I feel awful about giving a bad performance review

A reader writes:

I am a fairly new manager, promoted over a peer who was upset that they were not chosen for the job. This person seems to have a total lack of respect for my role. I have had to grin and bear it, and in an effort to earn her respect, I have gone out of my way to advocate for and support her in her projects. I now realize this was a misguided tactic, and she simply does not like me. That’s rough.

My boss encouraged me to give a negative review to make the employee aware of behavior that was derailing her. I received coaching beforehand from an outside HR consultant before the review. The evaluation was a step-up review, so my boss was present. He has my back, and assured me that I did a great job in handling the review. But it was not received well — at all. I feel terrible.

Plus, afterwards, the employee arranged to meet another one of my direct reports for drinks. I get it – she needs to vent. But it also sucks knowing you are being bashed and hated on.

How do I get a thicker skin? I’m naturally oriented to make sure everyone feels comfortable and has their needs met, so this has been hard. Learning that not everyone is going to like you is tough, particularly when you are endeavoring to make the workplace pleasant and positive.

The rest of my staff are a joy to work with. This person creates tension, blows hot and cold, has zero self-awareness, and acts as if she’s the smartest person in every room. So why do I feel so awful? Do you have suggestions to help me get over this?

It’s absolutely true that when you’re the boss, not everyone is going to like you. And the people who are most likely to dislike you are people who aren’t doing their jobs well because, at a minimum, their interactions with you aren’t going to be full of joy, but also because people who are struggling at work often aren’t happy with the person who holds them accountable.

In other words, this comes with the job. In particular, it comes with doing your job effectively.

And hey, that sucks. It sucks when someone doesn’t like you, and it sucks to know that someone is complaining about you over drinks.

But the measure of your success as a manager can’t be whether everyone likes you. You need to measure your success by whether you and your team are meeting your work goals. Of course, that doesn’t mean that as long as you get results you can be a jerk whom everyone hates. If you’re a jerk, over time people’s work will suffer and you won’t be able to attract or retain great employees, which means you won’t get the results you need. So, you need to be a decent person, and you need people to respect you. But if you’re doing your job well, sooner or later someone isn’t going to like you.

You’ve got to decide if you can be okay with that. If you’re going to stay in a manager role, you have to be okay with it because if you aren’t, you’ll be avoiding key parts of the job, like giving difficult feedback or making tough decisions. (And ironically, that will also lead to people disliking you, only this time, the people who don’t like you will be your high performers, who will grow frustrated if you’re not, for example, dealing with slackers on your team.)

But beyond that, I think you’re focused on the wrong things right now. You’ve got a problem employee on your team, and rather than talking with her directly about the issues, you’ve been focused on supporting her (and, I suspect, trying to make her like you). Supporting employees is great, even when they’re difficult, but that can’t be the entirety of your approach with someone who’s causing problems. I also suspect it’s revealing that your letter talked a lot about how this employee feels about you, but not about how you intend to address the problems. Do you have a plan for resolving this? (That plan can’t be that she carries on this way forever.)

The performance review was a good first step though! Instead of feeling bad about giving her a negative review, what if you looked at it as a kindness? That might sound counterintuitive, but when someone is struggling at work, being clear and direct lets them know there’s a serious problem and gives them an opportunity to turn things around. If you shy away from that conversation or sugarcoat the message, you make it more likely that the problems will continue, and that can have real consequences for that person. It can impact their future raises, project assignments, and reputation, and can even get them fired. There are real stakes here, so you owe the people who work for you directness and honesty.

That’s not to say that giving someone a negative performance review — or any kind of negative feedback, for that matter — will ever feel good. But being willing to have those conversations is a genuine service to your employees (as well as a crucial part of your job). And if you can reframe it in your mind that this is how your employees will know what they need to change to succeed, you probably won’t feel as terrible afterward.

On top of that, remember that you’re doing this for your other employees too. They’ve got a co-worker who creates tension and drama in an otherwise pleasant workplace, and they need a manager who will put a stop to that. Be that manager for them.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 96 comments… read them below }

  1. Tort-ally HareBrained*

    Thank you for this Alison. I started this process with one of my employees too late after trying and failing to support/bring up but without real coaching and being afraid to say they weren’t doing satisfactory work. I think anyone starting in management needs to read this piece- because it is different to realize people may not like you simply because your role is to hold them accountable.

    1. Sleepytime Tea*

      Yeah my one thought when reading this was that it sounded like the LW had been focusing a lot on trying to be supportive and maybe not doing as much coaching to try to address the issues, and so the performance review may have actually blind sided the employee a bit. I think this is a really important piece for new managers! Actually, all managers, because many still have the issue regardless of how long they’ve been managing. It’s hard to deliver bad news.

      1. Blisskrieg*

        Agreed–came here to say the same thing. Bad performance reviews shouldn’t be a surprise–there should have been warnings along the way and it doesn’t sounds like that happened here (the “grin and bear it”). Obviously some people really are clueless to their performance and will be blindsided no matter what, but the burden is on the manager to provide feedback along the way so that a reasonable person would not be surprised.

