my employee keeps reminding me she used to be a manager

A reader writes:

I lead a small team at a small company. A few months ago, we hired a new team member, “Jessica,” for an individual contributor role on the team, although in her previous role she had been a team leader. As part of the interview process, we explicitly asked her if she would be happy in an individual contributor role, and she indicated that she would be thrilled to have the opportunity.

In general, things are going well. Jessica is reliable, produces consistently good work, brings new perspectives to the team, and is a strong collaborator most of the time.

However, she consistently brings up the fact that she was once a team leader – often telling me what she would do differently if she were in charge.

For example, we were recently asked by our CEO to drop everything and focus on a high-stakes project for a few weeks. The timelines weren’t ideal, but since the work was related to the organization’s COVID-19 response, there was genuine urgency around getting it done fast. During the time we worked on this project, our work was hectic, but everyone was able to execute their tasks without working extra hours. Throughout the project, Jessica repeatedly said that I should have refused to honor the timelines proposed by the CEO – telling me that I was setting a bad precedent, and that as a manager she never would have agreed to something like this.

In addition, she sometimes complains about the mundane aspects of her work, saying that she’s better suited to high-level planning and supervision. (Note that everyone on the team – including me – spends a decent amount of time on these same mundane tasks.)

On one hand, I feel like this behavior is becoming a performance issue, but I also wonder if it would best be ignored. (Though in either case, it’s getting on my nerves.) I also don’t know if I should address the issue by giving her more responsibility – or by telling her that this behavior needs to change. Or should I try to combine the two? I do want her to feel that her skills are being utilized but I also need her to show up with an all-hands-on-deck mentality.

I think you need to sit down and talk with her about what this job is and whether she wants it as it’s currently configured.

If it were just a comment here and there, you could ignore it or you could respond in the moment. Responding in the moment would mean, for example, responding to her assertion that you should have refused the CEO’s timeline with, “It’s a priority for us, and we’ll be able to get it done on time without even any overtime” … and then if she pushed again, “I’m wondering why you’re pushing on this, when I’ve looked at the team’s workload and determined we can handle it. What specifically is concerning you?”

In fact, sometimes when someone is doing this, a good way to respond is to insist on taking their concerns very, very seriously. Right now she’s getting to just vent this stuff into your working environment without really being asked to account for what she’s saying. Often that happens because a manager will think “I’m not accountable to her on these decisions, so really engaging with her on it would reinforce her thinking that this is her purview.” But instead, it’s often more effective to treat it very seriously — basically approaching it as “of course you wouldn’t just be making idle comments about something so outside your purview, so there must be a real issue here we need to dig into and solve.”

You might worry that you would undermine your authority by engaging every time she airs these opinions, but you wouldn’t be saying “tell me how to run my department” — you’d be saying “there’s an obvious conflict here that I’m not going to ignore.” There’s power in that. Plus, by digging into it, you’re creating an opportunity to be transparent about your decision-making,  share any context that she might not have that your team should have, and hear any valid concerns she might have (because she might have a perspective that’s valuable for you to hear) — while also demonstrating that you’re comfortable with your own authority.

You can still do that, and should. But because of how frequently she’s making these comments, it’s at the point where you need to sit down with her and have a bigger picture conversation. Start by talking about how things are going generally (she’s doing good work, collaborating well, etc.) and ask how she feels things are going. Then, at some point in the conversation, move to this: “I want to be up-front that I’m wondering about how well the role fits in with what you want to be doing. You’ve made a number of comments about your past experience leading a team and about what you’d do differently if you were managing this one, and you’ve also expressed unhappiness with aspects of your work like X and Y.”

Then, depending on her response, you could say, “I want to be really clear about what the job is and isn’t, so that we’re both on the same page. Everyone on this team does X and Y — it’s a part of the job, it’s not going away, and I want to be sure you know that and are comfortable with it. And while I welcome input from team members about the way the team operates, repeatedly framing it as what you would do differently if you were in charge is coming across as if you’re unhappy in an individual contributor role. I know you used to manage people, but it’s not a part of the job you’re in here. If this job isn’t what you want in your career right now, that’s okay! But if it is, I want to ask you to revisit how you’re communicating around those things.”

Whatever you do, don’t try to address this by giving her more responsibility. It might make sense to give her more responsibility at some point for other reasons — but you shouldn’t do it in response to this. Not only would that reward — and probably reinforce — problematic behavior, but it’s not a sufficiently direct way of addressing what’s happening. You need to have a real conversation about what’s going on.

{ 132 comments… read them below }

  1. hmmm*

    If Jessica is new on the team, can you do this informally. Ask her how things are going, etc. Casually slip into the conversation that you notice she is having trouble separating her former leadership roll with that of a team member

    1. Artemesia*

      when someone is this grating and clueless, I think subtle or casual is not sufficient. Alison is spot on. She needs to reflect on whether the individual contributor is what she is willing to be now with the subtext that if not she needs to move on. An occasional comment is one thing, but this constant whine is irritating and suggests that she is a constant negative force on the team. One conversation will fix this if it something she has fallen into without realizing how frequent and irritating it is; but she may be someone who won’t work out on this team. The conversation will either lead to change or make it clear that this is a hire that won’t work out.

      1. Threeve*

        I might refer to the whole team in the shutting-it-down conversation. “We all appreciate everything you contribute to our product, but I don’t find your negative comments about how management should be approached helpful, and neither do your peers.”

        1. HMM*

          I don’t think she needs to borrow authority or speak for anyone else, especially if her peers don’t notice or care. She can just say that she wants her to communicate differently and leave it at that.

        2. Shiara*

          I’m not sure I understand what referencing the team adds. As manager, OP has the authority to say “the way you do this is a problem and needs to stop” and adding a “also everyone else thinks so too” weakens it and risks deflecting into a discussion of who agrees with OP and who agrees with Jessica.

          1. voyager1*

            There is no way I would drag the team into this for the same reasons others have said.

            The conversation the LW needs to have also needs to be 1:1 not in front of the team as well.

      2. JessaB*

        Having worked at a time when HR Onboarding involved a lot of annoying videos to watch, and having to watch a metric tonne of them, one thing I’ve noticed. The first of whatever set the company paid for almost always says something like “This is not your old job. Don’t go saying “Well my other company did x, or like this Jessica “When I was a manager” until you’ve been there for quite awhile. Because you do not know why things are the way they are. Even if your idea is good, delivering it on your first few days or even first month comes across very badly and presumptive.

    2. hmmm*

      The more I think about it and read other comments below, you are right. I’m changing my position. The subtle approach won’t work. I was interpreting this as Jessica making a career change and needed to take a step back. When rereading OP’s post, Jessica was asked if she would be comfortable with being an individual contributor. In addition it might be subconsciously but she is undermining her manager. Different places are managed differently, no management input is needed. OP this needs to be nipped sooner than later.

      1. Annony*

        I agree. Not only is it best to be direct early, it is especially important if you are reevaluating whether someone is actually a good fit for the role. Hinting about major performance problems is not kind. It leads to people being blindsided.

    3. Grapey*

      This kind of passive-aggressiveness undermines how a good leader should be perceived.

      Alison’s scripts provide that exact opening (“How are things going”) but also drive the conversation forward in a productive way instead of “casually slipping into” the entire point of the meeting.

      1. hmmm*

        I admitted that my post was not correct. See above! I was thinking of things from a different angle not taking everything into account. I admit I am wrong.

  2. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I’m very curious about why Jessica left her previous position. Was it by choice or was she forced out?

