I run a software development company and have an issue with an employee. I will try to explain my situation as much as possible.

OK so I have now been a boss for a couple of years, but this has stepped up recently with my team growing now to about 5 employees.

I have one employee who has been with us for about 7 months full time. He is a IT programmer and is in charge of that area. I met him through a friend so he did not go through my usually tough interview process - he just kind of fell in to the role.

He is very skilled at what he does - that is when he tries. Sometimes he amazes me with the solutions he provides and ideas he comes up with, however where he lacks is in the other area. Mainly his attitude.

I never had noticed any issues until in the past few months. Some days he is very grumpy at work, and has problems with being told what to do. I have been spoken to inappropriately at times which I took offence to and explained that it is not allowed. I feel he never likes to be wrong and when I tell him he is wrong I can see how frustrated and angry he gets. I feel like I need to be so careful when asking for something to be done, or reminding him about something, because if I say it in the wrong way he takes offence which I know results in bad work.  When I do correct him I do it in the nicest way possible, and also use the technique of praising him at the same time which is something I read about.

Recently I had to have a serious chat to him after he went off at me for reminding him to do something he forgot to do. I laid everything out on the table and told him what needs to change. I told him everything I did not like about him. I could see he didn't like this but I told him anyway. I also praised him about his good qualities to try and show that he does do some things right.

Since then I can see he is trying at work to correct his mistakes, but recently I have noticed at times he is not motivated. I do my best to motivate him and get the most out of him, but managing this one employee is harder then managing the rest of my team all put together.

Recently I have found out that when I am out of the office, he has a tendency to do things he should not be doing. I know that sometimes when I am out of the office he does no work at all.

I guess this is what I am worried about. I am generally worried about how to manage him effectively and get the most out of him but finding out he only works well when I am in the office really makes me worried. I feel like if I told him that I knew he doing things he wasnt meant to at work he would get quite upset about it. I try to be the best boss in the world, I am very relaxed at work and allow my employees to be flexible, take the odd personal phone call etc because I feel this shows I trust them and makes for a better environment.

Can anyone offer advice? Does this sound like a problem employee? What should I be doing about him switching off while I am not in the office and can anyone offer advice about how to manage him better?

Thanks for your time. 



maura's picture
Training Badge

I'm very new to managing as well, so you should probably take this with a grain of salt.  But it sounds like this guy is walking all over you.  He has learned that you dislike being the bad guy, so he's going to make it as painful as possible for you when you have to deliver bad news, in the hopes that you refrain from delivering it at all.  It's good to give positive feedback when you see the good things happening, but in this case, delivering it ALONGSIDE the correcting feedback might be creating a mixed message.  This guy hears what he wants to hear and throws a tantrum over the rest. 

You are the boss.  He is not delivering.  The message needs to be clear: It doesn't matter if he throws a tantrum, he still has to deliver what he's being paid to do, whether you are physically in the office or not.  You shouldn't have to babysit him or remind him of his commitments - AND his reaction to your reminders was inappropriate.  So there are two sets of behaviors that he needs to work on.  There are some times when you get to be The Boss - this might be one of them. 

I'm curious to see what the more experienced folks have to say on this!


PS, be a tough interviewer ESPECIALLY when it's a friend of a friend.  Staffing is important, as you are now realizing.


acao162's picture

Squishing negative feedback in between positive just doesn't work.  It makes YOU feel better but doesn't help the employee.

First thing - focus on behaviour, not attitude, motivation or otherwise.

Example:  you mention that he is grumpy at work and speaks inappropriately to you.  The behaviour is the inappropriate response.  His "grumpiness" is not your problem.  Give feedback on the inappropriate response.

You mention he lacks motivation and that he does no work when you are out of the office.  The behaviour is "no work", not a lack of respect or motivation.  Again, give feedback about the lack of work.

Sounds like you tried to have a "shot across the bow" conversation by telling him everything.  It probably wasn't as effective as it could have been because you also gave positive feedback.  What's done is done.

Are you doing O3s?  If not, start.  I have a problem employee & while O3s are not a magic bullet, they have dramatically improved some areas of our work.  It's a good place to talk about the future, which is what you want to improve. 

Good luck.


cruss's picture
Licensee Badge

If you  haven't already done so, please go listen to the Basics Series of casts.

Start implementing this, beginning with 03s, with your entire team. Follow the the guidance on rolling out the trinity and the time lines involved.

This won't immediately fix your problems with this employee, but neither will anything else. It's going to take time and you can't neglect the rest of your team in the meantime. This problem has been around for months and you will survive it for a while longer while you get the tools you need in place.

Start building relationships with all of your directs, this person included, and see what happens. Spend time on positive feedback before you get to giving any negative feedback. Develop your entire team with coaching and delegation, this one person shouldn't be handled separately. 

It sounds like this person isn't one of your top performers, but you feel like they could be. Well if they aren't, then they aren't. The more time you spend on "fixing" this one person, the less time you are spending with your actual top performers. Focus your attention on them and your return will be much greater.

Good luck and please report back with updates. One of the best parts of the forums is seeing the progress people make on issues they have posted about.

Canyon R

mr_manager's picture

Thank you all for your responses.  It's great to hear the different angles and I will take them all into account. I will take your advice and will keep you updated on the progress. I will also check out the pod casts.

NickA's picture

Wow, the guy you describe reminds me of me, 10 years ago.  I used to be a jerk.  I still have my moments now, but I'm a lot better, and I work hard at being easy to manage these days.

I listened to the "Managing an arrogant producer" podcast today, and recommend it.

My experience with IT people is that a lot of them are more anxious than the average person; there does seem to be a correlation between social anxiety and a desire to spend massive numbers of hours every day staring at a computer.  (I say this as a programmer.)

If you think it's worth your while, you might like to consider educating yourself about systematic desensitization, which is a psychological approach to the treatment of anxiety.  Basically, you scare someone just a tiny bit, then you help them feel safe again, and over time the fear response is diminished.  Over time, you can push them a bit harder and they don't get as scared.

Being extremely careful about how you express yourself can actually make the problem worse - a hypervigilant person notices a change in your behaviour and starts thinking that you're preparing for trouble, so they prepare for trouble, which makes them react more strongly to the slightest change, so you decide to be more careful.....

Unfortunately, I needed to be fired more than once (by different organisations) before I learned my lesson.  I strongly recommend that you don't allow this person to control you or your organisation.  If possible, be relaxed and natural with them, show a willingness to forgive flaws that don't matter (you need to show that you noticed the imperfection and that you still support them as a person, acting like you don't notice is not the same).  At the end of the day, though it pains me to say it, you have a responsibility to your organisation to put the organisation first, and you have a responsibility to yourself not to drive yourself crazy trying to help someone who might not be able to accept your help.

Singers's picture

I really dont like the expression "I told him everything I did not like about him", Get working on feedback and give these things when they come up, gathering stuff and giving it all at the same time is not an effective way to go.

If you havent already listened to the feedback model get started ;)

Kind Regards

Mads Sorensen

Disc 4536

mgoblue0970's picture

I don't have anything unique to say, which hasn't already been mentioned (O3s), other than make sure you are documenting all of this on the side as well.  Nobody likes to fire anyone.  But if it does come to that, and sometimes it does as all your coaching, mentoring, counseling, etc., could be rejected by this employee, you have to make sure you have solid proof regarding this employee's conduct.  HR will insist on it too as the ramifications of employee legal actions can be damaging to an organization in more ways than one.