      2. Engineer Girl*

        This. A performance review is too late to correct performance. There should have been multiple conversations prior to the review where you directly told the employee that their performance wasn’t where it should be.
        Think of it as giving a test without first telling the student the standards for the test. It’s unfair. It’s also unfair to not tell an employee there’s a problem and then ding them on it when the “grade” affects their career.
        OP, you failure is wanting too much to be liked instead of doing the right thing.
        I would suggest picking up the book “Crucial Conversations”
        NO ONE should be finding out about performance issues in their performance review.
        You should also be able to specifically tell the employee:
        • What they did wrong
        • How others (no names) outperformed them
        • How they can improve for next time.
        In short, it is your primary duty to tell employees your expectations ahead of time.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          This is absolutely true — you should be giving feedback regularly.

          That said, because that hadn’t happened, the solution wouldn’t be “don’t address it in the review.” You still need to address it, regardless of the mistake earlier — but you also need to acknowledge that you should have raised it earlier and commit to giving feedback more forthrightly and promptly in the future.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            I think the OP has an even greater obligation to get the worker back on track because of her failure to be honest previously.
            The OP should also expect that worker and others will think less of her and talk negatively about her because she mishandled it. That comes with the territory with being a manager.
            Worker will experience negative consequences because of her performance. OP should also expect negative consequences because of her performance. One of those consequences will be anger and some gossip.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              If it was work quality, maybe. If it’s hostility and rudeness, which is what it sounds like, then no, it’s reasonable to expect the employee shouldn’t need a ton of coaching on that. And coworkers watching will not appreciate someone being given a ton more time to get that under control.

              1. JSPA*

                you’d still feel “rug pulled out,” no? You were legitimately under the impression that your workplace was fine with a certain level of snark / curmudgeonliness / speaking your mind in an ungated way / providing the counter-argument and playing (or being) devil’s advocate. Not only that, you were being singled out for help by the manager you’d been least respectful towards–so clearly, on some level, they must have valued your independence of thought and your honesty.

                And….then it all crashes down, in front of grandboss, and in terminology gleaned from consultants. That’s a legitimate, “WTF” moment, unless your manager owns her part in it, and provides some essential alternative framing.

                1. Yikes*

                  Unless the person doing it doesn’t understand it’s being perceived as hostile and rude. It can go down in such a way that the person believes they are providing brilliant constructive criticism in a no-nonsense manner.

                2. Old Lady*

                  I absolutely think this employee WAS treated unfairly. To me it wasn’t about the manager being like it’s about a manager being trusted and I think the manager destroyed trust with his entire staff.

                  “Hostile and rude” widely varies from company to company and manager to manager. There’s some managers you can swear at and be fine and other’s expect you to act like you are visiting royalty.

                  To hear about it first in a formal review and in front of your grandboss is absolutely horrible!

                3. Kathleen_A*

                  Yes….But then behaving the way this person has been behaving is horrible, too. Sure, the OP should have addressed it in the moment (or moment*s*, seeing as this is repeat behavior), but it seems to me that behaving to your supervisor with a “total lack of respect” is much worse, and it had to be addressed.

                  Not getting a job you wanted is no excuse for being rude to a coworker, much less the person who did get that job.

    2. Mellow*

      “…people may not like you simply because your role is to hold them accountable.”


    3. Artemesia*

      yes this was a great response noting the two most important things from the LW situation:

      1. being this upset about giving feedback suggests that the OP will avoid giving feedback in the future which is the essence of good management. So red flag about their own competence as a manager and thus an alert to focus on building this skill and making sure they are doing it for all reports.

      2. ‘supporting’ someone who is causing trouble which only reinforced their bad behavior. Yes support is a major management tool as in ‘you are struggling with X and here is how we can help’ or ‘you are terrific at X and so we would love it if you would also master Y with an eye on promotions in your future.’ But you are dissing me and causing trouble so instead of saying that I am going to provide benefits and flexibility — bad move.

      Alison gave tremendous advice on dealing with this person but more importantly about improving management skill over all. It isn’t easy. Almost every new manager stumbles on precisely this. I shudder to think back on some of my first management blunders and they were on the side of being too laisez faire and not managing firmly. Being firm and clear doesn’t mean micromanaging in general, but it is critical to success.

      1. Tort-ally HareBrained*

        I think that’s what I liked most about Alison’s response. It gave me something actionable to do as a manager when I find myself in this situation in the future. As always it was modeling the way feedback should be given to employees; respectfully, clearly, and holding them accountable to do better.

    4. Minocho*

      I have been the employee who resented their new boss. I knew it was unprofessional, and I tried to keep it under control, but it was definitely there, and didn’t help the situation at all. I wouldn’t have liked hearing “You’re doing X, and it undermines [new boss], and it needs to stop,”, but it would have been helpful to know my attempts to keep my feelings to myself were failing in [A] and [B] places. Even if my resentment was understandable or justified, it would not be fair to bring down the morale at work for everyone else over it.

      It’s very difficult to give negative feedback, I understand that. But I had a previous employer where I didn’t get corrective feedback when I needed it. I was failing to do a portion of my job correctly, and did not realize it. I found out I was doing it incorrectly by overhearing coworkers gossiping about it. When I asked my boss if I was doing it incorrectly, he said yes. I corrected the issue immediately upon learning the correct procedure – and my boss brought up the mistake for three years as an example of me being unable to follow instructions. Ever since then, even though I don’t like finding out that I require corrective feedback, I appreciate it greatly, and do my best to make it as easy as possible for my supervisor / boss to give it to me – because it IS a gift, even if it may be a little difficult to receive at first!

  2. Joanne’s Daughter*

    I cannot read the article unless i sign up for a “free trial”. Maybe someone can post Alison’s answer in the comments section here.

