my former employee is badmouthing me to my staff

A reader writes:

To summarize the below story, I had an employee leave the company due to a bad interaction with me, and I’m not sure how to move forward with him or the rest of the remaining staff.

I’m a midlevel manager and I work for a small entertainment company. I recently had an employee who we hired in a pinch because we thought with his experience he could fill a gap quickly and efficiently, but it turns out he was terrible and either dishonest or in denial about his own skills. He often did not listen or follow instructions, and his customer service skills were just awful. Many times, even after after discussing corrective actions, he still was unable to complete tasks correctly. He often needed to be reminded of the same thing four or more times.

After about six months, he decided to resign. He wrote an email to my boss saying that he couldn’t work for me anymore because I am angry and hostile. He also wrote that after speaking with other employees about me, he has concluded that I am just an unhappy person with anger issues, and that he feels that attempting to change the atmosphere would not be possible, as this is just who I am at my core.

I feel that it was really unnecessary for him to evaluate me as a person. It’s one thing to raise the issue that our professional interactions were not positive (which is valid, I admittedly lost my patience with this guy), but it’s another for him to say that I’m an unhappy person at my core. He doesn’t know me.

Additionally, I really hate that he did this from the perspective that he was a great employee. He even joked in the email to my boss about a project that he left improved, saying “at least that’s in better shape now” even though that particular project was delayed significantly because he didn’t follow the project instructions and had to start over.

This guy was a huge pain and was terrible at this job, and left me with more work than if we had not hired him. If I’m honest, I just didn’t feel like I had a lot of recourse, and I was really angry about it. He really frustrated me several times a day with just general incapability. I admittedly stopped putting forth effort to really handle his shortcomings in a better way because I was just tired of it.

I really want to set the record straight with this guy, that he doesn’t know me personally and I’m not an unhappy, angry person. That I failed as a manager, but he also failed as an employee. Is that even worth it? Could I even do it if it were since he already left? I’m sure the answer is probably no and no, but would feel better hearing that from others.

More importantly, I want to set the record straight with my staff. How do I move forward with them?

Definitely don’t pursue the idea of trying to set the record straight with this guy now that he’s gone. He no longer works for you, and it would be odd to contact him now to tell him he’s wrong about you. It will look to him — and more importantly, to anyone else who hears about it — like you’re inappropriately holding on to a work disagreement that ended with his departure, that you’re overly invested in what a former employee thinks of you, and that you’re not recognizing appropriate manager/employee boundaries (which generally mean the time for trying to change an employee’s perspective is while they’re still working for you, not afterwards).

I totally get the temptation to try to set the record straight with him. It’s frustrating to hear that someone’s take on you is so wrong. But the door is closed on this one.

Your staff who are still there are a different story. Even with them, though, I’d be very cautious about attempting to address this. They’re going to believe what they know from their own firsthand experience with you. If you’ve been a generally good manager and not angry or hostile, his words aren’t likely to carry a ton of weight (and that goes triple if they saw the shortcomings in his work).

The best thing you can do is to conduct yourself well and trust that the people who work for you will see that. That will garner you far more respect than trying to tell them your side of what should be a private personnel issue.

The exception to this is if it’s become truly disruptive on your team. If people are gossiping about the situation and it’s become a distraction, you’d need to address that. But even then, you wouldn’t get into all the details of what happened. Fairly or not, people expect their manager to be the bigger person in a dispute like this and to be discreet about whatever went down with a toxic former employee.

But the thing I’m most concerned about in your letter is how the situation got to the point that it did. Hiring mistakes happen, but once you’ve realized someone isn’t doing the work at the level you need and isn’t responding to feedback, you’ve got to take pretty swift action to resolve it (which generally means warning them you’ll need to let them go if they don’t do XYZ, and then following through on that). You felt like you weren’t able to do that, and I’m curious about why. If you don’t have the authority to fire, you presumably do have the authority to make a case for firing to someone above you (which also would have given you some protection from this guy’s accusations later on, since your manager would have already known there were serious problems with him and would have seen his complaints through that lens).

What you can’t do is to just stop trying to manage the person — which is what it sounds like happened here, and then you got angry because you felt you didn’t have the tools to resolve the situation. But frustration and anger are Not Okay for a manager to display at work. You can certainly experience them privately, but a manager displaying anger at work creates a really unpleasant environment for other people (in fact, my podcast episode today is about that), and it’ll make people lose respect for you because you’ll look like you don’t know how to exercise your authority appropriately. (More on this here.)

So while I’m sure you’re right that you’re not a fundamentally angry or unhappy person like his email accused you of being, it sounds like you did bring those emotions into work in a way that wasn’t okay. You’ve got to take responsibility for that and figure out how to avoid in the future.

That complicates my advice above about how if you’ve been a generally good manager and not angry or hostile, this guy’s words won’t carry much weight with people … because it sounds like you were angry and hostile toward him! And if people saw that, they may indeed give it some weight. You can’t change the past, and you can’t argue against what really happened — but you can resolve to handle this kind of situation differently going forward, double down on managing effectively from now on, and trust that in time people will see that.

{ 193 comments… read them below }

  1. JokeyJules*

    Is any of your trying to coach him documented?
    Honestly, I doubt your manager will put too much weight on this one once they talk to other staff you manage, or if they’ve experienced some of his shortcomings.

    Some people are really out of touch with reality. We had an employee who was fired and once fired emailed the entire company saying that we sabotaged him and he is too brilliant for us anyway. Now, it’s just a thing we laugh about occasionally.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      To be honest it was the manager I’d be most concerned about! That’s who I would be focused on if I was OP, I’d want to walk through a debrief with my boss to explain what happened, what steps were taken, and what the lessons learned were. Presenting it calmly should demonstrate that you’re not the (main) problem here.

    2. OP*

      Yes, everything was documented as best as I was able.
      I documented training plans, coaching conversations, and sent updates to my manager.
      I expressed concern about the employee early on, shortly after the hire, but was told I had to just try to make it work.

      We all sit out in the open, including my manager, so he also heard firsthand many of the mistakes this employee made even after I gave clear instructions.

      1. OP*

        After the employee left, I reiterating to my manager that I brought up concerns along the way. Additionally I was not the only one raising concerns about the employee.

        We resolved that in the future we will not wait so long to take corrective actions such as letting employees go if they are not working out.

        We also resolved that I will be able to take more of an active role in the hiring process, so that I have some recourse in these types of situations.

        1. Annoyed*

          Let’s stipulate that the employee was as bad of an employee as you say he was.

          You did say “…I was really angry about it. He really frustrated me several times a day with just general incapability. I admittedly stopped putting forth effort…”

          Therefore, from his point of you you probably were angry and unhappy. I totally get why you were … totally understand it but that doesn’t mean that his assessment is inaccurate.

          “ yes, I failed there’s a manager… but he failed as an employee…“ would probably come off sounding like middle school to be honest.

          Plus like Alison said he doesn’t work for you anymore so “setting the record straight“ isn’t really going to do much.

          If I were someone’s former employee, even a “bad“ former employee and they contacted me after I didn’t work for them anymore to complain to me about an email I sent to another person etc., etc., etc. I’d probably have some not really very nice words to say to them.

          Do you really want to have this guy come back at you? He already thinks that you’re angry and unhappy. Why should his opinion matter at all anyway?

        2. Marty*

          It’s okay to walk away from the table without “winning” the battle. it’s a learning experience for you and your organization.

        3. MLB*

          If you have one on ones with your staff, I would ask them for feedback on your management style. That may alleviate any concerns you have with what happened. My main concern was with YOUR manager, but as you said above they were aware and you have stuff documented. If your staff would feel comfortable being honest with you, they may bring up things you aren’t totally aware of to avoid this type of situation in the future. It does sound like the employee was delusional about his ability to do his job, but it also sounds like you may not have handled it in the best way possible. I get the anger and frustration, but as a manager you have to take the high road, and handle it differently.

      2. Ego Chamber*

        “I expressed concern about the employee early on, shortly after the hire, but was told I had to just try to make it work.”

        It sounds like the real problem is a combination of your manager refusing to let you manage a problem employee and your manager refusing to manage a problem employee.

        What was your manager’s end game here? The underqualified/problem employee will spontaneously improve and git gud at the job or else get fed up and quit? Since it worked, they’re less likely to change the strategy.

        In future, push hard to make sure your manager follows through with the things they’ve promised, ’cause this is a terrible way to run a department.

  2. Antilles*

    I think you have no choice but to take the high road here and just manage well. I get the desire to want to explain and defend yourself, but I just don’t think there’s anything you could possibly say to either your staff or him that will help the situation. If anything, trying to defend yourself very well might backfire and actually make things worse.
    It sucks, but this is a case where you just sort of need to pretend his complaints don’t exist, keep on keeping on and let your actions speak for themselves.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      If there were a real zinger email that would make someone realize “Oh! They aren’t the problem–I am the problem!” then people would already be sharing the magic wording.

      What usually happens instead when people act on the temptation is Jules’s example–the would-be devastating takedown gets passed around as a joke.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Agreed. In my experience, the only thing that counters badmouthing is taking action or behaving in a way that demonstrates that those complaints are wrong. Arguing about it doesn’t convince anyone, and in many cases, it lends credence to the idea that the complaints are accurate (because if they were inaccurate, why are they getting under your skin and making you angry?). Rightly or wrongly, trying to “right” this issue is going to feed into the ex-employee’s narrative about OP.

      The only thing OP can do is try their best to come up with better ways of handling a problem employee going forward and to be as professional and role-model-y as possible with their current team. Identify what made you feel frustrated and powerless, OP, and try to figure out how to work through or around those issues (or at least how to diffuse your frustration/anger, because it’s not great to have those on open display at work).

      1. Tort-ally HareBrained*

        One of my favorite quotes is “Live in such a way that if someone spoke badly of you, no one would believe it.” I agree that OP just needs to carry themselves well from here on out.

        1. Engineer Woman*

          Love this quote.
          For the OP: I don’t think there’s any action to take at this point to try to negate what has been said. It seems your negative interactions might have been witnessed by others and so it’s hard to then say “but I’m not like that”. It might take some time to convince your staff that are aren’t as portrayed by your ex-employee and unfortunately sometimes there is no quick fix but slowly show what you want to show.

