how much should I tell a team whose boss might be fired?

A reader writes:

Six months ago, I was promoted to lead a group of three managers who each lead around 20 people. “Howard,” one of the managers, had been hired two months before by my predecessor, but it was immediately obvious to me that his work was not up to par. I did my best to give Howard clear feedback about what he needed to improve, provided retraining, and was explicit that if he did not improve X by Y date, it would lead to first a performance improvement plan and ultimately termination. Unfortunately Howard did not improve so I fired him a month ago.

During this process, several of Howard’s direct reports came to me about their problems with his poor performance. I tried to acknowledge their concerns and assure them I was addressing the issues with Howard, but I didn’t think it was fair to tell anyone on his team that I had him on a PIP already.

After firing Howard, I had 1:1s with each of his direct reports, and three of them told me they had felt frustrated that I wasn’t taking any action to address Howard’s performance. I feel bad that I gave them this impression, but I don’t want to be the kind of boss who undermines my managers by telling their direct reports when they’re getting written up, put on a PIP, or fired. How do I reassure a team that I am addressing their boss’ poor performance while not spelling out the gory details?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 105 comments… read them below }

  1. Lab Rabbit*

    That short timeline is key, though. I don’t know how many letters I’ve read here where managers just let things fester for what seemed like forever. Problems don’t just magically disappear. As a manager, you have to manage.

    When you tell those frustrated workers that you’re working on it, and they see something happen in a fairly short time, they learn that they can trust you in the end, even if they don’t see progress being made in the short run.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      Problems don’t magically disappear, but good employees do if they don’t think the problems are being addressed fast enough (or at all).

      1. Crashley*

        We had to fire an employee a couple of years ago. The process at my company took 9 months. We had to repeatedly put them on a PIP, which they would improve their work until the PIP conditions were satisfied… then wait a few days and repeat what got them on the PIP in the first place. Our HR has very strict processes for terminating employees, so there was no way to push it through even when we escalated to the top of HR. The client finally got fed up with the slow speed and asked that this person be taken off the account.

        Even though I’d been saying for months that we were handling the issues with this employee, other employees later came to us explaining that they’d felt this person was just getting away with it. But our hands were well and truly tied by the HR process!

        1. Artemesia*

          Clearly the process needs to specify that after a successful PIP falling back into the same pattern will result in termination without a further PIP.

        2. MassMatt*

          Came here to say this. Some organizations have a ridiculously long and complicated process to get rid of someone who’s clearly underperforming and/or unsuited for the work.

          I had to put someone on a PIP and his performance, with near-constant work on my part, improved to… adequate. As soon as the PIP ended so did the improvement. And HR demanded… “ANOTHER shrubbery!”.

          This guy transferred onto my team and the prior manager said he “might take some coaching” but I only found out later he’d been on PIP’s repeatedly for the same thing. I’m still salty about that years later. Thank you very little, Luke!

  2. frenchblue*

    I really like these scripts. Back at my first post-college job, my department had an awful manager that drove out almost 1/3 of the staff. Most of them left because they felt higher-ups were ignoring the problem, no matter how many employees complained. The manager ended up being fired, but so much damage had already been done. I think hearing “We agree this is an issue and we’re looking at different approaches” would have helped tremendously. And, as Alison mentioned, it can’t drag on for months and months.

    1. Not A Girl Boss*

      Honestly, it could be my industry moves at glacial speed, but even 2 months seems reasonable to me. I’ve been through a surprising number of manager-getting-fired incidents, and what really bothered me was hearing promises that didn’t resolve (like specific timelines that are blown past). One that was handled well, there was no promise of resolve or timeline, I think it took 3 months, but the manager’s manager stepped in and took a more active roll in helping us and made us feel heard in the meantime.

    2. Kevin Sours*

      The biggest problem is the sense that nothing is being done and nothing will be done. Laying out a specific timeframe (and sticking to it) can be as or more important than the actual time the process takes. Though obviously there is a limit to how long people will give you.

      1. 1LFTW*

        Yeah, I once worked somewhere that did a great job with this. New-hire orientation included a very thorough section on the disciplinary process. We were told which violations were grounds for immediate termination, and which would result in coaching and a PIP. We were also told *exactly* how long a PIP was likely to last for various offenses (30-60 days, IIRC, but it’s been a minute).

