Recently, my line manager was asked to resign from her post and take up duties in my team. This was effectively a demotion.

I am the team lead, which has left me in a tricky position. My now-ex-manager is not following the staff rota (shift schedule). I’ve noticed for a couple of days now, she’s not turning up for her shifts and is doing other work behind the scenes and getting other colleagues (who were on rota to be behind the scenes) to go out and work with the team.

I had discussed her hours with her before adding her into the rota. Arguably the work is mostly still getting done, but she’s creating a situation where some things could slip through the net and certainly where the staff who are under the most pressure are not getting the time away for background work that they need to renew their energies.

A couple of weeks ago, this was my manager. There’s been an unpleasant background to her being pushed into resigning her management job, so I feel bad for her. However she was not a good manager, and I’m concerned that my organised system is now going to be affected by her "interference."

How can I effectively manage this person without hurting them more and not making myself ineffective?

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    What would you do if someone else from your team would do this? – Roland May 16 at 10:22
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    How can the management did not expected this kind of behavior? Is there any follow-up 1 on 1 from the manager's manager with you (team lead) and a second follow up 1 on 1 from manager's manager with your ex-manager to check that everything works well? You are in a very bad spot because she may influence the team by her previous rank and this may split the team from hey leadership and your.. – Sebastien DErrico May 16 at 11:58

10 Answers 10

It sounds as if your ex-manager is smarting from her demotion and acting out as a result. That brings to mind a saying I read once that seems to apply here:

Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping someone else dies

I think you need to have a private chat with her where you gently point out that while you feel bad for her, her current actions are unacceptable. Something like:

I know you feel the company treated you badly with the demotion and how everything was handled and I don't disagree. However your actions since joining the team aren't the right way to go about this. You aren't causing problems for the people that demoted you, you're causing them for me and ultimately yourself as well. Therefore, as much sympathy as I have for your situation I still need you to do the job you're being asked to do and if you can't do that I need you to let me know.

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    Yes, but express more confidence in her ability (if you genuinely have any), enlist her help in contributing to the team, ask her how you can actually help her (maybe she wants to leave on good terms). If she's still not happy with the situation then it's probably in her interest to leave. Don't be the fall-person for outmanaging someone else's responsibility. (What do senior mgmt want to do with her eventually?) – smci May 17 at 8:01
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    I personally would not comment at all on the circumstances of the demotion. Whether it was fair or justified is a) hard to judge for you, and b) not relevant at this point. You can empathize by saying something like "I realize it is difficult for you", but leave it at that - don't criticize the actions your company took, that will only cause more trouble. – sleske May 17 at 8:46
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    Agree with the comments above. The advise is spot-on, but the quote at the end is probably going into the details too much. Just acknowledge the situation is awkward and probably difficult to get used to, ask what you can do to help, and emphasize that when she's on the rota for X, she's doing X, not doing Y and having someone else do X. – T.J. Crowder May 17 at 9:25
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    To say "I realize it is difficult for you" seems to me the equivalent of mentioning the demotion ambiguously, which is worse than mentioning it explicitly. I'd rather change "I know you feel the company treated you badly" to a question "I don't know whether … ?" – Chris F Carroll May 17 at 21:11
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    downvoted for reason given by @sleske. Telling a subordinate that you agree (don't disagree) that the company treated them badly is not a good statement to make willy-nilly. – Dean MacGregor May 18 at 6:08

If this person is now one of your subordinates, you should treat them like any other, regardless of their previous position. If one of your team members was not following the instructions given to them, would they be reprimanded? fired?

File all of the correct paperwork, talk to them as required by your company policy, and report the behavior to the appropriate higher-ups.

If they are causing problems and putting other people at risk, even more reason to let them go.