        2. ElspethGC*

          This is how I dealt with someone continually bad-mouthing me on a month-long trip when we were all 17/18, and it’s a brilliant strategy. (It’s oh-so-comforting to know that apparently some grown adults act like hormonal teenagers and I’ll probably have to employ the same method in the future…) (and CW, gendered slurs incoming.)

          One month. Constantly sharing tents and not being able to get away from anyone. I’m a total introvert, and it grated. This one girl, my classmate, was constantly switching between trying to be my best friend ever, and insulting and complaining about me. It sucked, and more than once I cried in the shower (the only place you could get any real privacy). She occasionally turned it around and started accusing me of being the terrible one in this situation. But I was very careful to not retaliate and escalate (one month! couldn’t get away from it!) and basically just ignored it and didn’t respond to her accusations.

          About two days before we were due to go home, she blew something completely out of proportion (I had my big bag open near the tent door, she said I was in the way, I closed the bag so it wasn’t in front of the door anymore – apparently not lugging the whole bag to the other side of the tent meant I was insulting her) and flounced off. I got to breakfast, asked where she was. It turns out that she started complaining that I had insulted her and, in her words, “you’d better not annoy Elspeth today, she’s being a complete bitch”.

          The response by one of our other tentmates? “She put up with your insults for an entire month and never complained once, and she was never rude about you even behind your back – which is being a bigger person than *I* would if I had to put up with you like she has. I don’t know what she said to you, but I can guarantee that *she* wasn’t the one being the bitch in this situation.” The other girl walked off without a word and didn’t speak to any of us for the rest of the day.

          My long game worked. It felt great. I mean, I *wasn’t* being rude or anything to her, so it wasn’t like I needed to trick anyone, but still. She spoke badly of me, and nobody whatsoever believed it. It really does work.

    3. Dan*

      Yup. This is the same as touting your own soft skills on a resume — they have no credibility without supporting evidence.

      Likewise, I think it’s actually pretty rare for a “setting the record straight” message to actually be effective (outside of an employer/employee relationship, or something similar.) It’s no different than yelp or tripadvisor where a consumer writes “the product/service sucks” and the business’s response is “well, you were a problem customer, not our fault.” I’ve yet to see a time where that messaging left the company in a better light than just saying nothing at all.

      I appreciate factual corrections (“you don’t have X on the menu” when they in fact do) but I don’t think replies to “your X is too expensive” can be effectively countered in that format.

      The same is true with the OP — safest play is to let it go.

    4. Paper Librarian*

      In my experience, it takes a long time for the high road to show its merits, but it is worth it.

      When I was a new manager, I had a student assistant quit very suddenly and reported me for saying something inappropriate. The inappropriate thing I had done was something I said taken out of context and tone, but by the time it made it’s way through the rumor mill there was no saving my relationship to the student nor my reputation. At the time, it was a horrifying thing to know that this group of students who I had thought I was on good terms with were talking about horrible things I’d allegedly done.

      Maybe it was tempting to track down the students I’d presumed were spreading the gossip and tell them it was wrong, but I held firm. I made sure things were cleared up between my boss and I, and then I continued to treat the students as fairly and equally as possible. Now, I have student assistants telling others how awesome I am.

      You cannot stop gossip from subordinates. All you can try to do is let your actions speak for you.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This is so true. It took 2.5 years of the high road before it resulted in change, for me (in a non-work context). It sucks because it feels like low-road walkers get ahead, but at the end of the day, I have to live with myself, and I feel better about myself if I feel like I’m trying to stay on the high road. I just try to be the person my dog thinks I am.

      2. JSPA*

        I had a student who apparently thought I was telling him “to tweak” (which apparently means, take amphetamines to stay awake longer) when I asked for a (minor) re-write on a short proposal, he said he had no time to do it, and I told him “just tweak it a bit, then.”

        I only found out when another student came to me asking for input on the cultivation of magic mushrooms, and (besides telling him that this was not an appropriate question), I asked what gave him the impression that I’d have, and choose to share, that sort of knowledge.

        We come from different places, we live different lives, we have different brains, we only theoretically use the same language and only theoretically agree on the same social rules. People simply will misconstrue stuff. There’s honestly no guaranteed way to prevent it.

        1. Fergus, Stealer of Pens and Microwaver of Fish*

          This is just like Mean Girls when Tina Fey says she’s a “pusher.” :)

        2. Ego Chamber*

          I got reported for being on drugs at work once because a coworker asked me how I was and I said “I’m fading, I think I need to go get another coffee,” and apparently kids these days use the word “faded” to mean they’re high on drugs.

          HR threatened to send me to go get a piss test (unpaid, obvi, since I’d be leaving the building), but ended up not doing it after going over the conversation and I told them I didn’t even know what they were talking about. (So fun!)

      3. Kathenus*

        This is a great point. My first manager job, an employee left within two months of starting, during a very busy period and tried to torch me, her coworkers, my boss, and the grandboss on her way out – listing all of the things she thought we had done wrong. Part of her frustration with me was that she wasn’t getting enough training – which was a fair enough criticism although it had been made clear when she was hired that we had to get through the first season however we could and then we’d focus on more training.

        As a first time manager, I was really disappointed in myself and the situation, and worried about how my bosses felt about me after this. At a follow up meeting, my grandboss said he heard that I had sent the employee a graduation card before she started working for us (we hired her right out of school), and I said yes, I had sent her one to tell her we were excited to have her on our team. He basically said that this showed I had the right qualities to be a good manager, and that these types of instincts would serve me well. So we learned from the situation, made an amazing hire for her replacement, and I still remember that showing sincere caring for people will pay dividends even in the tough times.

    5. Lexi Kate*

      Yes, Op should just move on. It’s a very bad idea to bring it up again and will only make the op look worse. This is just one of those things that you have to prove with actions, commentary will not be taken as genuine.

    6. OP*

      Thank you for your comment, Antilles.
      I figured this would be the case, but hearing it from others makes taking the high road suck less sometimes!

  3. High Score!*

    Op, you mention him being a great employee, yet your description of him is a nightmare employee. Let go of the past and do your best to be a good, calm, rational manager going forward and soon that is so people will remember of you.

    1. Murphy*

      I think they meant that the employee was describing themselves as a great employee when he wrote to OP’s boss.

    2. Myrin*

      If you’re referring to this sentence: “Additionally, I really hate that he did this from the perspective that he was a great employee.”, I think OP means that the employee presented himself as a great employee/had the perspective of himself as a great employee (I was confused at first, too, but I think that’s the reading that makes most sense).

      1. Jadelyn*

        Yeah, that was my read of it – the former employee’s message was written from the assumption (his own assumption) that he’s a great employee who suffered under a terrible manager; the OP wasn’t actually saying that the former employee really was great.

        Which of course just goes to show that people are not always the best judges of their own impact in the world. Some people are clear-sighted and self-aware; some are very much not. This employee was not, and there’s nothing OP can do about it aside from roll their eyes and move on.

        As they say, living well is the best revenge. Or in this case, managing well.

          1. Em*

            This will not be lost on other people. His inaccurate assessment of himself also makes his assessment of you questionable.

  4. Cassandra*

    Regarding contacting the ex-employee: Please don’t, for all the reasons Alison suggests, and one more besides — it can be scary in ways that have nothing to do with whatever went on at work.

    I had a former boss with whom I parted on not-great terms (nothing super-dramatic; mostly the usual first-time boss stuff) come to my front door once, without emailing or calling in advance. I retreated to an interior room and pretended not to be home. I have no idea how he thought that was a good idea… but I went from not respecting him very much to being actively afraid of him for trampling boundaries.

    “Scary” and “boundary-trampling” are not things you want this ex-employee to be able to truthfully say about you.

    1. Bea*

      How terrifying! I’m suddenly thankful my one unhinged boss preferred the silent treatment. Only on his terms though, when I tried putting up boundaries to avoid being alone with him, he pitched a fit and demanded I just bring things to his office instead of using the mailbox system that was good enough for everyone else.

    2. Dr. Pepper*

      Yeesh, how awful! Definitely don’t contact the former employee. He’s just going to add “creepy” or “crazy” to his opinion of you.

    3. Hills to Die on*

      I would love it if one of my former bosses tried to contact me to set the record straight. Not only would I NOT be receptive to anything that POS had to say, I would give him the ass-chewing of a lifetime. And if he showed up at my house, I’d answer the door with my shotgun in hand. Not kidding. Do not contact this guy because there is nothing good that will come of it and you will not get this person to see your side of it.

    4. Leela*

      Good point about adding truthful things to the employee’s arsenal. If they’re lying being able to throw some provable truths in there will only strengthen the lies and lend credence to just about anything they say.

    5. OP*

      Wow! That is definitely crossing some boundaries.

      I was thinking more of an e-mail or something. I know better, but sometimes you just need folks to talk to you off the ledge, so thank you all for your comments!

    6. Annoyed*

      Another thing, I get the desire to “prove,“ “justify,“ “set the record straight…“ etc.

      But this gets really annoying to everyone that has to listen to it. If there’s a power differential (i.e. supervisor/report) then people are in a position whare they have to listen to the “wronged” party whether they want to or not.

      I grew up with a mother who did this. My sister does this. They had/have to justify to all and sundry that they are right and the other person is wrong.

      The thing is nobody cares, and the ones doing the justifying actually lose a measure of respect.

  5. Greg NY*

    This is looking for a problem where none might exist. It isn’t a situation where you need to proactively ward off a fallout.

    1. Marty*

      Indeed. Sometimes it is best to let ships sink themselves. This employee is allowed to dislike you and your management style. Stop trying to change people’s opinions with words – show them a professional management style and let it speak for itself.

    2. Doug Judy*

      Exactly. If this employee was as awful as the OP describes, then I can’t see the remaining staff giving his opinions that much credibility.

      1. OP*

        After the employee left, I’ve been trying to do as most folks here suggested and just hold my head high and move on. Actually a few more grumbles and complaints about this employee surfaced on their own without me discussing the matter, as other staff members are having to deal with the fallout of some of his mistakes.

        My manager told me that he met with the staff to discuss the employee’s comments, and most of them noted that they either didn’t actually discuss anything with the employee, or that they didn’t share his experience. Some noted that they didn’t blame me for losing patience (even though I know that as the manager it is my job not to).

        1. BF50*

          In that case, I agree that there isn’t much to fix here. You have already worked with your manager on how to prevent this type of bad hire from happening again. Your manager has established that your employees aren’t in agreement with this guy. You’ve done what needs to be done. Now you need to figure out how to not let it upset you any longer.