    1. Spek*

      Same here. Being on the West Coast, I only budget for one East Coast subscription, so the NY Times gets my $$.

      1. Artemesia*

        I use Firefox for this site as Safari won’t work and have no trouble reading these articles FWIW.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Did you try opening it in incognito mode? That will take you around the pop-ups sometimes because it logs as a new visit and doesn’t save it after you close the window.

      1. Clisby*

        Sometimes in cases like this I have to clear my browser history, but usually incognito mode works.

      1. Wordnerd*

        I have a teensy bugaboo! I’m happy to pop over to the other sites to read the answer, but something that bugs me for some reason is to read through the (sometimes lengthy) question here and then find out it’s one of those that bumps to the other site, and then I have to scroll through the question again on the other to get to the answer. I wish the link to the other site came earlier in the posts here! We’re your readers here, so it seems likely that we’ll pop over to the other site anyway, and not need to be intrigued by the entire question here first. Maybe I’m being extremely cranky, but scrolling through the question first is just like a liiiiiittle tiny papercut for me.

    3. JennyLouWho*

      Journalists, including Allison, deserve to be paid. Trying to get around things like paywalls is harming their ability to do their work.

    4. LQ*

      Fun tip: check with your local public library, you may be able to access often fire-walled articles through your library. (And they pay for the subscriptions, highly recommend!)

  3. On the grind!*

    Wow, sometimes it’s crazy how the world works. I really needed this today. I had to put a employee on a final corrective action yesterday. It did not go well. Although I am cognizant of all of the points that Allison has made, I needed to hear it again today ! I read this blog religiously every day and it has helped me as a manager, leader and an employee. Thank you. Allison, keep up the great work!!

  4. Alice*

    The only concern I have is about waiting until a “step up review” to give negative feedback. I don’t know if that’s about having a “grandboss” in the meeting, or about the employee being considered for a step up, ie, promotion. Anyway, there has to be a first time when serious negative feedback is introduced, but you don’t want it to come as a surprise long after the fact in a high-stakes meeting.

    1. SezU*

      Totally agree that during the review meeting (whatever kind it is) should never be the first time someone is explicitly told there is a problem. As an employee and as a manager, my expectation is always no surprises at review time.

    2. Elbe*

      I agree. If the LW has been supporting this person and advocating for her, it doesn’t seem right to do a 180 during a review.

      At the very least, it gives the impression that the LW is being unfairly negative to justify not giving the employee a raise or promotion. It looks really shady to value someone’s contribution when work is being assigned, but not when compensation is being discussed.

      The LW realizes that the initial approach was misguided, which is good. But I think that she should have found a different setting to change tactics.

    3. Massive Dynamic*

      I saw that too… OP, I know that your boss pushed you into jumping from support right to negative performance review, which wasn’t ideal. Going forward, give that feedback (more casual and quick than a performance review but always in private) as you see it occurring, as a regular part of your support. And FWIW, it’s not a bad thing if your employee decides to move on to another company. That’s not uncommon when one wants to advance but the opportunity they’re looking for goes to someone else.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Agreed in general, although I suspect it happened here precisely because the OP was having trouble handling the employee on her own and the grandboss may have felt she needed to be there to ensure things were forthrightly addressed. (Also, if the issues were that the employee is behaving really hostilely and inappropriately, which sounds like it might be the case, I’m more okay with her not getting a ton of warning — that’s the sort of thing you shouldn’t need to be warned isn’t okay. I mean, a manager should still do that of course, and the OP should have done it, but it’s not an outrage to me in the same way it would be with, like, work quality issues.)

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yup. You want to be pissy because you got passed over for a promotion in your spare time? Fine – that’s your prerogative. But acting pissy at work and having an attitude with your new boss because you think you deserved her job more than she does? Nah, that should have been shut all the way down from the beginning. OP is very kind because I would have begun working on managing her out of the role if she couldn’t get her feelings about this under control.

        1. Mr. X*

          My reaction to being passed over would be to work even harder to prove to my new boss that I deserved the job too. I know nothing could change the fact that I didn’t get it but I figure if I can privately soothe my ego without hurting the business or my relationship with my boss then it should be OK. I can’t imagine being actively pissy about it in a work situation, it’s just incredibly unprofessional.

          1. Anonomoose*

            Eh, it’d probably have me job hunting, and I could understand a bit of hurt feelings from it. I think there’s a trap where you pour your heart and soul into doing better work to show you deserve this more, and it ends up attributed to how wonderful new manager is.

            That said, I think you get one disappointed conversation with grandboss, when you’re told about the promotion. Then you have to get on with the job.

  5. Random commenter*

    I feel like there’s a lot of information missing.
    How the employee expressed that they have no respect for the LW’s role?
    I’m curious what the practical impacts of their behaviour are.
    Also, in what way was the review not received well?

  6. Antilles*

    “Instead of feeling bad about giving her a negative review, what if you looked at it as a kindness?”
    This is a really key point here.
    In the short term, it often seems nicer to be polite and not bring up the issues. But in the longer term, the nice option is to be honest now rather than allowing someone to continue unknowingly failing.

    1. Close Bracket*

      Waiting for review time to give negative feedback is not a kindness. Kindness would be addressing problems as they arise, not letting someone believe that all is well and then broadsiding them.

