my entry-level employee gave me a bunch of off-base “constructive criticism”

A reader writes:

I am a manager in a smaller group (less than 20 people) in a huge firm. The hierarchy is pretty firmly established by my firm, but within my group my directors have given me a lot of freedom and I oversee all of the staff and on occasion other managers (who do not have the same authority over the junior employees). The expectation is that I will be the head of our group in a few years if I want it.

I have a junior staff person (who has been with the group less than two years) who recently took it upon themself to give me some “constructive criticism” about my management, none of which was actually relevant or constructive (I did consider it and actually discussed it with said bosses and they were all confused as to where it came from, as well as displeased this employee thought it was somehow appropriate or relevant).

The criticism was along the lines of — I get in the office too late (I get there at 9, for what it’s worth, like everyone else, but I actually don’t have set hours nor do I punch a time clock). I let people spend too much time in my office, which related to a new hire who I was training. I hog the spotlight by training new people myself (a big part of my job since I have two advanced degrees, and I’m training entry-level grads) and not letting others do it. I talk to my bosses confidentially too much (!!). I undermine my bosses when I help staff finish something before a big deadline if they’re struggling (again, part of my job, our deadlines are firm and if someone can’t finish a project I will help them finish however necessary, but somehow this is rude to whomever assigned the work even though scope and difficulty level isn’t always apparent at the outset of the project and sometimes there’s just no way the staff could finish it on their own).

We already have twice yearly reviews where this employee could give feedback to my boss about me but they “thought that my boss wouldn’t do a good enough job” (which, what?). I usually welcome feedback, especially if it makes the office run more smoothly and I know I don’t know everything, but this seemed petty and like a personal attack. I’m also very careful to treat all my coworkers equally — no favorites, no cliques, no gossip.

When it happened, I was shocked and not sure how to respond, so the conversation happened and I thanked them for bringing their concerns to me.

I’m worried this employee now feels they can give me “performance reviews” whenever they have a grievance, which is definitely not how my organization works and has never happened before that I know of. In the future, how do I head off this kind of conversation from the staff I manage? How do I impress it is completely inappropriate for an entry-level employee to do this type of thing to any boss they have without throttling them?

For what it’s worth, this person has a huge entitlement and attitude problem, which I have addressed with them several times but they refuse to try to improve. They’re actively resentful of other employees and we had to address very recently their bullying another coworker who they thought “had it too easy” — not that the work was too easy but they didn’t have to fight for their job (neither has this problem employee so…). I’m inclined to just write it off as projecting, but I know this person pretty well and I think I will need to shut it down hard next time or they will think they are entitled to scold me and keep doing it.

We can talk about what to say if this happens again, but the bigger problem is that you have an employee who’s out of control and who you probably need to fire.

This is an entry-level employee who you describe as having a huge attitude problem, who has bullied another employee, who has ignored multiple conversations about their behavior, and who is now giving you laughably off-base “feedback” about your own work. Why are you keeping this person?

The right answer here is either to let this person go, or to have one final conversation where you clearly explain that their behavior isn’t acceptable and that you will need to let them go if it continues (and then follow through on that). If you don’t do that, this kind of thing is going to continue being disruptive … and meanwhile, your other staff are going to get increasingly frustrated and demoralized that it’s being allowed to continue.

But to answer your actual question: In the “feedback” conversation itself, you could have said something like, “Let me stop you there because you don’t have the vantage point you’d need to be able to give this kind of feedback. For example, it sounds like you don’t realize that Jane has been spending a lot of time in my office because I’m training her, or that the reason I train new people myself is because it’s a core part of my job here — as is helping people finish projects when they need that support so that we make crucial deadlines. My own manager is fully in the loop on that and appreciates it. I certainly welcome hearing from you if there’s something that directly affects you that you’d like to speak to me about, but you’re not in a position to credibly give input on things outside your scope — you don’t have the context or the perspective for it, as this conversation has underscored.” Frankly, I would also add, “I’m surprised that you thought these issues were in your purview, and this has deepened my concerns about your judgment that we’ve talked about previously.” And then I might say, “Let me lay out what your role here is, and then we can talk about whether it’s the right fit for you.”

Now, in a different context, if a generally good but junior employee approached you with off-base feedback, I’d encourage you to listen to it and then give an open, non-irritated answer without worrying that it will lead to them trying to give you formal performance reviews or so forth. You want people to feel that they can approach you with input and ideas, even if it’s a little outside the scope of their role (as long as it’s not constant or wildly inappropriate like with this person). Listening with an open mind and responding in a genuine way ensures that you remain approachable, and it can be a really useful learning experience for people to hear your perspective about their input, and can help them to hone their instincts in the future.

I don’t think you need to worry about heading this off in the future, because most people aren’t going to do what this person did. That’s just … not usually a thing. It happened here because you have a ridiculous person on your staff, and the solution is to deal with that, more than with this one specific piece of it. However, you can use this piece of it as an entry point into dealing with the broader issues, in that you could have the conversation I outlined above as a lead-in to “let’s figure out if this can work or not.”

Read an update to this letter

{ 323 comments… read them below }

  1. Myrin*

    “A ridiculous person on your staff” indeed, OP. Can I just say that I’m not surprised that this person has displayed entitlement issues in areas other than this “feedback”, as well?

    1. Lance*

      Very much agreed on that last point; after reading their ‘feedback’, I was just waiting to hear how they have issues in other areas.

    2. Djuna*

      The reason I’m not a manager is that I would respond to junior employee’s nonsense by suggesting they pay more attention to their own stuff and less to other peoples’. Especially when they have no context for those roles, and seem to be barely grasping the concepts of their own.

      This is a “throw everyone else under the bus” defense mechanism that I’ve seen before, and it is always always someone who knows they’re in trouble but refuses to accept it that tries it.

      1. AnnaBananna*

        “The reason I’m not a manager is that I would respond to junior employee’s nonsense by suggesting they pay more attention to their own stuff and less to other peoples’”

        Actually in my professional experience, that *is* part of the role as a manager: ensuring staff aren’t getting distracted by their own toxicity (and possibly assigning them more work since they clearly have way too much time on their hands…). Seriously, LW would have been justified in giving her a ‘Sit DOWN’ response.

  2. LadyPhoenix*

    Pretty much what Allison said. The only “performance problem” I see is that you haven’t sent this arrogant power grabber out. The bullying thing should have been their “Strike 3, GTFO”.

    I mean, we did have a discussion yesterday about bad feedback that is sorta right (aka: broken clock is still right twice times a day)… but this certainly isn’t the case.

    This boor has no idea what you do and is obviously gunning for your job.

    1. Artemesia*

      Absolutely. The feedback is so laughable — I have no idea what the OP does and it is still laughable — and the sense that this person should be in charge so palpable that you clearly have someone ambition to force you out and take your job. The OP should be lining up ducks to move this person out; s/he has already had feedback that has been ignored. No reason to begin a lengthy process unless there is no choice. It is time to move to dismissal and if that is not possible this week, then to a PIP in anticipation of dismissal. The OP should be putting the wheels in. motion with own boss and with HR to find out what needs done to move this person out asap.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        It’s so laughable that I wonder if OP was remiss in even bringing it to their own boss’s attention. Alison, if you see this comment I am curious about your thoughts on whether that conversation should have happened. On one hand, it makes OP appear diligent and conscientous. OTOH, it is so silly that I wonder if OP should have brought it up at all for fear of giving any weight at all to something so odd.

        Of course, OP would have brought it up as part of the termination process anyway–should that be the first time their boss hears about it?

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I suspect OP brought it up because it was so wildly out of bounds that it made them go, “Uh…. how should I deal with this?” I don’t think OP lost face with their boss—now boss has a window into the level of dysfunctional cluelessness (and gumption) that this employee is exhibiting.

          1. Hills to Die on*

            I hope that’s the case. I got that impression too, that the boss was focused on the employee and not OP.

        2. Genny*

          I think it was actually a good thing. If the LW moves to fire this employee, which would be completely reasonable, the employee will claim it’s retaliation for giving the LW negative feedback. I think taking this “feedback” to the boss immediately helps strengthen the fact that LW tried to consider the validity of the complaint and isn’t just retaliating.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I honestly don’t know how OP heard this without literally laughing out loud or saying, “Let me stop you right there.”

        I don’t think OP even needs a PIP at this point. The employee has been receiving consistent feedback and failing to do it. I think 2 years of bad behavior is adequate to let them go. (And I would absolutely let her go—these kinds of employees tend to be the rotten apple that spoils the barrel, and they lower morale within teams by making their peers’ lives miserable.)

        1. Quackeen*

          Yeah, I tend to shy away from doing PIPs for attitude. That’s something that I do counseling for, and manage out if it continues.

        2. Ms. Gristle*

          Quick question: The OP went out of their way to use gender-neutral pronouns. What makes you think it’s a girl? Genuinely curious, since I figured it was some frat boy MBA type who thought he was smarter than everyone else.

          1. Rebecca in Dallas*

            I immediately assumed the “frat boy MBA type” as well! Nothing against fraternities or people with MBA’s, but there is definitely a type!

            1. cosmicgorilla*

              Having had an unpleasant interaction with such a stereotype recently, this makes me laugh.

          2. RUKiddingMe*

            Oh yeah I’d bet real money that OP is a woman and the employee is a male who feels he needs to explain things to her.

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Oh, I didn’t mean to imply the report is a girl! I normally default to “they/theirs” when I comment, but in my outside life I often default to “she/hers.” I was finishing a bunch of editing, and I think my brain hadn’t yet code-switched back to gender neutral.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I would take the gunning out of it, because this is a person with no sense of professional norms or appropriate behavior. It sounds like OP’s report spends a lot of her time trying to figure out who is “deserving,” what qualifies as “deserving,” and is trying to bolster her fragile ego by bullying others.

      I agree 1000% with Alison that the core issue, here, isn’t the employee’s off-the-mark “feedback.” That’s just the cherry on top of the shit sundae that is an out of control, insubordinate, tantrum-throwing Mean Girl. I think OP’s first move has to be telling this person they’re going to get fired and then firing her the next time she steps out of line. Everything else is just a symptom of the core problem, which is that this report does not understand basic office norms, has poor judgment, has bullied (!!!) coworkers based on her skewed perspective of whether someone merits their job (!!!), and is flagrantly insubordinate and unwilling to integrate feedback into her performance.

      1. Nervous Nellie*

        As usual, PCBH nailed it. And gave us a lovely visual that will make me pass on my church’s ice cream social this Sunday. :) Thank you for the chuckle!

      2. Observer*

        Yes, this is a perfect summary of the situation, I think.

        OP, Follow Allison’s advice and start the process of terminating this person.

      3. Jasnah*

        Yeah, it has never occurred to me to tell my boss they spend too much time talking privately with THEIR boss. There are so many layers of weird expectations here.

        I imagine years ago as a preschooler, this employee told their teacher they should wear blue pants instead of brown pants because brown is the color of dirt, and also little Timmy is using MY swing (it’s everyone’s swing. It’s no one’s swing). Then the teacher shared a laugh with the head teacher about this story. Decades later…

    3. LadyPhoenix*

      I will retract my critique of the OP not firing this shady jerk because they mentioned they don’t have the power to actually fire then.

      And instead I will document their misbehavior and mention that their prescence will cause negative feelings for the whole team should they continue.

  3. Kheldarson*

    I can’t imagine the size of their… ego… to even approach their boss like that. Like… seriously? Fair enough to ask questions and challenge ideas but to legit say “I have constructive criticism for you”?


