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Context

Asking for my mum. She is a head at a warehouse. There is a new employee that has been causing some hassles. This has created some tension.

Description

The new employee, by all accounts, is insubordinate. That is, they question my mum's and others' authority, with things such as, "is this the company way of doing things, or is it your way?", and "I used to be a manager myself". My mum's colleagues have referred to them as "unstable". My mum's superior, the manager, has apparently also noticed this, and agreed with it (initially).

However, the manager above my mum's manager has become involved, and my mum's manager apparently betrayed her, saying that she did not do enough to teach this new employee, which was a total shock to my mum, as it was the first time she heard any negative feedback about her management of this new employee, and that previously a lot of people had complained about this new employee, and had no issue with my mum's management of them. The superior manager apparently appeared to favour my mum's direct manager's side. She became emotional over this, and asked whether she could be demoted to a lesser role, as the stress was getting to her. The manager asked her to "sleep on it".

Furthermore, my mum has noticed that some employees (especially the new one) tend to do whatever they like, so she doesn't have as much control over them. This is causing her a great deal of stress, because she believes that if she raises this, it may appear that she cannot perform her role. She is between a rock and a hard place. This is causing great stress.

The problem

The immense psychological stress is very impactful, to the point where my mum dreads going to work. On the other hand, this is a somewhat secure role, and she has been at this company for over a decade, and it is not clear whether she can step down to a lesser role. She needs to hang on to this job, as due to her age (60s) it may be difficult to find alternative work.

The biggest issue is: it is not clear whether it is possible to take on a lesser role. She feels in danger of being made redundant if she does not stay in her current role. She feels she can't talk to HR about this, as they would get involved in the whole situation. It is also unknown what legal rights she has regarding her position.

My suggested approach

I suggested her to try to pander to the managers a little, by implying that she was "under the impression" that she was performing her role well, and her direct supervisor's statement that she had not been teaching the new employee enough was the first she ever heard of it, and if she had known about it earlier, she would have taken steps to amend this. I also advised her to stay in her current position, but she said they she would look like a fool in front of management by threatening to step down to a lesser role over this, and then backflipping.

What to do?

Edit: I think people are not getting the crux of this question, which is that my mum has appeared to be backstabbed by other staff. There were previously no complaints whatsoever regarding her management of this new employee, until the more senior manager became involved, at which point others tried to cover themselves by blaming my mum for "not teaching" enough. I am sorry, but if there were such problems, why were they not raised earlier?

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  • While it may be difficult for her to find another job, is she open to the idea? – Gregory Currie Sep 22 '20 at 10:15
  • @GregoryCurrie I don't think she explicitly said she is. It's just one of those tricky situations that feel impossible to get out of. I suggested to her to grin and bear it. – Al2110 Sep 22 '20 at 10:17
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    @JoeStrazzere I agree with not seeking a demotion, however the mental side of things can be dealt with after the fact. The most critical thing at the moment is to make sure she stays employed, as stability is the most important thing. It's difficult to get legal advice overnight ahead of the conversation she must have tomorrow. – Al2110 Sep 22 '20 at 10:50
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    Your added comment shows that you think emotionally, instead of thinking rationally. That is very destructive, for everyone involved. What your mum needs in the first place is to understand what is going on, and that can happen only by talking calmly and rationally with the involved people. Including the higher anger. "Backstabbed" is an aggressive word which will make things worse if it is used, because it throws very strong blame on people, and instead of becoming involved, they will become defensive or, even worse, aggressive.. – virolino Sep 22 '20 at 11:09
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    I fully agree, becoming emotional is very easy, and at the moment seems the right thing to do. That is the best way to make things worse. I just had an outburst like that earlier this year. Although I did careful work to "clean" the situation, and despite the fact that colleagues value me better now, I am still the guy "who raises his voice". The best advice: no matter how difficult it is, do not become emotional. – virolino Sep 22 '20 at 11:16
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What to do?

Mum should be working with a mental health professional.

They would help her overcome her mental fatigue, psychological stress, and overly emotional reaction. They would also teach her some more effective coping strategies and how to better deal with negative feedback.

She should not seek a demotion.

She should learn whatever legal remedies there might be in your (currently undisclosed) locale, if any. That seems unlikely, but anything is possible.

Finally, Mum should be working with her manager to learn how she can more effectively teach this new employee and how she can better deal with insubordination.