    2. AppleStan*

      I think of it like this…

      NO ONE likes to be told that they are having an issue with “nose gold” – especially if they’ve been walking around in public without a clue.

      But SOMEONE has to tell them because otherwise…they are walking around without a clue!

      Is it uncomfortable? Absolutely. But is it better in the long run? ABSOLUTELY!

      I had to talk to an employee about body odor, because his manager, and his manager’s manager absolutely refused to discuss it with him. Yet would comment about it quite often. My question was “What did he say when you talked to him about it?” Their response was…”I’m not going to talk to him about it!”

      Yet it does that person a disservice for many reasons, the least of which was how it damaged his professional reputation…people were refusing to work with him because of how he smelled. We had an annual division-wide banquet and so many people not of our office commented on his smell. So even though he is in no way my direct report…I had that awkward conversation with him.

      Whatever he did to fix it, he rarely has an issue since (if it’s a particularly hot day and he has gone outside to walk around at lunch…yeah, there’s going to be a smell, but it’s no longer an every day common thing).

      It’s the same thing with performance…you’ve got be *upfront* and *specific* in the now, to prevent horrible problems in the future. The longer you let it go, the more it looks like you all of a sudden decided you wanted her gone, because her behavior obviously wasn’t an issue before…since you hadn’t talked to her about it!

      Do yourself a favor…have that conversation. Document your interactions and your expectations, both for you and for her. She shouldn’t get a cookie for being a decent employee, but she SHOULD receive acknowledgment when she makes conscious efforts to improve.

    3. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

      Agree. Sometimes people do bad things on purpose or because they don’t care, but more often it’s because they have good intentions and don’t realize that someone isn’t happy. Clear and concrete feedback can then help you to change your ways so that the good intentions lead to good results. I know I’m very willing to make everyone happy but sometimes I don’t see that someone isn’t. It’s an awful feeling to realize that you’ve maybe annoyed someone for years with some tiny little thing that you could very easily have avoided if you only had known about it.

    4. Cows go moo*

      Agreed. I struggle to have open discussions about performance but I frame it in my head as “I am being selfish to avoid it due to my own discomfort about confrontation. If I am unhappy about X they deserve to know so they have the option of fixing it.”

  7. BossLady*

    Is there an anonymous way to get my boss to read this? I’m currently supervising someone that everyone agrees lacks the basic skills needed for the job in a way that is far beyond our capacity to train (I’ve tried anyway, but think along the lines of this person needs to repeat most of high school and I’m trying to get them functional in business writing through the one day class my employer makes available). He was recently on a PIP and I was clear that if he didn’t improve he could face further discipline up to and including termination. I tried to say it as respectfully as possible, told him I’d give him resources (and did), etc. But it’s an obviously crappy message to get and he’s angry at me about it. Which I expected. What I didn’t expect was my boss to be upset with me that that he didn’t take it well enough?

    1. EmKay*

      Your boss is mad at you because your employee is mad that you put him on a PIP? Are they related?

  8. Autumnheart*

    The last part in the answer underlines that the peers of this awful coworker have to deal with the shenanigans and drama, and how important it is to not let bad behavior slide so that you can be the “good guy”. I could not agree more! It sends a message like, “The person who does the worst job is more important than all the people who do a great job,” and few things tank team morale more than that.

    If you can communicate clear expectations and standards, hold everyone to it, and deliver the consequences that each person earned (rewards and promotions for the achievers, write-ups and PIPs for the low performer), then at the very least, you can take comfort in the fact that you’re being fair and professional, and it will give you a much clearer path to get rid of this toxic person.

    1. Augusta Sugarbean*

      Yes! I cannot agreed with this strongly enough. OP, there is a terrible person at my work. So many of us feel totally frustrated and demoralized having to deal with this person day in and day. Our management has been completely terrible and weak and ineffectual and refuse to come down hard on this person. Our management has lost the respect of the good employees because they won’t deal with the bad one. If you continue to place so much weight on what the bad employee thinks, your good employees who have options will leave and you will be left with the cranky slackers.

      1. Health Researcher*

        +1 It pains me to admit this, but several years ago I was the manager who wimped out on dealing effectively with a lousy employee. The irony is that I’d always considered myself a great manager, but after my experience with this person, I realized that I was not at all a great manager, I had just had the great fortune of only having superstars report to me up to that point! It’s easy to manage hardworking, smart, collaborative employees — my biggest concern was ensuring they got appropriate bonuses and promotions! Once I was assigned a lousy employee, I wasn’t effective at all. I let her get away with way too much because I was afraid to confront her — I just kept hoping she’d turn it around on her own. The upshot? My 2 best reports bolted, both in part due to nothing being done about the lousy employee. One of them has remained a friend, and she was honest with me about how disappointed she’d been in my handling of things. It was a bitter lesson, but I will NEVER make that mistake again. Now I give feedback early and often, and I set clear expectations with all new reports.

    2. Coughy McCougherson*

      That’s part of the reason I quit my job. I had worked for that department, in two roles, for over a decade. NO ONE there ever wanted to be “the bad guy” so when a new hire couldn’t or wouldn’t learn their job or do their job, the powers that be made ME do the work because they knew I’d get it done. I only made a little bit more than the folks whose work I was covering, and we all got the same raise. It ruined my mental and physical health to the point where I quit with NOTHING lined up.