    1. FD*

      There is a way to do it! But this is VERY MUCH not that way.

      I’ve actually given constructive criticism feedback to bosses with whom I’ve worked closely and had a really good relationship. But then it was something more like, “Hey, there’s something I’ve noticed, and I wanted to share it because it seems like it’s making it more difficult to get the results you want…” etc.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        And there’s lots of advice on this site about how to talk to your boss when something they’re doing isn’t working for you. Not “you’re coming in too late” but “I can’t get answers from you on anything before 10 a.m. and that’s causing X problem.” Or instead of “you’re doing all the training and that’s a problem,” approaching your boss to ask how you can become more involved in training and express that it’s something you’d be interested in adding to your role.

        This employee is not doing that.

        1. FD*

          Totally agree! I think it’s possible to give gentle but honest feedback to someone above you–and I think as you get to higher levels (e.g. not where this employee is) it’s a really valuable skill to do well. (The book Crucial Conversations outlines this well.)

          However, that requires you actually understanding the big picture and doing it really, really gracefully.

          This employee is obviously doing neither.

      2. Shay*

        I would think VERY carefully before providing unsolicited feedback up the management chain. Unless you are someone’s direct manager, it is necessary to ask if the person would like feedback on TOPIC ABC.

      3. TootsNYC*

        And I have received constructive criticism and negative feedback from the guy who works for me. But I have invited feedback, and he has prefaced it by saying, “I’m bringing this to you because you said you wanted to know stuff like this. So here is the thing I’m upset about that involves me directly / the thing I need more information on faster.”

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Agreed that there are ways of providing constructive criticism to bosses. I do think it helps not to call it “constructive criticism,” because that comes off weird and egomaniacal. But FD is right that there are right ways to do it, and the employee’s approach is all wrong.

        1. FD*

          I do think it helps not to call it “constructive criticism,” because that comes off weird and egomaniacal.


          Calling it that tends to make it feel…hierarchical somehow? I’m not sure exactly why, but to me it sounds ‘off’ if used in that context.

          1. Colin*

            I think it’s because the qualifier on the front carries the implication that it might be something other than constructive, and you that you’re doing the other person a favour by being nice about it.

    2. Michaela Westen*

      To me it sounds like he was raised in a way that made this behavior normal. If so, he might not be plotting anything specific – but should still probably be fired or moved to a position where he can’t do any harm.
      OP should use her observations and instincts as to whether he’s clueless or manipulative.
      If clueless, maybe explain how things work on his way out.

      1. Lance*

        OP stated they’ve addressed previous attitude/entitlement problems, is the thing. There’s only so far you can go to try and break through cluelessness (much of which, in my experience, is quite impenetrable).

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Yes, that’s true. When employee is on his way out though, she can say things a little more bluntly without worrying about the working relationship.
          I started out clueless so I always want to see clueless people getting the feedback they need – that’s what helped me.
          That’s if he is clueless – if he’s hostile and trying to take over, just get him out.

          1. Observer*

            They may or may not be clueless, but they most definitely ARE arrogant and mean. Bullying people is NOT a function of cluelessness, ever.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              Arrogance can be from cluelessness. My brother and I were both like that – following my father’s example. Also judgment, which can lead to bullying – I didn’t know I was doing that until I was told.
              It’s amazing how clueless bad parents and their children can be!

              1. JSPA*

                I totally get this.

                For those who have not seen it in action…imagine being raised by parents who teach their kids that this is the way that smart, resourceful people act; and that buffaloing people into doing things “the” right way is an act of kindness to them, as they otherwise would continue to do it some other, “wrong” way. And that it’s also how intelligent, creative people recognize each other. It can be really, really hard to disentangle those messed up messages. If you’d recognize the religious equivalent (and cut young people some slack, for needing time to throw off that messaging)–this is much the same thing, only secular. You’re tearing down someone’s actions or opinions “because you care about them, and want them to improve”–so you’re blind to the fact that, yeah, the end result–the received effect–is that you’re bullying people. For doing something in a way that’s different than what you would do.

            2. Michaela Westen*

              Thinking about it… if it was more questioning because they perceived the person as having an unfair advantage, that could be cluelessness.
              If it was more trying to hurt the person I agree, that’s just mean.

      1. FD*

        Probably true, I’m afraid. I hope not! I hope this person takes it as a moment of reflection and thinks about what went wrong, but sometimes people like this have to keep running into brick walls before they learn.

        If they’re really unlucky and charismatic they end up being put in charge of something before they gain self-knowledge, and become awful bosses.

        1. Observer*

          Given that they came to OP rather that OP’s boss because they didn’t think OP’s boss would do a “good enough” job of dealing with it, the chances of them doing any self reflection is about zero.

      2. MsSolo*

        Yes, I think this is a bit of a pre-emptive attempt to reframe the inevitable firing. “I was fired in retaliation for my completely honest and unbiased and perfectly appropriate feedback “. There may even be some post-firing posturing in an attempt to prove it, but I can’t see it gaining any traction as long as the employee is fired according to the company policies.

  4. Jenn*

    I was increasingly thinking “this sounds like someone you need to fire”, then Ingot to the line about this employee bullying someone because they thought the person “had it too easy” and this became a “you need to fire this person yesterday”. This arrogant boundary stomping and serious misbehavior will cost you good employees. Get them gone.

    1. MuseumChick*

      +1 to this. At most I would give them a “If your behavior does not improve it will effect your employment here.” conversation once.

      1. yorkjj*

        a warning like this coupled with a performance improvement plan which spells out very specific goals the problem person has to meet in a well defined time period would place the onus on them to get in line or officially label themselves as “dispensable”.

    2. Oranges*

      I’m frankly kinda amazed that they’re not already gone? (I’m assuming there are reasons I don’t know about but still…)

      1. LetterOP*

        It’s just really hard to fire someone here and I don’t have the authority. I can make hiring decisions but firing has to go through our legal department and can only come from my boss.

        1. cactus lady*

          Have you documented all of their misbehavior in writing? If not, please start doing so immediately. Email it to yourself (so it’s time/date stamped), or your boss, or legal, whomever. Documentation is your friend in a case like this.

        2. irene adler*

          Make sure they tell you specifically what documentation is required to terminate someone’s employment. Don’t waste time trying to get something together you think might meet their requirements. That will only delay things.

        3. Not a Blossom*

          The I would suggest documenting everything, pulling together any previous e-mails, etc. You might also talk to your boss to let them know that in your opinion, this person should be let go because of X reasons and ask what criteria are used and what documentation would be needed.

        4. WellRed*

          If you truly have freedom and are valued enough that the expectation is you can move up in a few years if you want it, it might be time to gently push back on this.

          1. the_scientist*

            Just want to highlight this because I think it’s really important. OP, it sounds like you have significant political capital at this company- you’re clearly highly regarded and being groomed for a larger leadership role than you already have. This is the type of thing that is worth spending some of that capital on!

            Also, I know it can be difficult to fire people at some organizations, but I work in the public sector, which is notoriously bad about not letting problem employees go, and guess what? My company has figured out a way to do it. It can almost certainly be done.

        5. OhGee*

          They bullied one of your other employees, that you know of. I can almost guarantee they’ve bullied others…or soon will. That kind of behavior should easily set them up for termination. Even if it seems not so bad, it can harm morale and your reputation as a manager in a way that is very difficult to fix.

        6. Lance*

          In that case, you need to get them in on it ASAP (if you haven’t already), because ‘firing’ seems to me like the only likely conclusion of all this.

        7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          This is so crazy. I think it’s time to enlist your boss in firing this employee—they’re completely out of control, and it’s escalating.

          Also, this is a last ditch argument (I think there are plenty of valid reasons to fire your report without throwing out legal issues, but just in case…): If your company is large enough to be in multiple states, also note that bullying is unlawful in California, Utah and Tennessee. So not only is your report behaving like an entitled egomaniac, they may also be violating labor laws and putting the firm at risk.

          1. fposte*

            Holy cow, I missed that. (Tennessee has had this since 2014? Wow.) I have mixed feelings about the legislatability, but it’s fascinating to see that it’s passed and in which states.

        8. Observer*

          I suspected something like this.

          So here’s the thing. Your boss now has some idea of the problem this fruitcake presents. So this is a perfect time to get all of your documentation in place and take to your boss, saying “That conversation I told you about was just the tip of the iceberg. Here is the documentation of some of the other issues we’ve had. I know that we don’t move to firing as a first line, but this person is out of the norm in thier misbehavior. What do you need from me to be able to start the process of terminating this person?” Maybe add “And what can we do in the meantime to sideline him without just dumping his work on other staff?”

        9. J.B.*

          I work with a bully who has been treated with kid gloves for so long and promoted and “that’s how he is”. If you are not allowed to fire this employee you don’t want to manage him either. I promise you. Your other staff will also resent you for not getting rid of the guy. If your boss is unwilling to work towards firing you need to look at getting out.

      2. kittymommy*

        Yeah the bullying another employee should have been the last straw IMO. This employee needs to be bounced; every time this behavior is tolerated you’re giving them more power to continue and increase it. This will not get better.

        On a side note, am I the only one who thought of the letter from a while back about the employee who would take over meetings and change work and overstep her supervisor? I think it was some sort of technical job.

        1. Leela*

          Not to mention good employees might find it enticing to look for new companies if they’re being bullied at their current one

    3. Flash Bristow*

      Yep. “Clearly this isn’t working out…” is how I’d start that convo, so they aren’t blindsided… But then stick to it. Their behaviour isn’t appropriate, their ideas aren’t realistic, you wish them all the best in a more appropriate forum – goodbye.

  5. Amber Rose*

    This person is off their rocker. Why do they still have a job? If bullying is a problem on top of all the other things and has been for a while, then a stern talking to is just telling your other, better employees that you don’t care enough to take real action here. I would be surprised if morale wasn’t taking a hit.

    Like with most serious problem employee situations, you’re probably going to end up with the choice to lose the one, or lose the rest of them.

    1. Nervous Nellie*

      Seconded, Amber Rose! Well put. Yikes – the priority here is not graciously explaining yourself to counter all of the staffer’s “feedback” but to get this person gone before you lose good people who won’t tolerate this. My last job had a bully/tantrum queen who cast a stressful shadow over the whole office every day, but still went for lunch with the Director daily. We had 110% turnover by the time the bully was fired…..

      1. Sad Astros Fan*

        Yes, this. Bad employees (or rather toxic ones) can run off your good ones. If you don’t do something about this, your entire company will suffer.

        1. LetterOP*

          I think I’m really lucky that my staff otherwise treats each other kindly and is supportive. They are all aware that this person has decided to ruin their future here and just avoid them. Problem child I think is slowly starting to realize they are isolating themselves but hasn’t changed.

          1. Artemesia*

            You need to find out what it will take to fire this person and the first step is to clearly lay out how negative this person is. Don’t soft pedal it to higher ups instead talk about repeated behavior that has resisted feedback and the bullying. When talking about their feedback to you focus on the nature of their overstepping e.g. the expressing resentment of other employees etc rather than your own feeling of being insulted with the feedback. Find out what the steps are and make it clear that you think this person may cost the company other employees — that this is a majorly toxic employee, that these are not small things correctable with feedback.

          2. TootsNYC*

            this person’s presence is going to start to grate on the good people who work there. Alison had a letter like this just the other day–and that wasn’t even someone who is actively mean to people!