    1. Tiffany In Houston*

      Detective Amy – I immediately thought the same thing. Seems like she still wants to be a manager but it didn’t work out at a previous employer. Alison is spot on. Nip this behavior in the bud.

      1. Mazzy*

        Even if she left by choice, she might still want to be able to chime in on the interesting or visible parts of being a manager. I work laterally with someone like this and it’s annoying as hell and I had to learn to push back instead of just complaining to his boss who framed it as him trying to help. No he wasn’t trying to help, because whenever something was mundane or awkward or uncomfortable or difficult came up, he was silent. Whenever something sounded high-level or interesting or executive, he’d want to chime in.

    2. Mel_05*

      Even if she left by choice, she could have left because she felt like she should have more input into areas that are outside her job. I’ve had a couple coworkers who left because of that and good riddance.

      But that might not flag in an interview, because they would say something about low pay or lack of opportunities for advancement in the company, which would also be true.

      1. charo*

        Maybe say, in the moment:
        “This is why it can be hard to have been a manager and then work for someone else — you can see how YOU’d do it, but you don’t have the power to make it happen. Most managers wouldn’t try to do it.”
        That’s true and empathetic but blunt. It’s addressing her situation rather than her specific comment. She can take it as a compliment or an insult too, gives her something to think about.
        And if she repeated her specific complaint I’d repeat this. Maybe add, “Didn’t you see that this would be the case when you chose it?” That puts it back on her decision, every time.

      2. designbot*

        And she could have genuinely meant it when she said she wanted to back to being an individual contributor, and either not register the ways in which her current behavior doesn’t support that, or be having second thoughts now that she actually got what she wanted. It’s a hard step to make for a lot of people!

        1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          This is definitely a case for clarifying the situation.
          Her idea of a contributor is to give her opinion on everything that she feels she has knowledge of or experience in.
          An individual contributor is someone who works on X part of the job, and may lead a subteam in specific projects. An individual contributor is not someone who speaks as a co-manager listing alternative plans of action, over ruling plans of actions and schedules, and definitely not saying “you are wrong and should tell the CEO that we can’t/won’t do this.”

    3. Garnet, Crystal Gem*

      This also came up for me. Jessica sounds a lot like someone I reported to in my last job. She clearly did not have the experience/training to be a manager, and most likely fell into the role and it showed! I was a bit appalled by some of the comments she made in meetings to our bosses, similar to Jessica’s, and that bad behavior went unchecked and made my job a nightmare. She was likely given the green light to hire me, as a way to take on more responsibility (and get her off my bosses’ case) but I think it rewarded AND enabled the bad behavior.

      Either way OP, I think Alison’s advice here is solid. Address this head on. Initiating this conversation could also be a good opportunity to set an example for Jessica. Sure, she may have been a manager before, but it’s clear from her behavior that her leadership skills could use some…refinement.

    4. glebers*

      Her job change could be totally innocuous. There are a lot of posts about her knowing what she was getting into, but I think there’s a difference between thinking you know and actually knowing.

      I moved from management to contributor role and never thought it would be an issue. I was surprised that it drove me NUTS for a while to be out of the decision-making loop. I settled in and wasn’t rude like Jessica is, but I never expected to miss management until I was out of it. She could be in the same boat. So I have some sympathy in that regard (though, again, not to the rudeness and over-stepping)

      1. charo*

        One doesn’t even have to have been a manager to think one knows things. Many people have an opinion. But knowing how to offer it and when is a sign of maturity.

      2. Birdie*

        I would agree except for the fact that she’s now explicitly said that her strengths are in big-picture planning and supervision. It’s possible that she’s only realizing that now that she’s reflecting on things, but it seems unlikely to me. Regardless of her original intention when taking the job, she’s there now and making these comments. I hope OP has the conversation that Alison suggests – I think it could be very helpful in both understanding where she’s coming from and (hopefully) changing her behavior moving forward.

        1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          “explicitly said that her strengths are in big-picture planning and supervision.”
          Because she wanted the job and the work sounded like something she could or wanted to do. Until she had to do it. Now she thinks, I don’t really want to do this. And additionally, “I want to do that, and I will show them how well I can do that, and they will let me.”
          And OP, you are even thinking about doing this.
          Not a strong nor sustainable plan.

          1. emmelemm*

            Definitely agree with the “if I show them how good I am at the big picture stuff, they’ll let me do a bunch of *that*!” thinking. Which needs to be shut down.

          2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

            Because she wanted the job and the work sounded like something she could or wanted to do.

            I wonder if OP was upfront in the interview process about the amount of ‘grunt work’ as I know it – mundane tasks rather than bigger picture and more significant stuff – was actually involved in the role? I’ve known at least a couple of people (with different managers) who were hired for a job that turned out to be significantly more “routine” than it was suggested to be in the hiring process, as the respective managers thought the candidates would be put off by the amount of (e.g.) data entry rather than creative design work.

    5. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I got the impression that she had been laid off or similar due to COVID-19, given the timing, and perhaps had searched for manager roles and was either unsuccessful in applying or the roles weren’t available, so then “downgraded” the search to also include individual contributor roles.

      It’s a general feeling from the letter, but also (I’m hesitating to say this in case I get roasted for “nitpicking language”) OP said that in Jessica’s previous role she “had been”, rather than “was”, a team leader. It just gave me the impression that it was more in the past, rather than an ongoing role that she resigned (or was pushed out, or whatever) from.

    6. Eukomos*

      Right now it seems reasonably likely that she was laid off and there weren’t any management-level openings in her field and location to apply to. Which would make it feel necessary to swear you’re happy with going back to the individual level while also making it a bitter pill to swallow.

  3. ThinMint*

    I’ve fallen into the pattern of thinking “I have a complaining employee who constantly challenges me on things that aren’t in her purview. I need to give her more responsibility to show I trust her and maybe she’ll not complain as much about other things.” When I’ve felt that way, it’s always been because giving them more responsibility seemed easier than having the frank conversation about communicating effectively and what is and isn’t appropriate. It’s never worked out.

    Have the hard conversation.

    1. WorkIsADarkComedy*

      There’s a key phrase in Alison’s response: “demonstrating that you’re comfortable with your own authority”.

      OP, I get the vibe that you aren’t completely comfortable with your authority, when you consider ignoring the comments as a serious option. You have the authority to listen the comments and to act if the comments are spot on, and you have the authority to shut down negativity if that’s what’s going on. You have both the authority and the responsibility to use that authority.

    2. Legal Beagle*

      Yes yes yes. This is also one of those management tactics that prioritizes conflict avoidance with one squeaky wheel over job satisfaction for the whole team. She criticizes her manager’s leadership (to their face), she complains about her work — if the manager *rewards* her with more responsibility, what message does that send to her coworkers who do their jobs without causing these problems?

  4. BeenThere*

    If you’re hearing these comments over and over, I’d give some thought to this: Perhaps she thinks you’re not listening, not really hearing what she’s saying. If she’s been a good, productive, reliable employee, she deserves listening to. And I think it would help if you made sure that she understood that yes, you have heard and understood what she’s saying.

    Once, I was in a position that could be like your employee’s. There was a problem, a big problem, that needed to be solved or else productivity and accuracy would fail. I had more experience in this particular arena than my manager or his manager had. So told my manager. After several times talking to him, and nothing happening to solve it, I reported the problem in the larger team meeting, which his boss attended. Eventually, my manager and his boss got tired of hearing from me about the problem, and I was called into a disciplinary meeting because I wouldn’t drop my warnings.

    Well, OK. I guessed that the problem was really theirs to solve, and if they chose to disregard my warnings, then so be it. And guess what. The problem blossomed, productivity came to a standstill, and much money and time were spent solving the problem.