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  • Good answer, I think. However, she has been trying to teach this new employee to do their tasks correctly, but it's difficult with constant insubordination. – Al2110 Sep 22 '20 at 11:22
  • @Al2110 If she's a supervisor, she must have some disciplinary measures at her disposal, doesn't she? So if the employee is not playing along after having been dealt with friendly, why not try the "my way or the high way"? – Fildor Sep 23 '20 at 15:31
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According to your description, it seems that there is a conflict between your mum's expectations regarding doing things, and the new employee's way of doing things.


I know this kind of conflict from my own experience, both in the professional life, and in the private life. In time, at the cost of pretty much destroying my health, I learned that as long as the objective is clear and accomplished, the way to the objective is a lot less important.


So in the case of your mother, I would suggest the following few actions:

  1. Clarify with her managers if "the way" is important, or only the result. In which cases "the way" is also important? (I suppose, at least when safety is concerned.)
  2. Clarify with the employees, for each task, which is the objective: what is the final outcome desired, in how much time, etc.
  3. Let the employees do the job the way they want.

While doing 2. and 3. above, monitor what is going on. Based on the observation, some "corrections" are possible:

  1. Your mother might learn about a better way to do something. She can praise the respective employee for having a better way of doing things, teach all employees about the new better way.
  2. An employee might need to learn a better way to do something. Usually, a face-to-face is better for providing improvement feedback.

You might find it interesting and useful to read about feedback. More about giving feedback here1 and here2.

Other details are too specific to be discussed in this answer. If needed, you can ask other (specific) questions in the future.


This situation is a matter of human nature, which is quite rebellious if not controlled. While some people express their rebellion by bending or not following the rules, other people manifest their rebellion by following the rules too strictly. This latter form of rebellion is also called "rule-book slowdown".

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  • I think you are focusing too much on just one example I gave. Also, I think you are misunderstanding it. The task that was supposed to be done must be done in a specific way, otherwise it is just wrong. This employee was essentially questioning the company's procedures, which my mum knows well after 10 years. The issue now is what can be done at this point to ensure that she stays employed. That is, clear, direct recommendations about how she can approach the next conversation. – Al2110 Sep 22 '20 at 10:46
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    @Al2110: I can only address what you describe, unfortunately. Even so, your mum should start talking with the employees from person to person, not from manager to employee. The way she leads the discussions is also important - see the mentioning of feedback above. And the procedures might be outdated. 10 years ago was just the dawn of smartphones - and where are smartphones today. Maybe this "bad guy" actually has the knowledge to improve the operations of the company. Just brainstorming: what if the procedures mention the use of a type-writer? Why not use a computer instead? – virolino Sep 22 '20 at 10:52
  • Your mum can successfully _and happily_keep her job is she understands better what s going on and if she adapts to the new realities. Another interesting discussions can be conducted between your mother and her managers. If the managers tend to be on the side of the new employee, then maybe some "truth" might lurk there. And you mum might want to take a chance to get some advantage of whatever that "truth" is. – virolino Sep 22 '20 at 10:56
  • @Al2110 of course, but I think people would be able to give advice on how to remedy this situation as quickly as possible, given the circumstances. Also, it's not as if my mum has her way of doing things, her manager also complained about this new employee's lack of willingness to learn, and perform the tasks as required, which are simple and direct. It's not as if they can be improved somehow. – Al2110 Sep 22 '20 at 10:57
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    My experience is that repairing something takes at least as much time as was needed to break it. Usually more. One can break a glass in less than 2 seconds. Repairing the said glass will take minutes or hours, and the repair might still not be perfect. The same is with the work relationships (all relationships, actually). Some tension was created in some amount of time. This tension cannot be released at the snap of the fingers. The first step is that everyone agrees that something is not perfect, and everyone has a chance to express their point of view. That is the foundation of improving. – virolino Sep 22 '20 at 11:01
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I think you misdiagnosed the core problem. This isn't an issue of 'direct manager backstabbed her'. This is an issue of your mom having a different vision on employee interaction than her supervisor.

You're describing the new employee as insubordinate, along with some actions the employee has taken. Now, your mother has an expected series of actions she expects to take when this occurs.

However, doing those series of actions didn't gain management support. There are really only two reasons that this would happen:

  • Management doesn't understand the situation
  • Management understands the situation, but doesn't agree with what your mother is doing about it.

Solving this is actually very simple. Have your mother talk with her direct supervisor with examples of the behavior. And then, (Nonconfrontationally!) ask the manager what course of action would be best in that situation.

... and then do it. If the manager says, "If they disagree, try to form consensus", then do that. If they say, "Doesn't matter if they disagree, you set the rules," then do that.

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