        That meant that if Fergus kept misinforming customers of store policy, management would try to help him first — but if it didn’t take, Fergus would be gone. Either way, we knew that the problem would be resolved.

  3. Princess Charming*

    Three words: tactics, tactics, tactics.

    If nobody likes him and he’s going to hurt your standing, then I’d say something subtle like “things will be addressed” while making the hand across the neck motion. If he’s important to a project, then something like “this shall be taken under consultation” is good. If you just need them to be quiet, then start talking about makinf them feel heard.

    1. Great Frogs of Literature*

      Your “subtle” option is not remotely subtle, to my mind. I’d be really alarmed if I brought a complaint about a manager (even one I didn’t like) to their manager, and they responded like that! And it is exactly the sort of “undermining someone in front of their reports” that Alison’s warning about.

      I would categorize that as a statement so obvious it should wait until the person has been fired — and so tactless that it should not be used at all.

      1. StressedButOkay*

        Oh my goodness, yes! Making a chopping motion with your hand is not at all subtle and would be very jarring – and unprofessional. Using one of Alison’s scripts, or something along those lines, is far better!

    2. Fried pickles*

      The “hand across the neck” motion seems very inappropriate. If you’re that ready to fire the manager, just fire them. This strategy completely undermines the manager, especially in the unusual circumstance that they can respond to the coaching successfully.

      1. Elsewise*

        I love the idea of someone who works for the mob and reads AAM! I’m imagining a PIP that ends with “concrete shoes” or “sleeping with the fishes”.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          One of my favorite things about the Sopranos was how in some ways Tony was a beleaguered middle manager (albeit with a slightly different range of tools and consequences available to him).

          (Also, yes, do not make a slashing motion across your neck when discussing performance management! This is not a good idea.)

          1. Le Sigh*

            Honestly, crime just seems so stressful to me. Tony’s over here dealing with all the same stress and bs we deal with in legit jobs, but *also* the stress of knowing he and everyone around him could end up dead. And for what, a big house in New Jersey? (This is, of course, setting aside the obvious moral, ethical, and existential problems of being a mob boss.)

        2. Six for the truth over solace in lies*

          “Is it inappropriate for me to tell my colleague to leave the gun and take the cannoli? I’m afraid I might come off as insensitive if anyone involved has dietary restrictions.”

              1. Your Mate in Oz*

                People often confuse “sentient” as a word with “sapient”, somewhat giving the lie to our chosen self-descriptor (homo spaiens sapiens)

          1. Lizzie (with the deaf cat)*

            Starter villain has a line in it about a kitten that is worth the price of the book alone!

    3. Observer*

      something subtle like “things will be addressed” while making the hand across the neck motion.

      There is nothing *remotely* “subtle” about this. It *will* however, make you look bad.

      If you just need them to be quiet, then start talking about makinf them feel heard

      That’s a pretty gross attitude. It’s also the kind of attitude that pretty much makes for bad management. Also, if you want people to “be quiet” you need to *actually* listen to them and hear them. Babbling about “making them feel heard” is at best passive aggressive and at worst a signal for your good staff to strt looking for a better and more honest manager.

    4. Clipped Not Shorn*

      That’s a terrible idea and dreadful advice. Do NOT make hand gestures for cutting someone’s throat into workplace! If I’m your manager and you do tha, you’ll be the one on the PIP straight away.

      (Who the heck thinks that’s an acceptable thing to suggest, and what on Earth happened to them to make them think that? The mind boggles.)

    5. We're Six*

      “while making the hand across the neck motion”

      Um, what the heck???

      Sure, if you want to be a crazy person with no sense of professional behavior in the workplace. Or you work for the Mafia. But they also have more sense than to outright talk about whacking annoying colleagues.

    6. Also-ADHD*

      I would assume the person was unhinged if they made that motion etc as described and not feel at all comforted.

  4. Anon this time*

    This is likely similar to what is happening at my job right now. The powers that be met with the employees and said they’re working on improvements, but they can’t share any details because it’s a personnel issue. So employees have no idea when or if anything will improve.

