get where you are coming from, saying nothing was no longer an option if the goal was long-term peace in the office. The employee in question was more obviously a liability than Lucinda, but management’s use of kid gloves in resolving his issues and the fallout from his poor performance had caused a major morale shift. If I could have suggested a different role, I feel like I would have for sake of ‘softening’ the blow. I can understand the OPs course of action, especially if I consider that in some businesses, support roles go unfilled, and having someone, really anyone in that role can make a heavy workload easier than having a team mate that isn’t pulling their weight.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Eh, it really depends on the dynamics. I’ve had trusted employees speak up to me in this context and I’ve really appreciated it. Hierarchy doesn’t have to govern every interaction to the point that a trusted colleague can’t say “hey, here’s what I’m seeing and X could work really well.”

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