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To keep it short, I am an overworked and overstretched manager. Today my employee appeared to show up to work an hour late, having only had one simple work-related task to complete before arrival - which shouldn’t take more than 25 minutes or so.

I began to berate him for this as I believed he had slept in or was being lazy. He reminded me that due to other overtime I’d ask him to start half an hour later today. Which meant that he was only 30 minutes ‘late’ and I found out later had been in the building for 10 minutes before I saw him and started work. Therefore it was my error. I quickly moved on, realizing this.

However, I sense now that the employee is disgruntled. I feel that this is an overreaction to a simple mistake. Should I speak to him again about this, knowing that it might magnify his perception of the problem, which is so minor?

Edit: As there are too many comments to reply individually, may I say thank you for your advice. Although I didn’t shout, I was certainly antagonistic and critical, so ‘berate’ seemed appropriate as description. In the face of multiple incidents and issues (not connected to this employee) confronting me daily, I didn’t see things from his perspective. And yes, he was five minutes early once everything was calculated.

  • 70
    In what manner did you berate him? Shouting? Abusive? Wouldn't it have been better to ask for an explanation rather than jumping to conclusions? It's important as a manager to keep calm and seek information before acting - bringing emotion into business decisions is counterproductive. – user1666620 Apr 18 at 15:15
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    What exactly did you do when you "quickly moved on?" Have you talked to the employee at all, now that you know the full story? – dwizum Apr 18 at 15:16
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    When you found out you were wrong, did you apologize to him and admit your mistake? – DaveG Apr 18 at 15:19
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    Is I quickly moved on "manager speak" for I'm pretending this never happened and didn't apologize? – brhans Apr 18 at 15:23
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    What do you mean a simple task before he starts? Are you asking workers to perform work before they start getting paid? – Issel Apr 18 at 17:35

14 Answers 14

52

The mistake here was not so much that you forgot about the scheduling adjustments, nor that you were unaware of the employee's presence in the building before you saw him (though those, too, were mistakes). It's that you berated the employee, which would not be minor in any case, and the justification you claimed was also wrong.

So you laid into this employee for no reason, and seem to be minimizing/excusing/justifying your behavior even after it's become clear that you were totally wrong even according to the line of reasoning you describe here. Your employee is 100% justified in being upset over this. Even if you feel it's minor, your employee now cannot trust arrangements they've explicitly made with you, cannot trust you to be aware of facts (definitely available to you) before committing to inappropriate office behavior, and can be fairly certain that you'll try to dodge accountability for your behavior. Those aren't minor for someone that works for you and is vulnerable to your caprice.

You should talk to the employee again, provided that you can do the following during that exchange:

  • Take responsibility for your mistakes and inappropriate behavior

  • Refrain from minimizing the incident or justifying why you "deserve" a free pass for what happened

  • Offer a sincere apology

  • Provide some sort of assurance that the employee won't be subject to this sort of bad behavior from you in the future
  • 7
    The second paragraph hits the nail on the head. In summary, your employee cannot trust you. Trust, once breached, is difficult to re-establish. Only appropriate behaviors over time will do that. – Xcali Apr 18 at 22:47
  • And perform the actions in ALL of those bullets, not just some of them. – acpilot Apr 20 at 3:07
81

Pull him aside and apologize if you believe you were out of line. I have tended to respect managers in the past that were willing to see that they overreacted or jumped to conclusions. It doesn't have to be a long drawn-out discussion, but a simple, "Hey...didn't realize the circumstances of...."

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    Problem is that from the employees perspective, the OP did realise the circumstances as the OP is the one who told him he could come into work late. – user1666620 Apr 18 at 15:20
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    And it sounds like he either forgot or it was a miscommunication. He should apologize to the employee, communicate that there was not a personal issue, and move on. – Keith Apr 18 at 15:24
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    Another possible factor that may be making this worse is that the employee may be overworked and stretched thin too. After all the issue in question was due to the employee being forced to work overtime. And I would expect that if OP is overworked, so are (and possibly much worse) their staff. Pre-burnout/burnout makes situations like this much worse. OP definitely needs to apologize sincerely and quickly, and to make changes to ensure this doesn't happen again and also if at all possible work to improve work life balance for themselves and their staff. – bob Apr 18 at 17:48
  • also if at all possible work to improve work life balance for themselves and their staff @bob I wish one of the existing answers addressed that both the manager and the employee are described as being overworked. It's aside from the general question being asked but it's good advice for the OP's specific circumstance given that it appears to be the root cause (or at least a contributing factor). – BSMP Apr 18 at 20:03
  • +1 for this answer -- to Socpre I suggest you remember this the next time. It will help you be a better manager. (Which you could mention in part of your apology.) – Robert Paulsen Apr 19 at 0:03
71