        2. AnnyNow*

          OP, I was in a situation like that once, only the problem employee was engaged in some backstabbing (of me) and I was let go. I had a few months to get things squared away. During that time, her true colors started to show, and I maintained the high road. I owned up to the mistakes I made, mostly in not managing her properly, and made sure I was leaving the situation in the best shape I could. Flash forward ten years. My career has grown, and hers has stagnated. My reputation has been increased by the way I left that job, and hers has decreased over the years because of her bad behavior there and elsewhere. It was very, very hard, but so worth it in the end. Hang in there. You’ll really enjoy the rewards when you see them!

  6. Roscoe*

    Totally agree with Alison here. I don’t want to say you sound like an angry person, but you sound like the way you handled this guy was just really bad. And if other people saw your bad interactions, you kind of don’t have a leg to stand on to later go to your staff and say “it was really his fault”. It just comes off as whiny and petty. Even if both of you share 50/50 blame for the bad interactions (which as a manager, I’d still say you hold more), talking about it so far after the fact is just bad.

    Have you ever had a friend who just couldn’t stop talking about how bad their ex was even after they broke up. At some point, even if you didn’t like the person, you kind of what your friend to just get over it. That’s my advice to you

  7. Mia*

    Remember, people quit managers, not companies.

    I was a good employee at my old job for 3 years, with the reviews to match. Got a promotion to another manager. She and I DID NOT CLICK. She was a terrible, hostile, and plain MEAN manager. Kept indicating I didn’t know what I was doing, I was a terrible employee, and the like. I quit because of her, and said as such in my exit interview.

    Went to another company, in a VERY similar role, a week later. 1.5 years in, I am consider the team’s best employee (no, I’m really not making that up, my current manager has submitted me for Extraordinary Performer training and coordinating accolades)

    Do you really think that my work personality and knowledge changed really that drastically between my job before the promotion and now? Pretty darn doubtful that I did a 180 during that brief time I worked for that bad manager, then did a 180 right after, right?

    Just let this go. You were in the wrong, and maybe he was a little too, but if my old manager contacted me to “clear the air like you are suggesting? Frankly, I’d tell her to stuff it, I am not paid to be nice to her any longer. (and trust me, that is really not my personality to do that, I just hated that manager THAT much)

    1. MuseumChick*

      This is a very astute comment, it’s true, most of the time you are quitting the manager not the job. I find myself joking hunting for this very reason.

      1. Contracts Killer*

        While managers are not the only reason people quit, I agree they can be a large factor. I’ve always had the “two out of three” rule at jobs. Considering (1) pay/benefits, (2) the work I do , and (3) the people around me, do I like at least two of those things? If not, it’s time to look for a new job. And I have had managers so bad that it bled from being a “people around me” problem to a “the work I do” problem because in addition to being a jerk, he wouldn’t review my time sensitive work, gave me administrative tasks and refused to let me use admin staff to complete them, etc.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Oh, I like that “2/3 rule”. I hadn’t put it in those terms, but that’s why I’m staying at my job – the pay is kinda crap and the benefits are just okay, but I love what I do and I love my team, so I stay for those despite the fact that I could make more money elsewhere.

          1. Indigo a la mode*

            I am in this precise position, and I agree – no chance of my leaving.

            I really like this 2/3 bar.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      A friend’s phrasing is “I take jobs; I leave managers.”

      Your post is a great example of why it’s important to actually leave. Before you’re bitter (and that’s showing in your work) or people view you as half the problem since your head-butting is so public.

      (I remember an update from a guy–in the original letter he’d wanted to be promoted but had butted heads with management, and Alison’s advice was that management had spoken. In the update, he’d taken a new job, they loved him, all the traits that had made him a great employee at the old job meant he got accolades and promotions here, where at the old place digging in and proving he was the best was never going to budge the management he’d ticked off.)

      1. Mia*

        Yep, exactly, sometimes it just boils down to the right fit. What doesn’t work for one manager/one company is another one’s dream. Sucks though to be in that situation!

    3. Bea*

      Wow this tilted POV is staggering to read.

      You had a bad manager experience. I did too and that’s the only reason I’ve ever quit as well.

      But there are awful people out there that no matter what they suck at the job they’re trying to do. I’ve seen it first hand and scrubbed books after someone who can’t do the job left a mess. So please drop the hard and fast “people quit managers, not companies” malarkey.

        1. Kas*

          The point is that we give letter writers the benefit of the doubt. Your original comment leaves no room for that.

          1. Lissa*

            If it was true then wouldn’t it be true that the only reason people ever leave a job is because a manager is intrinsically bad?

      1. OP*

        I think after considering all the comments on this particular topic I agree with you, Bea.

        I think there are a lot of factors, and people don’t always quit just because of their managers, even in my case! I think there are a lot of things to weigh and consider when taking, leaving, or staying at a job, and it’s common to stay in a non-ideal situation if you don’t have clear alternatives.

        I didn’t mention in the original post, but the employee also got a opportunity elsewhere that was more closely related to his interests and passion. Things aligned for him, so he was more compelled to leave.

    4. CR*

      I also left my last job because of a bad manager; 8 months into my new job I am getting excellent reviews, a promotion and a bonus! I was also honest in my exit interview about why I was leaving. It felt so good to be honest.

      1. OP*

        CR, I’m glad you are happier in your new position, and that you felt like you got an opportunity to be honest in an exit interview. I’m sure this employee feels the same way about his parting comments, I just don’t share his perspective. Thanks for commenting!

    5. Dr. Pepper*

      I’ve stayed in bad jobs because I had an awesome manager. I’ve been tempted to walk out of good jobs because of an awful manager. Can’t say I’ve actually quit because I needed the money, but I fervently wanted to, solely to get away from that person.

      It’s possible that a similar situation to yours happened here. It’s also possible the guy totally thinks he knows what he’s doing and actually doesn’t and won’t be told otherwise. I’ve seen both situations.

      1. OP*

        You know, Dr. Pepper, I think it was both things you mentioned.

        And as glad as he was to get away from me, I was really happy he was leaving as well. I didn’t even want to be around him, and just knowing he would be at work made me want to stay home.

        1. Annoyed*

          “I didn’t even want to be around him,…”

          And he probably felt that as well hence his perception of you as angry and unhappy. At least partially.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I didn’t even want to be around him

          It’s very likely he was well aware of that and it’s also entirely possible your other staff was as well. Just something to keep in mind.

    6. Hills to Die on*

      I’ve had that experience too. I do a great job everywhere I go except with this one manager, and now all of a sudden I have no idea what I am doing? Nope. I loved that job and was good at it. Not surprisingly, my old boss was asked to leave after I left and he had to do everything himself (since it was his job I was doing, after all).

    7. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

      I love my manager, but if I get offered the job I’m interviewing for on Friday, I’m still quitting. I’m absolutely quitting my company, not her. I’ve had a series of jobs in my 20+ years, and only once was a bad manager the main reason I left. I’m actually still on very good terms with most of my former managers.

      1. OP*

        Good luck on your interview! Thank you for sharing your experience here in the thread.
        I’m learning a lot and gaining more perspective, and I appreciate all the input!

    8. Totally Minnie*

      I feel like this is overly harsh when directed at the OP. No, they didn’t behave in the best way, but they acknowledge that, which most of my bad bosses would never do.

      We’re also asked to take letter writers at their word, and the employee OP describes is one that just isn’t all that good at his job, so the implication that he might be wonderful at the same job with a different boss just doesn’t hold water here. I’m glad that that was your experience, but that doesn’t make it true for the OP.

      Now, I agree with everyone who’s said OP should definitely not contact the former employee. And I acknowledge that a lot of people do leave jobs because of conflicts with managers, but I really don’t think it’s fair to place this much blame on our OP, and I would like it if we could discuss the situation in this letter without bringing in extra information and details that aren’t there.

      1. Lissa*

        Yeah, there’s nothing that tells us whether the employee is normally an angelic being made of productivity, but this manager made him a worse employee, or if the manager is typically sweetness and light but this employee drove them to be less so. Could be either or neither, really! Not every interaction necessarily has an objectively good and bad person but most employees and managers will think it’s them!

      2. serenity*

        I agree. The OP may not have handled the situation perfectly, but we know nothing about the environment they’re working in (maybe their hands are tied and, as Alison mentioned, there’s no real hiring/disciplinary authority available to them and PIPs are discouraged at this company).

        I think the point has been made and it’s a pile-on now. We don’t need dozens of comments on this page chiding the OP for what has been already cogently and concisely pointed out elsewhere.

      3. OP*

        The employee may have been and go on to be great elsewhere, but I really don’t know.
        I took him at his word during the interview, but it just didn’t play out that way in the day to day reality of the job.

        I know that I gave up on this employee, but not from the beginning.
        I did try to use the tools that were available to me to utilize, but I just couldn’t make it work, and I couldn’t continue trying.

        I think overall I was really just trying to get confirmation that there is no setting the record straight with the employee and it just is what it is.

        And it seems like most of the contributors also agree that there is no need to discuss with the rest of the staff explicitly either, and that actions are more important here than anything I may have to say on the matter.

    9. pcake*

      Mia, that’s a very good post. And so true!

      A few years ago, there was a guy at my husband’s work. He did a poor job, he was sort of rude to people most of the time, and he acted highly unprofessional. But the immediate manager there was abusive, lots of yelling, plus he didn’t seem to understand the job. A couple years later, my husband applied for another job and there was the guy I talked about, only he was their most valued employee according to the company owner. He got along well with everyone, and the owner said he did excellent work.

    10. Marlowe*

      I … really think you’re projecting here. Your issues with your former manager are more than valid, and it sounds like she was a nightmare, but you seem to be making a connection between her behaviour and the OP without much cause. The OP’s employee was a bad worker who delayed a project’s realization and couldn’t perform adequately, and then, when they got fired, went up to the boss and badmouthed the OP, while making personal and professional accusations. There is no indication that the OP acted in any way like your manager.

      The OP was in the wrong insofar as they lost their temper. The employee was unprofessional, irresponsible, and outright rude. Your situation and theirs aren’t similar.

      I do, however, agree that they should let this go. Proving them wrong with actions instead of recriminations is the best way to go.

        1. OP*

          Sounds like most of the folks agree with you, Marlowe, that positive actions are the best recourse here.
          Thanks for your comments and confirmation!