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    If a team member was not following instructions, a competent manager would try to work with them to resolve the situation, rather than jumping straight to reprimanding/firing them. – Sneftel May 17 at 10:43
  • I agree with you, but my point was that they should be treated like any other member of the OP's team and not given special privileges just because they used to be the OP's supervisor. Obviously, they need to sit down and make sure the Ex-manager has a clear understanding of their responsibilities. – curt1893 May 17 at 12:38
  • The OP has a duty to make it clear that all in the group need to carry their weight and accept their responsibilities. Failing to do so would be not leading the group. This can go on for a short period of time, but longer would potentially be unhealthy for the team. – mongo May 17 at 14:39
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    @Sneftel It depends on the severity and obviousness of the problem. Maybe in this case there's no risk of actual physical danger, but what about a situation where people could be injured as a result of the person's misbehavior? In some situations, a formal reprimand is appropriate to 1. communicate just how serious the problem is, and 2. cover your own butt as manager in case some joker actually gets injured or gets someone else injured before you can fully stop them. – jpmc26 May 17 at 22:28
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    @jpmc26 Yes, and if they were astronauts, it could be even worse. I was addressing the OP's situation. – Sneftel May 18 at 6:14

To contribute to pre-existing answers, and as a semi-answer here, a technique I've seen other managers employ is to advise other staff members not to listen to or follow the erratic member.

This isn't exclusively her own effort. Your other team members are ignoring your specified requests (orders?) and following hers, so it's worth gently reminding them that ultimately, they're supposed to be following what you've asked them to do.

This should be done in private, as a 1-to-1 with each team member, to avoid any office politics. This also allows the team members to raise their own concerns (which may or may not involve X - be sure to document any concerns).

You should ask them politely to raise up with you if X person tells them to do something you haven't authorised or asked for (also make sure to let them know you won't be delegating the passing of orders, in-case X tries the classic 'Y told me to let you know that...'), and to carry on with what they've been originally tasked to do.

Be sure to let them know not to take the matter regarding X's behaviour into their own hands, just to raise it with you and carry on as normal, as you will be resolving the issue and are aware of it.

What should happen is the staff members begin to ignore X's orders, and thus your only issue is with X themselves.

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    Additionally, as a side comment, it may even be the team members aren't even aware of the position change and are under the assumption (for whatever reason) that said person still holds their original position, so raising this up as a 1-to-1 might help to inform them of the new status. Whatever you do, don't globally circulate it or do it as a general talk because it's effectively saying 'X got demoted' and is basically humiliating to the person. – SSight3 May 17 at 14:45
  • This is a good point, not so much for dealing with the ex-manager but for taking care of rest of your team at the same time, which may be even more important. – Chris F Carroll May 17 at 21:16

I've been in this situation before, but fortunately my my manager's manager had made it quite clear he was being demoted under me as a punishment for him with the expectation that he'd quit (I didn't stay long after this, it's a good sign the company needs different management). Find out what your current manager expects and do it (within reason). If it's an attempt to make your old manager quit it's time to start looking for a new job.

Do you know why she was demoted and not fired? You should find out.

If she was demoted as an intermediate step to being fired, then your manager will expect you to treat her like the rest of the peasants.

If she was demoted because she was accidentally promoted past her level of competence, but she was good at the line stuff, then your manager kept her on out of kindness, and will expect you to treat her with kindness, too.

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    use of peasants has made me feel like a pawn – L_Church May 16 at 14:08
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    @L_Church you'd think it would make you feel like a peasant... :) – Onyz May 16 at 16:20
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    it really doesn't matter why she was demoted and its none of OPs business. If it was, OP would already know why and thus wouldn't have to ask.\ – SaggingRufus May 16 at 17:59
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    [The peasants] are my people! I am their sovereign! I LOVE them. – Don Branson May 16 at 20:22
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    @SaggingRufus That's quite an assumption to make. The fact is, the asker's former manager is now his responsibility and right now his problem, so he has every right to know the details around the circumstances that lead to this odd working arrangement in order to help solve this problem. That he has not been informed of these details may not be because he should not know them, but simply because his company/higher-ups are bad communicators. – Ian Kemp May 17 at 7:23

It's worth taking stock for a moment and asking yourself why they were promoted in the first place. Presumably this implies they have an ability which is of value to the team if it can be accessed.

It's also worth considering what the actual role and expectations of the role are. Is it a generic and very easy to replace role, or are there specialist skills and abilities associated. Ie. is this person easily dispensable and replaceable?

That should lead to you one of two thoughts: 1) This person is valuable to my team if I can channel them appropriately. 2) This person is 'deadwood' and potentially dragging the rest of the team down.

The current behaviour is dangerous because it can affect the culture of a team over time.

If your answer is 2: do exactly as you would for a new starter to your team. Ensure that expected behaviours are clear, ensure they understand their role and tasks, ensure they are accountable for completing them, address any 'barriers'. If that doesn't work - unfortunately, things will be going rapidly down the HR route.