  9. Lucille B.*

    This is one of the hardest things to adjust to in managing other people, especially those that you used to work with on the same level. It always makes me think of the ending of the Halloween episode of the Office, where Michael has to fire someone. There’s this melancholy moment at the end where it shows him sitting at home after that awful day, alone and silent. Amazing that such a funny show could capture the other end of the management stick so well.

    1. SigneL*

      I can’t tell from the letter, but I hope you explained what she should be doing in addition to what you don’t want her to do.

  10. New Manager*

    Wow, this came just at the right time. I too am a new manager, with an long-time employee who applied for my job and has made it pretty clear she feels bitter about it (i.e. emailing me when she’s not on the clock about “mistakes” she’s caught but which are really just issues that are already being handled, gossiping with volunteers, disregarding my directions, snapping at co-workers and me, etc.). The thing is, her work simply isn’t that good and I don’t think she’s ever received serious feedback about it. When interpersonal stuff arose, I would address it, but not as well as I should have. Co-workers (including my boss) complain about her behavior regularly so I finally said enough and scheduled a meeting with the employee, me and boss. I’d felt that this was a positive step but now that the meeting is T O M O R R O W, doubts had begun to creep in.

    The main reason is that I feel like the lack of feedback has done her a disservice – she’s spent years at this job but her skills are so lacking, she isn’t likely to ever progress past her current position unless she makes changes. Reading it here just reaffirmed that.

    1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      I just wanted to say good for you for scheduling the meeting! It probably is going to be unpleasant, but it’s necessary, it IS a kindness to bring it to light, and if nothing else it will bring you some clarity on the situation and start to resolve it.

      I’ve had to have that conversation in a circumstance very similar. I was sick to my stomach beforehand but I felt such relief coming out of it. The employee didn’t take it well but at least we could start fixing things.

      You’ve got this.

  11. WantonSeedStitch*

    I would say that it might help you to think about the rest of your team, and the impact this problem employee’s negativity could be having on them. A constantly-negative employee who is snarky/spiteful/disrespectful about their manager is not good for their coworkers’ morale, and it undermines the coworkers’ confidence in the manager, making them less likely to seek the help and support they need to do their job to the best of their ability. I’ve seen this first hand in my own office. When you tell that employee that their attitude is problematic, it’s not just “waah, you’re hurting my feelings, so stop!” It’s, “your vocal negativity can impact the morale of your coworkers and erode their relationships with their manager, so I need you to stop it. If you have concerns about a project or a policy, I’m not asking you not to express them, but you need to find a more neutral way of doing so.” Heck, show them Alison’s column here: https://www.askamanager.org/2016/02/how-to-say-that-wont-work-without-seeming-like-the-office-eeyore.html

  12. Mellow*

    Assuming the person was given opportunities to improve and simply chose not to, she reminds me of kids who push boundaries to see how far they can get – and people who disrespect boundaries are cage-rattlers who will push back.

    It’s a tough position to be in, but, over time, people get to know what the boundaries are and go off to start drama elsewhere. Just keep on doing what’s right, upholding necessary boundaries, and doing good work. She’ll either get it and recede, or she will remain dense and at eventually done in by her own petard.

    1. Drewski*

      I had an employee like this a couple of years ago. When I became his manager, he did not want to move on from our “friends and coworkers” status. I think he expected me to be his bud instead of his boss, and make his job easier and pay him more. When that did not play out the way he expected he pushed boundaries just for the sake of pushing back, to the point that he wasn’t willing to do extremely simple tasks like come in on time or adapt to simple workflow changes. It eventually ended his career with the company, and I never think he really saw what was happening.

  13. Not a cat*

    I was promoted above a colleague and I thought a friend. Long story short, I had to put her on a PIP for poor performance after about a year from my promotion. I think the worst part was her IMs to the rest of the department. Our IT dept used to pull them as a matter of course when we did a PIP and I made the mistake of reading them. It’s been years and I can still recall how shocked I was in her real opinion of my work skills, my looks, my personality, etc. Anywhoo OP, been there, I’m sending empathy to you.

    1. Tort-ally HareBrained*

      Ugh that has to be an awful feeling. I’ve recently dealt with a similar situation and am grateful that I haven’t been burdened with what my employee was saying behind my back. I just keep reminding myself that people are allowed to vent, and that hopefully their coworkers see me treat everyone with fairness and respect so as not to erode the other relationships.

    2. Marthooh*

      Oh, that kind of thing hurts. Try to stop thinking of it as her “real opinion” and consider it as an expression of her own hurt feelings.

    3. Artemesia*

      I would think a company policy would be to fire anyone who sent those kind of messages internally during a PIP. That ought to be the end of the PIP.

  14. Me*

    Fun fact – if she’s a terrible employee the likelihood is everyone knows it. So she can vent all she wants and people might listen because their nice or they otherwise like her. But chances are everyone is actually pretty happy you’re dealing with the problem employee.

    The most roundly disliked manager is the one who doesn’t address problems while good employees suffer.

  15. Beth*

    OP, I think you did this team member a slight disservice here. Not because this information was in her review–that’s fair and good, it’s an honest review, she doesn’t have to like it but both she and your boss need to be aware of what’s going on and aware that it isn’t working. But because if I’m reading this right, it sounds like this review was really the first time you brought up these issues with her. It sounds like you’ve been so focused on grinning and bearing it, supporting your employee, and trying to turn your relationship around that you didn’t actually make it clear that she has ongoing performance issues.