    11. OP*

      I guess what I was hoping to do with my staff wasn’t necessarily to say it was this employee’s fault that things were bad, but to just move forward with them knowing that I know I didn’t handle that employee well, but I’m just doing my best, and will do my best to not fail in that regard again.

      I figured that actually talking about it wasn’t the way to go, and that just moving forward by letting it go was the best way, but sometimes it helps to hear confirmation when you’re just not feeling it.

      Thanks for your response!

      1. JSPA*

        You can acknowledge that it was a terrible fit, bemoan that you and he seemed to be using the same words but speaking different languages, regret that you couldn’t find a way to get any value out of him, and admit that the situation wore both of you down, without making him out to be intrinsically useless, nor entering into self-flagellation.

        You can truly wish him well elsewhere, concurrently be very glad that he’s gone, and also take a DEEP breath and release the (bona fide) frustration of banging your head against that particular rock.

        He clearly got on your every nerve to the point of you shutting down, and he clearly was aware that you were miserable. That’s…commendably sensitive on his part? Even if he didn’t register that he was the only burr in your britches. Even if neither of you could figure out a way to make it work. Even if directions that reliably worked for other people were as a wafting breeze passing by his ears, coming from you.

        1. serenity*


          He clearly got on your every nerve to the point of you shutting down, and he clearly was aware that you were miserable.

          The number of condescending and odd comments directed to the OP on this page are something to behold

          1. JSPA*

            Hunh? OP said as much in responses above–OP was miserable. OP was shutting down on interacting with or managing the problem guy. OP wants to move forward without having to vilify the problem guy. OP is looking for a way to reconcile his view of the situation, and this other guy’s (admittedly limited) view of OP, so OP can stop chewing it over and wondering “how the hell can someone think that about me, when from my POV, he was the problem.”

            To quote OP:

            “Some noted that they didn’t blame me for losing patience”

            “as glad as he was to get away from me, I was really happy he was leaving as well. I didn’t even want to be around him, and just knowing he would be at work made me want to stay home.”

            “I know that I gave up on this employee, but not from the beginning.
            I did try to use the tools that were available to me to utilize, but I just couldn’t make it work, and I couldn’t continue trying.”

            I guess what I was hoping to do with my staff wasn’t necessarily to say it was this employee’s fault that things were bad, but to just move forward with them knowing that I know I didn’t handle that employee well, but I’m just doing my best, and will do my best to not fail in that regard again.”

            These are all OP’s words. OP says that OP ended up unwilling and unable to face, let alone keep trying to manage, the employee. That’s what I meant (and all that I meant) by “shutting down.” No longer able to perform the managerial function, vis a vis that employee. How is it rude to pay attention to & incorporate the OP’s own comments?

    12. Commander Shepard*

      100% agree with you, as someone who’s also left a toxic job to be really appreciated and promoted at my new job. Was I stressed and negative? Sure. Can’t imagine why (/s). People don’t 100% leave just because of managers, sure, but it’s usually a big or tipping factor

    13. B*

      I have never quite a manager. I got one fired, but he was a thief. I just provided the evidence.

      I have quit two companies. Both lowballed some bids and slashed everyone’s benefits to make up the difference.

  8. MuseumChick*

    Does your staff have any reason to even partially agree with his assessment? I ask because I have worked with a manager we’re i saw this kind of dynamic between him and another staff member. They were both partially right and partially wrong about each other. It’s likely this guy was just a nightmare employee but there is a chance that something else is going on.

    1. Former Worst Analyst/Best Intern Ever*

      Yeah, this sounds like a “both people were wrong” situation. Maybe his work performance was terrible, but the way his manager reacted was also an example of terrible performance. I would also be concerned by the tone he took in the email. The OP described it as positioning himself as an excellent employee, but it also suggests that he was referring to something that everyone “knows” to the point that OP’s anger is considered a running joke among people above and below them.

      1. 4th Axis*

        They could be generalizing their discontent, or the employee could be referring to malcontent he spread to other employees when venting about his “awful” manager. “Everyone knows” could mean he made sure to paint a picture to his co-workers wherein he was a victim and the manager was a nightmare. Whether other people believed him or not depends largely on their relationship with the OP and the ex-employee. Context would be key, which is why most of the responses point out that OP should take the high road and try to move on so that OP doesn’t lend credence to any potential rumors.

        I’ve been in this manager’s position. It sucks all around, but the silver lining is that the nightmare employee is gone and OP was able to acknowledge their shortcomings as a manager in the process. Frame this situation as a “learning moment” and take those next positive steps forward to prevent it from happening again.

        1. OP*

          This is exactly the conversation I had with my manager after the employee left – to learn from this situation and move on.

          I mentioned in some other replies, but my manager told me that he met with the staff to discuss the employee’s comments, and while some said that they did notice the particularly bad relationship between myself and the employee, they didn’t seem to share his experience.

          1. JessicaTate*

            That is super interesting context, OP. That just supports Allison’s advice (and your own outcome with your manager) to learn from this and move on. I think that should be included in just about any advice for tricky stuff in the workplace! Forget this guy. Not worth your mental energy anymore.

            It also reminds me of the wise advice to those of us who get really self-conscious, “You think everyone is focusing on your situation in great detail; but the fact is, they’re mostly just thinking about themselves.” I suspect that’s true for your team, like MuseumChick said. They saw what happened, noticed the issues on both sides, but unless it affected their jobs/work-life, it wasn’t a big focus of their attention. Onward and upward!

            1. OP*

              Thank you JessicaTate, for that piece of advice. I will definitely carry that with me and apply here and elsewhere!

    2. Persimmons*

      I’m watching this play out right now. Employee and manager really disliked each other on a visceral level, leading them both to make poor choices. Employee felt singled out and became unmotivated to go the extra mile, manager cracked down harder than was fair, employee did even less in response, manager tightened the noose farther. Endless loop of resentment.

      Employee transferred to a completely different department in another company branch, and is now killing it.

  9. Amber Rose*

    Hearing that someone was badmouthing you sucks, but most people realize in their late teens that arguments with someone that you’re actually awesome and statements like “you don’t know me!” are pretty childish and a waste of time. Your staff don’t need to know you personally to judge you based on their interactions with you. Even if someone is the world’s kindest, most generous person, if they are a bad manager their staff is still going to be frustrated and think poorly of them.

    You know all that already to an extent, but you still asked the question, which suggests to me that you have a hard time letting go of the small stuff and let your emotions override your logic. Your staff will pick up on these things, so now is a really good time for some introspection and maybe some research or classes on how to be a good manager. It comes up on AAM a lot, but it’s pretty rare that people get training in managing staff, so you have to be a bit proactive on that front.

    1. Dr. Pepper*

      Well, for some of us the urge to argue that “I’m awesome! You don’t know me! How dare you say I’m anything less than wonderful!” doesn’t actually ever go away. Sometimes it’s a really strong urge, strong enough to convince you that acting on it is the right thing to do. It never is. Those who know you already know you so it’s a moot point. Those who don’t know you won’t care. It’s natural to want everyone to like you and think you’re awesome. Wouldn’t that be great! But it’s not reality, and insisting that anyone with a less than stellar opinion of you is wrong wrong wrong just strengthens that low opinion.

      Think of it this way. Pick someone you are acquainted with but don’t know terribly well that you don’t like very much. Picture them using your own argument to you. What’s your reaction? “Oh gosh, I was so wrong! You’re actually a delightful person who is great at everything!” Ha ha ha no. More like, “Shut up, I still think you suck.” Just picture that every time you have the urge to defend yourself and argue that no, really, you’re awesome.

      1. smoke tree*

        I also understand this impulse–it must be annoying to have an employee’s incompetence cause so much extra work and for him to walk away thinking you were the problem. But I do have the impression that the LW is taking this situation too personally, and seems to have been somewhat personally affronted by his incompetence even before he stormed out. It would probably be easier to deal with the Dunning-Kruger poster children in the workplace by taking a more detached, task-focused approach.

      2. Annoyed*

        You are so on point here. I get that some people feel that urge for some reason. Acting on it comes off as way immature and is annoying to those forced to witness it. I don’t know why but it seems that there always *have to be* witnesses.

      1. OP*

        I don’t think anyone likes to be attacked personally, and I think it’s natural to want to defend yourself. As you all pointed out in this section, and as most folks here have also confirmed, it’s not productive or necessary to act upon.

        Amber Rose, you’re right that I have a hard time letting go of the small stuff. I do feel most comfortable when I’m able to ‘set the record straight’ as I phrased it in the original post, or just have the same understanding with others about something.

        You’re right that it’s a great time for both personal introspection and management training, and thankfully my manager and some other folks have recommended some materials and resources for both!

        1. Amber Rose*

          I’m not saying I don’t empathize! I definitely get that initial “oh no you didn’t” urge to fight back when I feel wronged. But you gotta breathe deep and let it go, if for no other reason than holding on to it just raises your blood pressure and makes you feel like crap.

          I hope those materials are useful for you, and that you find someone less awful to take that open position.

        2. Annoyed*

          OP as someone who has spent a lifetime (55 years and counting) closely related to people who feel a compulsion to “set the record straight,” “cone to an understanding,” “can’t let the small things go,” etc. I am begging you, on behalf of all the people you know who are subjected to this, just stop.

          It is massively exhausting and where there is a power dynamic (boss/employee, parent/child, etc) it is so unfair to be: ..,”Right? You know what I mean? She didn’t even XYZ so I’m right..,you agree/see that/etc. too right?” Etc.

          Stop at work and stop in your personal life. You do not have to prove anything and you do not have to be the “winner.” We believe you. *You* know you are right and that’s all that matters.

  10. mark132*

    Would it be valuable to hold a low key meeting with all the remaining team members for a feedback session? Not to address the employee that left, but to get feedback from them to see if there are any process or general improvements that can be made. If they are worried about how things are going they can discuss it and this would allow the LW to find out what improvements might help.

    1. Queen of the File*

      I agree that it could be good to get some third-party perspective on how OP is coming across, but given the specific issue I’m not sure a meeting would be the most productive. If I had an angry manager I would be VERY hesitant to be honest with them about it.