When I first joined the workforce I did something to earn a berating session by my manager at the time. That was on Friday. On Monday he called me back in his office, where he apologised for being too harsh, because it was a relatively junior mistake - representative of my experience - and he felt (correctly) he had overreacted.

That weekend I was left with the incident in my mind, which kinda festered, and I had enough time to change my perspective of him. I appreciated the apology but I was young and impressionable, and the damage was done. From then on our relationship remained less great than it could have been otherwise.

My point is, you were able to "move on" but your employee obviously has not. It's always easy to do the moving on if you're the one venting your spleen. He has no recourse to this, no way to "even up". His pride is hurt and probably feels bad cause his overtime efforts were obviously not appreciated by you.

And as a rule of thumb, it's always a good idea to apologise as soon as you realize you should.

  • 26
    Your 2nd paragraph hit home for me.. Two weeks into a job, I had a manager "not treat me like an adult" when I didn't even screw up; I was asking for a standard accommodation. The relationship was forever ruined on the spot.. Hey all managers out there, if you are going to treat your professional employees like your teenage children (OP assuming they are lazy sleep-ins), don't be shocked when they resent you and do everything in their power to subvert you... that is what teenagers do – Smitty Apr 18 at 16:19
33

The not so minor problem here is "berating" your employee. It does not matter what your reasoning is, to "scold or criticize angrily", the definition of "berate", is not professional. Of course they are disgruntled.. I would be too.

A strong apology for your overreaction and a sincere and visible effort to change how you work with people is really the only thing I can suggest

  • 1
    Best answer here (discarding mine of course). I could wish the most important point wasn't buried in the second phrase of the last sentence, but if this is fully read, it is dead on. – T.E.D. Apr 18 at 19:22
  • @T.E.D. I appreciate the comment. It was copied as a comment but pasted as an answer so I didnt think about the poor formatting.. pulling the main point out of the paragraph like you suggested does look and read better. Thanks! – Smitty Apr 19 at 13:43
  • Ahh! That totally explains the previous format (wall of text, but shortish). – T.E.D. Apr 19 at 13:46
26

It isn't unreasonable.

The problem is that you were disrespectful to an employee. They rightfully were upset by that. Even now you are continuing to disrespect them by stating that they are overreacting and implying that they should just move on, since you have. But this wasn't yours to move on from. You weren't the aggrieved.

You made the mistake, own up to it. Stop trying to minimize what you did and start treating the employee with respect. They just completed overtime for you and in return you berated them. I'd be angry too. I can't imagine you smoothed things over very sincerely considering the dismissive language in your question. Go back. Do it right. In the future don't invalidate the way people feel, it will make you a less effective leader. Everyone feels the way they do for a reason and if you understand that you can better understand them.

13

The employee has every right to be upset with you. You need to apologize IMMEDIATELY. What concerns me is that you are posting here to justify your poor management. I don't know if you noticed, but no one here has berated you for your incompetence. Think about it: We're trying to help you just like you should be helping your employee (regardless if he was late or not). As a manager, you're in charge of managing people and work. You're supposed to be a leader who sets examples. If there is something malfunctioning, you look for solutions to make things work again. Managers who lose their cool and resort to emotional embarrassment are not leaders, they are seen as someone who can't control their emotions.

Your employees are not robots, they are real people with families, hopes and dreams. I've been berated all my life at every workplace I've been in because a lot of managers feel justified in doing so because they were once treated that way. Whether or not that's the case for you, it's a wrong outlook. At this point, you need to consider if you can handle the management position.

Take note of every single response everyone has provided you so far. It will be selfish to ask a question to justify your actions and decide to not do anything to improve the situation. We're not here to tell you want to hear. We're all trying to help you be better.