    1. Toxic Workplace Survivor*

      I find, at least at the end of the road, it is important to emphasize that I can only share so much information and remind folks that, f it were them, I would similarly not be sharing their private information with co-workers. Not everyone will fully under how much management’s hands are truly tied but knowing that you will keep everybody’s details to yourself often helps with the context that you are being fair as possible under the circumstances.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        I think the key things are 1-ackowledging that it’s a problem for the workers, 2-telling the workers that you’re aware and on it, but that you can’t share details (as they would not want similar details about themselves shared), and 3-to let the workers know to keep you posted on how they see things working out. This way you know if 3 weeks down the road, you’ve spoken to Howard 3x about how he has to communicate changing deadlines, and then 2 of his reports tell you they got blindsided with not having something complete by a new deadline Howard didn’t communicate in time. You would then go into a meeting with Howard armed with specific examples of details to improve, or with details of how he promised to work on X and yet didn’t/couldn’t do it, therefore you have to let him go (dictated by timing, ideally not a long runway). But making sure that his reports know that you’re working on it, and they can come to you with issues because the more specifics you have for Howard to work on, the better.

      2. Kit*

        And by the time it gets to the 1:1s with those employees after he was fired, explain that PIPs are confidential for everyone’s sake, even when it is the manager on a PIP; things were happening in order to get the problem resolved, but those aren’t always going to be visible to other people, especially when the issue is ongoing poor performance that is not brought up to standard during the term of the PIP. You could even acknowledge that it was undoubtedly frustrating for them to be unable to see things happening behind the scenes… but saying something in those post-firing 1:1s would have been gracious and might help alleviate some of the ongoing concerns.

      3. Kevin Sours*

        I think, sometimes, companies get too cute about it. While the details of a PIP are rarely going to be anybody’s business the existence of PIP is a different matter. When there are clear issue that are affecting people’s work, it’s not like telling people that Joe is on a PIP is going really be news. The alternative isn’t “nobody knows about it” it’s people thinking that management is fine with Joe constantly dropping the ball.

        A simple “We understand it’s a problem, we’re working with Joe to correct it, we expect this process to take N amount of time” goes a long way.

  5. RC*

    *nods in “it’s been over two years, he’s still there, in the same job, and it is what made me realize I really need to leave”*

    1. soontoberetired*

      I know at my job, getting rid of a manager can take up to two years unless the bad performance is so horrendously bad it can’t be hid from anyone. And it is important to let grand bosses know if there’s an issue.

      A whole team of people were ready to quit one area here when the very bad boss did something so bad that it scared one of his reports to go get a VP and ask him to intervene (so bad the report believed someone might be physically hurt kind of bad). the VP immediately intervened, the very bad boss was told to go home and was fired shortly thereafter. the VP had no idea what the team was going through because no one came to him earlier. The team members thought he must know, but nope. the VP has tons of stuff to do on a day to day basis, so no, he didn’t notice.

      1. RC*

        Yep, that dude’s boss literally telling me “oh, well only one [of the 3 of you] is [certain class of more valued employee], so it’s fine if he pushes you/only them out” in probably the fourth of increasingly concerned discussions about his conduct, was what finally broke me.

        I’m only still here because there are other higher-ups on our side, I don’t want to make a lateral move into something equally crappy so I’m selective about which other places I apply, plus the job market is apparently horrible now as I’ve gotten 2 callbacks in 2 years even though I swear I’m following Allison’s advice :\

      2. AngryOctopus*

        We had that with an associate at an old job. She was pretty awful to some people, and HR had a talk with her. Then things improved a little, then she backslid, but nobody went back to HR for a while. When someone did, she was fired immediately, and HR told people “had we known she had done X and Y, she’d have been fired right then”. It’s not on the coworkers that the person is a nightmare, but you have to be sure to run it up the chain, because it’s unlikely HR (or whoever it needs to be) has the bandwith to pay attention all the time (esp if 4 weeks after the first incident when they followed up she was “better”. Then they just see “oh okay great she took the talk to heart and improved”, and they don’t know that 3 weeks after that she went back to being a hot mess).

        1. RC*

          I guess the site ate my response?

          At the time, I/(we) had at least 4 increasingly alarmed meetings with his boss. When said boss literally told me “well as long as only one of [the three of] you he’s pushing out is [particular more important type of employee, then that is fine” was when it broke me.

          Fortunately there are others who have had my(/our) back, but unfortunately the job market appears to be terrible so I’m still stuck here for now.

        2. Laser99*

          Yes. Don’t let the higher-ups ever scold you for “tattling”. That’s not what that is. You can always say blandly, “I was afraid if word got around it could damage our reputation.”