    It’s likely that I didn’t frame my message in the best way to adequately convey the scope of the problem. It could be that your employee’s comments are not conveying the scope or the depth of what she really means. So, I agree with Allison. Take it seriously and find out what the real issue is.

    1. Southern Academic*

      Yeah, I’m going to echo this.

      As someone who dropped from a position w/ a lot of autonomy and decision-making power to one w/ much less, so I could pursue education and further my career goals, I read these comments as possible evidence that Jessica may be feeling as though she has expertise which isn’t being recognized or validated. Even if she’s saying it in a grating way, that’s a really frustrating place to be in. Talking w/ her, as non-antagonistically as possible, is a good way to suss this out.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Except she agreed to a position where this expertise wasn’t going to be front and center, and the examples given don’t bear out that she was right.

        1. Southern Academic*

          Yeah, but a good manager doesn’t just say, “welp tough bazoonskis you knew what you were getting into SUCK IT” and move on. A good manager talks w/ her, finds out what’s bothering her, and actually uses her words to clarify the situation

          It’s possible that w/in the role, there’s something that could be done that will help Jessica feel more valued.

          It’s possible that it’s not true, and in that case, clarity that hey, you’ve been in this role for awhile and *it’s not working out* is also helpful.

        2. Hiring Mgr*

          True, but on the other hand OP says “In general, things are going well. Jessica is reliable, produces consistently good work, brings new perspectives to the team, and is a strong collaborator most of the time.”

          So it sounds like overall she’s been fine, just that this is something that has bubbled up recently.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Jessica has told her manager she would have SAID NO TO THE CEO on a major, time-critical project. This is a non-starter in most companies.

            1. Hiring Mgr*

              CEOs aren’t all knowing – I’ve pushed back on many things with CEOs over the years. Of course it’s got to be done thougtfully, not just a refusal with no other context.

              Though I think this is more about the overall pattern than whether Jessica was right or wrong on that one point

            2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

              I want to add here that OP stated she reviewed the request, determined it was doable, within the time frame. It wasn’t ideal, but neither was the situation. It was a crisis resolution plan, thought out by the CEO and confirmed by OP. Jessica’s reply, “I would have told him no,” doesn’t fit this situation.

            3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

              The devil on my shoulder suggests proceeding like this: You know how when you were about 10 and in school, and you (or some other kid) were chatting to a schoolmate instead of listening to the teacher? And then the teacher said “You know what Captain D? Since you seem to know so much, why don’t you come up to the front of the class and teach the lesson instead?! Why don’t you start with explaining the role of the intrinsic infinitive [or whatever the lesson was]?!”

              (Well, I was that kid, and I did brazenly go up to the front, and did explain the thing that was asked, but I’m not sure the teacher learned anything from that!)

              Anyway, it would be so tempting to say something like “you know what, just for a week, you and I swap positions. You make all the management decisions and I do only your job [as it sounds like Jessica’s job is a subset of the OP’s job] and then if it works out after a week, we switch.

              It’s a fun thing to think about how that would work out…!

              1. TechWorker*

                This sounds…. not tempting at all :) Jessica already thinks their decisions are the better ones and most decisions are not proven wise or otherwise in a week.

                EVEN if LW thinks Jessica in theory could do her job as well or better no one with a sense of self-preservation would contemplate this offer ;) as a manager if you think someone’s good you work out how to promote them, involving moving teams if necessary. You don’t offer them your own job :p

        3. Tabby*

          Listen. My current job as a dog handler is nowhere near the same as my previous jobs as a vet assistant, but my current job? They USE my experience; while I might not technically be “allowed” to give meds? The supervisors and managers will happily allow it in a pinch (there’s some weird rule by the company owner that requires a certificate and even SHE isn’t too fussed about it after seeing my resume. However, the people who work with me treat my 15+ years actual experience as equal to a certificate. Because trust me, it doesn’t require one to get the pill into the dog, or pet owners would never be able to bring meds home). I am given a very large amount of discretion and allowed to use my own judgement because I have the experience. I will never work for a company that thinks I am a newbie when I am clearly not.

          1. Tabby*

            That said though, I am very careful about how I suggest things to management, for the most part. The only time I might ignore a rule is if I have a dog who is fixated on mounting other dogs. They tend to want to have you repeatedly pulling the dog off the others, rather than noping him out of the playroom when the other dogs have clearly had enough and are starting to get agitated enough to fight the mounter. I will kennel them and “forget” to bring him back. In fact, there’s one dog who gets half an hour, PERIOD, because the dog is a disaster in the playroom: obnoxious, loud, and determined to annoy every other dog in the room. He’s been piled on by as many as 20 dogs on several occasions because he’s just that annoying. Fortunately, no injuries resulted because a) our handlers are fast at breaking up this sort of thing, and b) they weren’t trying to kill him, only let him know they’re tired of his foolery and are not having it. We handlers have unanimously decided he ggets 30 minutes at a clip, and has to get out for at least an hour so the others get a break from him. He’s not a terrible dog, and is quite cute when by himself, but lacks decent training and boundaries.

            I have also on occasion had them remove a dog who is highly stressed (even if they pass a temp test) about being in the playroom for an entire day, sand suggest that the dog might be better off only half a day.


          2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            I think this is a huge difference though. You are an expert in animal care given your past experience.

            There’s a difference from being “Well I’m an accountant who was hired to do data entry” and “I was a manager at a similar department, in a whole different company.”

            This doesn’t seem to be about things like highly specific expert skills. It’s all just subjective AF management stuff. “I’d tell the CEO to stuff it, this time line sucks.” is a “LOL okay, Jan.” moment. Not a “Oh well you’re a manager at your other job, so we should take this into consideration.”

            Everyone defers to me as well, wherever I fall because of my background. But I don’t bulldoze into places all “Your standards of practice are lacking, just because I prefer it another way!”

            It’s totally different ball game when you detect an actual issue that should be fixed because of the health and well being of your clients/puppers or like the original comment is stating, it’s something that was something that should be flagged was going to bring a whole world of hurt to the company/production screeched to a stand still.

            If one of my machine workers says “this machine smells hot, it may be burning up.” I’m going to take that as a “get a tech in here and get it looked at!” despite that machine operator obviously not being machine tech. I’m also not going to let that machine operator fix something that may bring down the entire thing, even though they think they can just get in there and pull on some wires or some random stuff because “that’s what I did before at my old job, where I was the supervisor!” [I have had to pull back managers who have done reckless AF stuff at their old jobs, you’re not an electrician, I don’t care that you did it before it’s not okay!]

            1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

              It’s all just subjective AF management stuff. “I’d tell the CEO to stuff it, this time line sucks.” is a “LOL okay, Jan.” moment. Not a “Oh well you’re a manager at your other job, so we should take this into consideration.”

              Yes, not something you want to reward.

        4. Bostonian*

          I agree with you. The example the OP gave of this employee saying she would refuse an important and reasonable directive from the CEO is flat-out wrong. If all of her other “suggestions” are like this, then I don’t think it’s the case that OP isn’t listening to serious issues. I think people are projecting a bit too much here.

      2. AKchic*

        The examples given don’t seem to show that Jessica’s previous experience as a manager have any bearing on her job *now*, and her judgement in the here and now “if [she] were” management is something that would give me pause. She openly said she would push back on COVID work that needed to be done (unsure of the specifics, but it was something that needed to be done quickly and Jessica would have insisted that it not be done at all. I am assuming she would have expected it to be contracted out, but not knowing what it is, this could have delayed a lot of other things).