    2. Antilles*

      I don’t think it would be a good idea in this particular situation at this point.
      1.) Even if the ex-employee is never mentioned once during the discussions, holding a meeting like this would come across as a defensive reaction to the accusations. It’s not a good look and very likely to come across to the staff as an attempt to ‘prove your case’ so to speak.
      2.) If the rest of the staff truly does have similar concerns, they wouldn’t be willing to share it anyways. Having heard from him (and possibly observed themselves?) how OP got frustrated and disengaged from him to the point that he resigned, they’d be worried that raising any issues is going to push down the same path.
      3.) OP seems to still be irritated about the ex-employee and his comments. This is likely to come across in the meeting, which would just make the ex-employee’s concerns seem more valid to the rest of the staff.

    3. Leela*

      If I were an employee in this situation, I would feel enormous pressure on me to prioritize diplomacy over honesty because of the power imbalance. Especially if this was a group feedback session, where I often find that other people just avert their eyes and say everything’s fine after I’ve been honest because the points are “out there” but I’m left on the hook for everything we’ve all been talking about for months and now I have to worry about my relationship with my manager.

    4. Izzy*

      It might be useful, but I think that would only be if it was coming from a genuine desire on the OP’s part to check in and improve that’s not related to their feelings about what this specific guy said. If it’s even slightly motivated by that – and their colleagues familiar with the situation will likely be able to tell if it is – then it won’t come across as genuine, and they would have to be prepared to really listen and act on any negative feedback they receive, even if it’s unpleasant. Otherwise it would just come across as OP looking for their staff to reassure them that everything’s fine and great and that one guy was wrong about everything.

  11. Czhorat*

    With people in your organization, anything they bring up about him you can dismiss with something non-specific like “he wasn’t a good fit for us here” and leave it at that. Nobody is going to take a disgruntled former employee seriously unless you give their complaints weight by your actions

  12. Bea*

    From someone who had select few former employees trash my boss, the people who know you aren’t concerned with some disgruntled former employee has to say about you.

    He’s wasted 6 months of your time and energy. Rejoice he’s gone now. Focus on continuing to show your boss he’s out to lunch and not a credible source.

    You have to stop letting him take up real estate in your head. He’s delusional about his skillset, I’ve seen it many times. There is no reasoning to be had.

    1. Decima Dewey*

      More than likely, the coworkers he talked to rolled their eyes and stifled giggles once his back was turned. His poor performance probably made their jobs harder as well.

      Don’t try to “set the record straight”. If you made mistakes handling him, learn from the experience and do better in the future.

  13. MassMatt*

    I agree with everything Alison said, especially the part about asking yourself how the situation with this employee got to this point. From your description, he was a terrible employee who did not have the skills needed, and perhaps even more disturbingly, was not learning. It sounds as though you tried to teach him and then when he didn’t learn, threw up your hands and got angry at him.

    It’s worth looking at how such a terrible employee got hired, but even the best hiring practices can have a lemon slip through sometimes. But if this employee was so terrible, he should not have made it through a probationary period. Why wasn’t he put on a PIP, why wasn’t he fired? It sounds as though if he hadn’t talked the initiative to quit, he would still be working there. I can appreciate getting frustrated with an employee that doesn’t seem to learn, but angry hostility is not good management.

    1. Leela*

      Yes to this! Even if OP was totally in the right with any anger/whatever, and it sounds like they’re acknowledging they’re not, whatever people saw they WILL notice that a problem employee was kept on and not managed until he just up and quit, and that will certainly color their view of a manager, even if nothing else had.

      Please, managers, get those employees out the door. People are trusting you, as the person with power (if you were indeed) to keep a team free of people who cause projects to be started over from the beginning because they can’t follow instructions.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      It sounds as though if he hadn’t talked the initiative to quit, he would still be working there.

      This is a really good point.

    3. Hamstergirl*

      Once it was clear to OP that this guys skills weren’t where they needed to be (and I guess couldn’t be fired?) OP should have sat down and figured out how to make it work as best they could (adjusting approval processes, creating more checkin points, giving step-by-step instructions, rejigging deadlines etc etc etc) instead of just giving up and dealing with it. It’s far from a perfect solution of course, but it’s better than nothing.

      In situations like this it’s about managing the problem employee proactively instead of reactively.

  14. McWhadden*

    As unfair as it is you really can’t manage the way people perceive you even if it’s false.
    The one thing that really struck me is six months is a really short time frame for this all to go down. It seems like you lost your ability to deal with him pretty shortly into his tenure if he resigned just six months after starting. That’s understandable. He was hired to be a quick replacement you wouldn’t have to train too much. But, from his POV, he started at this place and his manager seemed to resent having to train him from the go. (Again, unfair, because the whole point was he shouldn’t have needed much training. But it’s helpful to think about the dynamic on a larger scale.) And then, from his POV, things just got worse from there.

    1. Annoyed*

      Even the most skilled at X type work person is rarely going to be able to walk into a new company that they have never worked at before and hit the ground running with no training at all.

  15. Mia*

    One more thing – please also do some self reflection on your management style and realize that your behavior is likely one of the reasons your employee was they way they were.

    NOBODY is going to want to go above and beyond for a mean, yelling, hostile manager. They are going to dread coming into work, dread meetings with you, and resent the way you interact with them. How do you think that translates into working hard and making less mistakes?

    People work hard for managers who mentor, are kind, and help guide them to becoming better than they are. they WANT to work harder and be better for that type of manager.

    1. Dr. Pepper*

      While I think the OP should definitely take a good hard look at their management style in the wake of this situation, I think you’re making a lot of assumptions here, none of which are helpful. From what is described, this guy started off as an incompetent and untrainable employee (with an unreasonably high opinion of himself), which was not handled correctly, and the situation spiraled down from there. Why assume the OP started off as a yelling, hostile manager? I’ve worked with some people who have driven me absolutely bonkers with their incompetence. You don’t start off hostile but it can get to that point if appropriate action isn’t taken.

    2. Important Moi*

      It is worth considering what was said. People don’t go above and beyond when they feel like they are being treated badly. Suggesting self-reflection is not harsh.

      In my experience, it is not unusual for difficult people to be uncomfortable hearing that they were difficult people.

    3. CupcakeCounter*

      My perception was that the OP was only that way with this particular employee and only after repeated problems. OP indicated they didn’t have a lot of recourse to deal with this employee and his poor performance, had to give the same instructions several times a day, was ignored, and as a result ended up doing more work than they would have if bad-employee was not there. That would stress me out to no end and cause me to lose my shit on repeat mode.
      I feel like the OP does not like the person this employee (sort of) turned them into and it is bothering them so much because those actions are out of character for them. Someone whose normal mode is yelly-screamy wouldn’t have brought it up in the letter (or for that matter cared what this guy thought).

      1. 4th Axis*

        While this doesn’t excuse the OP from losing their shit in this situation (we are all human, but did OP admit that they could have done better at managing their emotions), I do feel that some comments are projecting their own negative experience with generally “yelly-screamy” ex-bosses onto this situation…hard. And it’s definitely coloring their responses.

      2. Close Bracket*

        > My perception was that the OP was only that way with this particular employee and only after repeated problems.

        So what? That doesn’t change what Mia said. Do you think the employee was going to observe OP with other people and say, “Gracious, I will definitely try harder since OP is so kind with other people?” Nope. In terms of the bad employee’s motivation, only the OP’s behavior toward *him* is going to count. And in terms of OP motivating other low performers, only his behavior toward *them* is going to count.

    4. Annoyed*

      Many many moons ago I yelled at an employee. Not just yelled but *went off* (!!!) on him.

      He threw me under the bus with a client. I was right he was wrong. There were witnesses.

      From that point on even people who had worked with/for me for years didn’t really want to interact and any social-ish interaction came to a screeching halt.

      It was my first time as a supervisor. I was young. I was slso very very out of line. I think I lasted another six months before I moved on. Better fir everyone that way.

      The net gain was that I learned how being like that could fluck stuff up beyond fixing and have never done anuthing even skirting the edges of yelling at someone at work since.

  16. Book Lover*

    Ignore if not relevant to you, op. I have found that when someone makes a complaint and I find myself feeling defensive, it is usually because I know that I could have done better. It doesn’t always mean the complaint was right, but it may mean I was rushed that day, or tired and didn’t word things quite right. Usually I can easily say that I did the right thing, but that I didn’t do the right thing in the most caring way.
    When there is a complaint that I just shrug at, it is because I know I did my best and no one else could have done better. I don’t bother to worry about what other people think because my work stands for itself. I will always comfortably say ‘I am sorry I didn’t meet your expectations’ and move on.
    So I think it is worth considering if you are worried about this resignation letter because you feel there is truth to it (not the fundamentally angry/unhappy bit of course). And if that’s the case, I would just try to be above it, move on and do your best in the future. Your work will speak for itself.

    1. MassMatt*

      This is perceptive. I went to a customer service seminar many years ago where they made the point that you should be thankful for customers that complain. Because chances are, lots of customers have the same problem as the complainer, and don’t bother to say anything, but just take their business elsewhere.

      Since then I have tried to apply this in my personal life also (not always successfully). But while the former employee might have been awful, there may be some substance to what he said. It’s hard to hear, but this could be a good learning opportunity.

    2. ChachkisGalore*

      I think this is incredibly insightful. Even if its not helpful with the OP, it’s very helpful for me – so thanks! I’m struggling with a new colleague, and I think this is a major piece of what’s going on. Hoping to stop a snowball from gathering speed down a hill and turning into something major.

  17. Anne Elliot*

    Alison is right, as usual, but the bottom line reason not to chase the guy to set the record straight is that it wouldn’t work anyway. There’s nothing the OP’er could say to this guy that would make the guy say, “My God. You’re right; you ARE an awesome and happy person! How could I have been so wrong??” Anything the OP’er could say would only confirm the guy’s pre-existing opinion (e.g., confirmation bias). It’s one of those situations where the amount of effort it would take to even object makes it seem like the mischaracterization must be true. So really the only viable option is to move on.

  18. Indie*

    There’s a super easy way to show your current team what kind of manager you are; by how you manage! Actions speak louder than words.
    As for your brain-retorts to this guy, write them on a piece of paper under the light of the moon, feed it to a red candle, whisper ‘pompous oaf with the brain of a loaf’ three times and let the karma fairy take care of it.

  19. Utoh!*

    Just like with anyone saying anything about you, it’s all about how you react to it. You can’t control what someone will do, so don’t try because it can so easily backfire where you become the one who is seen as irrational.

    What you can learn from this is to not let a bad situation continue, he should have been fired prior to him having an opportunity to leave and seemingly have the upper hand.

