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I have a junior working under my lead on a project. I am extremely unhappy with his behavior. He has many problems related to his attitude, but I will mention just two of them that I find extremely intolerable:

  1. He never acknowledges his mistakes, be them related to coding or in general, he always finds a way or tries to cover with excuses.

  2. He thinks he knows all. Whenever I am explaining some stuff to him, he gives a kind of response that he already knew this, but in reality he didn't.

Now my manager asks me for a feedback on his behavior but I keep delaying it because if I tell him of these flaws, he will fire him immediately. Now I know he belongs to a very poor family and I don't want to be the reason of his dismissal.

I have already tried to tell him of these issues and that I am unhappy with it but doesn't seem to care and still does them anyway. When I look at his technical skills, he's above average and gets his job done timely.

Question: What should one do in this situation? Should I go ahead and let my manager know? Or should I put a blind eye on it?

P.S. I am not sure if this exact situation was asked before here, if it was please tag the link.

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    If your manager is going to fire an otherwise adequate employee because one person has some negative feedback, your workplace has bigger issues. Why do you think they would be immediately fired? – Seth R Oct 4 at 15:20
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    @Joe Strazzere I know how that sounds but here's the thing, my manager already suspects that there's something wrong with his behavior because when my subordinate was pulled into this project, my manager told me that he will require my feedback mainly on his behavior. My organization is pretty huge, they have more than 5k employees so they don't give a damn if somebody has above average skills, they will instantly find a new guy and that is the exact thinking of my manager. – Shaheryar.Akram Oct 4 at 17:55
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    @Joe Strazzere yes, you are right! There's way more than just this, but I tried to present the scenario that's simple enough for people to understand and can give opinions on! I didn't expand on why my manager will fire him because I thought that might take the issue, off track. – Shaheryar.Akram Oct 4 at 18:26
  • It looks like a common behavioral pattern for apprentices from IT/Tech. The (un)ability to deal with it distincts good project manager from poor project manager. – Danubian Sailor Oct 5 at 16:02
  • In case it ends with firing the employee, be sure that there are enough poor motivated people waiting for this opportunity. – Chris Oct 6 at 17:13
39

You are confounding this worker's personal life - which has nothing to do with you - and their professional behavior. Professionally, this worker:

  • has "above average" technical skill: fair enough, so do many other people
  • has several behavioral issues
  • has disregarded the direct feedback of their direct manager: you

At this point, you have done what you can: you tried to manage, and the employee's behavior has now entered the realm of insubordination.

You can - and, likely, should - escalate this as appropriate for your environment. The worker was given feedback, did not adjust their behavior, and has now entered the realm of a performance issue. I hope you have written documentation of the prior warnings, but if not, this simply delays the process.

When involving your manager, you should:

  • be factual: X is exhibiting Y soft skill issues, and has not responded to repeated (provide documentation if needed) management attempts to address this
  • exclude the employee's personal situation: it's not your problem, nor your boss'

From there, do what your own manager suggests.

And finally - most importantly: keep in mind, whatever happens, it's not your fault. No professional environment should suffer continuous unprofessional behavior from a worker. If the employee needs this job that badly, they should learn to behave in a professional manner. You aren't a babysitter; therefore, it's not your job to coddle them.

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    @Surb It does pretty much by definition, right? If you assume a normal distribution (which probably isn't the case, but it's a good illustration), half of the population will be above average. Even if the distribution skews heavily towards the less-skilled end, it's quite likely that many people will be above average. – yshavit Oct 4 at 23:21
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Do not put a blind eye to it.

The attitude you're describing is not that uncommon in juniors especially when they have some sort of technical expertise as you say. That's not to say that you must tolerate it.

You say you have already tried to communicate to him that you are not satisfied with his non-technical skills, and that he has disregarded it. The thing is, soft skills are important. I'd say, they're as important, if not more, than hard technical skills.

Given what you say of his background, and your reluctance to have him fired, you might want to reiterate your lack of satisfaction, and also, lay a path to improvement.

But ultimately, his background is of no importance. He must improve and you must report his performance (or lack thereof) to your manager.

You told him what was wrong. You told him how to improve. You laid the consequences in front of him. He has the cards in hand, not you.

5

In my experience, these two points apply here:

  1. If you do not fix a problem but leave it on its own, over time it usually gets worse and not better. Then all you will have is a bigger problem, causing more pain, and costing more to fix.
  2. If that person was such a character that he can correct himself, especially after hearing it from you a few times, he would have corrected himself already. That he did not, means that he won't, unless some higher force (your boss, for example) forces him.

Now, you did say that he has some technical skills. That might be worth one chance, but not if given by you; he will just consider it as business as usual, no action needed. If your boss doesn't fire him right away, but tells him to "shape up or ship out", he might improve... I give it 50/50 chance. His technical skill might be worth that one chance. Not more than that.