        Jessica is in no position to know the managerial decisions, and she accepted that fact when she accepted the position she’s in. Her previous managerial position in another company has no real application to what she’s doing now. She needs to stop trying to bring it up. If she is doing this within the hearing of other staffers, she is attempting to undermine the actual managers. She may be angling for a management position (that whole “foot in the door” bit), but really, she’s cutting herself off at the knees. Not many want to elevate a person who has shown that they have no qualms with stabbing their future peers in the back in order to get ahead.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Yeah, that bit especially struck me as problematic and makes me less inclined to give Jessica the benefit of the doubt.

          I have been in the position where I’ve said things like “in my previous position, we handled X by doing 1, 2, and 3, so maybe something like that would work here” but I feel like that’s a very different type of thing from what OP is describing.

          1. JustaTech*

            Reading the part about “should have pushed back on the tight deadlines” I wondered if maybe in the past Jessica had gotten hosed as a manager by saying “yes” once to an emergency and then had higher management just keep piling on with shorter and shorter deadlines.

            But even if that was the case, the effective way to frame it would be “hey, this happened to me in the past and it was a problem, so I want to alert you to the possibility of it becoming an issue in the future here.”

            1. AKchic*

              But even if that were the case, what made Jessica think that her unsolicited feedback was wanted, let alone warranted?
              As it was (in this case), nobody was working overtime to get the work done, and their other projects weren’t delayed much. The work was a necessary thing to be done. It seems like Jessica just didn’t like the interruption to her workflow/calendar/task list and whipped out the “well, if *I* were manager here” to remind people that she was a manager somewhere else in the past.

      3. MK*

        When you accept a position that is a downgrade from what you had before, it’s pretty much a given that you will have expertise which isn’t relevant to the new job (unless you were incompetent in your higher level work), and it’s really not your manager’s job to “recognize or validate” expertise that they didn’t require for the role.

        And “you knew what you were getting into” is what anyone will think and what any good employee will be telling themselves, and should have become accustomed to before they started the job. It’s not the manager’s job to reconsile you to your decision to accept a lower position, or to bend themselves, the job description and/or the company’s structure to find a way to utilise your skills. If such an opportunity comes up, yes, it would be prudent to do so, but not just to stop the employee complaining.

      4. hbc*

        It’s not a manager’s job to recognize or validate expertise that’s not needed for the position. I personally love when a chance comes up to leverage past experience, but it has to come up naturally, not from me telling my boss how to be a boss or declaring myself above my regular job duties. At most, it’s a carefully placed “What’s the impact of us dropping the current jobs for this project?” or “Has X ever been tried before?”

        But frankly, Jessica isn’t showing a lot of expertise if she thinks “Tell the CEO to stuff his aggressive-but-achievable timeline” is some sort of universal good advice.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      The examples given didn’t seem to be things that needed listening-to. And, frankly, no, we don’t always get what we want, including having our bosses listen to us. The timeline with the CEO thing? Didn’t need to be heard. The LW had it in hand and Jessica needed to sit down.

      Plus, if she wants to be heard, she need to knock off the “I used to be a manager” stuff because it makes her sound clueless and too big for her britches.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        If Jessica thought the CEO’s timeline was too aggressive, her approach should have been from the IC level (as a team member, what’s the impact of the timeline on the team), not the former-manager level (I’d never make *my* team attempt this timeline). The former is a legitimate work concern, the latter is overstepping.

        I could see, maybe, if Jessica has been in this role for a year+ and has a decent handle on how things are running, that maybe she could offer some suggestions based on her past experience. But since she’s only been in the role for a few months and is both overstepping and complaining about her normal work duties, OP needs to have that hard conversation with her now to see if it’s worth keeping her on.

      2. emmelemm*

        Yeah, it seems like Jessica was pushing on that point (“should have said no to the CEO because the whole thing was ‘unreasonable'”) throughout the project even when, as the project progressed, it became clear that although it was “hectic”, it wasn’t pushing the team to 60 hour work weeks or whatever. I mean, even if, when the project was handed down, she said, “Hey, as a manager, I would have said this is too much” at the beginning, that would be a questionably reasonable comment, but as the project progressed and it wasn’t completely spiraling out of control, her opinion became irrelevant.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      But it wasn’t your problem to solve. You voiced your thoughts and they chose to ignore them. Pushing and pushing to MAKE them hear you wasn’t necessary. Not your circus, not your monkeys.

      OP’s new hire is not in any position to voice her opinions on how the team should be managed right now. She needs stop challenging OP’s authority and do her job as she indicated she could in the interview.

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      But it wasn’t your job to fix the issue. You noticed it and reported it. It was up to your managers to move forward with that information. Pushing over and over to make yourself heard just made you look bad. Not your circus, not you monkeys.

      Jessica is a new hire and needs to stop challenging OP’s authority. Her previous position is irrelevant right now and her throwing that info around is not doing her any favors.

      1. boo bot*

        I think it depends on what the issue is, honestly, and we don’t know from BeenThere’s comment what it was. Jessica’s complaint of, “We shouldn’t be changing the timeline on this high-stakes project,” sounds like it doesn’t need to be addressed over and over, but there are also issues like:

        “We’re pushing people into mortgages they can’t afford and it could cause a market crash.”
        “We’ve never launched a spaceship on a day this cold, and we don’t know if it will affect the o-ring seals that keep it from falling apart.”
        “If we do this, there’s a possibility we might set the whole Earth’s atmosphere on fire.”

        It turns out one of those was actually no big deal. In general, though, sometimes there’s a really big problem, and whoever sees it has a responsibility to bring it up over and over, even if it’s not their job.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          There are exceptions, but only in the most extreme circumstances (like if there’s a chance someone could get hurt). Otherwise, like I said, bring it up and express the urgency ONCE, and then let the managers do their jobs.

    5. Uranus Wars*

      I agree with your first point, and I think Alison’s advice on following up with questions could uncover that and potentially help with the relationship.

      I also think they need to talk about the role, too, though. I see the difference in what happened to you as you trying to say “Hey, X is a problem and is going to lead to Y if we don’t address it” Where this employee is say “Hey, X is a problem I wouldn’t have if I were in charge”. To me you were giving warnings, this person is actively saying they would make better decision – like refuse to do a project for the CEO around a COVID response, which is essentially a #1, time sensitive priority for any company that has a response.

    6. Sue*

      I’ve seen so many situations where a messenger has been ignored, not because they are wrong but because of who they are or how the message was delivered. Once you’ve hurt your credibility, it is so hard to be taken seriously. And it’s not that hard to lose credibility, either by having too many issues or by inartful delivery. Sometimes this is clear in hindsight but in the moment of trying to get a point across, it’s hard to navigate the big picture.

    7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You did well by bringing it to people’s attention! Your problem and why you got disciplinary action is because you wouldn’t stop harping on the issue.

      You should always speak up about things and then once you release this information, you need to step back and let the management either fix it or in this way, let it explode in their face. That’s on them to fail, you can’t be so invested in things and step on toes.

      I have had plenty of times I point out “That’s precarious at best…” and the powers that be decide that they don’t think it is. Same with you, it didn’t go as they had planned. I let them learn from their mistake [in this case, not listening to you!] and often, they will respond better thinking “Damn, BeenThere was right…”

      If someone doesn’t want your input, you can’t make them take it. You can’t steamroller management, unless they like it. I’m a huge force in most aspects but I roll myself back. Chuckle to yourself when it explodes in their face and again, they are the management, respect their authority and allow them to show their own asses.