    Ultimately, he’s gone, which is for the best, so you need to regroup, learn from what happened, and move on.

  20. Dr. Pepper*

    This is a prime case for the Show, Don’t Tell approach. Don’t complain, don’t explain. SHOW.

    SHOW that you are a good manager who can move on from a disastrous situation with grace and learn from your mistakes. You messed up. Everyone does at some point. It happens. What is important here is what you learned from the situation and how you will apply that knowledge going forward. SHOW your employees that you are in control and can handle it. SHOW them that you are a calm and rational problem solver and that yes, the situation with this one guy was unfortunate and not handled correctly but that is all now in the past. Do not yield to the temptation to tell them any of this.

    Tellers rarely actually act on what they say and you’ll likely get a lukewarm reception. I’ve worked for a lot of Tellers. I learned very quickly not to put too much faith in what they said because often it seemed like the mere act of saying it was like “yes! mission accomplished!” when everything stayed exactly as it was. Of course, you may have to do some explaining to your own boss, but not to your employees. You do not require their empathy or approval to do your job, and explaining the situation to them beyond a brief and impersonal synopsis is essentially begging their good opinion. This is not necessary and weakens your authority even further. Yes it sucks, and it’s natural to want to explain yourself and be understood. But you’re just going to wade deeper into the problem by doing that instead of solving it.

    1. sometimeswhy*

      Yep. Show don’t tell.

      It’s possible that the former employee is the sort who registers any feedback whatsoever as an attack and is perpetually in butt-covering/blamestorming mode. The whole thing sounds (to me) like a hyperbolic accusation on his part. If you aren’t the things he accused you of being, if you don’t bring those behaviors to work then your staff already knows that and doesn’t need the record set straight. And your boss should already know that too, but she’d be right to be observant for a little while.

      Definitely do a little introspection, test out the null hypothesis of “what if I WAS that unreasonable person he said I was, what would that’ve looked like?” instead of trying to prove him wrong in your head. Maybe find someone you trust to be honest with you. But be aware that if you really aren’t that person, there’s no amount of nice enough or kind enough that is going to change the mind of someone who’s shoved you into an archetype you don’t actually belong in and that going overboard in the other direction will earn you a whole new host of problems.

    2. Leela*

      +1 i can’t tell you how many core values were merely stated and blatantly disregarded at companies I’ve worked for. I can’t tell you how many managers have told me “we really appreciate this team and all the extra time and hard work you’ve been putting in to make this deadline!” followed up by no raises, promotions, anything, or if anything a $5 starbucks giftcard (….thanks…?). I can’t tell you how many times managers have expected us to believe that the company was profitable and stable after 3 rounds of layoffs, and then get angry when those remaining jump ship because “I said that we were profitable and stable though!!”

      Words mean nothing if they’re not shown by deed, and everyone will see right through them.

  21. Let's Talk About Splett*

    For whatever this worth, the “after speaking to other employees about [you]” part doesn’t necessarily mean your other employees agree that you are just an unhappy person.

    I’ve been in situations where a coworker is complaining about their manager and I say something vague or non-committal and had the coworker take that as my tacit endorsement of their position because they really just wanted to reinforce their own opinion.

    The fact that the guy doesn’t mention anything about how he made mistakes and wasn’t catching on to the job shows he’s not really a reliable narrator.

    1. Decima Dewey*

      “After speaking to other employees” sounds like something he made up. If Aglaia, Thalia, or Euphrosyne said something about OP, he’d mention her by name.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Very true–“Mmm. Uh huh. Hmm” is the normal response to ranting, grousing, or any other drama people are hoping to quietly wade around. The complainer interprets it as “Yeah! Preach!” when the sentiment is closer to “I wonder where my small post-its got to?”

  22. Totally Minnie*

    If it were me, I think I’d go with a scripted line to use any time the situation gets brought up. Something like “I regret the way I handled things with Fergus, but I learned a lot about management and supervision from the situation and I’m going to take what I’ve learned and try to become a better manager in the future.” This lets people see that you’re aware you didn’t handle this situation ideally, and that you’re the kind of person who learns from their mistakes and doesn’t try to deflect blame. It may go a long way toward restoring your reputation with the people you’re still going to be working with.

  23. Libby*

    There’s nothing you can say to this guy to make him change his impression of you. Focus on your current employees, make sure things are working well with them. Chances are they probably don’t think very highly of your former employee and are glad he is gone.

  24. AKchic*

    You have no idea if he actually did talk to staff members or not.
    You also don’t know that if in fact he did talk to staff members, if they actually agreed with him, or they just didn’t outright say he was full of it so they could get him to stop talking and get out of being talked at by him. (Better to agree and shorten the lecture-y complaint than disagree and risk being on this idiot’s bad side since he’s still employed, right?)

    I have seen some epic letters written to supervisors/owners by employees and former employees angling for things or “clearing the air”/”telling *my* side of the story”. There is generally a certain kind of person that does this, and they are generally dramatic and not above um… well, stretching (to be kind) the truth and exaggerating things to fit their perspective and to make themselves and their story/position seem better than it is.

    All you can do is rise above all of the pettiness and drama this former employee left in his wake. He said he was up to a certain standard and you held him to it. He was not at that level and he was mad you held him to his word. Now he’s gaslighting and deflecting.
    To the existing employees, this is a personal personnel matter. You do not discuss HR matters with other staff, and you’re sure they understand and you appreciate their help in not fueling the gossip. You are aware of what he’s said, how’s that report coming along?
    You and the other managers can handle things.

    1. Let's Talk About Splett*

      To me, it says something that he proactively offered his reasons in a letter to your boss, discounting something super egregious like you were stealing or harassing him. The professional thing to do would have been to wait for his exit interview and offer or not offer reasons he was leaving if they asked.

  25. Bagpuss*

    I agree with Alison’s advice, it would be a Vary Bad Idea to try to contact this person. (and pointless. He isn’t going to change his mind)

    I think it is helpful to consider how things got to the point they did, whether there were things you could do differently / better in a similar situation in future – that might include taking action more quickly if someone is’t the right fit for the role.
    You might also consider whether there is any shred of truth in what he said and how you may be perceived – it sounds a lot as though he is projecting onto you because he wasn’t a good fit, but equally, it is worth thinking about whether his comments are total rubbish, or whether they are a massive overstatement / exaggeration with a kernel of truth.

    (I do sympathise. Not so long ago, I had a situation with a really crappy employee, who was at a point where they would probably have been sacked if they had not resigned. And after they let, we found some stuff which would have definitely got them sacked!) Their own manager was off sick so I wound up managing their last couple of weeks, which included making sure that they left appropriate handover notes. Time was cleared for them to do this, and they repeatedly claimed to be unable to do other parts of their job because they were doing the handover notes. They weren’t, I called them on it and made it very clear that they needed to get it done. They then complained that they were not being trusted and that their experience etc mean they did not need supervising. Had they said this to my face, I would have told them that they were quite right that someone with their experience should not need supervising, on the other hand someone that repeatedly lied and failed to do basic parts of their job clearly did need supervising.

  26. mcr-red*

    Personal but I think it can apply here – my ex cheated on me and then went around telling all sorts of stories about me to his friends/family/everyone we knew, basically to justify why he did what he did. And at least the stories that made it back to me were completely untrue or modified to make him the poor innocent victim. I totally get why it is tempting to want to set the record straight, and say, “That never happened!” or “Yeah, I was angry, because anyone sane would be angry by them doing XYZ (that got left out of the retelling of the story).” But then you end up looking like the crazy ex or in this case, crazy ex-manager.

    The best thing is to take a look at yourself and really think about if any of his complaints were justified (do I need to work at my frustration levels at work, or at least how I display it to the employees), if you need to make some changes, do so, and then live your life. Those that know you will not believe him, and your employees can truthfully tell experiences with you and may even set the record straight on their own to those on the outside should it come up. “Yeah, Boss was frustrated and yelled at him, but he didn’t do any work on the important project for 6 months!”

    My life has stayed the same or gotten better, ex’s life has basically went to hell. At this point, a bunch of people have been disillusioned by him and don’t believe what he said. If you retain a bunch of happy employees, and he bounces along from job to job, who are people going to believe?

    1. Not Australian*

      This, absolutely. I recently had to let a freelancer go under circumstances that had to remain confidential, which of course left a vacuum into which the freelancer chose to pour some highly slanted fictions about how badly they had been treated and how I had supposedly circulated confidential information about them. However by keeping cool and refusing to enter into any public discussion – except to challenge them to show evidence of my alleged misdeeds – I managed to ride it out and in fact seem to have enhanced my credibility in our industry by dealing with an unpleasant situation decisively and without fuss. It feels very good to have navigated all that and survived!

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      If you retain a bunch of happy employees, and he bounces along from job to job, who are people going to believe?

      Truly, no carefully crafted revenge can beat just living well.

  27. Jennifer Juniper*

    Weird projecting unhappy jerk is projecting his jerky unhappiness onto you, OP. Ignore him and don’t give him any attention. He sounds like he’s trying to bait you on purpose.

  28. It's me*

    I am very confused why OP is so focused on setting the record straight with the previous employee and their staff, but not with their boss? I would be most concerned with my boss who received the email from the employee and definitely start there. The boss would most likely be the best person to decide how to address it with their staff.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      This! I made the same point above. I don’t care what my ex employee thinks, I can restore faith of my current employees by example – but my boss is the number one person I’d be concerned about, and they may require some damage control.

      1. It's me*

        Of course we don’t know everything, but it feels sort of telling that OP didn’t ask how to handle it with their boss, but instead how or if they could address it with former employee. I also truly believe if this guy was incompetent and horrible their coworkers would know it and would put less stock in what this person said on their way out the door, and we don’t know if that is what is truly happening.

    2. McWhadden*

      OP is likely not concerned with what the because they likely already discussed it with the boss (that’s how they know about it, after all) and the boss probably isn’t taking it seriously.

      However, the whole situation may be an issue beyond OP and the bad employee and may be a company issue. There are a number of red flags that maybe the company isn’t the best. (OP didn’t feel empowered to do much about their ineffective/horrible employee, was already in a position where he was desperate to hire someone quick to fill a gap, the boss isn’t the one deciding how to address it with employees but seems to be leaving it to OP.)