If he gets the impression that he can behave in any way he likes and there will be no consequences at all, he will be uncontrollable - and it seems that the situation is already heading that way.

5

The other answers are right that you need to address this, however I'll add that a reluctance to admit mistakes or lack of knowledge is sometimes a sign of insecurity, and sometimes a cultural habit. Some people have grown up in situations where admitting any kind of weakness would instantly put them at a big disadvantage.

Make sure your junior knows that you consider his technical skill to be above average and that he's done a good job so far.

Then explain that everyone makes mistakes occasionally and it's your job as the manager to plan enough checks to catch those mistakes. Each mistake needs to be taken as a chance to improve the process so that the next time someone else makes the same mistake, it can be caught before it causes a problem. Covering up a mistake just allows it to happen again, and (if it wasn't 100% fixed) allows it to get much worse.

Similarly he's not expected to know everything. There's always new things coming along that everyone has to learn. Pretending a better understanding than he really has will just lead to mistakes.

He's now part of a team, and not competing with anyone to keep his job - in fact his job is at risk if he can't work for the benefit of the team.

3

Speak to your subordinate in private, and let him know that his behavior is unacceptable, and should it continue, you will be escalating it.

To do this:

  • begin in a positive way
  • Address the behavior, not the person
  • Correct him.
  • Avoid the word "but", it makes you seem insincere.

When correcting be clear and outline

  1. What he's doing
  2. What is wrong with it
  3. What he should do in the future

Be specific, and tone matters.

WRONG WAY:

You screwed up, now fix this mess

Right way

Hi Bob, I'd like to talk with you a bit. I've noticed that your work is generally above par, you finish assignments early and do good work. I have also noticed a few things that I wish to talk to you about. Your actions are having a negative effect on your overall performance, which concerns me. I want to work with you to help you improve.

[Insert behaviors to be addressed here]

I'm afraid that these behaviors are getting to the point where, if not corrected, are going to hurt your career. Let's work on these and get you back on track

2

You are disobeying instructions from your manager. Stop doing that.

my manager asks me for a feedback on his behavior but ...

There is no but. From your comment it is clear that there may be a backstory you are not aware of. It's quite possible this behavior is something that has been formally raised (e.g. via HR) with this employee before and their behavior is now under close scrutiny and a performance goal must be met by that employee.

Whatever is going on (and you may not know the full story), your sole responsibility is to manage the empolyee as normal, as you would any other staff member and report the information your boss requested to him as a neutral observer.

So your job.

... I keep delaying it because if I tell him of these flaws, he will fire him immediately.

This is outside of your area of responsibility and you probably do not fully understand the reasons. But note that your failure to do your own job as ordered is putting your own position at risk.

Do not second guess why, just do as asked unless, of course, you know it's an illegal order or forbidden by HR policies. In either of those cases you ask for written clarification/confirmation of your orders (to cover yourself).

Now I know he belongs to a very poor family and I don't want to be the reason of his dismissal.

And I bet you know people who belong to poor families and manage to do their work and behave reasonably. Their reasons are not your concern. If anyone is required to worry about the employee's social or personal issues it will be HR. Again let them do their job and do yours.

Having to be the one involved in the process that may result in someone being fired is certainly uneasy for most people - it's actually good this bothers you, in some ways. But someone has to take responsibility for these matters and your small role in this (potential !) termination is your duty by your employers.

I have already tried to tell him of these issues and that I am unhappy with it but doesn't seem to care and still does them anyway.

Report that. Let your manager make their own judgement call with whatever information they have.

When I look at his technical skills, he's above average and gets his job done timely.

You are free to express that in your communication to your manager, but you also need to report the negative stuff. Do not let yourself bias your report. Straight facts, no embellishment, no distortions. That's the way you fairly serve both parties.

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He never acknowledges his mistakes (...) he always finds a way or tries to cover with excuses

So either he suffers on primadonna syndrome, or he works in some toxical environment, where you are blamed for your mistakes, instead of being encouraged to learn from them.

Whenever I am explaining some stuff to him, he gives a kind of response that he already knew this, but in reality he didn't

So either he has problems understanding, or you have problems explaining.

he's above average and gets his job done timely.

Wow, it looks he is a good employee after all. Maybe he simply has a poor manager?

If your manager has a tendency to fire people on spot, I would be terribily careful what I will tell him. Because managing subordinates, which includes managing their behaviour, is your task. Who would need managers otherwise?

Concentrate on facts. If the employee gets job done, then he gets job done, and that is what matters for the company. If he annoys and disturbs his collegues, and affects their performance, it is what matters for your company. If he annoys you, it's not what matters for your company because it's the role of you as a manager to handle the interpersonal part. Otherwise the company would need no managers...

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