        1. soontoberetired*

          the guy was ex military and thought he was still in the army. H routinely made people cry by screaming in their faces for minor mistakes. He told all of them they were incompetent and easily replaceable. the incident when the VP got involved, he threatened the employee and took him away from the group. I heard his manor was physically threatening. The VP found them when the manager appeared to be getting ready to hit the employee in the midst of a heated exchange.

          he got away with a lot by doing it things in private spaces. I heard later he had a good rep in his previous position at the company, but I have a hard time believing that now. It was a different kind of role where he didn’t have that many direct reports .

          This also was where I learned my company will not tolerate managers who scream and yell at their reports on a regular basis. I’ve encouraged other people to go to HR or grand bosses about their abusive bosses and action has always been taken. Not always firing, but training, removing them to another position, etc.

          1. Your Mate in Oz*

            When I worked internal tech support in a big company one of the (few) good points was that everyone was as polite as they could be, even when their situation was terrible. For some of them that was clearly because they knew they’d be disciplined and that could include being fired. We were explicitly told to report *anyone* being rude and the call would be reviewed.

            I had one where the voice cut out a couple of times and when I asked why the reply was “I needed to swear” :) That person was having a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day – new laptop and a business trip, turned out to only work if it was on internal wifi. Eventually we managed to get it to hotspot to their phone once their phone was on the external VPN but it was not easy or fun for either of us. The followup involved me being interviewed by someone who reported directly to the CIO because aparently the person I helped was at a similar level (it’s Australia, we use first names “Sam from Business Development” might be the head of it or the intern)

  6. Not A Girl Boss*

    Queue my current situation: living with the aftermath of a failed coupe.

    We had been complaining to our manager’s manager for about a year now about how impossible it is to work for Manager. Grand-boss told us that ‘change was coming soon’ and then later told some of my colleagues that Manager was going to be removed the following week. Except… it didn’t happen. And in the meantime, the rumor took off like wildfire. Manager knows that we all know, and resents us for “coming after them” and its just a right mess of unimaginable tension thats dragged on for MONTHS.
    Plus, colleague was given a literal written warning for ‘spreading rumors’ even though others knew and could just as easily have spread the rumor. AND I found this out because grand-boss was talking about my colleague’s performance to me. So now I don’t trust grand-boss to maintain any kind of privacy about my own performance, making the dumpster fire burn even brighter in my eyes.

    1. Observer*

      Plus, colleague was given a literal written warning for ‘spreading rumors’ even though others knew and could just as easily have spread the rumor.

      Your GrandBoss is a bigger problem than your direct manager. Not only is this someone who can’t keep their mouth shut, they are also someone who does ridiculous things. Acting as though a firing is a done deal before it is *actually* a done deal is stupid. Giving someone a *written warning* for talking about the removal of a bad boss is not only disgusting (even *if* it were true that that coworker was the one who spread the news), but also illegal since this is almost certainly something that fall sunder the umbrella of “discussing conditions of employment”.

      But, also, you have a general management issue. You have a terrible manager and no one can get rid of them. That’s always a bad sign.

      I hope you are actively looking for a new job.

  7. Warrior Princess Xena*

    Personally I think if you’ve got a manager on a PIP it might be worthwhile reassigning some critical job duties or having a second person help out with some of the functions that affect employees the most. This depends on what they’re struggling with, and what duties they have. But it should be possible to get the employees the support they need while also getting the manager to perform to the needed standard.

    1. Siege*

      That undermines someone who could be capable of meeting the PIP, though. “Harold is so terrible at giving feedback, we’ve invited Lucinda to fill in on the annual reports. Lucinda doesn’t know any of you, and when Howard meets the goals of the PIP, we expect you all to behave like this never happened.” Obviously the example turned sillier as I was writing it, and I don’t want to go back and edit it, but I don’t see a way employee complaints aren’t about things employees are affected by. If my boss is a fabulous people manager but struggles to convey info to our board in a timely fashion, that doesn’t impact me (our board is not regulatory in nature – they cannot affect any staffer’s employment) so I wouldn’t complain about it. Hard to see a way someone could take over the problematic parts of the job successfully.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I don’t know, I think you can have a very straightforward, “Lucinda is helping out on these whilst Harold gets up to speed / is dealing with some other projects for me”. Someone else supporting on specific tasks should be normal business, not a sign that something is Seriously Wrong. If your manager feels undermined by that, you’ve got different problems, IMO.

