Verbal Warning

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From the Ask Tom mailbag:


I am a new manager in this company, but I have 6 years experience in my field, so, technically, I am qualified and have the drive to be good at anything I do. I have 2 employees that work directly under me and consistent problems with one. I feel like she resents me, she believes she was overlooked for my position several times because she is a female. I sympathized at first, but after 4 months, it is very clear that her attitude and lack of drive to go the extra distance has been her problem. After one month in my new position without making any significant changes, I sat down with each of them and created in writing what I expect from them. They both signed, agreeing the terms were fair.

Yet, even after our talk, she has been resistant to anything I have asked her to do and continues to argue with me about the way we do things.

I verbally warned her that this behavior is unacceptable, but I feel I need to write her up so it is on record that she has been warned. She wants more money (not the opportunity to make more, but to be GIVEN more) but I am ready to get rid of her. I am a very tolerant guy, but I feel that her resentment is causing her not be able to change her attitude. I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, but I am exhausted. I want to praise her for doing a great job, but I can hardly get her to just do what I expect, much less exceed expectations…I NEED HELP!!!


I will hold my response until Monday. I am curious what my readers think. Has anyone ever had this person work for you? What were the symptoms? How did you handle it?

8 thoughts on “Verbal Warning

  1. Joshua Herzig-Marx

    It would be great to have the employee write in, too. I get her story is different. Being able to deeply empathize with your team is critical (even if you’re disciplining). I’m a little suspicious that the original correspondent was only able to communicate his perspective, not hers.

    That said, my manager “hack” is to shift responsibility for the “how” to my team. I have no idea how to handle this particular employee but I bet *she* knows exactly what she needs to be successful.

  2. Kevin Thibeault

    I have over 8 years management time in the military but have only been in a management position in my civilian job for about 6 months now. I’m learning that the two different work forces have different management styles.
    I’m looking to hear the replies to this topic so I can better myself.

  3. Kristine Kisman

    Is there any merit to what she is requesting? There are two points where I think more context is needed.

    First, you say she “wants more money” and that such a request is inappropriate – but how is she paid when compared to similar positions, both within your company and in the wider industry? If she is chronically underpaid for comparable work done by others then maybe her requesting a raise is reasonable. Or perhaps you and she should sit down and come up with a number of goals and a reasonable timeline that, if she meets them, will result in the raise she is requesting.

    Second, you say that she continues to “argue with me about the way we do things” – is there any merit to the way she is suggesting things be done? Are her suggestions being considered and rejected, while giving her a thorough explanation of why they were rejected, or are her ideas being turned down out of hand because she is the one making them? If the latter (or even if she perceives this as the latter), that could be a root cause of some resentment.

  4. Dan Kaiserian

    My inclination is to believe that there is an underlying issue that has not been surfaced. While it is entirely possible that sour grapes and poor attitude have led to this behavior, people generally come to work and do their best. She may not feel like she is being heard. There may be good ideas that she has presented that have been relegated because of other behaviors that she exhibited, despite their merit. My advice to the OP would be to sit down and ask questions rather than lay out expectations. What is causing the resistance? I work with people who agree to many things in the meeting, but when the time has passed that they need to process what happened or what was agreed to, they have more questions or a different opinion. Often this is not brought back to the group, but instead communicated to colleagues and peers in pairing-type behaviors. Did the employee have some reservations about what she committed to? Does she have more questions? Simply sitting her down and talking *at* her won’t fix any of those things. Ask her a deep and diagnostic question…”what’s going on? How are things going?” Or even more to the point, “It feels like we are at odds, and I want to work together in a positive context. How do you feel? What support do you need from me?” etc.

    I know this is a bit of a meandering response, but there are questions to be asked. Only once those questions are answered can progress be made.

  5. Becky Halvorsen

    There are several warning signs I see here, but they are not around her. I’m assuming he is male since he is thinks that the employee thinks she wasn’t promoted because she is female.

    Has he had a conversation with her about what the issue is? It sounds like he is busy assuming and not asking. It also sounds like he is doing a lot of telling and not asking. She has experience in the company, he doesn’t, is he asking for her thoughts and opinions? He told her what his expectations are, of course she signed them, she would lose her job if she didn’t. He is asking her to do things and she is voicing her opinion about them, and he is seeing that as arguing. Maybe she has valid arguments. A good leader listens to other ideas and solutions.

    He needs to stop and have an honest discussion with her about what she is feeling and how he can better utilize her expertise in the department. When new projects arise, he needs to include his team members in a discussion as to how to make the project successful, and engagement them in the solution.

    One final thought, he believes she was upset she wasn’t promoted. First, ask her. If the answer is yes, then give her projects to head up, provide any training needed, and help other managers see her value. Help her on her path to success.

  6. Tom Gelin

    Thanks for the great question! I think we’ve all had that person before. If I pretended to be Tom Foster for a few moments, I’d look at the organization, expectations, etc. Sounds like the manager did a fine job of laying out expectations, but maybe there’s an issue with WANT IT. For an EE to be in the right place, they have to have skills, understand the role, capable of performing the role, and WANT TO DO IT. This person does not. The discussion around attitude, resentment, etc is an unfortunate red herring around the real issue. This person seems to not want the job. “I’d be happy if I had this or I’d be happy if I had that”. That’s not the job. The job is the one that she has, and it doesn’t seem like she wants it. No amount of patience solves that problem. Is it time to let her go? Maybe. But it’s time for a ‘Want it” discussion. If she doesn’t want the job, she should go. If she wants the job, she needs to get it done and in the way the organization needs her to do it.

  7. Jeff

    Of course! We have all dealt with similar circumstances. We subscribe to the mantra ‘you can’t put in what God left out’. People don’t change that much. What’s happening has little to do with her ability and more to do with her attitude. I would have a very frank conversation about how you feel and if she doesn’t respond, I’d replace her.

  8. Henry Camp

    I would lean in with her to discover how she feels. “Tell me what’s going on.” Then, listen. You’d be greatly assisted if your company has an agreed upon set of core values that create expectations for the behavior of employees. Of course, nobody can say that any one group of such values is “right” but you can tell them, “This is how we roll.” For example, our third core value is “Have a Growth Mindset,” from Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. Your employee would likely be in violation.

    Now, the big question is why. This is what you stand to learn, whether you keep her or not. You have some say as to the context she works in. Is it conducive to a positive attitude? You can’t motivate her. She has to do that but you can change the context so she has a better chance of being a person you want on your team.


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