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    Upvoting this one too. I see a lot of other red flags in this question. For example, unless you own the company and write the paychecks, they aren't your employees. They are the company's employees that it has charged you with managing (and that can be changed with the flick of a pen). The best managers I've worked with saw themselves as facilitators for their team, not dictators. – T.E.D. Apr 18 at 19:56
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Take Responsibility for What You Actually Did

You quickly moved on? Is that because to you, your employee is just a piece of equipment that you tinker with through various verbal commands to cause it to function correctly, and once you determine that it was/is functioning correctly, you have no further responsibility to it?

Unfortunately, people are not robots or pieces of equipment. Thus, your employee is completely reasonable to be upset with you. You didn't just make a minor mistake. You called him out, megaphone effect and all, in a toxic way (not appropriate even for real mistakes), when you were completely in the wrong, and now think it's unreasonable for him not to just "move on" like you have?

Who Do You Want To Be? Who Are You?

For your consideration, I offer you the concept of being a boss vs. a leader. Which one do you think is more effective? Which one do you want to be? Do you recognize that being an effective manager is to be effective with people, and has almost nothing to do with ordering people around or quickly calling out mistakes?

My best suggestion to you is to go back to your employee and make a REAL apology. A good apology. I have personally identified, over time through much thought, seven elements of a good apology:

Learn My Seven Elements of a Good Apology

  1. Clearly admit your unjust or wrong action as unjust or wrong. You must take ownership and responsibility for the action.
  2. Express your understanding and recognition of the real consequential damage you caused to the other person.
  3. Show sincere regret for the wrong act and the damage caused to the person.
  4. Carry out whatever redress or reparations are possible to repair the damage or make up for it. If not possible, express sincerely that you would if you could.
  5. Express your firm intention to never do it again, and share your plan for how you will do differently in the future to ensure it never recurs.
  6. Ask what else, if anything, needs doing to make things right, and express your desire for an ongoing reconciled, healthy relationship.
  7. Ask for forgiveness (perhaps this one is optional, I have to think about it more).

If you can't do at least the first six of these sincerely, then you are not actually ready to make a real apology, and you are not ready to restore the troubled relationship with your employee. This apology does not have to be on your knees, sobbing, begging forgiveness, with much angst. You can be direct, and concise, and after delivering the apology you can move on. Here's a sample of what you could say in your exact situation. Remember, it has to be sincere or earnest. Calm and direct is great. Talk to your employee like he is a business partner (which he is), not a "subordinate."

A Sample Apology You Could Make

"Hey John, I just wanted to mention something to you about last Friday. I was completely in the wrong, and worse, the way I berated you was disrespectful. And that was not an okay way to handle the situation in any case, even if I had been right. I'm sorry I did that to you. I will treat you respectfully in the future even if I'm calling out an issue as your manager, and I promise to always do my best to find out all information in a situation instead of jumping to conclusions.

"To make it up to you I'd like you to leave two hours early this Friday but you'll still get paid for the whole day (don't get used to that, though [laugh]). It's totally understandable if you feel upset by what happened, because I acted like an ass. I'd sure be ticked off if my boss did that to me, and I might even start feeling unsafe and worry that I'll be blasted even when I do the right thing.

"It would be great if we could have a relationship of mutual trust and respect, and I'd appreciate it if you could give me a do-over on this one so we can try stepping out on the right foot this time. You don't have to answer this now, but if there's anything else you would like to address about this situation, please let me know, and I promise to hear you out and respond slowly instead of reacting, because I really want us to succeed together as a team."

NOW you can "move on" and never mention it again. It is now solved, old history. Any resentment your employee hangs onto is now his responsibility because you gave him the agency to address it and you did your darn best to take care of the problem. You took the high road.

And note: you will NOT lose respect for this. You will only look bad in his eyes if your employee is a jerk of colossal proportions, and your relationship is doomed already. You will gain incredible respect. Relationships that have been through trials and then got repaired are stronger and better than those that haven't done so. Do you want to be a boss, or a leader?

You don't have to use my version. But hit those elements. Elements 1 - 6 of my good apology list are all present in my sample above. Every one is important and shouldn't be left out. Each one the person hears will incrementally ease his heart and help address his negative feelings.