        1. Stella*

          I don’t know… If my boss took away parts of my job with my asking for that, if be pretty embarrassed and upset.

          1. AngryOctopus*

            But in this case the boss would (should) be aware of why parts were being taken away from him (being on PIP), and would either be motivated to improve or will just be fired in X Time, thus probably transferring job duties onto an interim person anyway.

          2. Warrior Princess Xena*

            Less so than being on a PIP though?

            A company should have a responsibility to all of its employees, not just one. If the roles are things like “arrange the company photo”, that’s one thing. If it’s tasks like “get reviews done in a timely manner so that employees can get raises”, then it might be necessary to get a second person to step in and help so that employees can get their raises. If having those tasks pulled off during a PIP was a surprise for Harold, then clearly the PIP was not clear enough.

          3. bamcheeks*

            I think being performance-managed is inevitably embarrassing / humiliating— nobody *likes* being in a position where their work is clearly substandard. But failing to do a critical part of your job should be *more* embarrassing, and accepting you need support to get the critical work stuff done is how you grow.

    2. Spero*

      When I’ve had someone on a PIP, I as their manager took over some core tasks but it was the ones that would not be obvious externally. Ex everyone knows x report is done monthly by Harold even though it’s not signed or anything, x report was still dropped in the appropriate folder this month but it was completed me rather than Harold because Harold’s PIP requires him to catch up on/complete Y task.
      It’s also good practice because if Harold’s PIP is not successful and he leaves, I have to pick up doing X report anyway. So doing it while Harold is still here and can answer quick ‘hey did x report data get moved to a new folder’ questions is better than he’s gone and I have no idea what he did with x data.

  8. Adultier adult*

    I had a similar situation this year & I found telling my people “We are aware & I promise it is being addressed behind the scenes.” Everyone understood “behind the scenes” meaning personnel & we can’t give detail— people were content & end of fiscal year, there was no surprise when the person was gone

  9. JO*

    personally, if i was told steps were being taken to address performance issues with my manager and then the manager was let go i would think “ok, i guess that’s what was happening” and not “boy, i’m really bothered you didn’t do anything about this.”

    1. NYWeasel*

      Agreed, but I think in this case the LW hadn’t said anything during the PIP window, and afterwards the team was telling him that they had felt frustrated thinking nothing was going on *until* he got let go. So the LW is asking for a different way he could’ve approached it to help the team feel less frustrated. The timing isn’t super clear though from they way it’s written.

  10. MollyGodiva*

    I disagree. While the OP was coaching and PIPing, the workers were still subject to the bad manager and suffering. By not doing nothing openly until the guy got fired, the OP was putting the comfort and needs of the bad supervisor over the needs of the workers. The OP should have overruled bad decisions or otherwise stepped in during the interim.

    1. AngryOctopus*

      There was definitely room for OP to have been asking the direct reports for feedback, and using that feedback to direct the PIP and coaching. But the key would have been getting the feedback and saying to the employees “I hear that X and Y is an issue for you. I’m working with Howard on that, and I do want you to keep me posted on how it’s working for you in the next [time] as he makes changes”. That also would have had the advantage of the reports feeling confident about telling OP “Howard did X and Y again on project A, and you should talk to other report about Project C because I think they had issues too” and knowing that OP would address it with Howard as an ongoing issue. I don’t know how long of a lead time they would require for changes, etc., but it also could have helped to say “We have [timeframe] for seeing changes” so they know what the deal is (like, they are still frustrated after 6 weeks but company policy gives 10 weeks for a full PIP before anything can happen).

  11. GiantPanda*

    I believe you can tell Howard’s direct reports NOW that you were working on this, that things were happening behind the scenes, but ongoing write-ups and PIPs are of course private.

    Five months for talks with Howard + PIP + firing is a bit on the long side, but in my opinion not excessive.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      I agree five months is on the long side, but I think the LW was also hindered by being new to the position. It’s hard to see who isn’t performing well when you’re still learning the nuances of the role and the department.

  12. CubeFarmer*

    Were these very young employees? If so, that’s the only reason I can think of that a six-month timeline to resolve this issue would seem too long. LW was absolutely correct in not sharing details of the PIP or anything else regarding the manager, but perhaps more frequent check-ins with the employees (reiterating, “I want you to know that I am aware of and working on issues.”) would have helped with morale.