      1. Ralph Wiggum*

        I’ll add that management should acknowledge they’re heard the concern, preferably with restating it back to you.

        It drives me bonkers when I communicate a problem up the chain and hear either nothing or a restatement of the original position without any evidence that my concern was understood or considered.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I agree with you! As a manager, I make it a point to tell people they’re heard, their opinions/observations/suggestions have been heard fully and I appreciate them. It helps that my managers over the years have “heard” me more and lead to the beast I am today.

          But at the same time, you can’t keep headbutting the problem because you’re frustrated. If you have a shitty manager, you have a shitty manager. They should do things differently to make things better but in the end, they’re the one who gets to make that decision. It goes back to “Your manager sucks, that won’t change.” that Alison sometimes has to say.

          Some [bad] managers will always be around, we work around them until we can escape. If they’re a square hole and you’re a round peg, neither able to change themselves to the right dimensions to make it fit, it just won’t fit.

      2. allathian*

        Yeah, but it also depends quite a bit on what the problem is. If it’s a matter of merely more efficient use of time, no big deal, but if actual human or animal lives are at stake, it’s a completely different kettle of fish. Obviously one would hope that serious concerns would be listened to, but I’m not confident that would actually be the case.

  5. Matilda Jefferies*

    She thinks you should have refused timelines requested by the CEO? Related to your org’s Covid response? That is…well, it’s certainly not something I would do or recommend. Wow.

    I think you do need to take this seriously, and have the conversation with her as Alison recommends. Because she’s not just venting – she’s actively giving bad advice, that could harm your career if you were to follow it. To be clear, I know you weren’t going to!. But that kind of suggestion is so wildly outside of workplace norms that it absolutely needs to be addressed in the moment. You don’t want her to think it’s okay, and you also don’t want anyone else on your team to think it’s okay. You can disagree with the CEO all you want, but at the end of the day you need to do what she’s asking – you can’t just refuse.

    1. Mel_05*

      Yeah, that’s kinda wild. Unless something is illegal or impossible, I don’t outright refuse to do it. I might push back on it if I thought there was a better solution, but at the end of the day… the boss is the boss.

      1. Ali G*

        It doesn’t eve sound like J had an issue with the work, just the timeline. So, now as a manager, I think J doesn’t want to go above and beyond to implement an important project for Covid response. LW says no one put in overtime, so it was a reshuffling or priorities. This shows that J doesn’t understand enough to judge the performance of the team and the size of the task to know that the timelines could be met.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’ve heard this kind of stuff said a few times in my life and yet these people would never actually push back at the CEO. Only when they have layers between them and the CEO will they “say” what they’d “tell the CEO” if they were in charge. I always remind them that his office is a couple doors down if they want to discuss it with him directly. Zero people tend to do that, they’re popping off at the mouth to the person they aren’t intimidated by.

    3. Cj*

      That statement absolutely floored me. Even if it had involved overtime, if it wasn’t excessive, and the CEO had approved overtime pay for non-exempt employee’s, you can’t simply refuse a directive from the CEO.

      It’s also good indication that J should never, ever, be given a management roll at this organization.

    4. lafcolleen*

      This may be a reflection of bad upper management at Jessica’s prior employer.

      if Jessica experienced erratic decision making and a lot of EMERGENCY! directives that ended up with a lot of wasted time and resources or too many pet projects at the CEO’s whim, she may have learned some coping mechanisms that are dysfunctional in this workspace.

      in the conversation, I’d be attuned to cues about her perception of upper management. it doesn’t change the advice given but it could shape what needs to be directly discussed.

      if J’s comments are less about trying to become a de facto co-manager (because she misses some aspect of managing) and more about trying to get OP to buy into J’s view about how to “manage up” then the info OP needs to communicate is different.

      For example, if J’s prior employer had turf wars or struggles about resource allocation, she might think OP needs to push back to prevent resources being taken away or things being dumped on OP and team because that’s an easy solution even if not appropriate.

      If that management “style” is not in sync with OP’s employer, J might not realize that. so transparency might help J understate the management culture. Maybe.

  6. sofar*

    I’m wondering if Jessica took the individual-contributor position, thinking it would get her in the door and that she could then start pushing for a management role. … As if being a general pain and offering unsolicited advice (instead of doing her actual job) would accomplish that.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      I hired a Jessica once – she had an MLS, and applied for a library tech position. We made sure she knew exactly what the job was (and wasn’t) and she told us she was fine with it as posted.

      Week 1, she made the other library tech cry, and refused to report to me as her supervisor – she would only talk to our manager. Week 2, she tried to get the library tech job reclassified to suit her qualifications. There was no week 3.

      Which is not to say that people can’t succeed in “lower” positions on the org chart than ones they’ve previously held! Lots of people can, and do just fine at them. But I would imagine you’d have to screen very carefully, and ask some really pointed questions of their references, to make sure everybody knows what they’re getting into.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        We had a library intern like this. Attempted to refuse to do part of a project because she felt it was beneath her as an [almost-]MLIS. Our supervisor reminded her that she was an almost-MLIS, not an MLIS, and that this internship was required for her to earn the degree. She finished it but there was a lot of grousing and pushback.

        1. Tabby*

          Wow, no. That’s insane. I could very well be a team lead at my place right now instead of the younger woman who currently has it. She even offered to let me take it, since we have equal experience. I was like HECK NO, you have been here longer, and I am happy with you as a supervisor because you CLEARLY know how. I made sure she knew I thought she was better for the role than I am, and I didn’t want to take the position from her.

          She does, oddly, ask me to do a lot of bew person training for when she can’t, but she’s definitely the leader, not me.

      2. clogerati*

        I got into my current job because I accepted a position well below my qualifications. During my interview process I made it clear that I was interested in growth with the company, but that I was perfectly happy to work in the position I was applying for (partially due to burnout from my previous job and partially because I was interested in entering a different career path in the industry). I was able to move forward and be successful because I demonstrated my experience instead of loudly proclaiming it. If I had a differing opinion from my boss I would say “I see that we’re doing xyz, I would have done abc because of 1, 2, and 3. When you have a moment I’d love to learn why you chose xyz, I see that it’s been successful!” Those conversations were invaluable to my development and demonstrated to my higher ups that I was a team player with skill who wanted to learn more and do more. I’ve actually started to ask “What do you do if your boss asks you to do xyz but you think that abc would be the better option?” during interviews.

        1. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

          We have a lot of conversations like that in our company (small construction company), and I appreciate them so much. Every building is different, every situation is different, but ultimately the owner is the one liable when a certain method does or does not work out well. He gives us room to make suggestions, but sometimes he wants to do things a different way. In that case, he’s very good about explaining his thought process and the why of it all. It’s helped me grow in my role immensely and learn A LOT. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say, “Well, that’s just the way I want to do it so it’s the way we’re going to do it.”

  7. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    You need to address this directly and immediately. You were up front with her during the interview and she said she could handle being a contributor and not a manager. But either she lied to you to get the job, or she’s lying to herself about being able to handle it. I’ve never been a manager, but I have always been willing to help out with ANY task that needed to be done, regardless of my position. If it needed to be done and I had the ability to help, I did. When someone acts like a job is beneath them, that means they’re not a team player. It’s possible she doesn’t realize she’s doing it (I’ve been there with venting), but she needs to be made aware that her behavior is not acceptable and will no longer be tolerated.

  8. Good Advice*

    This is really good advice, since I think most managers would simple take these comments as criticism of THEM, not as the employee being unhappy in their role. Managers whose response to criticism is perpetually “well, I’m in charge, so do what I say,” or some variety thereof, are not great managers. The ones that can listen to the criticism, even when not well framed by frustrated employees, will do a far better job in helping everyone understand their roles, do the things they need to do, and work together as a team.