          3. SusanIvanova*

            Your other employees will only put up with that for so long, and you don’t want to lose them if the environment gets too toxic. That’s what finally got Coworker Coffeecup kicked out – not that he did less in a day than I could’ve done with an extra coffee, or that everyone on the local team had refused to work with him, but that he was gaslighting and bullying a remote co-worker.

            Also your problem child may realize they’re being isolated, but not that they’re the reason for it. In their eyes it’ll all be the fault of those other employees and they’ll just get worse.

    2. serenity*

      Not to be too harsh on OP (she’s well-intentioned and writing in to AAM seems to indicate a good faith effort to be a good manager) but this person has gotten away with it because they haven’t been managed well. A poor employee who has not adjusted to or learned from feedback, and still has their job, is going to continue to perform poorly if they are given the slack to do so.

      1. serenity*

        And I just saw below that OP does not have firing authority, and that this is a recent-ish set of developments. So I modify my above comment.

  6. FD*

    Yeah, this person seems incredibly toxic. Their behavior screams, “I know better than anyone else and I’m going to hit you over the head with that.”

    LW, you sound like you try to be a great person to work for, and I’m suspect you feel a bit confused because this person is reacting in a way that’s pretty out of sync with the feedback they’re getting. The fact that they’ve bullied another employee puts this more firmly in the ‘nope, get rid of them now’ camp, IMO.

  7. Elizabeth*

    Holy moly! I’d never dream of saying this to my boss. The only part of the feedback that *might* have been useful is telling OP that jumping in to complete projects makes the other person feel like they aren’t trusted, so maybe there’s some adjusting that can be done there.

    But other than that…Oh my. Is this person really telling you that you don’t get to work on time and socialize too much? Ick–sounds like this person has majorly overestimated how much power they have.

    1. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

      “The only part of the feedback that *might* have been useful is telling OP that jumping in to complete projects makes the other person feel like they aren’t trusted, so maybe there’s some adjusting that can be done there.”
      I don’t even think that’s what ridiculous-employee said! What got from the letter is that it undermines the letter-writer’s higher-ups somehow, I guess by second-guessing the higher-ups assessments of who could finish the work? Arrant nonsense, whatever it is.

      1. LetterOP*

        Yeah, they think I’m second-guessing the bosses decisions. Although Elizabeth makes a good point about the staff not feeling trusted, generally they ask me for help or let me know they’re in danger of missing the deadline but I will make sure going forward to be clear it’s only about time and not about ability.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          This is an entry level employee? Who the fk is he to decide that you are “overstepping” anyone, or that it is within his purview to say anything?

    2. Micklak*

      The OP has handled this with a lot more grace than I could have in the same situation. I would have been seeing red.

      1. LibraryMan*

        So, could you go back to your wildly-too-present report and ask him to write down all his feedback for you so you can give it the consideration it deserves?

      2. PJs of Steven Tyler*

        I have done “soft” documentation with a screaming manager that was still incredibly helpful. I kept a Work Diary of every task completed for each manager and each client, and I could go back and find the ones that said things like “Mike says I am NEVER to send a client’s report without asking his express permission first, no matter HOW long I have worked here.” I was able to use those as proof that Mike had screamed at me even though I didn’t have exact times, and even though those instance were not the instances when my boss had directly witnessed it. Having any kind of documentation, even if it’s not first-person horribleness, is still helpful, especially if you have a date and time. I have always had great luck with the “Well, I talked to Gretchen at 2:48 on December 3rd and she said this was the vendor’s fault and they would get it resolved for us…” Good luck and keep us posted!

  8. WellRed*

    Has all the behavior (aside from the bizarre feedback) been going on for two years? You’re the manager, get rid of him. If only for the sake of the bullied employee.

    1. LetterOP*

      It’s all happened in the last 2 months, I would say. Before that there weren’t really any problems. Coincidentally the new hire that is apparently in my office too much started about four months ago, so I think that was a trigger. I can’t fire them myself but my boss who can is informed and so far hasn’t made that decision – I think he’s waiting to see if it resolves or gets worse.

      The bullied employee came to me straight away, fortunately, and has been left alone since then. I’m keeping a close eye on her to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

      1. Monty & Millie's Mom*

        I KNEW he hadn’t been this bad the whole time – I feel like things get to this point because it slowly escalates over time, and for me, I start questioning if things are REALLY over the line, or REALLY that bad, b/c it’s not so different than what happened last month, or whatever. There’s no real tipping point, but suddenly you realize that things have gone too far! Your letter sounds like you are conscientious, so it makes sense that the employee wasn’t like this all along, or you would have nipped that in the bud by now! Good luck to you!

      2. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

        Was the problem employee previously the newest, before the hire four months ago? Almost like the kid that suddenly has a new little sibling and wants more attention?

        Thanks for commenting and providing clarity OP!

        1. LetterOP*

          They weren’t, actually, we’ve had a handful of others. First one who got a full offer immediately instead of a probationary one though ….

          1. serenity*

            OP, I think you need to be very clear and direct with your boss and keep him/her apprised of how this develops. I can’t picture this improving (the attitude problems you’ve described alone are alarming).

          2. Jake*

            That’s where the “not fight for it” accusation came from.

            When I first started I struggled hard with acknowledging that fair doesn’t mean equal, meaning that I’d have been perturbed by a new employee not going through the same probation period I had to go through.

            That being said, I wouldn’t do any of the things this employee had done, so I’d still agree that here is off his rocker.

      3. Shay*

        There is an imbalance of empowerment if OP can make hiring decisions and manage but is not empowered to fire an employee. OP doesn’t have the necessary authority to be successful in this role.

        1. LetterOP*

          The fun of a large public company :) I’m given a very free rein generally but I was explicitly told I cannot fire anyone. I asked.

            1. Janet (not a robot)*

              Yes, I think the followup question should be “Okay, so if I can’t fire them – who can?” And then go talk to that person and find out exactly what you need to do to make it happen.

              1. LetterOP*

                My head BigBoss (I have three “bosses” but one is in charge over the rest) would have to go through HR and legal to terminate Problem Employee – I believe he can make the decision but he would need clearance and to begin their procedures before he could actually do it. I haven’t been in this position before, (obviously, or I would have reacted differently) so I don’t even know what the steps are or who he would need to contact. Putting the problems we’ve been having down on “paper” made me realize how serious they were. It was a gradual decline into “wait what is going on here” and I don’t think myself or my bosses realized where we would eventually end up. I thought I was crazy until I read the responses.

                1. HRtripp*

                  OP It sounds like you and your managers don’t know the company’s policy/ procedures for dealing with problem employees and/or raising these concerns to HR.

                  If you’re working for a large public company than I guarantee that HR has this information available for manager, even if you dont have the authority to make the final decision or begin the process. In the very least they’ll have some sort of other resources available for you and/ or instructions on how to properly raise a complaint to HR or the best way to document an incident. Just taking notes on an incident isn’t enough.

                  If you’re managing multiple people you need to know this information so the next time you have a problem employee you don’t waste time getting the process started because the process could be long and contain several steps. Look on your company’s share point if you have one or even read through the handbook. You should be able to get some information on where to start or who to contact there.

          1. Shay*

            LetterOP, this is unusual and not broadly attributable to a large public company (from my direct experience). As Alison notes, it merits discussion with your own boss and gaining buy-in and firmly questioning any push-back. And if my manager did not empower me to fire and did not support my recommendation to fire such an employee, I’d be forced to examine my role in that organization.

          2. Jennifer Thneed*

            OP, when you say “public company”, what do you mean, exactly? I think that terms means it has stock which is publically traded on the stock exchange, and that just means pretty much every large company. Banks are public companies, department stores are public companies. And there’s nothing inherent to being public that means it’s hard to fire people. (Although individual companies *can* have policies that make it very hard to fire people.)

            But I’m thinking you mean something else, like maybe your company works for some level of government, and you have to comply to their very difficult rules? Because yes, government agencies can have *very* convoluted rules.

      4. Nita*

        Oh, somehow that reads like jealousy from an older child when there’s a new kid in the house. NOT something that one should be seeing in the workplace. This is such immature behavior that I wonder if there’s something else going on in the problem employee’s life, and clouding their judgement. If firing is not on the horizon unless things get much worse, this person might benefit from a very direct talking-to, and possibly a referral to an EAP if there is one.

  9. Four lights*

    I’m stunned. I’m going to assume that this person has done other inappropriate behaviors–I think you should reflect on those more in light of Allison’s advice to fire this person, and maybe it will become more clear that this person needs to be fired.

    ” I’m inclined to just write it off as projecting”– Just because you understand why somebody is doing something, or where they’re coming from, doesn’t mean that their behavior is acceptable. Especially when they refuse to change it.

    “I know this person pretty well”–They’ve only worked there for less than two years; do you know them from outside of work? If so, could that be clouding your judgement?

    1. your favorite person*

      ‘“I know this person pretty well”–They’ve only worked there for less than two years; do you know them from outside of work? If so, could that be clouding your judgement?’

      That’s a weird assumption. I’d assume it’s just because she’s managed this person for nearly two years. On smaller teams, it’s pretty easy to get to know someone pretty well.

    2. LetterOP*

      I didn’t know them outside of work, but I have been their manager from their first day and trained and worked with them extensively, on an almost day to day basis. They’re also pretty outgoing and talkative, so I feel like I know their personality and likely behavior pretty well. I am trying really hard not to have any sort of bias for or against them, though.

      That’s very true that just because I know why they said this doesn’t mean it’s ok, thank you.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think it’s OK to now have a bias against them.
        Because that’s not a bias; it’s judgment. Of course you want your judgment to be sound, but your concerns and reactions don’t sound “off” to me.

        “Bias” is when you form a judgment with NO factual input.

        You have factual input.

        1. fposte*

          Well summed. We don’t start fresh with a blank slate every day. What you have there is a known quantity.

  10. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    Oh dear. So this is going to end one of two ways. Either this person gets knocked down to their appropriate peg and figures out how obnoxious they truly are or they quit/are fired.

    I’m leaning toward the quit/fired side myself, but, there are live examples in the world of those who were soundly put in their place and learned from it.

    The common denominator is that that you need to firmly address the behavior and attitude. Once that’s done it’s up to the employee to choose their fate.

    1. McWhadden*

      I think there are lots of people, especially junior people, who step out of line with their bosses by giving unwanted feedback or other arrogant type behavior but learn their lesson and turn out to be great employees or co-workers. For some it’s just a life lesson. And learning when and how to give feedback if it is necessary (and there are lots of letters that show sometimes it is necessary) is important.

      I think there are fewer people who bully other employees and turn out to be great co-workers.

      1. LetterOP*

        I suspect it will go the quit/fired route, but it’s really a long process to get fired at my company. You’d basically have to set the entire firm on fire. And even then maybe not. I’m going to try to straighten out my report and hope for the best though.

        1. Teapot librarian*

          OP, I have two employees who are very similar sounding to yours. It’s government, so I have to be very diligent about documenting. After too long, I’ve finally realized that the only way discipline is going to happen is if I prioritize it over other responsibilities. I wish you much success dealing with your employee!

        2. Oranges*

          I know you don’t wanna do the work but it’s either do the work to fire him or do the work to hire other employees. I will place a $50 bet that most of the people who work with him are looking. And $500 on the bullied employee.

          1. LetterOP*

            All the conversations have been in person, both with Problem Employee and my boss. I have some follow up emails but now I am going to put together a comprehensive dossier on the entire history of this person.