    Think about it from your employee’s perspective. She saw you supporting her projects, advocating for her, and offering no objections to her behavior; based on that, she had every reason to think she was doing well. Between that and her general dislike of you, no wonder she reacted badly to your negative review! She probably wouldn’t have been happy even if she’d anticipated it, of course…but I’m betting the surprise element made her reaction worse and the entire atmosphere more combative.

    I think it’s generally a good idea to treat a review as a summary of things that everyone in the room is already at least generally aware of. The review might be an opportunity to pull together a trend, but unless it’s something that actually just happened and this is your first chance to discuss it, it shouldn’t be the first time your team members are hearing that there’s a problem. After all, a review is on the employee’s record; if you use it to spring problems on people without having given them even a heads up, much less a chance to course correct, you’re going to end up building ill-will with your team members.

    1. RC Rascal*

      +1. Also, if your process allows it, be prepared for the employee to write a rebuttal to the review. If you blindsided her she will consider it unfair, and she will tell her coworkers.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      The employees viewpoint would be that the OP had lied to her. OP was supportive and encouraging. Then, when the stakes were high (promotion, raises) the OP pulled a 180 and gave the employee a negative review.
      I had a boss that pulled that on me once and I was absolutely furious. Worse – he was so adverse to conflict that it took 4 months to sit down to find out the problem. It turned out that he had made several assumptions that were blatantly false. In one case there was gender discrimination from a coworker lying (he had done it to 3 other women engineers). It turned into a real cluster because the boss was too morally weak to have an honest conversation.

  16. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    Here’s a way to put it in perspective: as a manager, you will have really great staff who enjoy their work and respect you and your leadership, but who also don’t like you. They’ll be professional about it, not being jerks to you or passive-aggressive, probably more than just civil; but even good employees in a well-run office might not actually like you, because they’re them and you’re you. You can’t take it personally.

    The thing is, this employee in particular is being a jerk, which hurts, so of course you feel bad. Better to focus on the way you’re making all of your other staff happier, by coping well with the jerk. Ultimately, her behavior is her responsibility, when you’re being responsible and aboveboard.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, I don’t mean this to be a downer, because I don’t see it that way, but it’s quite possible that some of her other reports don’t like the OP either, and that’s okay. Lots of times people just don’t like each other. As long as they’re professional and pleasant and productive, that’s all we as managers gotta know, and we shouldn’t assume from that they love us, because they don’t have to.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      While on the topic of perspective: OP, you can’t be more invested in your staff member’s career than your staff member. She has chosen to act unprofessionally and unproductively. You want to help her to improve. She doesn’t want to improve. She wants to act out against the universe, or at least make you miserable. She knows how to do the job and how to act in the job. She is choosing not to do that. The chance you are giving her to end the tantrum and get back on track is all you can do. You are not her therapist. Don’t get sucked into “saving” her from herself.

    3. Washed Out Data Analyst*

      Yeah this employee is behaving immaturely. I currently work on a team where no one likes one of the team managers, but there is a thing called being professional, and still being cordial to the manager and getting your job done. If you’re incompetent and unproductive, you can’t complain.

  17. BigRedGum*

    oh man i’m sorry! this is why i’ll never manage people again. I’d rather have been like me – or at least not hate me. Sorry that’s not helpful. good luck.

  18. animaniactoo*

    LW, also think about this – particularly if you happen to be a woman, who get this more than men do – we are generally trained at a very young age to do things that make people happy. That people liking us and wanting to work with us is a goal. We are, in many ways, taught that it is the foremost and primary goal. Even doing good work is about that goal. The feedback of people being *happy* with us is the mark of having done things *right*. So if they are not happy with us, what we have done is not right.

    Now, in general, on a broad based view, that is a good way to train young kids. But it should develop a lot more nuance as we get older. We have more ability to think and recognize contradictions, so the search needs to be for what is right when it doesn’t make someone happy. When it is necessary and fine and better to hold that line and allow someone to be upset with you – because the primary thing is having done the thing right. And our awareness of the right thing is reflected by our full knowledge of all the extra bits and details (like the ones that Alison laid out) of why it is right regardless of whether the person on the other side is happy about it. Learning how to manage our own feelings about this is also something that often gets left out of our training, even as we are being taught how to recognize when something is right due to “nuance” rather than “positive reception”.

    It’s also at this point that another piece of this kicks in – the responsibility of others for their own reactions. Your employee has a choice of how they react to the feedback. They don’t have to like it or be in love with it. But it’s possible to understanding or neutral or at least not completely devastated/oppositional about it. When they don’t do that – that’s on them. Entirely.

    Your job in this is to deliver it to them with your side of the street clean. Did you say it as civilly as possible? Were you clear about it? Did you present what needed to be said in the best way you could manage to say it? If you missed a bit on that one, did you think about and figure out what might be a better way to do it in future? If you did all of that then don’t reach out and take responsibility for their reaction away from them. It belongs to them. Let them keep it. You can feel sad that they’re taking it that way. But you can’t let it make you regret your portion. It’s fine to be sad on your end that they’re not taking it well. Go ahead and let that be okay. Just don’t let avoiding feeling sad on your side or them taking it badly on theirs be the driving force behind how you move forward.

    If there is something that you can go back and address without having them think that you’re just completely crumpling on the whole thing, then that would be good to do. But it sounds like that is not going to be possible with this employee, and you should focus more at this point on having done the thing of giving them the feedback they need, even if you feel you could/should have done something better. It is more important that they adjust to knowing you’re not just going to be supportive by only giving positive feedback/opportunities. Big picture – all the little nuances – that’s the right thing that needs to happen here.