    1. MK*

      It’s not really an employee’s to constantly critisize their manager by telling them how they should be doing their jobs. Offer their input and perspective, sure, but after that, it’s the manager’s job to make decisions, that’s the whole point of having a manager.

  9. Mr. Cajun2core*

    I never fully understood what “overqualified” meant and the problems it could cause until I was in that situation and I started reading this blog.

    This is a perfect example of why it is difficult to hire someone who is overqualified for a position. It is also a good example of how difficult it can be for someone who had authority to move to a position where they don’t have any.

    I am not saying that any of the above can’t be done. The prospective employee just needs to fully informed that this will be a big change and the employee needs to make sure they can handle it.

    1. AKchic*

      There are many shades of “overqualified”. I do not think Jessica counts as “overqualified”. I think that maybe her ego is bigger than the role she was hired to do.

      Many people take jobs that they are “overqualified” for, and they do really well because they have no problem leaving their ego at home on a shelf. Some people were never qualified in the first place and act as if they are overqualified for the starting position and should be the CEO because not only did they bring their ego, but they snagged the ego of every family member to boot.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This is a great comment! Yes, this doesn’t read that Jessica is overqualified. It reads as though she’s egotistical and can’t settle into her actual role.

        I can step into leadership or I can take direction from someone who is appointed the authority figure. I don’t care one way or another. Because I don’t have an inflated sense of self worth that needs to be stroked by being “The Leader” at all times. Hell I don’t wanna be the adult, I’ve often just been “forced” to be one, lol.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I now am hearing the 2 dogs from The Aristocats in my head… ‘Waaaaait a minute, I’M the leader.” ( Napoleon and Lafayette oh, I’m not sure which was which.)

        2. AKchic*

          That’s my interpretation on the situation as well.

          I am actually “overqualified” for my job. I knew it coming into the role, the hiring manager knew it, and the people replacing him know it. I’ve been asked multiple times if I wouldn’t like something more “challenging” for my skillset. I wouldn’t. I came here specifically because I was burned out and needed something less stressful. I have leadership positions in my volunteer life. I am happy to sit back and just do data entry in my paid gig (and I am paid very well here).

          I rarely talk about my non-work life at work, and when I do, I do not discuss my positions/titles. They have no relevance to what I do in the office and my bosses don’t need to know.

  10. Daffy Duck*

    Yeah, I think you are correct in that she saw it as a foot in the door. It sounds to me like she wants to be in management instead of individual contributor…and doesn’t have the soft skills or common sense to be good dealing with people.
    LW needs to have the talk with her pronto.

  11. Sara without an H*

    It’s possible that Jessica really thought she’d be OK as an individual contributor, but is now finding that she misses management. In that case, yes, you have to have The Talk with her about whether she can continue in this job as it is presently defined, or whether she needs to look for something else.

    As to giving her more responsibility, I don’t recommend that — if she misses managing her own team, trying to give her more to do won’t solve that.

    So talk with her, and be very, very candid about what the job is now. If she indicates that she hopes to be promoted to a managerial role in the future, be very clear about how likely that is, and what she’d have to do to qualify. And that routinely questioning all your decisions will — not — be a good way to qualify for future promotions.

    1. WFH with Cat*


      Frankly, I find it odd that Jessica doesn’t seem to understand how damaging her behavior might be to her future career prospects. As a former manager, she ought to be aware that it’s inappropriate to repeatedly advise a boss on how to handle projects, especially by saying she should ignore/refuse C-suite instructions.

    2. higheredrefugee*

      I would add one more thought to this, which is how much administrative/mundane working she is doing, especially if her previous positions didn’t include much, or didn’t have to do their own travel/reimbursement/bookkeeping/billing/timekeeping, et al. It does not excuse her, but as the time, energy, and personal capital it can take to do some of the secondary things, she may be missing just being part of a culture with more admin support, better tools, etc. This varies do widely that it would not surprise me if neither OP or Jessica could name this as a problem.

    3. Risha*

      Yes, it can be a hard adjustment! I deliberately went back to the individual contributor role because I wasn’t happy with a lot of aspects of managing, and I’ve been very clear with my supervisors ever since that I have no interest in going back up to that level. But I was good at and enjoyed many other aspects of that role, and it was genuinely difficult for a bit at first not to jump in and help with some of wider system design tasks, for instance. (I never reached the “telling my boss they should have refused the CEO’s timeline” level of overstepping, fortunately!)

  12. L.N.T*

    Alison I always appreciate the scripts you provide – the language you use is so useful and has been helpful to me on numerous occasions, both professionally and personally! Taking the approach of keeping emotion and personal feelings out of it makes work situations feel so much easier to tackle in the moment.

  13. Hiring Mgr*

    It sounds like you do need to address this, but one thing I’ll mention is that sometimes managers CAN set a bad precedent by accepting unrealistic deadlines from management for their teams. Not saying that happened here but it’s not so outrageous as to be dismissed entirely. (I’ve done it nyself).

    1. Observer*

      In fact, it’s pretty clear that the OP did not set a bad precedent. They say that things are “hectic” but no more than that, and say that people haven’t even needed to do overtime. Given that, and the fact this this really was urgent, Jessica’s response is really bad.

  14. Super Duper Anon*

    I think this is in the same area as the people who start a new job and constantly go “in my old job we used to do xyz”. There could be a number of reasons they do it, and you don’t know until you dig in and find out. Some people may be very happy in the role, but are worried that because they are new they aren’t contributing enough yet and this is the way they make suggestions. Some people come in with the gumption mindset that they must make all of the changes and go bulldozing in without thinking of how it comes across. Some people see genuine issues with procedures or processes but don’t know how to push and when to back off. And some people go in and realize that in fact they are not happy with the role they have but don’t want to outright express it.

    The thing is, you won’t know which of these situations apply until you have a discussion with her about it. From there, it will be much easier to address.

  15. Sparkles McFadden*

    I have always found it helpful to treat challenging statements just as I would treat helpful suggestions. “That’s interesting Jessica. How would you go about doing that?” Usually, the conversation doesn’t go on for too much longer. Over time, the hyper-critical employee becomes less verbal about it.

    I once had a direct report who would push back on every assignment. When I’d have to give him assignments during our one-on-one meetings, I’d block off enough time for him do his mini-rant, and I’d ask questions regarding each complaint. After the conversation, he would understand why we were doing the project as presented, and he’d go off and complete his project on time and flawlessly. Over time, he’d be able to ask himself the questions I would have asked him and come to the same conclusions. He just needed to be heard, I think. Sure, it was annoying to take the time out to do this, but it was worth the effort, and, every once in awhile, he’d raise a pretty valid point, or he’d ask to do something in a different way, and I’d be OK with that as it gave him a feeling of ownership.

    The important point is to avoid taking any of this personally. Even if the intention is to challenge your authority, remember that you, as a manager, already have the authority. Have a straightforward conversation about the behavior, using Alison’s script. If it gets to the point where the cons outweigh the pros, address that. If someone’s work is good but they are disrupting the team or making it harder for you to do your job, it’s often worse than having a team member whose work isn’t up to snuff.

    1. Dr. Doll*

      Ha, he sounds like a “Questioner” in Gretchen Rubin’s unscientific but quite useful little personality inventory. Willing to do anything that *makes sense* — but has to have tons of questions answered to get to the makes-sense point. They’re very useful but occasionally very exasperating team members!