If your answer is 1, then an investment of your time may be valuable to explore why someone who has talents isn't performing. That might be the role; there may of course be external or personal factors influencing things. There may therefore be reasonable adjustments to make depending upon what those things are. How you address that depends on your leadership style and reputation. I tend to make sure I take a bit of individual time to catch up with that person (usual neutral venue - ie. canteen, coffee shop, over a cup of tea or coffee). That restricts the conversation but also neutralises the threat from it which is particularly valuable given this person's recent demotion is a likely major factor. Framed within that conversation, diplomatically put concerns re performance set a warning shot. The second conversation if required would be more formal and from my office. Make sure you keep personal notes of all events and reflect on your own views contemporaneously - separate documents between the 'observed / factual' and the opinion so that you can present a factual account without including your personal reflection on the matter unless you choose to do so. If those measures haven't worked - you're off to option 1, but knowing you've done your best.

  • why they were promoted in the first place. Presumably this implies they have an ability which is of value vs. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_principle – AnoE May 18 at 15:18
  • Yes it was the Peter Principle I was thinking of - just couldn't remember its name! A demoted employee may well return from the plateau back to competence. – Andrew Hill May 30 at 16:36

Besides talking, I would start building a written trail. Logs events happening, and emails.

I used to work in a placed that had some nasty politics on the side, and some people used and abused knowingly the fact that a spoken meeting/conversation has actually never happened unless there is something written about it. We actually even had a somewhat more senior person acting out that used to get a bit verbal when we sent emails detailing meetings.

The advice about talking with the person in question is quite good, however I would sent a following up email with the talked and agreed points.

Sounds like a job for the works council (joint consultative committee in UK, Betriebsrat in Germany, représentants du personnel in France, other names elsewhere) - if your company has one.

Unfortunately, the role of the works council is often mis-perceived as just to be a PITA for the bosses (like the unions), but in reality it should produce solutions for workplace conflicts which are beneficial for everyone. Management is often limited in perception and possible actions, as managers just to see that some specific departments do their specific jobs. The works council should have a much broader view, enabling it, for example, to suggest that a worker is moved to totally different department (thus making the worker and his/her new/old colleagues happy plus ensuring that the company keeps a valuable member of the work force, making management happy as well).

Smaller companies typically don't have a works council, or they are lame because the works council members are only interested in their own benefits. In such a case it might be possible to recruit an ad-hoc group of (friendly) managers, team leaders and maybe insightful colleagues to discuss what can be done to achieve maximum convergence of interests in the context of the workplace(s) in question.

Unfortunately, your question does not specify any details about the situation at large (possibly for good reasons). I assume that you are UK-based (who else would use the word "rota"?), but things are very different depending on whether you are working for the local McDonald's or a Fortune 500 company.

Note: I am aware that McDonald's is a Fortune 500 company.

How can I effectively manage this person without hurting them more and not making myself ineffective?

I assume you have no obvious choice, i.e. brute force, and since you do not wish to hurt them, you seem to not be the kind of person who likes to force others, anyway.

In this case, and depending on your own character and the kind of rapport you had with her so far, I would suggest to talk with them in a considerably long one-on-one meeting, and tell her exactly what you told us. How you are aware that it is a demotion, that you wish to build a working relationship with her, and willing to continue to work with her as best as possible.

Much of this advice is obviously something that you have to decide on for yourself, and will probably develop over the course of your talk.

Give her time to spill the beans, let her talk as well. Listen, and try to understand what she feels or wants. Give her what you can give, and set borders where it is just not possible. The situation is weird not only for you, but also for her and her co-workers.

Maybe ask her how she would feel about having a session together with her new team-mates, to talk openly about this. At least in my field (IT), demotions are very unusual, and when they happen, then usually because the person wants felt that they didn't want the additional responsibilities after all; involuntary demotions are more or less unheard of.

It is shameful that management would behave like this. They have treated her unjustly and she is behaving like a normal human being.

If her performance was poor, they should have asked her to resign or fired her. Or they should have transferred her to another team. Putting her under you in the same team is a deliberate attempt to humiliate her into quitting or doing poorly so they now have justification in firing her. I feel really sorry for her.

Do they expect her to be an unfeeling robot and work with dedication? You should ask for her to be transferred to another team and treated with respect.

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