          2. LQ*

            So I was the bullied employee (not this one obviously) last year, and my 20 pages of documentation didn’t get the guy fired because it would have required going up all the way up through the chain of command to the governor which…just wasn’t happening. But what I did have was crystal clear backing of my boss and a lot of space to have shitty days (and 5 years experience with my boss having my back). I don’t know that I would have had the same patience if my boss had been his boss. If you can’t get rid of the problem you should be very open with the employee who has to deal with that nonsense about why and what you have done and are doing to resolve it. (Just my cents on retaining the bullied employee.)

        3. Jenn*

          I feel you. Firing someone is tough. I was still in the process of PIPs snd documentation the last time it was going that was and was justbrelieved when the employee decided tonquit first.

        4. Augusta Sugarbean*

          Can you start advocating for this to change, too? Assuming the long process to fire is due to company policies and not legal requirements, maybe work on making it easier to dump bad employees. As a side project, document how much time is relegated to dealing with problem employee(s). Dealing with personnel problems is part of being a manager but it also takes time away from contributing to company profits.

          1. spocklady*

            YES this is an excellent suggestion and might help change company policy. If you can demonstrate that you spend a really disproportionate number of hours either a) dealing with and managing this person, compared to their peers, or b) how much time it takes to go through all the steps and get all your ducks in a row, maybe someone higher up will look at the opportunity cost of that and be willing to make some changes.

            Good luck, LetterOP. You’re in an unenviable position for sure.

        5. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          One thing to keep in mind when managing this behavior in the employee is to make sure that you are crystal clear on your expectations (which can be hard when it’s a fuzzy area like the feedback they gave you).

          For example;

          Gumption Gus/Gertie: You know boss, I think I need to tell you that it’s not great that you spend so much time in closed door meetings with the higher ups.

          You: Gumption Gus/Gertie: That’s very interesting that you think you should have an opinion on how your boss spends their time. Let’s set a clear expectation, As your manager it is my responsibility to know how you spend your time at work. As an employee it is not your responsibility to know how I spend my time at work. If you are trying to convey that my availability is affecting your work in some manner then we can discuss alternatives for communication. Beyond that limited scope, we will not be discussing my activities during the day.

          Gumption Gus/Gertie: Boss, I think that you are getting into the office too late.
          You: Gumption Gus/Gertie: That’s very interesting that you think you should have an opinion on when your boss arrives and departs for the day. Let’s set a clear expectation, As your manager it is my responsibility to track your time at work. As an employee it is not your responsibility to track my arrival and departures from work. If you are trying to convey that my availability is affecting your work in some manner then we can discuss alternatives for communication. Beyond that limited scope, we will not be discussing my arrival times.

          In other words, while I wouldn’t give this advice to managers as a general rule*, you need counter any ‘feedback’ with zero explanation or defense of your actions and make it clear that you are the boss and they are the employee.

          It’s going to be harder in this case because you are going to want to leave the door open for feedback that is appropriate, which is why you want to deliberately limit the scope of the discussion. You also want to make sure that you aren’t changing your behavior to accommodate Gus/Gertie. For example if the ‘you don’t arrive until 9’ discussion goes in the direction of Gus/Gertie saying they often have questions or need your signature at 8 am. The answer is not for you to come in an hour early. It’s to make the work fit your schedule (save questions until I arrive, have the approval document ready the afternoon before, etc).

          *For normal employees I always encourage giving them explanations and education when possible. Even explaining sometimes, this was my thought process, to illustrate the problem solving steps and information considered. In your situation, a normal interaction is going to open the door for more nonsense. I recommend a very formal and structured response.

      2. Anon Anon Anon*

        I agree. Stepping out of line by wanting more influence or authority when you’re junior is common. But bullying, choosing not to change your behavior when asked, being hostile to your manager . . . That stuff is not common or understandable. I hope LW can get their manager’s support to do something about it.

      1. Kahlessa*

        This is one situation where the statement “You’re not the boss of me” would be appropriate.

  11. McWhadden*

    Sounds like they are jealous of all the time you spend with other employees both new ones who need training and actual management. That seems to be the focal point of most of his issues. Too much time confidential time with bosses, too much time in your office with employees, too much time training, too much time helping with a deadline. Their main issue seems to be that you give attention to others and not them.

    Very strange.

    But the feedback seems to be the least of his issues (and that’s saying something since the feedback is off the rail.)

    1. Ama*

      It kind of seems like the report is looking at OP going “she’s not doing any of her own work, she’s just talking to people and doing other people’s work” and not understanding that that’s quite often what the work of a management job entails — having meetings, providing support and guidance on direct report projects, etc.

      I’ll confess since I moved into management myself I have greater understanding of past managers I have had whose primary work product seemed to be “talking to people.”

      1. Antilles*

        not understanding that that’s quite often what the work of a management job entails
        That was my read too that he doesn’t have a clue what the role of a manager actually is. Like, each of his complaints are things which are completely and totally reasonable within a manager’s role:
        >”Talking confidentially with your bosses” – Even though you’re a manager, you’re still part of the chain of command and have a boss above you to keep informed.
        >”Let people spend time in your office” – Dealing with your staff is one of your top priorities, which means spending a lot of time dealing with people and checking in
        >”Training new people yourself” – Making sure the staff are adequately equipped and trained is one of your other high priorities
        >”Help staff finish before a big deadline” – A manager is ultimately accountable for all the projects under their command; if a project is running behind, the manager needs to be willing to address the problem (which could mean anything from ‘pulling people off other projects’ to ‘personally working on it’ to ‘calling the client to beg for more time).
        >”Get into the office too late” – A management role typically operates by the project not the hours on the clock. Also, there’s usually a decent amount of off-clock time that he’s probably not aware of – staying late, reading reports over the weekend, etc.

  12. LetterOP*

    This is my letter. I was so relieved to see I’m not the one off base here – I really am open to helpful feedback, or even unhelpful but well-intentioned feedback, but this sent me reeling.

    I want to clarify, I do not have the power to fire anyone. I actually had a very frank discussion with my boss (who does have the power) about this person before this whole “review” thing and he said he wanted to wait and see what happens but encouraged me to continue managing their behavior (reprimands, removal of privileges, etc). After this happened I filled him in and his only response was to express frustration. Not sure what his plan is but I’m definitely going to follow up with a clearer explanation of how toxic this employee is being. And it is demoralizing to the other staff, which I haven’t brought up with him.

    Allison, thank you so much for the language. I’m going to memorize it because I can see other situations in the future where the framework will be perfect, and I’m going to use it word-for-word if I have to.

    And to the person who said they are gunning for my job – I think you’re right. They don’t have the education or background to even qualify but I do feel like they’re out to get me. Some of the “feedback” almost felt like a threat.

    1. silvertech*

      Keep religious documentation of every incident, it will give credit to your stance. It must be rough having to manage someone like your employee… I hope your boss will see the light eventually.

      And no, you’re not off base!

      1. Observer*

        Yes, documentation is your friend here. Of EVERYTHING. If people come to you to complain about them, you obviously can’t share too much information with them. But you CAN document it – and even ask people to put their issues into email. This will help your boss see the extent of the problem.

    2. MuseumChick*

      Hi OP, I hope you can get you boss on your side with letting this person go. They are toxic. If you haven’t already keeps logs of all their behavior. Do you have documentation of the bullying you discussed in the letter? Definitely document what this employee said to you, the fact your made you boss aware of it, and the follow up conversation you are going to have with this employee.

      Remember, it’s never impossible to fire someone. It can just be a painfully long process sometimes.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If you haven’t clearly said to your boss, “I feel strongly that we need to fire her,” do. Don’t wait for your boss to conclude that on their own.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yes! And mention that it’s demoralizing others. I would bet that the hassle/cost of firing this person is less than the hassle and cost of having to replace good people whose productivity is impaired by others.

        OP, if you’re having a hard time making this case to others up the chain, I recommend circulating The No Asshole Rule.

      2. MatKnifeNinja*

        If this person isn’t gone, the excellent workers will jump ship. Supposedly unemployment is low, so the all stars don’t have to put up with that nonsense.

        Then the fun will really start…

    4. Boredatwork*

      I’ll give you my perspective – they are absolutely gunning for your job. I am being trained right now to be my managers “mini me” and the largest part of that is being included in closed door conversations he has with Grandboss – taking over training of new staff – helping with complex projects other staff need help with, ect.

      Entitled co-worker wants to try and take these things from you so they can position themselves for your job. Think about what they ACTUALLY want to happen from that “feedback”.

      I agree with everyone, it’s honest feedback time with your boss and time for you to create some real pressure on “entitled co-worker” to change or GTFO.

      1. AKchic*

        All of this.

        I would almost want to sit this person down and ask what they’d *like* to see change and how they’d like those changes *implemented* in order for you to be a better supervisor (without actually giving them any justification as to why things are done the current way). Let this person dig their own hole.

        Then, once it is crystal clear the direction they want to go (all of these tasks go to them so they can be groomed to take your position), then you can lay out Alison’s script and be direct.

        This wasn’t just an insult to you, but an insult to your boss (“thought that my boss wouldn’t do a good enough job” comment). This person didn’t want to get slapped down by your boss, so they are working to undermine your confidence so you doubt yourself and allow this BS to happen and they can swoop in and rescue you (and the company!).
        This person needs a PIP at the least. A severe knock back into their place and a warning that they are thin ice.
        Or, be done with it and just get rid of them. Office drama is not worth it.

      2. A New Level of Anon*

        “Change or GTFO” is the title of the organizational dynamics book I’m going to write someday…

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          A children’s style book for managers having a rough dsy, along the lines of “Go the #/^& to sleep” ?
          Audiobook needs to be read by someone who can do the Voice of God.
          :) and I’d buy it.

    5. CommanderBanana*

      “Waiting and seeing what happens” is a good way for your boss to see good employees leave because of this person. It’s fine to have a concrete plan like, “we’re putting this person on a very specific PIP and they have 60 days to fix this,” but just “waiting and seeing what happens” is not actually a plan or being a good boss.

      1. MassMatt*

        I REALLY hope this is not the case, but you may have nailed it, the boss with the power to fire may not want to do anything because the hassle of firing someone is greater than the pain of dealing with them, because OP is the one dealing with them.

        I hope this organization is well run, and it might be, but the fact that OP has the responsibility to manage but explicitly NOT the ability to fire seems like a recipe for frustration.

        And was I the only person dismayed to hear firings have to be done through a legal department? Perhaps this is the norm in this area or business but to me that is a sign the organization is likely paralyzed by an irrational fear of lawsuits, all too common unfortunately.

        Good luck, OP!

      2. LadyPhoenix*

        To quote a certain old meme:

        DO IT. JUST DO IT.

        I have come to learn in life that more often then not, the following words will mean NOTHING gets done:
        “In a later time”/“Sometime later”/“Later”
        “We’ll see”
        “Wait and see”

        Give an exact date or take action now, Grand Boss!

    6. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      I think removal of privileges and downgrading his job responsibilities are the best way to get through to an ego like this. He should no longer be included in any kind of work with higher level staff or decision making. And when he challenges that, tell him plainly it’s because he’s demonstrated a lack of respect for professional norms and hierarchies and that this is something your bosses are in agreement with.

      1. LetterOP*

        I agree with all of this. I really appreciate the feedback and support.

        I haven’t had to go the PIP.firing route before so I’m going to dig into our HR manual and get the ball rolling. I’m also going to have a confidential (Oh no! :D ) chat with my boss about firm steps. He may be handling it on his own and keeping me out of it to avoid any blowback on me.

