employee keeps trash-talking her own work — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I’m working a large project with Hank, another manager who is my peer. We have divided our workload, and I am primarily supervising three of our staff, while Hank is supervising the remaining two.

I have a friendly relationship with Samantha, one of the staff members who Hank supervises. She regularly complains that she is not well-trained, has no idea what she is doing, is frustrated at work, etc. Our job is highly specialized and technical, and because of its nature, it’s hard to do any formal training other than on-the-job training. Samantha doesn’t think she is good at her job, but for her level, she’s actually doing quite well. She has worked with several managers and we have all given her the same feedback in various ways. I don’t really know what else we can do to encourage her. It is true that learning this job can be challenging because it is so hard to train for all the various issues that can arise once and never reappear for many years, but she does well.

However, we all work in one large room. Very often, while Hank is giving Samantha instructions, she emails me and texts me while he is talking to her, saying things like, “I don’t know what he’s talking about” … or “I don’t know what I’m doing” … or “He might as well do this himself because I have no idea what he wants.” When this is happening, Hank is speaking in a normal and reasonable tone … and I’m not sure why she doesn’t ask him for clarification if she is so confused. I don’t think Hank is being particularly cryptic or is a bad communicator or anything like that.

What it comes down to is that Samantha suffers from imposter syndrome. Several people have tried to talk to her and encourage her. But it’s at a point where she needs to accept that this is a job that has a huge learning curve, and decide if she is up to it or not. Complaining to everyone all the time is not going to help. Besides, I think it’s very rude and unprofessional to be emailing and texting someone else while your manager is speaking to you. What should I do in this situation?

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.

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