I recently started running a small business that received a significant amount of funding. It has been a project I have been committed to for many years. To help see it through, I wanted to hire top talent and a recruiter helped me find an employee who is very talented and was looking to leave after not cinching a promotion they fel that they were due for at a multinational corporation.

Since starting, this employee and I have discovered that we have many things in common. I like this person and in another life we would have been friends. However, there are many issues that have arisen which have made me reconsider my position on whether to retain them.

  1. The work contract starts at 9 am. The employee consistently could not make that time in the morning, citing the fact they live one hour away from work. In our industry, a 10 am start is not abnormal, so I was lenient and asked that they start at 9:20, as long as the make up the time. Since then, they have come in at 9:30 and 9:40 multiple times, in my opinion, abusing the privilege of coming in later.
  2. It feels like regardless of the work I assign, there is always some form of pushing back, saying “no” or “managing expectations.” While I welcome employees telling me when I need to be more realistic, we have hard deadlines on certain projects. I also have provided the names, emails and contact details of additional contractors that I am happy to hire to help manage the workload. The employee mentions they will vet them for work, but then doesn’t ever get around to it. This to me is strange because they are complaining about workload, but not actively making use of resources I’ve allocated or even actively asking about it.
  3. As a result, I have reached out to these workers myself. I have found their attitude to be far more optimistic in terms of the tasks I assign.
  4. Multiple times, the project has been rescoped from doing an agreed amount of work (that the employee themselves set out), to less work, to even less work – because they keep “managing my expectations.” At the same time, I see them taking calls beyond lunchtime or going on lunchbreaks for far too long (20-30 minutes past one hour) and wonder why the work cannot be done then.
  5. When I tried to raise these issues with the employee, there is a massive amount of defensiveness, and almost an aggression to the conversation. They said things that felt antagonising like: “I can see you are flustered”; insinuated that I don’t have experience working in this industry; and made eye contact that seemed to go on for far too long.

I like this person, but I feel they are abusing the leniency I have provided. They are a great talent, and I don’t want to lose them. But I do feel they have significantly stepped out of line and maybe the only way is to let them go. Am I being railroaded here?

  • 6
    You need to decide which battles are really important and which are micromanaging on your part. Is it truly important that your employee starts at 9:20? Or is it more important that the work is completed, no matter when the employee starts? Pick what really matters and make sure that's clearly communicated to the employee. Then make sure there are consequences for not meeting those expectations. That's what you need to do as a manager.
    – Kathy
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 14:04
  • 2
    You mention that they come in at 9:20, and taking long lunches. When are they leaving? How many hours per day are they putting in? How does that line up with the hours you are requesting of them? You mention that other contractors are far more optimistic. Are the others able to actually deliver in the time they say they can deliver?
    – Ben Barden
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 14:06
  • 2
    Have you been working with the contractors? Can they get work done as fast as they say, with the quality they say? If they deliver better work, you should work with them.
    – Erik
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 14:13
  • 3
    I don't know if this has been mentioned, but living an hour away from the office is no excuse to come late, especially with a 9am start time. The employee clearly has time management issues. If you live an hour away, you start driving at 7:50 to give yourself enough time to make it on time or even a little bit early. Pretty common sense. The guy might have the required skills, but I'm sure you could find someone else with the same skills who can manage your time better. You're paying him to be there, he needs to be there.
    – Steve-o169
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 14:43
  • 4
    It's pretty clear why they didn't get that promotion.
    – busman
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 15:36

3 Answers 3


Nothing you've stated says to me that the employee is actually talented. Assuming they get the work done, they still have a major attitude problem. It's as if they want to feel like they are in control even from a lower position.

This employee is making a joke of you. You've stated way too many reasons as to problems that they've shown, no matter how talented an employee is, they still need to make sure they're complying to all the "standard" practices e.g. turning up on time, respecting others and listening to their management.

Not getting around to tasks is just an issue, delaying things is an issue, exceeding lunch breaks is an issue. Maybe one or two issues, I would let them get on with it if they are really that talented. But if they are delaying work etc... doesn't matter how much talent, they need to be welcomed to the real world.