  29. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    I wouldn’t be surprised if you got a few surreptitious ‘phew, glad he’s gone comments’ from people. Your employees have probably realised he wasn’t that great. I’ve worked with a couple of people who did not do their jobs well and clashed with their managers. One sent out a nasty email about the manager before he left that ended with something like ‘You’d better hope I don’t see you again’. People knew the truth of the situation and it didn’t change their opinion of the manager.

    As for this guy, he sounds to me like someone who’s attacking your personality because he doesn’t have any credible complaints. He’s throwing any insult he can out there and seeing what sticks. I got second-hand embarrassment just thinking about sending that kind of email to an employer. It’s always hurtful to have someone make an incorrect judgement about you. Trash him privately to your friends and don’t say anything at work (or to him if you unfortunately see him again).

    You did the best you could in what was a stressful situation. Give yourself some time and emotional distance and see what you’ve learned from it. Maybe there’s something you can do differently. Maybe you needed extra support and didn’t get it. Maybe he’s just a real jerk and there was nothing you could have done. Good luck, hope you feel better soon.

    1. OP*

      Thanks for your comment, Lady Ariel.
      I am getting those comments from folks here, as they run into small landmines he left behind.

      Thanks for the luck and encouragement!

  30. LQ*

    I have a wonderful coworker who is a lead for a team but not a manager. (Sort of the worst of all worlds but…) Someone added to the team. The new person is absolutely trying to poison the well against coworker, but the thing is, coworker has been here for about 10 years. There’s so much water in that well and the poison is so weak that it doesn’t matter. And even the parts where the new person is right (coworker is totally a stickler for things that don’t matter more than she should be), the rest of us already know that about her. Eh, coworker really wants people to be on time and will get frustrated, especially when people are late and they are supposed to be Doing A Thing at the start of the day. That’s really reasonable. New person? Not making any friends or influencing anyone by regularly being late when it is her job to Do A Thing.

    I think most of the time, if you’re generally decent and someone new comes along and tries to flail at things that aren’t true, people recognize that. If coworker went around and talked smack about New Person that wouldn’t be a great look. I’m not saying it’s true 100% of the time. But if people who work for you and who you work with can’t see how you are most of the time then either you’re not doing a good job of showing it (not being performative, just doing the thing) or you’re in a place that can’t see.

  31. LadyPhoenix*

    I think your coworkers will be more of Team you vs Team Useless Ex-Coworker. Believe me when I say that when it comes to working with useless coworkers, the grunts are gonna be just as fustrated (if not more so) by this idiot than the managers.

    A Once Cashier That Would Suddenly Have Long Lines Because Her Useless Coworkers Would Vanish for Long Smoke Breaks, Lunch breaks, Bathroom Breaks, or “Too Grab Carts”

  32. Ruth*

    I’d be super-curious to know what OP’s boss thought of the resignation letter. Only because continued good interactions with staff will dispel any rumors about how the OP is an angry, mean person, but sometimes bosses have a way of hanging onto things like grim death.

    I remember once I was interviewing for a position with a company I had worked at for nearly 15 years, and the manager had spoken to a co-worker that I had last worked with in the Clinton administration. He asked me about something that had happened at least a decade previously. Honestly, I just laughed, I mean, really? I just said, “That was so long ago I can’t even remember and frankly, does it have any bearing on what we’re talking about today?” I did get the position, so no harm, no foul, but MAN some people fossilize at one point in time, don’t they?

  33. foolofgrace*

    “He wrote an email to my boss saying that he couldn’t work for me anymore because I am angry and hostile.”

    So apparently there was a conversation between OP and her manager about this. I’d like to know what transpired there. One could deduce that all is well between those two since OP doesn’t mention any actions taken against her by her manager.

    1. OP*

      My manager and I did debrief on the matter. He expressed understanding of the situation, but noted that it was serious and that I need to make a concerted effort to maintain a positive and supportive environment for my staff, He gave me some suggestions on reading materials and resources, and said that he will be more available to support me in this effort.

      We also discussed some internal policy and procedural changes that may help prevent this situation in the future.

      1. Anancy*

        And please remember that it is your manager’s job to help support you in situations like this. If you have an employee not meeting standards and not improving, then it is your manager’s job to help you fix that, once you have tried what you know how to do and have authority to do. And if you are indeed not doing an adequate job as a manager, then it is your manager’s job to step in and figure out how to fix that.

  34. NomadiCat*

    I’m not going to wade in on who was in the right here. But I do want to note one important thing: you say you had an employee who was quite obviously not doing their job, presumably you’d documented this, and you didn’t have the ability to take any meaningful corrective action.

    Look, I’ve been there as a manager. And it’s a special kind of hell. Everything’s fine when you have a good, healthy team. But if you have an employee with problems that need to be addressed and you can’t for whatever reason (in my case, they were sleeping with my boss) things can get bad quickly and sour the whole team dynamic. Speaking from experience, even if you take the high road, document everything, have witnesses, and do everything by the professional, good manager book, you’re still screwed.

    This is a major red flag of a toxic dynamic and a toxic workplace. The fact that you behaved as you did? Is probably another red flag that the environment you’re in is warping your sense of normalcy, even if you haven’t been fully aware of it. The question you should be asking yourself is not if and how you should confront this ex-employee. The question you should be asking is why you’re still there. There are good, non-toxic workplaces out there, and you owe it to yourself and your team to go find one.

    1. MassMatt*

      Puzzled by this take, nowhere does the OP say she couldn’t do anything to get rid of the problem employee. We get PLENTY of letters from coworkers or managers of terrible employees that are somehow immune to being fired; it seems most likely that if this were the case the OP would have mentioned it. Instead she says “I admittedly stopped putting forth effort to handle his shortcomings in a better way because I was just tired of it”. This sounds like a management problem, not a systemic one with the company.

      I am sorry that you had a terrible experience as a manager, but I don’t think it’s right to say that even if a manager does everything right they are “still screwed”. Managers are much more likely to be able to screw their employees than the other way around, for obvious reasons.

      1. NomadiCat*

        Hi MassMat:

        I got that read from this part of the letter: “This guy was a huge pain and was terrible at this job, and left me with more work than if we had not hired him. If I’m honest, I just didn’t feel like I had a lot of recourse, and I was really angry about it.”

        Not feeling “like I had a lot of recourse” says to me that the OP didn’t feel like they had a lot of room to take corrective action with this employee, despite a clear history of performance issues. In my experience that usually indicates a lack of support from your management chain or HR.

        And, while we’re on the topic of things that appear nowhere in letters or responses, I never said that managers can’t screw employees. If you’re a manager with an employee like this, and operating in an environment where you’re not well supported, AND trying to take the high road? Yeah, you don’t have a lot of options and life it going to be challenging.

        You sound like you’ve had experience with managers screwing their employees, and I’m sorry for that. I’ve been screwed over by bosses myself and I know it’s a terrible experience. You point out that there are “PLENTY of letters from coworkers or managers of terrible employees who are somehow immune to being fired;” and to me, this letter sounds like it’s coming from the manager of one of those employees.

    2. OP*

      I have not asked myself this question yet, but you’re right that it is worth considering.
      Thank you for adding in your perspective and advise, NomadiCat.

      1. MassMatt*

        Hi Nomadicat, it appears you are right, the OP’s follow up comments mention that the problem employee was a sacred cow and could not be fired, which is an awful position to be in.

        OP best of luck to you, it sounds as though your org is doing the work to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

  35. Argh!*

    Anyone who encounters this person in the future will consider complaints about you as a statement about him rather than LW. Even if they care about a former manager (very unlikely), any probing questions would be designed to get at what he did to tick off the big bad ex-boss. In an interview or even informal conversation at a social even or conference, I’d ask “What kinds of things set LW off?” or “Wow, what did they do that made you feel the need to escape?” It’s hard to answer these in a vague way without seeming evasive about one’s own behaviors. I would expect things like “LW is too picky about deadlines” or “LW couldn’t let it go that I sometimes make typos.” (Almost typed “tyops” there!)

    The worst that could happen is that someone could take it seriously, but again that would say more about them than LW. Stuff like that only means something if the stories are truly outrageous or come from different sources.

    If the other staff really have similar stories, some soul-searching and perhaps role-playing are in order. You don’t have to raise your voice to seem angry. You could snipe, give the silent treatment, or otherwise act out passive aggressive behaviors.

    I have a supervisee who can’t or won’t learn, makes the same mistakes over & over, and used to be defiant and disrespectful. I inherited this person, and my boss has prohibited me from escalating corrective measures. After years, this person naturally believes that sub-par performance is acceptable here. To make matters worse, they have an unrealistic high regard for their abilities and take great offense at the smallest things, even dramatizing them in their head to judge by the few times they “repeated” things I’ve said when arguing with me.

    In my case, I’ve had years to figure out how to deliver correction in a way that will result in correction rather than arguing, sulking, or perfunctory slap-dash work. In the beginning, I did get very frustrated, and there were times when I got angry. Behavioral issues are triggering for me, and I did figure out how to get my anger under control & address those. Fortunately, those have cleared up. Unfortunately, performance issues continue because this person is a poor fit for 50% of their job duties. Since I have a conflict-averse boss and this has gone on for years, I have simply become a mommy and a nag and a micromanager. I hate it but apparently that’s the only way to manage this person without impacting the effectiveness of my unit, and my boss doesn’t seem to mind.

    If you don’t address problems that are clear to everyone else watching from the peanut gallery, you establish a low standard of expectations that is going to be your biggest problem in the long run. Most places have a probationary period during which you can let someone go without the usual amount of documentation & HR involvement. LW missed an opportunity to demonstrate a higher standard, so there may need to be a new look at onboarding & probationary practices.

    Good luck with the next hire, LW!

    1. OP*

      Thanks for sharing! Sounds like you don’t have a great situation either, but you’ve found an effective solution.

  36. msk*

    Back when I was a new (and struggling, oh was I struggling) manager, many years ago, I had an employee who was barely hitting the minimum level of performance. I had a large and very motley group of entry level employees–a couple of stars, a few steady eddys and several very difficult employees. This one particular employee made a really big error and I had talked to her about it. The discussion was probably was more heated than it should have been. There were many excuses and some complaints thrown my way, most of them things like “you interrupt my private phone conversations to ask me a work question.” But she did say one thing that really hit me–that I wasn’t happy and only engaged with her when absolutely necessary. This was such a truth mixed in with a lot of nonsense. Truly, even someone who is a horrible employee can tell you something very valuable. I started to look at my own behavior and how my undeniable unhappiness was spilling over into my relationship with employees.