    We had a bad manager in my small organization who was not terminated during his initial six-month probation period, even though it was clear to his reports that he wasn’t working out AND they were very clear to our grand-boss that he was struggling (they actually theorized that he had another job and disappeared for long stretches because he was doing that.)

    The situation was handled so poorly that it sucked morale, and had reverberations among several staff members. Despite multiple promises from grand-boss that the situation “was being addressed” it took almost FIVE years to reach a resolution and the resolution was that this manager was allowed to “retire” (although without the usual fanfare that a retirement gets in our organization.)

    A colleague wondered if perhaps this guy threatened an age-discrimination lawsuit if he was dismissed (he was over 40) and the organization was proceeding veeeeery carefully. I think it was a combination of extreme reluctance on grand-b0ss’s part to actually, you know, manage, combined with denial that there was actually a problem, combined with the possibility of an age-discrimination lawsuit. Grand-boss knew in hindsight she messed up by not dealing with this guy during his probation period.

    The long-term resolution was that a highly qualified colleague who was passed over for the job five years prior (who should have just been given the role, but apparently he didn’t “interview well” and was passed over,) was finally given the role and things have settled down.

    1. not nice, don't care*

      Six months is too long. Your 5-year experience just your experience, and you must have a lot of tolerance for badmin.

    2. Observer*

      I disagree. Six months may or may not be “excessive.” But the comparison to your situation is meaningless because it’s clear that your manager was not managing. That’s just not acceptable. And the results of that failure to manage don’t create a reasonable benchmark against which to judge a process.

    3. Rooby*

      Whether or not six months is too long (I think it is), it’s six months of no communication on the issue that’s the problem. Six months of being told “Believe me, this is being handled” feels very different.

      1. Paint N Drip*

        Agreed! And 6 months is a loooong time for morale issues to develop and grow unfettered by grand-boss assurance

  13. Trout 'Waver*

    I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve been told “It’s being handled behind the scenes” when senior leadership was just trying to string people along.

    1. Industry Behemoth*

      Or, “We’ll get back to you.“

      I was trying to give up Boss 2, not because they were bad but because their workload was incompatible with Boss 1.
      I knew management hoped if they did nothing long enough, that I’d drop the idea of reassigning Boss 2.

    2. Laser99*

      I’ve had the same experience. It’s not as if you can address the person in question, “Hey, did Fergusina talk to you about the suspected time card fraud?”

  14. No Longer Working*

    Alison, would it have been OK to tell his direct reports, after his firing (when these 1:1s happened), that he was on a PIP? “I couldn’t tell you at the time, but he was put on a PIP and didn’t show improvement so he was let go.”

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      That probably depends on where you are. It might be legal in some places, while in others (are you there California?) it might be considered privileged information.

      I usually think it’s best to avoid going into details over why a former employee was fired, regardless of the level they were at. “They were having performance problems” usually covers it. You want to avoid getting into detail so as to avoid any problems down the road with somebody you might want to fire immediately. (“Bob got a PIP! Why don’t I?”) You also don’t know who is friends with this person outside of work and you want to avoid any possible impression that you were bad-mouthing them after the fact.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        Are you basing that on anything? While companies generally hold disciplinary matters in confidence as a matter of policy I am unaware of any legal or formal ethical requirements to do so outside of some highly regulated professions or union contracts.

        I agree that going into details beyond “performance problems” is inappropriate but I think letting people know about the PIP, at least in vague terms (“Bob had performace problems and we tried to address that with him out but ultimately it didn’t work out”), can be useful. It both explains the delay in addressing things and provides some reassurance that people don’t just get fired out of the blue.

        I think ultimately if you have a case where you need to just fire somebody the issue should be seriously enough that you can justify it.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          Hence the words “probably” and “might” because I have never researched this. It’s a line I’ve never been tempted to cross because of the potential ramifications down the line. Like you said, I think “performance problems” is enough. The other employees know that, but they know you know it and are working on it.

  15. Arglebargle*

    Sometimes these things can take a really long time. I work in healthcare and had a manager at a previous job who was not great–messed up schedules, appeared to be playing favorites, would disappear for long stretches during the workday when we needed help, etc etc. Lots of complaints were made but for close to a year nothing was done except “We hear you and we are working on it.” Turned out that upper management was basically working with law enforcement on a sting operation centered on this management involving theft (from our staff) and diversion of narcotics, which took a while to arrange and get proper warrants and documentation for. When it all finally went down we were all like “AHA that explains A LOT!”