Taking the Next Step In Your Upward Career Path

Finally, consider watching these videos:

I believe that your ability to be successful as a manager will be improved if you voluntarily dive into leadership training. You don't have to wait until your company does some formal initiative. Start reading, watching, researching, thinking, learning, and trying. Be humble, but be confident and bold. Realize that your greatest power as a manager doesn't come from your corporate-granted ability to fire but from your personal ability to lead, inspire, and propel your team to success, for the group and for each person individually.

It's time to start thinking about your job differently. Will you rise to the challenge?

P.S. if you start learning these lessons and taking this to heart, you will become the kind of leader that can have greater success than your peers. It isn't being an authoritarian that leads to real success with people. It's leading them, yes with authority, but from a servant perspective instead of from a dictatorial perspective. Get so much stuff done and so much accomplished with your teams that they recognize you as a rising star!

Afterword On Good Apologies

Being a little curious about what other people out there might be saying about good apologies, I read up a little. It seems I've hit most of the same points as many others have discovered. But I'd like to call out two differences between my list and some others:

  • Other lists say "explain why the violation occurred." I don't agree with this on the face of it. All too often, explanations sound like anti-apologies. Consider: "I berated you because I mistakenly believed you were wrong and because my wife left me last week and I'm angry at the world." Do either of these help? No. They seem like an attempt to justify and downplay the offense. The only kind of explanation that helps with an apology is one that is about taking ownership.

    This is a little better: "I berated you because I hastily jumped to conclusions and because I let my anger get the better of me." That's fine if you want to do that, but these aren't really part of the apology. These are just descriptions of the wrong acts. The person who was hurt knows what the wrong acts were. The real problem is the damage the acts caused.

    So finally, even better is "My impatience and irascibility are problems that are hurting others. I'm doing all in my power to get these under control, because that's not acceptable." See how far we are now from "explain why the violation occurred?" That's not the issue.

  • My list includes an item I didn't see elsewhere, which is to acknowledge the damage caused. This could be considered part of take responsibility, but it's really not because the focus of responsibility is on you and your hurtful actions. Acknowledging the damage caused, however, is focused on the hurt person and his feelings.

    Think about doing the opposite, minimizing the damage. Your roommate eats your slice of cake in the fridge, and you complain. He says, "It's not that big a deal. It was just a piece of cake. You can get another one. I shared cookies with you last week. The least you can do is share with your roommate."

    Wouldn't that make you angry? He has no appreciation for the real issue, which isn't cake at all, but about respect, safety, autonomy, and significance. When you tell him that the cake was from your mother's birthday party, and you were saving it for your brother who couldn't be there, and it was his favorite cake and he was really looking forward to it, and besides your mom died unexpectedly yesterday and your brother was really sad about missing the party because he hadn't seen your mom in over a year and he anticipated that eating the cake could feel like symbolically telling his passed mother that he wishes he could have been at her party... now the true nature of the damage done becomes apparent. Showing a true appreciation of the damage done is the opposite of minimizing. It really helps make an apology more sincere and effective.

  • 1
    OP, read this post carefully. If you want to take your position as manager seriously, change needs to happen and CodeSeeker was nice enough to give you a detailed explanation for how you can improve. – Citrus-Code Apr 18 at 21:28
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Yes, you should speak to him again.

Apologize for your mistake.

Understand your mistake.

You already accept that you made a mistake, but it's not clear that you understand exactly what the mistake was. It wasn't just misunderstanding or forgetting about his previously agreed start time, or even that you berated him - it's that you did not give him the opportunity to explain until after you started berating him. You acted without full information. In a position of authority, you must not do that.

Avoid similar mistakes in future.

As a manager, there will be a time and a place when you may have to discipline your staff or correct them over behavioural matters (I'm not sure I'd call it "berating", but that's beside the point). You must never do that without full information. Always ask for an explanation before launching into that kind of conversation.

7

You overreacted to a perceived "mistake" that wasn't actually the employee's mistake at all, but was your own, and when it was made known to you that it was your mistake and not his, you brushed it off like "a simple mistake". The employee is therefore rightfully upset; would it have been "a simple mistake" if it was actually the employee's fault, and if the employee brushed it off lightly, as you did to him, what would you have done?