        1. serenity*

          And it is demoralizing to the other staff, which I haven’t brought up with him.

          Make sure to tell your boss about the effect this is having on the rest of the staff!

        2. Close Bracket*

          I strongly encourage you to tell your employee that they are heading down the PIP/firing path if they don’t start taking your feedback to heart and changing how they do things. You’ve basically trained them to disregard your input bc there has not been any consequences or any hint of consequences. Change that by first explaining the consequences. Make your message “Change Interaction(s) X to interaction Y and show sustained improvement within the next month or get PIPed” rather than “Change Interaction X to interaction Y.” I would add in something about how they know what’s expected bc you’ve talked about it umpty-billion times and you aren’t going to stand over them metaphorically rapping their knuckles for that month.

          I feel like management in someways is like divorce. Spouse A tells Spouse B over and over that they don’t like it when they leave their socks on the floor and continually pick the kids up half an hour late but never actually say “and it changes the way I view you and is making me question the relationship.” Spell it out! Maybe they change and maybe they don’t, but making it clear that things will change one way or another is not that hard!

        3. Close Bracket*

          > He should no longer be included in any kind of work with higher level staff or decision making. And when he challenges that, tell him plainly it’s because he’s demonstrated a lack of respect for professional norms and hierarchies and that this is something your bosses are in agreement with.

          Don’t wait for him to challenge it. Tell him up front, “We’re removing this part of your job bc ….” If there’s a path to reinstating it, then tell him that to.

      2. MuseumChick*

        I second this. If you cannot outright fire them right now, taking away privileges and downgrading their assignments will send a very clear message.

      3. Jerry*

        You don’t think that’s punitive? What I’ve found to be effective management is natural consequences, not punishment.
        1. You don’t hit deadlines? I check in all the time.
        2. You can’t manage your workload? I’m a stickler about your schedule.
        3. You over-dominate group projects? I empower people to cut you off.

        But I don’t ever take people down a peg just to take them down a peg. If it made sense to have him involved in higher level conversations or decision making, it probably still does unless he’s disruptive there. The only reason this would be a natural consequence is as Allison said, it looks like it’s time to let him go, so we may as well stop involving him in decisions that no longer concern him, but it isn’t to punish or humble him.

        1. Observer*

          Soetimes being taken down a peg IS the “natural consequences” of overstepping your boundaries. And sometimes, you need punishments. Not that I think that this is “punitive” – it’s just a statement of how this person is being seen by their management.

          If it made sense to have him involved in higher level conversations or decision making, it probably still does unless he’s disruptive there.

          If it gives someone an inaccurate sense of their place that leads to wildly inappropriate behavior then it makes sense to cut that off. Obviously the first step is a conversation in most cases, but the OP is clear that they have NOT been responding appropriately to feedback. So at this point it makes sense to 1. make it clear to them that they are NOT as high up and influential as they seem to think and 2. Insure that they don’t have information or access that they will then be able to misuse.

    7. RJ the Newbie*

      I understand your frustration as I dealt with a similar situation at OldToxicJob. Allison’s advice is spot on. Definitely state it clearly to your boss that this person should be fired and put it on the record.

    8. OlympiasEpiriot*

      Sorry I didn’t see this before hyperventilating below.

      I’m thinking good thoughts for you. Please push back on the “wait and see” as Alison says. Unfortunately, despite you probably having lots of other things on your plate, this is now a priority. If you don’t have this in place already, schedule some “me time” with supporting person/people that can help you decompress after work. Make a point of doing it. Personnel tasks are exhausting.

    9. Oranges*

      Yeppers. It’s a “See how much better I can do your job. It should be mine. I’ve been here for two years and I’ve not even been promoted. Obviously I need to take LW down and I’ll be a shoo in for their job.”

      1. LetterOP*

        So interesting you said that, they’re demanding a promotion they aren’t ready for.

        No way they will have any authority over anything more sentient than a tissue box, not on my watch.

        1. Oranges*

          Good. I’m glad we’re here to reinforce that this behaviour really isn’t okay. Validation is what makes the social/work motor running.

        2. Observer*

          Document that, too. It’s just another example of their extreme lack of judgement.

          Hopefully they will be so upset about not having gotten a promotion that they will leave on their own.

          Hope – but don’t make that your plan.

    10. Sara without an H*

      Hi, LetterOP — I’m glad a read your comment before responding. Now that you’re convinced that Toxic Ted needs to go, it sounds as though your next job is to convince your boss.

      In addition to documenting all incidents of bad behavior, try to document the effect of Toxic Ted’s behavior on other employees and on the overall work of the department. Your boss needs to understand that this isn’t just a conflict between you and a subordinate, it’s interfering with your department’s ability to get work done.

      At some point, you’ll need to sit down with your boss and be very specific: “I’ve done x, y, and z in an effort to improve Toxic Ted’s performance. He is still demonstrating problems with a, b, and c. It’s been X months now. My recommendation is that we make a plan to transition him out of the organization.”

      Please be clear. Alison has lots of examples of managers who botched communication with their reports by unduly softening the message. The same problem occurs in upward communication with managers — you need to be polite, deferential if necessary, but also very clear that further effort on your part won’t help and that Toxic Ted needs to go.

    11. CatCat*

      “And it is demoralizing to the other staff, which I haven’t brought up with him.”

      I’d emphasize on the outcome of having a staff of good employees who have been demoralized. “Demoralization will impact the team’s productivity and may even cost us good employees who decide to leave because of it.”

    12. gmg22*

      Re the gunning for your job — yep. The good thing is that your boss supports and trusts you overall, even if he isn’t yet persuaded on what needs to happen here. Because as we all know, there are times when toxic people are also able to “manage up” and find a champion who will pave the way for them to rise in the company, quietly and subtly bullying and pushing buttons all the way. So in a certain light, you can actually look at your employee’s ham-handed approach as a blessing in disguise.

    13. LJay*

      It kind of feels to me that since you made them stop bullying the other employee, that they’ve set their new target on you.

      1. Oranges*

        I’m assuming it’s because they see the LW as the reason they’re not getting promoted. “I should have been promoted by now because of my awesomeness. Obviously someone is holding me back. It’s the LW; I must get rid of them”

      2. LetterOP*

        I can handle being the target, honestly, they can’t really do anything to me. I partly brought the information about the conversation to my boss to reality check myself (this isn’t actually a problem, right?) and partly to get ahead of it (Problem Employee has been causing ruckuses about X, Y, and Z) so my boss is informed and on the same page as me.

        I initially didn’t even think the termination route because I was focused on protecting my other employees and trying to help straighten out Problem Employee.

    14. Notapirate*

      OP for the majority of this thread I thought you were my boss or someone in our org. Our mr nasty was transferred into a different department a full year after I went to my boss about the bullying. I don’t have any advice but I appreciate you sticking up for your bullied one, a lot of bosses wouldnt. Mine went well the harassment isnt religious, race\hate speech, or gender based so oh well, made the guy apologize and considered it good. it was not good.

    15. ThankYouRoman*

      Tbh they don’t want your job, they want your bosses job. They’re wildly out of touch but you know that.

      That’s not how you climb ladders, folks.

    16. Perse's Mom*

      On top of this behavior demoralizing existing employees, you may also run the risk of this affecting your applicant pool to some degree, and that’s a valid concern to also raise with your boss.

      Good internal employees aren’t going to want to subject themselves to this person by transferring to this department, quality external applicants who hear about it (via glassdoor or networking contacts etc) aren’t going to apply. People talk! They talk loudest and most frequently about negative experiences like this.

    17. A tester, not a developer*

      Not in the same league, but I once had a junior employee say with great confidence that he could do my job while I was on maternity leave because “All (I) do is go to meetings and tell people what to do”.

      He did not get the role, and was not part of the department when I came back. :)

    18. a b s*

      Hi. I’ve been sitting on this letter for a while … but since you wrote in I thought I’d address you, specifically.

      In my opinion, most employees like this behave this way because previous management has set an expectation that this behavior that leads to success. Not the bullying, etc, but essentially they’ve seen something in old management that they thought was ‘good’, now they perceive a gap that they’re attempting to fill, and they don’t have the skills to do so more constructively.

      To me, a real measure of your success would be coaching them through this behavior and out the other side. Find out more about why they think X, Y, Z, and then walk through thought exercises with them that explore what they believe, and why. People can grow, and our job as leaders is rooted firmly in empathy and context-sharing.

  13. Drew*

    Time to channel your inner David Caruso – go back to the employee and say, “I have some constructive criticism for you as well.” Then whip out your sunglasses and say, “You’re fired.”


    (Do not actually do this. But enjoy the visual.)

  14. NW Mossy*

    One point to keep in mind – it looks like your bosses have your back here, and please do lean on that to escalate your performance management of this employee. If they’re displeased and confused by this feedback and are also aware of the other issues, I’m half surprised that they haven’t already asked you about your PIP/firing plans.

    Muster your support, and act swiftly and decisively. If it’s the kick in the pants the employee needs, great, but if it doesn’t change the behavior, you’re well within your rights to bid him adieu.

  15. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    You know, I’ve done a lot of dumb stuff in my life. But nothing even remotely like this. Thanks, employee, for making me feel better about my own mistakes.

    OP, if you or your bosses find it tough to take the plunge and get rid of them, remember that this is the kind of person gets more abusive over time and drives away good employees. You don’t want that to happen. If it’s any consolation, they will come to their senses at some point in the future and do The Cringe from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend whenever they remember their ‘constructive criticism’ to you, because oh my goodness, is that ever a bucketload of fail and clueless arrogance. Good luck, hope it all works out.

    P.S. Just had another thought: If they’ve bullied one employee, they’ve likely bullied another. Please make sure anyone victimised by this person is all right.

    1. Snickerdoodle*

      Yes, I was also thinking the problem employee has definitely bullied other employees. You’ve only heard about one. Many people are too uncomfortable to speak up for fear of retaliation, lack of a solution, not knowing what to say etc. I’m quite sure more than one person has been bullied, and one instance alone is still enough to warrant a firing. Document, document, document. And watch extra closely for other bullying incidents, past or present.

    2. Blueberry*

      Yes this. We had an employee that was a huge bully. Management for some reason held on to this person. The bully made physical death threats, multiple bullying power tripping behaviors, to multiple people.

      No one wanted to work with her. Some people who found out they had been paired with her the next day called in sick. I had one coworker who begged me to keep my assignment with her instead of switching with the bully(I stayed with my original assignment).

      The people who went to HR had multiple issues with the manager and a lot of people quit because of this bully. She finally physically assaulted a coworker who stood up to her. Still didn’t get fired, just transferred cause management really sucks.

      Two weeks later the other department fired her, they had a good management system in place.

  16. Anon Anon Anon*

    Once I got to, “this person has a huge entitlement and attitude problem, which I have addressed with them several times but they refuse to try to improve,” I thought, “OK, so you’re in a reasonable position to fire this person.” I know the ease of letting someone go can vary depending on a lot of circumstances, but I agree with Allison that it sounds like the best solution based on what’s in the letter.

    I feel for you, LW. This person sounds challenging at best.

  17. irene adler*

    Sure hope all this has been adequately documented so that “Junior Staff” can be fired without delay. Nothing worse than having to wait to accumulate the proper documentation to fire someone (been there).

    And, what you relate is probably a small part of what others have experienced from this guy. They may have told you some of their interactions with “Junior Staff” but not everything. They suffer too when the firing is slow in coming.