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        Yep. That’s why he got passed to me. No one else had the patience. I’d actually keep doing other work while he pretty much talked himself through everything. Then he’d go off and do the work, send me updates and wouldn’t see him again until our next one-on-one.

        1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

          As a consultant, I used to have a client who every few months called me with a really tricky problem.
          While he explained, I went “that’s interesting” and “ah”… until after half an hour or so, he thanked me for the great solution we agreed on.
          He just needed to explain his problem to someone who he trusted to know more about the issue than himself, and all became clear.

  16. NW Mossy*

    As someone who recently stepped back into an individual contributor role after leading people for years (managing people and virtual school are not compatible), I am trying really really hard not to be a Jessica. Leading people gives you a whole different perspective on what the job is and what effectiveness (or not) in it looks like, and you see things you can’t unsee.

    What I can do, though, is keep my mouth firmly shut on my experience-formed opinions of management topics unless I’m explicitly asked to give it. Even then, I have to recognize that just because one person in the meeting asked for my take doesn’t mean that others in attendance want to hear it. I’m trying to do better at steering that to one-on-one conversations so as not to damage my relationships with others by overstepping my current role.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The way I handle that, is to remind myself what I’m being paid to do.

      Are you getting a management salary? I sure wasn’t when I stepped back! So I’m like “I’m paid to care about this piece of the pie not the whole pie.” So I make sure that I make that piece of pie the best piece there can be and the rest of it, well I’m not paid enough to think that deeply into it.

      There’s also a world of difference between how you give suggestions. I am always well aware that everyone knows my background and therefore, they will ask if they want my opinion/suggestions. I remind myself that if someone wants me, they know where to ask. I don’t need to over-extend, then you often look desperate. Desperate isn’t a good look, Jessicas.

  17. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Oh, Jessica. You’re doing it so very wrong. I have had to step back from leadership a couple times and quickly was placed back into it because you have to know how to express your ideas much better. It’s not “When I was Queen, I did it this way.” it’s all about sharing your suggestions, then getting your hooks into them saying “Dang, this lady has some good ideas, let’s see what we can do about it.”

    But this isn’t Jessica writing in. If you don’t like her style DO NOT reward it, I want to drill that last point of Alison’s in deep. You have to address it.

    This is the same kind of setup as those we get on staff once in awhile who play the “At my old job we did it differently. We wouldn’t do that at Old Job. Old Job would have pushed back.” You have to address it with them directly, not confrontational but in a clear manner of “I’m in charge, if you have suggestions, I’m open but you must stop interjecting the way you do, it’s disrupting our flow from what we’re supposed to be focused on.”

  18. PumpkinHead*

    I am in a somewhat similar position the OP is in.
    At my workplace, we hired someone for a part-time gig about two years ago. When we looked at her application, we noticed that she was and currently still is working a full-time position at another business. During her interview she disclosed that she was in charge of one of the departments at her full-time job. She didn’t interview for that position and from what she said she was “essentially handed the position” since they were in a bind and needed that position filled as soon as possible. Not long after we hired her, she started making suggestions for my department and saying things like “You probably want to start telling everyone to do x” or “Can we have everyone start doing this?” etc. At one point she was becoming a little unprofessional and was acting out and so I had to sit down with her and have a meeting to address her actions. One of the things she mentioned was “It’s hard for me to make the transition from a place of authority to a place where I don’t have authority.” She admitted that at the time she was having difficulty remembering that she is not in charge when she comes to her second job here. Two years later and once in a great while she will still make a comment in a way that undermines my authority such as pointing out a mistake or something I may have forgotten during a staff meeting. Most of the time I will take it with a grain of salt, and once in a while I will take her suggestions into consideration but in the moment if I know it really won’t benefit the department, I will thank her and say I’ll look into it. Sometimes just validating and recognizing someone’s response is enough to put their mind at ease especially if it’s someone who can be pushy or want to change something because it will benefit them and it inconveniences them rather than the department.

    1. Synergy*

      It sounds like this employee may want to call the shots which also undermines your authority. Given the fact that she is in charge at her other job, I can see where that barrier that distinguishes both jobs may be breaking down. It may not be a bad idea to remind her that she isn’t in charge. Also the fact that she is pointing out mistakes during a staff meeting is really rude and disrespectful. I would certainly not want anyone like that at my workplace.

      I’ve also never heard of businesses just handing over leadership positions to others. You would think that if they really cared about their business, they would take critical time to interview applicants. The fact that she has acted out in front of you and was “handed” a job makes sense. She doesn’t sound emotionally fit or maturely fit for that job she was given and didn’t prove her worth.

      Letting her know that you hear her and understand her will hopefully help calm her down. But if they continue to behave in this manner, I would be ready to let her go at some point sadly.

  19. Pamela Adams*

    I’ve also had managers who did the ‘this person isn’t pulling their weight- they must be bored, and need more responsibility.’ Never works.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I think that it can work sometimes on an individual level, depending on the motivation for not pulling their weight and what led up to that situation in the first place.

      Burnout is a well-known thing, but its cousins rust-out and bore-out are less well known (I won’t add a link as any time I try to add a link it seems to go into a black hole, but they are easily searchable). The “rust-out – lack of motivation – underperformance – not pulling your weight – not seeing results – being given less ‘visible’ assignments as a result” cycle is real.

      Although on a big picture (!) level, it’s probably bad for morale all round as people see something like “Captain D wasn’t pulling her weight, and instead of being reprimanded she’s been rewarded with this plum assignment!” (maybe with the associated “what hold does she have on the company that we don’t have?”)

  20. agnes*

    Sounds to me like somebody needed a job, agreed to whatever they had to to get the job, and is now not as OK with it as they thought or said they would be. Very good suggestion to sit down and be blunt about the fact that you need them to do the job you HAVE not the job they WANT.

  21. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

    It’s worth noting that none of the “maybe she has good suggestions and just doesn’t know how to phrase them” and “maybe her ideas are worth listening to” comments address one major point–she’s trying to get out of the mundane aspects of her job, things everyone on the team including LW has to do, because she thinks she’s “better suited” for the more interesting work. That’s the part that shouts “she isn’t willing to accept the non-management role.”

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It shouts that she thinks management is just an “ideas” person and she should be hired for her “ideas” as well. It makes me wonder how effective she really is as a “manager” in her other role as well. We’ve all know BAD managers and that they don’t actually belong in management, it doesn’t matter that they got there because someone just patched them in, like Jessica’s did.

      I’m concerned by the examples given. She doesn’t sound like management material necessarily, just a very opinionated person who spouts off at the mouth without really forming ideas.

      If I had a dollar for everyone who thinks they know better than management but aren’t in it, I’d buy that boat.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Where’s that letter from the delusional guy who wanted to be paid big bucks for “having ideas”?

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Thank you my friend for knowing the letter I was alluding to. [That letter was a beautiful mess].

            1. Media Monkey*

              i am honestly amazed at how many people in the comments defended that guy. and we all know he is *That Guy*. as someone in an “ideas” industry (advertising) there are always plenty of That Guy and what they normally mean is that they don’t want to put the work in and expect to be current Bill Gates/ Mark Zuckerberg/ Steve Jobs without doing all the behind the scenes work.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            That letter is the definition of “god grant me the confidence of a mediocre white man”

        2. KayDeeAye*

          One of my favorites, too! At least if you’re thinking about the guy who wanted to be paid to be a visionary/”ideas guy.” I found that one – I’ll post it separately.

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        they got there because someone just patched them in

        Off topic a little, but this is such an apt expression for this type of situation, which I’ve never heard before! (Obviously I’m aware of both this type of situation, and the normal usage of “patching in” something, but it never occurred to me to put them together like this!)