This employee should be let go immediately. There are hundreds if not thousands of potential candidates you could hire who could do the job just as good if not better but have respect and an actual work ethic.

  • 2
    This answer is excellent. It might be worth pointing out that tardiness isn't the real issue. It is necessary sometimes to give talented people some leeway on when they start (and perhaps where they work). However, it does not appear this employee is even that talented if the only thing they are delivering are excuses. Only you can determine if the issues are deal breakers. I would be hesitant to give this person any more leeway
    – Donald
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 17:44

I sort of agree with @Twyxz' answer, but feel that it shouldn't be the first thing you do.

Whilst I agree that its easier to train someone up, than deal with a poor attitude, you're under schedule pressure.

Again, I only know what you've written, but it sounds like this employee went off the rails a bit at their previous company, having been denied the promotion (justified or otherwise). Starting late, longer lunches, and personal time (calls) are symptoms of disaffection and it's possible these have become slightly habitual from the previous job.

You are being taken advantage of, but I suggest a better course of action is to have a private 1-1 and clearly state your expectations and why it's necessary to meet them. As stated previously, let the unimportant stuff go - 09:20, etc is unimportant unless there's a meeting or something and if the work is done to the required standard. If descoping or slippage is unacceptable, say so.

You need to be clear what the consequences of continuing to fail are going to be (termination), and then carry out that threat.


You asked,

Am I being railroaded here?

That's hard for us to determine, since we are getting half of a story that's probably really nuanced. Often, subtle differences in perception can cause employers and staff to walk away from a situation with very different impressions of what happened.

That said, it's clear that you are upset about this employee, and you're able to identify the reasons why. None of us can tell you whether to fire the person or not, but we can provide some guidance. When dealing with employee issues, the best course of action is usually to follow some basic guidelines:

  • As the manager/leader, decide what's really important to you. This seems trivial but it really needs to be your first step. You've talked about deadlines slipping, and you've talked about upwards-managing of expectations, and you've talked about daily tardiness. But then in comments, you hinted that you don't care so much about tardiness if work is getting completed. What is actually important to you? Don't get distracted by changing scope if the deadline is ultimately more important. Don't get distracted by deadlines if having someone in their seat at a specific time is more important. And so on.
  • Be clear and specific about expectations. Once you know what is important to you, you need to communicate that clearly to your employee. Ideally, this needs to be done in a way where they don't feel restricted, but rather empowered. Let's take your example of shrinking scope. Rather than telling your employee "you cannot change scope!" you may find it more beneficial to talk about how scope is determined and how the two of you agree on deliverables at the start of the project. Maybe he does have legitimate claims where you're asking for too much, but if that's the case, the two of you need to work it out upfront rather than debate after the fact (which seems to be leading to you assuming that he's a slacker).
  • Once expectations are set, translate them to specific work tasks. Once you've communicated expectations, make it clear how they tie to actual, tangible work. It's one thing to say, "Scope changes will be handled like such and such." It's another thing to say, "now that we've talked about scope changes, let's plan out the next week of work and see if we can agree on what your scope will be."
  • Once work tasks are locked in, follow up with specific feedback. All of the above points are laying a foundation for this step. You've decided what's important, communicated expectations, and tied them to specific tasks. That sets you up to go back to the employee after a week (or whatever) and say, "hey, let's talk about how X is going." By being specific in the above tasks, it removes ambiguity around performance evaluations. You mentioned that things got heated when you talked to your employee, and they got defensive. It's no wonder that happened, they were probably a little surprised by the conversation, and looking for a way to deflect the pressure. Performance conversations should not be surprises for anyone. If you've laid out the expectations clearly, it should be obvious to everyone involved if they're being followed or not. If the employee tries to deflect or get defensive, you can reference earlier conversations and bring things back on topic.

Repeat the above steps as needed. If the employee's performance improves, great. If it doesn't, you can consider steps to manage your company through transitioning to a different person for that job. But, if you don't get some rigor in how you manage these things now, you may find you're jumping from one disaster-employee to another until you do.

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