  18. Ruth (UK)*

    I’m in a fairly junior position in my company and just imagining saying to my boss what this employee said to you makes me really cringey with embarrassment!

  19. Jam Today*

    I encourage you to read the book “The No A-holes Rule” (that’s not really the title of the book, I’mt trying to be polite!) A-holes are not only hideous to have to deal with as an employee (I’ve dealt with my share, including one who took a particular delight in undermining and humiliating me in public, she was a real peach) but from a purely pragmatic standpoint, they cost your company money. People get sick from the stress of dealing with them, they drive off talented employees who can get a job somewhere else where they don’t have to put up with it, and good people wind up making mistakes they might not ordinarily because they’re “siege mode” that really does a number on their cognitive functions.

    Life is too short to tolerate garbage behavior in the workplace, if you are in a position to stop it cold. The world is big and it is full of talented people who are not jerks. Get rid of this garbage person, and hire someone who is capable of being a decent human being.

    1. Anon For This*

      I’ve been using a No A-holes rule when organizing events. Of course anyone can come to the event, but I only include participants who I have seen do good work and have been nice, from what I have seen, and not a-holes. It’s always subjective and very much a judgment call, but it’s what I can do to create a friendly environment and minimize the negative stuff. So far so good.

    2. Antilles*

      +1 for the book recommendation – It’s really a fantastic way to manage not just business but life in general.

  20. OlympiasEpiriot*

    Nothing useful, but, I’m here to hog a little comment space to just gasp on teh intertubz.


    *gets up out of chair in shock and tells herself that she just needs to stay off of here for the day*

  21. Falling Diphthong*

    The gumption is strong in this one. (Note–gumption can be a good thing when combined with things like judgment and restraint and the ability to read a room. But when it’s your only quality, you become an illustrative anecdote. Possibly a water cooler legend.)

    I particularly like the line about having too many confidential meetings with higher ups, which makes me envision him in an air duct above these meetings.

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*


      water cooler legend

      I sense a potential game. Kinda like a toxic Walter Mitty in a SIMS-like world.

    2. ElspethGC*

      I’m not sure if other employees have heard about the ‘constructive criticism’, but if they have, he may become a water cooler legend at *other* companies as well.

      “So yeah, there was this guy at my old job a few years ago, and you wouldn’t *believe* what he said to our boss…”

  22. Mockingdragon*

    So clearly, THIS person is a bully and is not being reasonable, and the specific complaints are nonsense.

    But in general, is it actually a hideous insubordinate thing for a person to talk to their manager about criticism? The letter sort of takes it for granted that it’s NEVER reasonable for an employee to have ideas about what their boss could do differently (unless I’m reading that wrong!) Who else is as well poised to know how a person can manage better than their direct reports?

      1. Observer*

        In addition to that, it’s also worth noting that the company actually DOES have a process for employees to provide feedback.

    1. Jenn*

      I wouod be careful about how to do it though. I had an employee complain to me about a manager who was coming in late a lot, but the manager was dealing with a serious illness and was late because she tended to get sick in the mornings from the cancer treatment. She was very private and didn’t want that specific info shared.

      Sometimes things that drive people nuts come from dictates above or confidential agreements.

      Just, be careful how you frame things.

      1. Lance*

        On a related note to that, I’d say: keep it relevant to work being done. It shouldn’t matter to them when someone comes or goes; what could matter to them is if they can’t consistently reach someone (which would be an issue to bring up).

    2. Ellen Ripley*

      I agree. My first thought when reading the letter was “wow, ~2 years is plenty long to get some insight into the team and have useful feedback.” This person in particular may be motivated by their own resentment and dysfunction, but in general, reports often have a useful POV that supervisors don’t simply because of how each spends their time. And if I were working somewhere nearly two years and my boss got indignant that I dared to share feedback on the way the department worked, I’d be looking for a new gig tout suite.

      To OP: you’re not really the boss if you don’t have the power to fire someone (or at least be the primary mover behind having someone fired, with all the appropriate checks and balances). Your higher ups are making you do all the work of managing without giving you the whole suite of tools you need.

      1. Nita*

        Or it could just be a thing at that company. In government, it’s really hard to fire someone even if you’re a manager. My husband’s old job had several employees who were long-term problems, including one who came thisclose to punching her boss over something stupid. No firings. They would either get deposited in some department where they couldn’t do too much damage, or, in case of the loud and violent employee, shuffled from department to department in the hopes that some poor manager would be able to sort of keep the situation under control. I imagine some private companies with a mostly union workforce could have a similar thing going on.

    3. Easily Amused*

      Totally disagree on your interpretation even despite Alison’s response.. LW specifically said that they took the feedback to their own boss for a discussion in order to determine if it was valid. She didn’t dismiss it out of hand as not reasonable at all and said something to the effect of “i’m open to feedback”..

  23. Technical_Kitty*

    I know people like this, have worked with them. They don’t get better unless it happens right away, but for some reason seem to get a pass on their crappy behaviour. PIP them if you must, but really, just fire them. They aren’t going to improve from the sounds of it, and the other employees won’t have to deal with the office bully anymore.

  24. Terri*

    Curious as to gender of senior employee/manager with advanced degrees vs. that of junior level employee.

    1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

      I’m struggling to see how that’s relevant to this letter, though I acknowledge that it can be relevant sometimes.

      1. Snargulfuss*

        Well, the “you speak too confidently to your bosses” definitely sounds like a typical criticism of a female.

        1. Observer*


          Of course, it’s possible that the employee is a first class misogynist, but the overall tenor of the complaints as a whole tends more to “just” a major arrogant and clueless jerk.

          But, OP, it would be useful to you to notice of there are any traces of sexism going on here, whether with you, your boss or coworkers. Because if there is, legal will be very happy to have that justification for firing lined up.

      1. ThankYouRoman*

        I read it as sniffing out “is sexism also in play here”

        But you’re right. Regardless if it’s DudeBro can’t handle a Woman in charge of the department, he’s a sloppy mess who needs to go.

        1. Oranges*

          I’m picturing them as male in my head because males don’t get the social pushback on behaviors like this as much. I think both sexes have the same amount of blind egotism but it’s weeded out more when the person presents female.

          1. Oranges*

            Regardless, it doesn’t change the route going forward unless the LW is female and would have to battle the “women be hysterical” mindset. From their letter I don’t think that’s the case.

    2. Terri*

      I asked this specifically because I have (a mid-career professional woman with two degrees) seen women senior to me (VP level) face egregious pushback from even the most junior men on the team. I’ve also seen these senior women have to accommodate junior men’s tender toes. I absolutely do wonder if sexism is in play here.

        1. Cassandra*

          Might affect how OP asks about the bullying, and what OP listens for in the answers.

          Possible sexism + known bullying = watch out for sexual harassment and discrimination based on gender, both of which would be legal as well as management issues for the company. Can’t assume they’re there, of course, but it’s reasonable enough to watch for.

      1. ThankYouRoman*

        I’ve only had this happen once to me and I got to fire him…it was the only time I’ve taken joy in a termination needless to say.

  25. DD*

    I feel like I have seen numerous letters on this site about bosses with bad employees that they don’t have the authority to fire- this is so strange to me, and nothing I’ve experienced in my own work life, or even heard of from friends/peers. Has Alison ever dug into that theme in a post to try and discover why there are so many bosses who have their powers limited, making it harder for them to do their jobs?

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I was a manager for years without having direct reports. It was a big sticking point for me and ultimately led to me leaving the company (it was one of a few reasons, but it was a huge one). I had the power to train, delegate work, manage schedules, and help with problems. I could informally approve leave but I couldn’t sign off on it. I could kinda sorta handle disciplinary and interpersonal issues. I mostly served as an adviser to my boss. It worked for a while because the junior people on my team saw me as someone in a position of authority and also because I had a very good, clear relationship with my boss. It sucked when I would bring up an issue and get told that it wasn’t a big deal, yet I was the person on the front lines, so to speak, and I had a much clearer picture of what was happening. It also sucked because I didn’t have access to my company’s formal training for managers, I couldn’t recommend raises, I couldn’t do leave approvals myself, etc. It wasn’t an unusual position for that company. It wasn’t the worst thing, but it certainly wasn’t ideal.

    2. LCL*

      This is certainly common in government. The manager handles the day to day workload assignments and problem solving related to the job, the supervisor handles the icky personnel items. And there will be an HR group that has to sign off on discipline. Though that doesn’t sound like OPs setup.

    3. ThankYouRoman*

      Meh. I’ve had to be authorize to terminate employment, does that count? It’s to allow HR and ownership to veto so they’re not in hot water if I’m going power crazy firing on a whim.

      But yeah I’ve only been vetoed once. I quit because it was a unwinnable sinkhole of a situation. They fired the person when they had to manage the guy a month. Guess I’m not the bad guy after all, whoops!

      It’s weird to give a manager at least a heavy weighed opinion when it comes to deciding to fire a person.

    4. Bagpuss*

      I think it varies a lot from one organisation to another.
      I’m in the UK, and it’s really important to follow correct procedures in firing someone, so it makes sense not to give individual managers the power to fire, it is easier (and allows for consistency of approach) for this to have to go through HR (or legal, or whoever within the organisation is qualified to deal with it)
      That said, I think that it is appropriate for a direct manager to be able to make recommendations about firings where necessary, and wherever possible, given feedback about whether or not that recommendation will be followed, or why not, if not.
      (In my org, we as the owners have an agreement that none of us has the right to just fire someone, it needs a majority of us to agree. It would, however, be rare to go against the recommendation of the manager, whether they are an owner or not, unless there were legal or procedural reasons not to)

    5. Blinded by the (Gas)Light*

      I work in an industry where people just . . . don’t get fired. I’ve been in this work for 20 years, and do not know of a single person to be fired. Crummy people do crummy work, treat other (usually great) people crummily until they eventually leave, and everyone just kind of shrugs and excuses it with “that’s just the way they are.” Part of it is that this industry overvalues a specific degree over actual/equivalent experience and education, so you have too many people in management and leadership positions who are really not people managers, don’t know how to manage people, and/or are too afraid/uncomfortable to do it. As a middle manager, I’m at the mercy of such a boss. So painful . . .

  26. Less Bread More Taxes*

    On a related note, how does one approach a manager (in a polite way of course) regarding a management style that is problematic? I’m not talking about actual work and tasks, but how they interact with employees and how work gets assigned, for example. Is it okay as a very new employee or junior person to ever say, “hey, the way you’re speaking to me/giving me instructions is making me feel X which makes it hard for me to do X” ?

    1. Anon16*

      I’m curious about this too…I probably wouldn’t do this at my job, but I’m curious if/how there is a way to do this. Is giving your manager feedback ever acceptable and what’s the best way to do it and the best situation to do it?

      There’s definitely things I’ve been frustrated with managers for x or y thing, but the only way I’ve found around it is to “manage up” (as has been discussed), but never say anything.

      1. voyager1*

        I think it depends a lot of what the feedback is about and how mature you think the manager will be in their hearing the feedback. The one time I gave feedback it turned into a gaslighting session.

        1. ragazza*

          Oh I had a boss like that. Not just with feedback but any problem.
          (after 10 minutes of picking my concerns apart): “So wouldn’t you agree, then, ragazza, then this isn’t really a problem?” Or that it was actually my fault. Fun times.

    2. ragazza*

      I think there are a bunch of letters on this site about that issue if you do a search. In general it’s best to be as neutral as possible, and try to frame it in a positive way, e.g., “I find I work better when this kind of information is presented to me in X manner.”