        I will totally use this in the future!

        I think it’s especially perfect as it has the connotations of both “sure, I’ll just patch you in” when connecting a phone call, and also a patch on something like a wall with a hole in it, where the filler material doesn’t really fit but you just patch in the material you have, and paint over it.

  22. Dagny*

    Hi Jessica. You’re basically the reason that companies are reluctant to hire ‘overqualified’ candidates.

  23. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    I’ve been in a somewhat similar position (in different companies) to both the OP and the ‘Jessica’ in this letter.

    First one chronologically, I was a team lead type and then ‘evolved’ to have line management responsibility over a small team. I was the hiring manager but my own boss also had an input on a vacancy we had for the team, so went through the usual processes and agreed to hire Jane – someone a bit like Jessica (unintentionally, of course).
    Before this job, which was outside of Big City, she had apparently worked in Big City earning almost double the salary, as a team lead type, although the team she had been in charge of was much less ‘complex’ in terms of the work they took on and amount of knowledge, coaching etc needed to succeed. After a few months I was on the receiving end of Jane’s suggestions for “big picture” how things ought to be done differently, how “when I was a manager I would have…” etc.
    Unlike OP though, I was an inexperienced manager myself and wasn’t sure how, or whether, to shut this down (or what to do) and had a talk with my boss about it, as I was at the point of wanting to give her more responsibility and ‘leadership’ type of stuff. He convinced me out of that and coached me about the proper conversation to have.
    She left (not related to this incident) a few months later, and during her notice period I gave her all the ‘grunt work’ because as a team we were taking on totally new stuff and there was no point in having her “ramp up” learning new stuff when she was going to be gone in 2 weeks, but I’m sure she thought it was revenge of some sort (it wasn’t) and, well, I don’t think she actively screwed up those last easy tasks, but I don’t think full attention was being paid, and I had to re-do it all after…

    The second one was at a subsequent company where I worked as an IC but in a role “higher” on the org chart than the manager role I mentioned above. The person I reported to (Bob) was a Big Boss — most of the other people who reported to him were managers themselves, each with their own team, so that Bob had overall about 60 people in his chain of command.
    Needless to say any time a management issue came up (which I heard about frequently, due to working closely with Bob) I couldn’t resist giving my opinion on what I thought should have been done about the situation, or “when I was a manager I would have…” — A lot of the situations were quite subjective and there could be more than one valid approach, but Bob and I had very different ways of seeing the world (so different approaches) most of the time!
    Unlike Alison’s advice, Bob didn’t actually discuss this with me, but it eventually fizzled out on its own. I didn’t really miss the “managing people” aspect, which I was only mediocre at and found that it wasn’t really where my interest was, but rather that as a manager I had been involved in the ‘shaping’ and ‘decision making’ whereas as an IC I had little autonomy and was mostly just directed what to do (I think they had had difficulty in defining the job as the people before me hadn’t made a success of it either, by all accounts.)
    I gave it a good chance and then moved on… to another IC role, where I’m now mostly cured of this, although still feel out of the loop and subject to the whims of management a lot of the time!

  24. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    OP, I wanted to add this as a separate comment as it wasn’t really mentioned in your letter, nor in the official answer… do you think there is any possibility that Jessica is using this as a kind of “intimidation” at all? (I wasn’t sure what word to use — intimidation? threat? “I’m on to you”? etc sort of sentiment) almost as if she feels that she ought to be able to take the place of the real manager due to her big-picture thinking and what not?

    If you think this is at all a possibility, I’d be on the lookout for other “undermining” behaviour, which could be (or become) a bit more sinister than just an annoyance and diversion from her actual work.

  25. learnedthehardway*

    Whether Jessica has insights to provide or not, from her previous role as a manager, the fact is that she is NOT communicating them appropriately, and she is not recognizing that you – as the manager at THIS company – may well have already had those insights, yourself.

    I mean, sure, she might have refused to do as the CEO directed in her last company (which honestly seems somewhat unlikely), but how does she know whether or not you pushed back at your company’s CEO, or whether there are other considerations at play that she is not privy to, given that she is NOT a manager here?

    So, I am reading this as more of a management issue than as an employee who is not being recognized for their expertise and potential contribution. As such, I would be having a conversation with Jessica to reiterate that while her contribution is valued, she is in the role of an individual contributor here, that she is responsible for performing the tasks of the function (ie. the ones she feels are not of interest to her), and that if she is unhappy with this, that perhaps this is not the right role for her. (Perhaps more diplomatically, but I would be pretty clear about it.) I would tell her she is encouraged to provide her perspective and insights, but that she needs to look at things from within the current company’s situation.

    Honestly, if things don’t turn around so that she is recognizing what her role is and doing it, then I would manage her out, unless you hired her to become a manager in the near future.

  26. Luna*

    ‘The past is in the past, Jessica. You are now working at Llama Inc. and you are not a team leader here; you agreed to be part of the contributor roles. Your feedback will be heard and taken into consideration when necessary, but this is how we are doing things at Llama Inc.’

  27. Always Learning*

    I wish I’d read this about 2 years ago when I was newly managing a team with a person on it just like this. She ultimately left to go into a position with a better title and money, but she explicitly said her joining the team (I didn’t hire her) was to get her foot in the door with our company and move up asap. If I had been in her interview I would have seen that as a huge red flag and not hired her. However, I inherited her. I wish I’d had the experience to confront her bad behavior back then. I guess what doesn’t kill me makes/made me stronger.

  28. Bad Hare Day*

    I have experienced people insist in interviews that they really want to do the job I am hiring for, only to expect something different once they’ve gotten there. I understand that sometimes the job expectations aren’t clearly laid out in the interview, which is on the employer. But in this case Jessica was clearly told that she was stepping into an individual contributor role. But sometimes people lie, either to the hiring manager, or to themselves–especially if they’re desperate because a previous position did not/was not working out.

    Your job as an employee at any level is to execute the directions that your boss gives you. Even if you’re a Director with 100+ direct reports, you still need to do your job to the CEO’s specifications. Even the CEO is accountable to the board of directors, shareholders, etc. Of course you can raise concerns & offer alternatives if you think you have a better solution. But you probably shouldn’t do so in a public forum while touting your qualifications.

    Bonus story: I hired a “Jessica” once. I was Director of Tea Sales at a large beverage company. I was hiring for a Tea Salesperson. “Jeff” had previously worked for a very large, well known coffee company, and was currently a freelance coffee party planner. He didn’t have direct tea sales experience, but lots of transferrable skills. Now, our company also threw fabulous tea parties, but this was the job of the Tea Party Planning Team. The salespeople got to attend all the tea parties and would organize small tasting events for our top clients and a couple times a year, larger parties, but nothing like the ultra-fancy tea parties with tickets that started in the $500+ range. I was very clear about this in the interview, asking Jeff several times, “You understand that this is a sales role, right? It is not a party planning role,” to vigorous head-nodding and reassurances. Fast forward to a few months later, the night before the biggest tea party of the year, when we’re all hands on deck setting up the 1,000+ person ballroom, and Jeff is out of his mind with excitement.
    Me: “Jeff, this is what you really want to be doing, huh?”
    Jeff: “I thought this was what the job was going to be!”
    Me: (quietly flabbergasted)
    Jeff later admitted, publicly, in front of MY boss, that he didn’t even like tea and he only took the job to cultivate future clients for his coffee party planning business. He didn’t see why he had to be passionate about tea to be a good salesperson! (He was not a good salesperson). Jeff did not last long after that.

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