    On another note – it would be a good idea to invest in some deliberate self-care when you’re handling stuff like this. Whatever that is for you – from volunteering somewhere that you know your actions will be received positively to sitting on the couch bingewatching something for a few hours to buying yourself some flowers to hang around be something nice to look at. Just do something that is completely separate from work to offset the natural crappy feeling you’re having. [hugs from internet stranger if you want them]

  19. IvyGirl*

    Your third paragraph EXACTLY. They can have all of the feels they are going to feel about the feedback. What matters most is how they incorporate it and act upon it – or not. That determines your next steps.

  20. Shiny Swampert*

    This is a really kind answer that still holds the letter writer accountable. Thanks, Alison!

  21. Blobola*

    Ugh this is what I hate about managing a team. When I stepped up to lead a team of 10 I had three people in the team who were mad about it. Two wanted my job and one didn’t want to be in the team in the first place (restructure).

    I’ve learned that it is so much easier to correct behaviour as I go along. Setting expectations, publicly rewarding good behaviour and nipping unacceptable behaviour in the bud.

    I dislike being a manager, it feels public and exposing but maintaining discipline and delivery is crucial to the job. OP you have done the right thing now, have faith in yourself and know that next time this isn’t going to happen because you will handle things differently.

  22. Budgie Buddy*

    OP’s strong dislike of this person comes through in the letter, and it must be apparent to the employee as well. Stop trying to “support” this person who is actively undermining you and then being resentful because the person doesn’t appreciate it. “Helping” in this situation comes across as either patronizing and insincere or spineless.

    Seconding everyone’s comments that even though there wasn’t an alternative addressing performance issues for the first time in the meeting wasn’t ideal. This person is probably wondering whether OP sabotaged them on purpose by holding back complaints and then getting the overboss involved once there was a strong enough case.

    1. IvyGirl*

      I didn’t get that sense at all. You can dislike a situation, and someone’s behavior, without disliking a person personally.

      The fact that they still feel badly about the situation, have thought it about it (a lot, I’d imagine) and have written in here means that they take this seriously.

      It sounds like you might be projecting a bit.

      1. Budgie Buddy*

        “The rest of my staff are a joy to work with. This person creates tension, blows hot and cold, has zero self-awareness, and acts as if she’s the smartest person in every room.”

        This is where I was getting dislike. It’s explicitly stated in the letter. (and with good cause; the employee sounds like a jerk.)

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          She dislikes the behavior – if the employee wasn’t acting like a brat, I highly doubt she would have said this about her. You can dislike an action and still be neutral or even like someone personally.

          1. Budgie Buddy*

            Am I missing something?

            “If the employee wasn’t acting like a brat, I highly doubt she would have said this about her.”

            YES. This plus so many pluses. Employee is acting like a brat, and therefore OP is understandably irked in reaction to this behavior. How would this behavior not reflect negatively on the employee herself?

            To me “frustrated with behavior, not a person” sounds like a distinction without a difference. OP can trust that this employee sucks.

            Listing all the other staff as “a joy to work with” and then listing this employee as a laundry list of terrible things, finishing with “and she thinks she’s the smartest person in the room” is not positive language. These are not things any person would be happy to hear, which is why OP wrote them in to a neutral space like AAM. I don’t know how to read this letter without getting the sense that OP is justifiably frustrated with this person, their actions, or all of the above.

            But this is really getting into a derail and it’s not stuff that would help OP anyway. They are allowed to be as mad as they want at persons/behaviors/the whole dang situation.

  23. CupcakeCounter*

    I think the OP’s actions of trying to give a little extra support to a team member who was in the running for the same position but didn’t get it was a good one. Its disappointing! I’ve been through it a couple of times (not same team or peer to manager but close working relationship all the same) and a few days to wallow followed by a “hey, you really excel in X and there is this conference coming up about that and we want to send you as our representative” helps a lot. I think the problem is that OP kept this going too long after the employee made it clear through their actions that it was not helping or appreciated and they were going to be pissy for the long haul. There definitely should have been some warning before the step-up review with OP’s boss.

    The exception would be if OP’s boss used to be the whole team’s boss and was part of everyone’s reviews because of the insight they had for 9 of the 12 months covered or something. Still probably should have had a one on one discussion of the issues first but I get why it probably didn’t happen.

  24. Kelley*

    When I was a new manager I remember feeling how you do now. It’s taken time and experience for me to develop my approach. When I finally came to the realization that I was doing more harm then good withholding honest feedback from people is when I stopped feeling bad. I also work to always come from a place of respect and my people know I have no agenda but to help them grow and improve. I still have those people that will get upset but for me that is the exception and not the rule. The more you do it, the better you get.

  25. RUKiddingMe*

    “This person creates tension, blows hot and cold, has zero self-awareness, and acts as if she’s the smartest person in every room.“

    Gee why wasn’t she promoted? Anyone?

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Right! Her behavior makes the case that whoever made the promotion decision knew what they were talking about.

  26. Aquawoman*

    I wonder if it would help the OP to realize that it’s unfair to your good performers to coddle an underperformer. I had a poor performer and I talked to him a lot but I wish I had done more because the stuff he was doing was hurting the morale of others who were more conscientious.