    3. ThankYouRoman*

      You can absolutely address your boss about how they treat you personally.

      The difference is that effects you and how you work. It’s the balance of worker and boss. There’s a lot of ways to approach it.

    4. Perse's Mom*

      If you’re very new, it’s extra tricky as you probably don’t have a solid feel on how they might react. My boss would probably listen and think about it and then either agree to alter things, compromise, or explain why she does X in Y way and why that can’t change just now. But there’s another supervisor here who would probably immediately make the person’s life miserable until they quit.

      You may want to wait until you have a better feel for how they’ll react, or if there’s a coworker you get along with well, feel them out for their opinion.

  27. voyager1*

    LW: I have one point I would like to bring up, this person is not an entitled bully, they are a narcissistic bully….

    I can’t imagine anyone doing anything remotely like this to their manager and think they would keep their job. I am totally in the fire this person yesterday camp! Good luck and my sympathies for dealing with this.

  28. Shay*

    Once this situation is resolved, I hope that you talk with you boss about why you can hire and manage but not fire … you need to be empowered to tackle all three tasks else I’m unsure you can be successful at this company in this role. Remember, other employees are watching and listening; they are watching Bad Employee’s behavior and listening for your response. This will change how the entire team perceives you.
    For now, please tally your list of why this employee is detrimental to the team and sit down with your boss.

  29. The Other Dawn*

    I agree that this person needs to be managed out. I had someone like this at a previous company. She didn’t formally report to me, but I was senior to her and would informally manage her. She was just like OP’s employee and no amount of telling her that Susan has an arrangement with her manager to come in later/work from home on X day, or that Mary had found lots of ways to do her job more efficiently so she doesn’t need to be here as late as everyone else, or that not everyone’s job works the same way yours would dissuade her from telling anyone who would listen how unfair it all is.

  30. ragazza*

    I’m just shaking my head at this one. Coming to you with a literal LIST of things you’ve done wrong! Even if a manager sucked, I would never have the gall to do that.

    1. No name this time*

      Side note: I actually had a job candidate sit down with me for our 45-minute one-on-one interview and produce a printed list of everything he had found wrong with a component of our web site. The stuff they didn’t like was entirely the fault of the person who was previously in the position they were applying for, and was stuff I had no control over (although I was responsible for other web content). The candidate went through each item on their list with me and expected me to explain why we had made each of those bad design decisions. (Most of which were bad design decisions that bugged me too, but which I couldn’t do anything about.)

      Fortunately that candidate blew their interviews with pretty much everyone else, too.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        Sounds like after they got the rejection letter from your company this candidate went to work for the OP!

        I can’t even imagine how they thought this would work out for them.

      2. ragazza*

        Oof. I could see using some examples of “well, I think this could be done better, and here’s how,” to show your expertise, but putting an interviewer on the defensive is kind of a bad idea.

  31. OhGee*

    I had a coworker exactly like this. She treated our boss poorly (he was very open to criticism, but she was disrespectful and nasty), bullied me about my ‘qualifications’ and age (mid-30s is ‘old’ now?), and was treating her teammates far, far worse. She was fired, but not after she managed to cause a LOT of damage to about half of our small organization. Fire this employee.

    1. Queen Anon*

      Mid-30s is old again. (I’m old enough to remember “don’t trust anyone over 30” and wondering what that would mean when my dad turned 30 the following year.)

      1. OhGee*

        It’s not, and at that job, it wasn’t. My coworker was a bully who targeted people for their perceived insecurities. Luckily, I love my age, so those comments didn’t trouble me, and she was fired for repeated bullying of co-workers.

        1. Queen Anon*

          That’s good to hear! (For the record, 30s wasn’t old back in the 60s and early 70s, either, but “never trust anyone over 30” was definitely a thing and as a child, it did concern me when my folks were turning 30. Some people repeated it as a joke but there was a cohort that honestly believed it. I often wonder what they thought when they turned 30.)

  32. ThankYouRoman*

    Awww they’re salty and can’t wrap their mind around why they’re not the boss it sounds like.

    Alison’s advice is spot on. You need go purge this toxic waste before it harms your team anymore than it has.

  33. Girl friday*

    You can’t fix a bad hire with good management. I would like to hear if anyone has any exceptions to that rule, because I certainly haven’t found any.

  34. Stranger than fiction*

    My active imagination has me thinking this employee has a friend in the same field, but who works in a firm run very differently, who’s giving this employee bad advice as to how things should be.

  35. iglwif*

    OH BOY I have been the manager’s manager in this kind of scenario and it SUCKED.

    Although we tried a lot of things to resolve the issues, the only thing that worked was firing the problematic employee (who fortunately was still within their probationary period).

    OP, document, document, document. Write up notes after every conversation while it’s still fresh in your mind. Loop your manager in on E V E R Y T H I N G. Track how much of your time this person is taking up with their ridiculousness (separate from actual work conversations you have with them) as part of your documentation, because that’s time you could both have been using productively. Redirect inappropriate topics every single time the person brings them up.

    This person CAN be fired–even if it’s a long, complicated, irritating process–and the sooner you start the process, the better for everybody but especially you, because I can imagine that trying to manage this person must be sapping your will to live by now :P

  36. Stranger than fiction*

    Sincere question: Op, I’m impressed and perplexed at the same time that you not only manage 20 people, but train them as well. Is that normal in your field? Seems like a ton of responsibility.

    1. Less Bread More Taxes*

      I was wondering this too! Perhaps because of all of your responsibilities, it is coming across as if you are holding too much control.

      1. LetterOP*

        I only manage six people! Two are part time. My group is less than twenty people total, including the other manager and the bosses. I’d go nuts if I had 20.

        1. Less Bread More Taxes*

          Ah I see, that makes way more sense! In that case, I don’t see how you training everyone is such a problem.

  37. sfigato*

    This person sounds like The Worst, but it made me think of being at companies with vocal gadflies and being the gadfly in some cases. It’s not always easy for me to tell when the criticism is appropriate and constructive, and when staff, especially junior staff, are being out of line or are indicating that this position might not be the best fit for them.

    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      This is a good question. IMO the feedback needs to be run through some evaluation criteria.

      Is this an actual problem or a perceived problem?
      Billy uses green paper and Sally uses the blue paper for their TPS reports-
      Scanner can’t read type on green paper and Pat needs to scan all TPS reports = Actual Problem
      It looks messy in the file cabinet when there are different colors = Perceived Problem
      Does this affect the work?
      Marcia is coming in at 9 while everyone else is here at 8:30
      Marcia’s work is totally separate from the rest of the team = Perceived Problem
      Marcia hands out daily assignments to team = Actual Problem
      How impactful is the problem?
      Does X impact the person giving the feedback?
      – this one might need a little more investigation such as talking to the people it does impact to see if there’s something to it.
      How reliable has the person’s feedback been in the past?

      Sometimes it won’t be super clear at the time, so unless it’s way out of whack (like the OP’s case) you just have to get as much information as you can and evaluate as you go.

      1. Teapot librarian*

        This is a really helpful framework. Thanks for sharing it. (I have been struggling with how to give feedback to employees who complain about EVERYTHING in a way that says “look, if you have genuine feedback, I’m willing to hear it, but if you complain about everything, I’m not going to take any of it seriously because it sounds like you’re just complaining to undermine me.” This looks like a way I can give my employees to think about each complaint and whether it is important to bring up or not.)

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          lol… how do you think I came up with that criteria :)

          All managers have had to deal with the Feedback Freddie at one point or another!

  38. Former Expat*

    This sounds like a position I have been in in the past. In my cases, the junior people wanted my job and thought that the constant undermining was the way to get it. In both cases my actual role required a lot of social skills that the other people did not show that they had at all. I wonder if that is the case with you. Like they know that they (perhaps) have the technical skills to get the job done, but they are completely blind to the soft skills that are necessary. I could see how this would be frustrating to a certain type of person….

    Anyway, like others have said, document. This person is gunning for you, don’t give her any ammo.

  39. always in email jail*

    FWIW, I think you sound like a delightful manager!
    Jumping in to help your team meet deadlines is a GOOD thing to me, since deadlines are non-negotiable. It would bother me to have a manager who didn’t roll up their sleeves and help when needed.
    Spending adequate time training new employees, again, sounds like a good thing.
    Speaking confidentially with your boss… that’s how workplaces work!?!?!

  40. Ames*

    I’ve never confronted a boss like this, but we’re only hearing LW’s side. It’s helpful to see things from other points of view to see if there’s anything really there.

    My impression of it seems to be that your employee has hawk eyes and cares too much about what other people are up to. Parts of your letter seem to suggest that she thinks people are slacking and that she views your training style as inefficient. Having advanced degrees is all about academics; it doesn’t mean you are automatically a great trainer / teacher.

    I twice have had bosses who start from square 1 each and every time they trained a new person, hovering over the new hires’ desks, no SOPs to speak of. So when the new hires have questions, which they always do, it falls on their peers to re-train since the new hire wasn’t trained properly.

    Since the employee is on the ground level and can see all of the work (or lack of work) that’s going on, he/she may feel like you aren’t holding your staff accountable, by constantly rushing in to save them. I don’t know what the workflow is like, but if she’s been there for 2 years, she’s probably seen it happen enough times that it seems inefficient in some way.

    I’m totally not on board with her talking down to you like that, but we don’t know the words that were actually said, only your interpretation of what was said.

    Personally, I think she’d be way happier if she just chilled, did her work, and collected her paycheck. But as a manager myself, I try not to have knee-jerk reactions to the content itself. Her bad behavior is one thing, and maybe some of her feedback was weirdly controlling (why does she care if you have confidential conversations with your boss?) but it doesn’t cancel out some of the real potential issues that may be lurking underneath. Just my two cents.

    1. Observer*

      but it doesn’t cancel out some of the real potential issues that may be lurking underneath.

      Actually, it kind of does. Because context matters and it also shows a pattern.

      1. She Persisted*

        Well, just because you don’t like the way someone delivers the message doesn’t mean the message should be ignored. As you said, “context matters.”

        1. Julia*

          The contents of the message also seem pretty weird to a lot of us commenters and Alison. “You spend too much time in confidential meetings” is a really odd complaint to make, and even if what Gumption Guy meant was “it’s hard to reach you”, their lack of communication skills on top of their attitude and bullying (!) don’t really bode well for their professionalism.

  41. Jaybeetee*

    Who was that junior worker in the letters a couple years back who basically over-ruled her manager regarding how to complete a project, then wrote up some crazy feedback to send to her manager’s boss, and got fired? I feel like this person is back in a new job.

    The one thing that pings me is that OP says in the comments this worker didn’t behave this way until a couple months ago. I wonder if something is going on in her personal life that’s sending her into Crazy Land? Not that it’s OP’s job to figure that out (disciplinary action is OP’s job here), but it does make me curious if she was previously a reasonable colleague and is now suddenly lashing out and alienating everyone.

    1. Just Employed Here*

      I just thought of that letter earlier today, before I even saw this. It’s really one of the true Ask a Manager classics!

  42. Liz*

    It sounds like this place is a bad fit for this particular employee and what they want in their career. If you assume good intent on the employee’s part (which is a stretch in this case, but is sometimes a useful exercise), it sounds like they are craving transparency, visibility with leaders, and more responsibility, but the organization is hierarchical and does not really work that way, even for employees who aren’t bullying their coworkers. That type of organization structure and culture wouldn’t work for me, either. It’s probably in the employee’s best interests to leave, whether it’s their choice or not.