There's not a heck of a lot you can do at this point, you've already made an ass of yourself to your subordinate. Expect that subordinate to henceforth be extremely resistant to working overtime when you ask him to, as he should be (he should be resistant to overtime anyway, but he will be extra resistant now). I would avoid asking him for any overtime for at least a month, possibly more.

The employee may be afraid that this incident may show up on a formal review; I have had cases in the past where I had an issue, that issue turned out to be my manager's fault, I "resolved" it with my manager, and then my manager raised the issue again during a performance review and pegged it as my fault again. You should present a written apology to your employee, that he can present back to you if this issue ever comes up again, and that he can bring to HR in the event he is terminated on a matter related to this, as proof that this issue was not his fault. It is possible the employee will use this written apology to raise this issue to HR as you being an incompetent manager. He'd be right to do so, and that's your problem, not his.

EDIT: To expand upon the above point, this is an issue of trust. If I was your employee, what would be going through my mind now is, "What this company is asking me to do is to give of myself freely to the company, and in exchange I get a promise that the company will give back. However, when I try to get back what the company has promised to me, they reneg on their promise. Therefore, why should I give more to the company than they deserve/pay me for?"

This is why your employee should be very resistant to doing overtime; presumably they were not paid for it in this case, as they were promised time-in-lieu, and when they attempted to cash in their time-in-lieu they were berated for it, so essentially they were given nothing (whether or not you realized your mistake after the fact is irrelevant). In most locales this is illegal, first of all (to neither be paid for your overtime nor given time-in-lieu), but even aside from that, this paints the picture of an organization which does not respect work-life balance. Furthermore, even if you change the relationship, and say "rather than time-in-lieu, you will be paid for your overtime", what is the guarantee to this employee that their overtime pay request will be acknowledged by you, the manager who has already disrespected their time-in-lieu previously?

The way to deal with this is, again, to present a written statement of apology to the employee, so they know their time-in-lieu was, in fact, respected. This will not completely repair the damage done, however. If I was your employee, I would already be searching for another job; in terms of team leadership, this is a capital offense for me, in the sense that if this was done to me once, I'm actively looking for a way out immediately. If I receive a written apology, I will only passively look for a way off the team (whereas if this situation had never happened at all, I wouldn't be looking at all).

  • Based on your statement that you would already be searching for a job, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on my answer. I'm not cruising for up-votes. I'm genuinely interested to hear how you would respond, if your manager actually sincerely used the seven elements of a good apology I lay out in my answer, and acted differently (for the most part, improving over time) from then on? – CodeSeeker Apr 18 at 21:13
  • @CodeSeeker Apologies, I've been AFK for the past 3 weeks. Here's the thing about apologies, and this is true for any apology: Talk is cheap. No matter how good your apology is or how heartfelt it is, an equivalent apology could be made tongue-in-cheek by someone who doesn't mean it, but is simply a very good actor. Personally, I don't care about apologies; I want actions and accountability. Which is why I specified in my answer that the "apology", such as it is, needs to be in writing so that it's recordable and traceable. Imo that's the most important part, and is not in your answer. – Ertai87 May 13 at 19:10
  • Thanks for your feedback. I will think about that. I guess that implicitly I would expect that a true apology would be accompanied by actions consistent with it. But maybe calling that out directly is a good idea. – CodeSeeker May 13 at 19:46
6

The coworker is reasonably upset. People don't like to be berated. People especially don't like to be berated for doing what they are told. Now you need to 100% own your mistake. Your mistake isn't just getting the facts wrong, it also includes how you handled yourself.

  • This does answer should perhaps expand on just what you mean by "you need to 100% own your mistake". It may be clear to you what you mean, but I bet OP doesn't know (being a manager and all that). – hyde Apr 19 at 9:41
5

Berating someone when they did nothing wrong creates in their head a work environment going forward where they can expect to be subjected to that treatment in a completely capricious manner.

Apology is a good first step, but honestly this should never have happened in the first place. Even if you abjectly apologize for your mistake, the damage is still done. You could still make a similar mistake in the future, and seem to be reserving for yourself the right to behave that way at (from the employee's perspective) any random moment.

Better would be to never ever "berate" an employee unless you are 100% sure what's going on. Best would be to never ever "berate" an employee period. Every company I've ever worked for has policies and procedures for dealing with tardiness issues. If you aren't able to deal with subordinate issues in a professional manner, perhaps that shouldn't be part of your job portfolio.