    1. OP*

      Thank you for sharing your experience, msk. It’s great that you were wise enough to let her comment reach you through the nonsense.

      I think for me that the situation with this employee was just making me unhappy. I didn’t feel like there was anything I could do, I was frustrated that I wasn’t better at dealing with it, I was tired of trying to be better, I was angry that it was only my responsibility to be better (which is just reality, I know) and I didn’t like being angry all the time, and the work was piling up on top of everything. I felt such a wave of relief on the first day after he left.

  37. Dee*

    Man. I read the first few sentences of this and remembered a former boss when I worked on a small team in entertainment at a movie studio, who had a shitty employee throw her under the bus like this. I hope you’re not the same boss, because to have that happen twice would stink.

    I’ll tell you how she handled it (and she was a great boss, btw.) She got sad. And bummed. And privately, after I left that job she and I got drinks and I heard her real feelings about it. But while I was still there she took classes in leadership, and asked HR about getting some 360-degree reporting because she knew, even though someone THAT disgruntled is usually the source of the problem, she would look better, and come out smarter, if she embraced the negative feedback and showed that she was open to bettering herself.

    And, again, she was a really great boss. No one is perfect, but she was lovely, and smart, and very supportive and honestly a rarity in entertainment.

    And as her employee I knew that about her. I didn’t need her to tell me the disgruntled quitter was a jerk. That much was obvious – despite her backstabby former employee doing the “everyone says …” kind of statements.

    Take heart. If your team is happy they’ll be happy. You don’t need to tell them who you are. They know. And if you embrace this gracefully, rather than resentfully, that’ll show them even more about who you are and who this guy is for his bridge-burning ways.

    1. OP*

      This is a really encouraging and helpful comment Dee, and I really appreciate your feedback.

      Sounds like that boss handled the situation like a true professional.
      Many other commenters have offered this same advise, and I’ll do my best to follow it.

    2. buttercup*

      It’s worth noting that sometimes employees have legitimate reasons for not liking their managers, and have the right to express so honestly. Sometimes, personality clashes between managers and employees exist. That being said, it’s really obvious when these tensions are an anomaly vs. the norm.

  38. Chaordic One*

    I think that on a certain level the former employee has gas-lighted the OP.

    The former employee was failing at his job before he quit. Then, on his way out, he was deliberately provocative toward the OP and baited the OP by saying that the OP is an angry person (among other things). The OP has taken the bait and is acting like an angry person. And the former employee isn’t even there anymore.

    It’s not a great situation, but sadly there isn’t much that the OP can do about it. In the overall scheme of things, it really isn’t that big of a problem. The difficult former employee is gone and it should be easier to move forward without him, than it would be if he were still there. Be glad that he’s gone and let it go.

    If, in the unlikely situation that, someone calls asking about the former employee for a reference check, the OP would certainly be justified in saying that he would not recommend the former employee. That’s about all the OP can do.

    1. T*

      I think there’s way too much weight being put into this guy’s parting comments. The exit email was just asinine and it sounds like he was there a very short time. Yes he took uncalled shots at the OP, but it really speaks volumes about him. If I was a manager and received an email like that, I would write it off as a disgruntled and unprofessional employee who doesn’t know how to gracefully exit and retain a reference.

  39. Jaybeetee*

    I feel your pain OP. In an OldJob, both I and a co-manager with whom I worked closely got saddled with Problem Children in the same hiring round (he and I had nothing to do with hiring – we just trained/disciplined). Like you, we were middle managers who dealt with the day-to-day discipline, but had little power to address chronic issues. I SOMEHOW managed to keep a cool head (most of the time…) with my Problem Child, who was eventually fired after way too much crap. My colleague’s Problem Child left for separate reasons after about 6 months, but within that time, he just utterly lost patience with her and didn’t even try to conceal it. In short, yes, she was a Problem, but he was outright rude at times, and therefore wasn’t managing effectively.

    It sounds like you’ve spoken to your boss about all this and how to make changes in the future. I just wanted to suggest that you also figure out some strategies for if something like this happens again – because if you stay in management, almost guaranteed it will happen again. Mis-hires happen occasionally, even in solid organizations. Sometimes someone who was genuinely a good employee elsewhere just doesn’t gel with your company/team/specific job for whatever reason. Sometimes a previously-good employee will encounter personal difficulties that will make them a lot harder to work with for awhile. As a manager, you’ll likely run into other Problem Children, and they’ll be frustrating for you, but you’ll need to find a way to deal with that in a way that doesn’t leave you acting rudely or constantly snapping at them, because at a certain point it will reflect badly on you. It’s not good for your blood pressure, it’s not good for that problem employee, and your negativity will ripple out and affect your whole team.

    I don’t say this to be nasty or pile on (again, I know the frustration), all I mean is that sometimes you’re going to have reports that drive you nuts, and as manager, it’s better for you and everyone, as well as more professional, if you can find a healthier way to express and channel that frustration.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      Oh, and I forgot to say, regarding this specific ex-employee… if you already have a solid reputation where you work, he’ll go down in history there as a guy who sucked at his job and blamed you for it. Abandoning his narrative would mean accepting that he was wrong, which few people do easily. Let this dude go, your colleagues and boss know who you really are.

  40. T*

    Don’t let him bring you down to his level. There’s a possibility your boss already knows this guy was a clown and is brushing off his exit email as unprofessional. What he did was really unclassy and I’m sure your boss can see that. If anything maybe schedule a meeting bringing your manager up to date on how you’re taking up the slack from the obvious hole this former employee dug you into.

  41. Delta Delta*

    I haven’t read all the comments, but it occurs to me that if OP thought this guy was a nightmare, chances are good the staff felt sort of the same way. I wouldn’t be surprised if they just sort of smile and nod and move on, and are probably also glad he’s gone. I think to be constructive for OP, find ways to make sure you’re focusing on managerial things you do well and if it’s appropriate, asking for feedback on how you can better manage.

    1. Argh!*

      At the very least, the people whose work was impacted by his poor performance had to be happy he’s gone.

  42. Hills to Die on*

    OP, I don’t have any else to say, other than the comments I already posted, but I wanted to tell you that I think you are really great for admitting to your side of things and being so open to all of the feedback. You’re in such a better place without that employee and I’m glad it’s leading to some process changes to avoid this sort of thing later. Best of luck to you!

  43. Barb*

    OP, I similarly had a terrible employee with a bad attitude who was convinced he was great, and left right before I fired him. My field is a small community, and I was worried he would badmouth me to people that I might meet. But I realized:
    -I don’t have control over this
    -Trying to preempt this would make me look worse, especially when he’s digging his own hole if he chooses to be petty
    -People who know me, won’t believe him
    -People who respect him, likely wouldn’t get along well with me anyway
    -Reasonable people on the fence would not blacklist me because of this guy! Hearing his side would make them unsure, and interacting with me would show them that he’s wrong.
    -And last, I really don’t want to sink to the level of this terrible guy. He sucks, and we’re really lucky to not have to work with people like this anymore. I hope your work days are now a lot easier, too! It’s good to have a plan for approaching any problems calmly in the future, and that’s really all you need to do. The way you reached out here, you’re sure to do great!

  44. buttercup*

    If this guy really is as crazy as the OP describes him, then chances are no one is going to respect his opinion anyways. IDK why the OP is so hung up on this guys’ opinion of them. The rest of the team has seen OPs behavior and can come to their own conclusions about the OP.

  45. LGC*

    There is…a lot of stuff going on here.

    Add me to the list of Team Stop Letting Fergus Rent Space In Your Head For Free, OP. The way I read this letter is that you two had a really bad work experience, you both personally dislike each other, and then Fergus wrote an e-mail to your boss calling you crazy and damaged.

    I hope that – if the responses to this are any indication – Fergus probably did far more damage to himself than to you when he sent that e-mail to your boss. And – okay, yeah, I’m kind of handwaving the fact that he said a lot of insulting stuff, and assuming you’re female (which isn’t unreasonable – we’re on AAM after all!), he hurled a lot of gendered insults at you to your manager. But on the other hand, I think that most reasonable people, when confronted with a former employee writing, “Well, I quit my job because my manager was a [RHYMES WITH WITCH],” will (reasonably and correctly) assume that the former employee is pretty unhinged and should not be taken seriously. Because he is – he actually thinks that throwing unsubstantiated ad hominem attacks is a useful and reasonable response. (And also, he’s let you take up space in his head for free because he actually psychoanalyzed you.)

    But also, I feel like the resolution you really want is for Fergus to admit that he was terrible at his job, and then maybe you’ll admit that you went wrong somewhere. Which…honestly, I feel like that’s a bit petty, and like you’re approaching this as a zero-sum game. It seems like you think either Fergus wins or you win, when really at this point it looks like you’re both not doing that great (although Fergus looks far worse than you do).

  46. Reluctant Manager*

    I am in the same boat! I try really hard not to full-body-eye-roll when Problem Employee is mentioned, and everyone she’d gone to saying I was a problem rolled their eyes for me. Her close friend who heard all the complaints told me yesterday that I’m her “trustworthy boss.” I remind myself all the time of something my predecessor and old boss said: “Sometimes you realize, ‘Wait, I have to be the bigger person here.’”

  47. Eric*

    It’s good you’re asking this question, OP! Reflection is good. I would say to reflect a bit on what you could’ve done better (in a perfect world where you have all the resources you need, what would you have done?), vent your frustrations with a good workout, and go on while mindful of that idealized course of action.

    My personal experience: in my first job I worked for a guy who I didn’t get along with. I can point to things we both did wrong so I’m not going to unilaterally say one of us was bad and one of us wasn’t. Like the employee in OP’s account, I quit but the boss wanted to fire me.

    I’d made a discrimination complaint against my boss before I left, and reiterated it in my exit interview with HR. My boss must have taken it personally and not let go of it, because I lost another job offer after someone told the company I was applying at that I was fired from my first job. I had to go to HR at the first company again, and they made a pretty severe formal warning against him for it. This was a big, conservative company but judging by their reaction, I’m sure if he tried to contact me or lie about me again, he would’ve been immediately fired; walked out by security, things mailed to him, no severance, no reference.

    The point of this story is that if you don’t vent on this stuff, the resentment becomes obvious, you have to let it out somehow, and it can bite you going forward. So go for a good run or something, let that feeling out, and move forward.

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