    All of that said, I have received feedback like this from employees before, in a workplace where we hired tons of college grads with very little work experience, and it was totally OK to state your grievances in a very candid way. (Most people didn’t behave like the LW describes, to be clear — they were professional, just learning how to share feedback in a work environment.) One tactic I used to manage this sort of verbal feedback vomit was asking, “can you rephrase your feedback in the form of a question?” This pushes the person to reposition their feedback in their own head, encouraging them to ask why something is the way it is rather than stating complaints as if they are fact and their interpretation is the only possible truth.

    1. Close Bracket*

      > This pushes the person to reposition their feedback in their own head, encouraging them to ask why something is the way it is

      I’m on board with this goal, but the wording, “can you rephrase your feedback in the form of a question?” a) sounds too much like Jeopardy and b) relies on the employee to read your mind to know that you want them to ask why things are the way they are. You definitely don’t want your direct reports to feel like they are on a game show with you; that’s diminishing to them. Being direct about what you want is always better than expecting someone to intuit what you want; you may as well just tell them why that thing is the way it is and tell them for the next time to ask why before complaining.

  43. Kathy*

    There’s something missing from this story.

    Why did OP *really* bring all this up with her boss? There’s no advantage to doing that. It can only make her managers think she’s giving credence to the claims as well as tolerating the employee’s behavior.

    And why did she mention bringing it up with her boss in her letter to Alison? It’s inconsequential to the incident in question, unless she can’t help herself bringing it up for some reason. Guilt?

    I feel that something’s off. Maybe there’s more truth to the employee’s comments than we’re being led to believe. Why else even write the letter when firing the employee seems like the obvious and only answer?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wow, that’s a huge leap and pretty uncharitable. I assume she brought it up in both cases because she’s trying to demonstrate that she’s not just blowing off feedback from her staff.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          From the commenting rules:

          “Give letter-writers and fellow commenters the benefit of the doubt. Don’t jump to a negative interpretation of someone’s comment or situation; instead, assume good faith on the part of others, including people whose opinions differ from your own.”

            1. Just Employed Here*

              I guess the commenting rules should be interpreted as “don’t do these things out loud”.

    2. Observer*

      What Allison said.

      Also, the OP explained more about the situation that explain the specifics of the questions you ask.

      1. Kathy*

        Not that I can see. I just see where she says they were confused about the feedback, but no explanation of why she’d bring it to them in the first place.

        1. MassMatt*

          So if someone is confused by something an employee says, they shouldn’t talk to their manager about it? Or if they do, their motives should be questioned? What exactly is the “something missing” that you are looking to find here? You are off base, and doubling down on it.

          1. Kathy*

            Your first question is too broad a statement. Yes, an employee can go to their management for whatever they’d like, but we’re talking about this specific incident. Like I said, I don’t feel it was a good idea to bring that criticism to her bosses in this case. It could easily hurt her.

            If I knew what was missing I’d have said it. I’m just saying I think she’s leaving something critical out of her telling of the story.

            If it’s doubling down to feel the same way I did in my original post less than an hour ago, after a few comments, then yes – that’s what I’m doing.

          2. RUKiddingMe*

            Kathy’s comnents are triggering so many (not good) memories for me.

            I have an ex-bf who approached *everything* as if (whoever) was hiding *something.* It was exhausting.

        2. Observer*

          Of course you don’t see it since you haven’t bothered to read any of the comments. Given that people have both pointed out that they actually did explain a lot, and you didn’t bother to read the comments AND people have explained some of the issues that the OP mentioned and you’ve basically blown them off rather than adjusting your thinking, it’s kind of hard to take your criticism seriously or as made in good faith.

    3. MassMatt*

      In addition to what Alison mentioned, I think it is clear that she was taken aback by the the “feedback” (which is understandable, because it seems wildly off-base) and wanted to get a second opinion.

      One thing about dealing with dysfunctional people is that their actions can be so off-kilter you are stunned and second-guess yourself. Normal conventions of courtesy etc. give people the benefit of the doubt when they overstep a boundary slightly or occasionally. When someone oversteps by a LOT, and frequently, it can be difficult to respond in a measured way without some reflection.

      1. Kathy*

        I suppose that would make sense but she said “none of which was actually relevant or constructive” – so she’s saying that from the get-go she felt all the criticism was unfounded.

        I’m sure she was stunned but I’m pretty sure that if a lower-level employee gave me unwanted and unfounded criticisms, the last person/people I’d go to for a second opinion would be my own management. That’s just asking for trouble.

        1. TG*

          Really? Because they’re the only ones who can fire this person. Of course the chain of command needs to be informed.

        2. Bagpuss*

          ” so she’s saying that from the get-go she felt all the criticism was unfounded.” Or that she considered it before speaking to her manager, and reached that conclusion? To me, the fact that she spoke to her manager shows that she didn’t dismiss everything out of hand?

        3. iglwif*

          I don’t understand why this is “asking for trouble”? I mean, unless the OP’s boss was new and their employee was of longer standing, in which case the OP’s boss might not yet have had time to form their own opinion. But we know that’s not the case here!

    4. Windchime*

      The OP has mentioned several times that she doesn’t have the authority to fire anyone. Sometimes it’s helpful to read the comments before responding.

      1. Kathy*

        The comments or the original post? I read the full post and didn’t see any mention of not being able to fire the employee, though I would have assumed that since she seems ready to continually take the criticism.

        If you mean the comments – I can’t keep up with 260+ comments to get additional info. I’m just going with my original instincts here. I feel she’s leaving something critical out of her telling of the story.

        1. Someone Else*

          I get that you’re going with your original instincts and don’t feel it worth to read 200 comments, but when at least three people told you in response to your own comment”hey, elsewhere in the comments, the OP answers the questions you’re asking by providing more additional context than what was in the letter”, your insistence on going on your instincts from reading only the letter is sort of disingenuous? You know there’s more info to be had, because several people pointed it out, but you’re doubling down that there’s something suspicious, despite people who did read the additional comments saying those additional comments are worth a look.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          Well the OP did follow up with additional info, several times which counter your “instincts.”

          Ergo reading more than the original post would give you better insight.

          Instead by doubling down as you are. That just makes it look as if you can’t be bothered to research anything beyond the surface level.

        3. OlympiasEpiriot*

          You can use “Find In Page” in your browser to look for a specific commentor. I usually scroll (or search, if I got to the thread late) just enough to find out what the username for the OP is and then search for their comments.

    5. Language Lover*

      I think it’s bizarre behavior and I would absolutely talk to my boss about it, especially if I knew they understood the quality of my work and what my job description was.

      The LW mentions they are empowered to hire but not fire. Their boss can fire, though. That would make keeping her in the loop essential.

      The only reason not to talk to a boss about this, IMO, would be insecurity that the boss would think the complaints have merit or if the LW didn’t find their boss useful.

    6. LGC*

      If LW is a new manager, she herself may not be confident in her skills. (And even if she’s not new, she might not be confident!) Further, she might not have hiring authority, so she might not be able to fire the employee.

      Frankly, my read is that LW assumes most criticism is valid as a starting point – which can be a good trait at times, but not in this case.

    7. RUKiddingMe*

      Maybe she *really* talked to her own boss because she wanted another perspective/wanted to loop her boss in on the problem(s)?

      Why did she mention talking to her boss to Alison?
      -Context? Because Alison might tell her to loop her boss in…?

      Why even write a letter?

    8. iglwif*

      I mean, we know from the OP’s follow-up comments that only their boss has firing authority over this employee, so that’s reason enough on its own.

      But even if that weren’t the case, off the top of my head I can think of at least 5 non-suspect reasons one might take this kind of thing to one’s boss, assuming one’s boss is supportive and rational and not a jerk:
      – Sanity check: getting a second opinion of a bizarre situation is often helpful (this is also a good reason to write to AAM!)
      – “Hey, this person said these things, and I’d appreciate your insight as I’m figuring out how to handle it going forward” (ditto)
      – This is the latest in a series of problematic actions by this employee, which is exactly the kind of thing OP’s boss needs to know about
      – You can’t (at least, not where I live) just fire someone out of the blue; you have to document that there are problems and that you’ve made a good-faith effort to resolve them with the employee, and talking over the situation with your own manager is part of that process
      – “This person said these things, and did this other stuff; I’m documenting their behavior for a PIP, and I’m wondering if you know of other incidents that I don’t already know about”

      Listening to feedback from your staff isn’t, in itself, a bad thing. In fact, it’s a great thing–except when one of your staff is an entitled jerk strongly in the grip of Dunning-Kruger. Being honest with your own boss about how things are going is also a great thing, except when your boss is a jerk.

  44. Jayyy*

    Fire the entitled employee!! But wait listen in on their conversations at home first then fire them. Much better..

  45. AdvertisingAce*

    I had an employee like this. I had to speak with her about her performance (she was making lots of errors that were actually pretty simple to fix with a couple adjustments, it wasn’t a harsh talk at all). She was super offended by this and took it upon herself to write a 16-point (!!) “performance review” of my management that she sent to me and cc’d my boss, my bosses boss and president of the board. It included citations for wasting time in meetings (such as a acknowledging birthdays during staff meetings, “estimated time wasted: 5 minutes per employee per month”); “wearing nice clothes that silently pressure employees to also dress nicer” (I have to go to client meetings daily so I dress business casual, the team is totally allowed to wear jeans and tees); and “will give us more work to do if we only have 20 billable hours planned instead of giving us a free day off”.
    She didn’t last much longer at our company.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      Just…wiw. Where do these people get off thinking they have the authority to do this kind of thing?

      1. Khlovia*

        It’s like they’re saying, “You dared criticize ME?! Prepare to get criticized by an expert criticizer! Then you’ll know how it feels!”

    2. Observer*

      I can imagine she didn’t last long.

      The first few were totally eye rollling, but I can see some bosses letting it pass. But it’s a LOT less likely that even a non-confrontational boss will take well to someone complaining that their manager is keeping an eye on their schedule and giving them work when they have free time!

  46. Blinded by the (Gas)Light*

    When I read advice like this, it really drives home how unsupported I am with similarly inappropriate staff. My boss would/will not let me manage out the bad apples, and it has really made me question my own intelligence and ability as a manager over the years. It’s such a breath of fresh air (and sanity) to come here and read advice that confirms that sometimes, after you’ve tried your reasonable best, some people just need to be shown the god-dang door.

  47. MJ*

    “Let me lay out what your role here is, and then we can talk about whether it’s the right fit for you.”

    I cheered.

  48. Mmppgh*

    Yikes. I’ve got one better for you. I had a very similar employee to the one you describe. Except she went to MY boss with her concerns. No discussion with me at all. It was ugly. My concerns about her performance were brushed aside in favor of trying make it work. I wanted to fire her months prior but with no HR department, I had no support on how to do to this. Thankfully she quit a couple months later.

  49. OldJules*

    I recommend reading/listening to Radical Candor by Kim Scott. I grew up with being nice is the foremost rule that was drilled in me. I cringe while listening to the audio book but it helps me rethink of what actually the nice thing to do is.

    If I was in your position, I’d be speechless to. There was no response that I could give that would not sound rude somehow. But you are doing him/her a favor by being direct with your feedback. It might hurt his/her feelings in the moment, but long term, it would help him/her get past that obnoxious behavior. Part of me wondered if this is a lack of office norm knowledge. A few years (?) back AAM had a post about the difference between blue collar job and an office job, and posters shared what out of norm advice they get from blue collar parents.

Comments are closed.