  16. lebkin*

    My immediate question: what was the LW doing to make the work life of the direct reports better? Everything in the letter is focused on trying to get the manager to improve, but I don’t see any action taken to directly help the reports.

    What actions that are available are dependent on how the manager is failing. Is he bad at running meetings? Sit in on those meetings to observe, stepping in where necessary to correct the behavior. Poor job communicating emails? Make him CC you and step in where needed. My thought would be to let him make first passes, but don’t let his mistakes trickle down badly. That kind of action would have let him try and improve while still being fair to those below him.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      That was my thought too, but you’ve phrased it so much better than me. Are the employees frustrated just because they don’t see things happening? Or are they frustrated because they are still having to deal with the consequences of someone else’s issues with no good recourse to fix it? If you’ve got a coworker having issues you have the recourse to go to your boss and say “hey, Sandra was super delayed on the wool report, so it’s going to be an extra day or so until I can get you the fabrics summary”. Having a line of communication to a grand boss to say “Howard isn’t getting back to me about the Rotor client and I need a sign off on this by tomorrow – how would you like me to proceed” can potentially make a huge difference.

    2. Good Enough For Government Work*

      This is a GREAT comment and I couldn’t agree more. Not only will this improve morale by lessening the effect on Bad Manager’s direct reports, letting them see you actively taking steps to mitigate his inadequacy will be as good as (often better than) simply TELLING them you’re working on it. Deeds not words, and all that.

  17. Rooby*

    It’s so frustrating when people decide there’s no middle ground between “divulging private information” and “communicating nothing”. As in the example, you can just say, “We’re taking this seriously and it’s being dealt with.” Of course reports are frustrated even after the manager was let go – OP was being weird about it instead of reassuring them that anything was happening!

    Like if you know your friend had to bail on a commitment because of something really personal, and everyone’s going, “Why isn’t Susan here?” Your choices aren’t telling her secret vs weirdly saying nothing, just say, “She’s dealing with something personal that came up” or something. You can be normal!

  18. Ladida*

    Was anyone able to get scroll past the obnoxious ad and actually read the response? I tried three times before giving up. (I know that’s out of AAM’s control though!)

    1. Lab Rabbit*

      The comment box that you wrote this comment in literally has a link right above it where you can report these issues. This is probably more efficient than leaving a commentplaint here.

    2. Bunch Harmon*

      I had the same issue with the ad on Inc. I was using Safari, but was able to copy and paste the link into Duck Duck Go, where it worked fine.

    3. WindWood*

      Nope, the Inc site is basically unusable these days. Even with my adblocker on maximum it is a nightmare. I’ve given up trying, it’s just not worth the hassle.

        1. How lovely for you*

          Lucky you? In Safari for me it just crashes repeatedly any time I try to dismiss the giant autoplaying ad that covers 90% of the content.

          1. Rain*

            This isn’t a particularly kind or helpful comment. I understand that you’re frustrated but no one here is responsible for the issue

  19. Jellyfish Catcher*

    For some reason, the phrase “three managers who each lead around 20 people” made me
    imagine 3 managers each leading a conga line around the office:
    “put your left foot out and turn about, hold your coffee cup up and do a little jump…”

    Some days, you gotta take laughs where you find them……

  20. DoSomethingVisible*

    I left a job at one of the few companies I’ve worked at with something approaching real job security because a new product manager was making everyone’s life miserable. He was not my boss from a reporting standpoint but unfortunately he had a lot of control over my work and tasking. They lost something like 1/3 of their technical staff in 3 months at the point I left because people couldn’t take it anymore and he seemed to be a golden child they wouldn’t touch. Two months later he was fired “out of the blue” – had there been any inkling that some sort of process was in play I and many others would have stayed. Instead they lost a significant portion of their institutional knowledge. Those of us who discovered the firing were mad that they’d kept it so close to the vest because he was the main impetus for the mass exodus. On the other hand, it’s possible the mass exodus drove his firing – but it was 5+ months of mass exodus at that point with things getting worse and worse because we had more and more work and many of our friends/close colleagues were gone.

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