  27. MonkeyInTheMiddle*

    I manage someone who felt I shouldn’t have been their manager (even though that was what I was hired to do). Our working relationship got a lot better when they realized I protected them from unwarranted criticism. But they still get pissy sometimes when they feel like I’m being nitpicky like let me know in advance when you take time off.

  28. LGC*

    LW, if you’re in the NYC area, we should go out for drinks and bash on your terrible report.

    (I’m kidding!)

    Okay, so – to be serious about something, there’s something that’s really off to me in the letter:

    My boss encouraged me to give a negative review to make the employee aware of behavior that was derailing her.

    I’m normally all for being radically honest with yourself in management (for my numerous faults in management, I at least try to not shy away from the fact that I’m paid to do unpleasant things sometimes), but…I don’t think framing it as a “negative” review is really helping you here. To me, it reads as if you think your boss coached you to be mean to her, which shouldn’t be the case. (And if your boss did do that, they’re not a good boss!)

    One of the things Alison has written about performance reviews is that nothing should be surprising in them. That is – on one hand, you shouldn’t railroad people with new criticism in your performance reviews. But on the other, you shouldn’t sugarcoat what sounds like very unpleasant behavior on this employee’s part – they’ve been consistently acting like a jerk, and I doubt that they have zero self-awareness. (Mostly because very few people do, I think.)

    Finally, about the employee not liking you: Just to add on one more thing – I think it’s okay that you internally feel bad about someone being hostile to you. To be quite honest, I’d be more concerned if you didn’t have at least some feelings about it – to know that you’re disliked is pretty painful! (See, I told you I’m a fan of radical honesty with yourself.) The problem is when you let it govern your actions – when you avoid doing stuff because you’re afraid it’ll make people not like you. On the same token, I think your employee is allowed to be hurt by receiving negative feedback (while displaying it reasonably appropriately – if the display is wildly inappropriate, that’s another matter entirely) – and while I wouldn’t have been pleased to hear about two of my employees going out for a kiki about me, it’d be precisely none of my business at that point.

    (I might also be reading a bit between the lines, but it sounds like your employee was…less than appropriate in the performance review, which really should be addressed.)

  29. Bulldog*

    I’ve re-read the letter and nowhere do I see where LW states that her report is actually bad at her job. All of the complaints/concerns seem to be of the attitude/personality variety. Is she meeting her goals? Making deadlines? Achieving whatever quantitative objectives her job entails? I assume that if the report was in consideration for the same promotion that LW received, then she is at least competent in her performance. If this is the case, it seems extremely unfair to give a negative evaluation to the report, especially if, as others have mentioned, this was sprung on the report during the review for the first time (and I assume that if the report wasn’t meeting goals, it would have been mentioned). Granted, the report’s behavior is a problem, and I have no issue with her attitude being addressed. But assuming that the report is capable at her job, I would hope that the overall tone of the review would be at least neutral (again, assuming there is some good to go with the bad). The letter really comes across as if LW just reached a breaking point and went straight for the jugular. And if grandboss had such a problem with report’s performance, he should have addressed it w/ LW ahead of review time and given LW time to address it with the report

    1. Spooooon!!*

      This is interesting, because I was wondering the same thing about the employee’s performance. It brings to mind something a speaker- can’t remember the guy’s name, but he was fantastic- said about assessing and working with employees regarding values and performance. He said those that are high with value (the company’s values) and high performance are your stats. Those with low values and low performance- easy, fire them. If they are high with values and low performance, you can work with them to improve it. But if they are high performing but low with values, that can be tricky. At my old job, a fair amount of people who fit that category stuck around way too long. They technically did their job fine, but had very bad attitudes that did not contribute to the betterment of the organization. And I think that can be hard to address in evaluations, because it could come across as assessing their personalities.

    2. LGC*

      Two things:

      1) it’s not like she’s just mildly annoying, she’s actively hostile to the LW
      2) a lot of performance reviews break out soft skill and hard skill areas

      My read of the LW (above) was wildly different – that they wanted to leave out the interpersonal issues, and their boss said to address them in the review. Not knowing the exact fornat or the review itself, the LW’s “negative” review could have been mixed but leaning more negative.

  30. Batgirl*

    Ha, this really reminded me of when I first became a reporter. Socialised female and having been a goody-goody student, I somehow did not anticipate or expect people to dislike me; that would mean I am doing something wrong! I think I expected any criminals I wrote about to feel chastened and reflective. That did not happen.

    The first person I upset was actually quite well heeled and persuasive. He had made some business decisions that had been environmentally destructive for the town. I’d checked all the facts and done everything properly with my boss’ guidance. But later the businessman gave me a whole song and dance about how I didn’t understand the back story. Even the fact that he’d blown me off for a comment was explained. I felt wretched simply because he implied that I should and because he wasn’t behaving even a little bit guilty. Then I met up with the townspeople. They were SO grateful someone had listened to them. My colleague said: “That’s who you’re writing for”.

    It is so, so easy for well intentioned people to fail to deal with those who are entitled because doing so involves conflict and having to brook the ‘oh it’s not really my fault’ lies that entitled people tell themselves. This failure to tackle wrongdoers puts all of the burden on well behaved people who don’t have the power to evoke the conflict you’re scared of. Think of the teacher who told you to ignore the bully, simply because the bully had excuses that she didnt want to disagree with. It’s the same dynamic.

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