4

However, I sense now that the employee is disgruntled. I feel that this is an overreaction to a simple mistake. Should I speak to him again about this, knowing that it might magnify his perception of the problem, which is so minor?

You didn't make a simple mistake. You berated an employee. Showed him who the boss is, didn't you? Made you feel good, shouting at an underling? That's not a simple mistake. You behaved in a despicable way, and you did it fully intentional. You also started berating him without getting your facts right. That's not a little mistake. That is reckless. The fact that you were wrong, that's a harmless mistake, but berating him, without knowing the facts, that's far beyond a simple mistake.

If you want any respect as a manager, you go to him and seriously apologise. Say "I'm very sorry to shout at you, and that will never happen again. I'm also sorry about not checking the facts first, and I'll try to improve on that". And you better mean it. That's what an adult would do who wants to be respected.

Meanwhile, take action to do something about being overworked and overstretched. This HUGE mistake that you made and that you absolutely need to fix, it might not have happened with a bit less stress.

  • 1
    worth noting though that lots of managers are "overworked and overstretched" and don't go around acting like martinets. One so inclined to do that (and not immediately think "oh crap - that was terrible, I should fix that") would likely do that sort of thing regardless of the extrinsic circumstances – NKCampbell Apr 18 at 21:44
3

Apologize immediately and sincerely

You wronged your employee and need to sincerely apologize immediately if you want to salvage the relationship. Put yourself in their shoes: their boss asked them to work overtime in exchange for coming in late the next day. But then the boss made them run an errand that effectively negated the time off. And then yelled at them for coming in late. What would you think of that boss if you were the employee? How would you feel if your boss did that to you? You need to apologize.

Don't take advantage of your employees

Your employee was doing a presumably mandatory work errand before work. That's work--unpaid work, after having done paid overtime the day before, and on a day the employee was promised to be able to come in late to compensate for overtime the previous day. This is taking advantage of your employee. You need to do some soul searching here: are you viewing your employees as resources to be used, or as people with lives who deserve to be treated fairly and with respect?

Is the employee a "gopher"? I realize there is a culture that says it's ok to mistreat them, but really it's not. Abuse is abuse no matter the context.

Try to achieve a good work life balance for everyone

You're overworked. Clearly so is your employee. That makes everyone stressed and snappy and less forgiving. To achieve good long-term interoffice relationships, you need to create a culture that fosters a healthy work-life balance. That means letting your employees have lives outside of work, and yourself too.

  • There doesn't seem to be any indication that they were doing the errand before work (or that that time was unpaid). They were given 30 minutes in exchange for previous overtime, and turned up (what the OP thought was) an hour late after completing an errand that should take ~25 minutes. That means they would have been completing it during their work hours. – Anthony Grist Apr 18 at 21:15
  • My math is based on 1 hour late arriving - 25 minutes for the errand before arrival ~= 30 minutes late to compensate for overtime the night before. This implies it's a work errand before arrival (starting work), and thus work before the employee is on the clock. That's where I get that it was unpaid. If my boss sends me out to do work errands before my workday, I'm doing unpaid work. – bob Apr 19 at 12:36
2

The issue here is not the particular incident.

Common sense and real-life experience suggests that anyone who is a competent manager or administrator behaves in a generally consistent manner.

You have just demonstrated to your employee what your "consistent manner" of dealing with this sort of incident is. As such, it is perfectly reasonable for the employee to assume that if something similar occurs again, you will behave in the same way.

The employee is probably quite well aware that you are "overworked and overstretched" - and real-life experience suggests that overworked and overstretched people are the least likely to suddenly change their behaviour, at least until the root cause of the overwork goes away.

If that means your employee is now looking for another job, it's too late to change the situation now. Consider that he/she has probably told all his/her co-workers what happened, as well.

(Of course if the employee has the opinion that in fact you don't operate in a consistent manner, that does nothing to improve the situation from his/her point of view.)

To quote an old saying, you made your own bed - now lie in it.

  • This does not seem very constructive, it doesn't actually give any advice (except perhaps "it's done, just forget it"?). At the very least explicitly answer the written question, "Should I speak to him again about this, knowing that it might magnify his perception of the problem, which is so minor?" – hyde Apr 19 at 9:35

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