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I am the assistant manager of a small team in the service industry. I recently lost my temper with an employee, Ed, for his failure to complete his work on time. I barked at him, in view and earshot of other employees and my manager, chastising him for repeatedly refusing my help earlier in the shift, when I was checking on his progress. Immediately after, he told my manager that he was quitting; later he expanded to say that he's been thinking about quitting for a long time, because he doesn't feel like he's fitting in or working to the same standard as everyone else, and that he dreads coming to work.

This failure to perform his tasks has been a consistent problem for me with Ed; every shift that I work with him involves my (calm!) close supervision, guiding, and redirection of his activity. He does not prioritize well. He often takes on tasks that distract him from his main, written, duties. I have been very frustrated with his lack of progress in self-directing. This kind of supervision is not my preferred style of management, and I also have a full load of shift work of my own. His occasional bristling at my redirection has been an additional burr for me. I want him to succeed, but I haven't been able to find the right way of coaching him.

Regardless of his history, I was obviously wrong to lose my temper, and I've apologized to him for that. On the other hand, I believe that the reprimand itself was entirely justified; it just wasn't delivered appropriately. My manager agrees on both counts.

This is a restaurant, and we're in the kitchen; although yelling, and sometimes outright abuse, is the norm in some of those, I and my boss don't want that kind of environment.

The problem is that Ed is well-liked: he's a friendly, helpful guy (as noted above, too helpful sometimes) and his performance problems were not particularly visible to the other team we have here. Thus, from their view it probably looks like I came out of left field, flew off the handle, and bullied a good employee into leaving.

So, to the inevitable question of "What the heck happened to Ed?" my preferred response would be "He couldn't deal with being told he wasn't doing his job". Clearly not politic.

What should my overall response be as a responsible manager who realizes he handled the situation badly, even if the outcome (Ed's departure) was inevitable? How can I publicly be accountable for my own action without taking the blame for his?

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    You do not disclose in what country you are, nor what kind of company this is. Barking at employees can be the norm in some cases, and totally unacceptable in others. – Quora Feans Sep 13 '15 at 21:33
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    @commenters: can we assume good faith, be nice, and believe that the OP is telling the truth please? I've heard of plenty of cases where employees themselves realise that it's not working out, as seemed to be the case here. Additionally, barring evidence to the contrary, everyone here is human and has made or will make mistakes in dealing with coworkers. If we didn't this site probably wouldn't exist. OP has acknowledged that he made a mistake in (understandably) losing his temper and is asking how to deal with the situation. – Lilienthal Sep 14 '15 at 13:14
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    @Simze (and others): keep in mind what comments are intended to be. They are not for providing opinions/personal perspectives on a person's situation - if you want to provide an answer, use the "Answer" functionality. – enderland Sep 14 '15 at 16:28
  • Reminds me of this question: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/19427/… – Michael Sep 14 '15 at 16:49
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    I love this question simply for the fact that - on the face of it - you're trying to learn how to be a better manager. And THAT is exactly what this site is supposed to be about... helping people in the workplace learn how to be better employees and managers. – Omegacron Sep 18 '15 at 20:07
13

As the OP asked for a more in depth answer, here is my analysis:

There are 3 issues mentioned here:

  • The reason why Ed work was bad and needed to change. Really not relevant, the OP considers himself justified so let's take that for granted.

  • The way in which the OP lost his temper in public. Obviously, the OP fault. The solution to this is to publicly recognize that it was a mistake from you and to promise not to repeat that again, so work relations are not affected.

  • The way Ed reacted to the OP barking. This is the more contentious point. I think the OP feels that he is being singled as the single cause of Ed quitting and thinks he should not. But even if Ed was thinking of quitting, doing so just after the crisis clearly shows everyone which was the final cause.

    • If the OP would just repeat to the people what Ed told him, it would most probably backfire as people will see that as just a way of trying to avoid blame, and using the fact that Ed is not longer there to contradict him.

    • Even if Ed apppears at the place to repeat those claims, people won't miss that he could have changed his mind if it had not been for the OP.

So, the best thing to do is not try to avoid taking the blame, but doing some control damage:

  • Explain that you apologized to Ed but Ed insisted in quitting.

  • If allowed by management, talk to Ed in a few days; insist that you acknowledge that the way you treated him was not adequate and, that if he is interested, you can offer his job.

    Explain him it is not a free ride; he had some issues that needed to be solved and you want to discuss those with him (allow him to talk back so he can convince some of those issues are not really his fault), and that he should return only if he thinks he will be able to fit.

    If Ed does not want to return, inform your personal that you tried to but Ed did not agree. Again, don't get into detail about his perceived failures.

Those measures are not for making you look like less "guilty" for you reacting wrong, but to show that even if you caused Ed to quit in the first place, you have attempted to amend the situation and Ed has been given an honorable solution which he could have taken if he really wanted it.

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    Thanks for expanding. I find your analysis very helpful, especially the last part: whether or not I hold myself ultimately blameless for Ed quitting, nothing I can do will really change whether anyone else will blame me. But there may be a "make the best of it"/"make amends" option. – s.phillip.c Sep 14 '15 at 18:40
91

"What the heck happened to Ed?"

"He couldn't deal with being told he wasn't doing his job". Clearly not politic.

Your response is "clearly politic" and "clearly" defensive, since you would be offering an unsolicited explanation to an innocent question. Also, that response is very defensive because you would be claiming some kind of psychic mind-reading ability, about knowing what was in his mind when he quit.

Instead, you should just say:

"He quit last Thursday"

If the person makes up his own mind about what happened (without asking follow-up questions), then let him. The more you try to control what someone is possibly thinking of you, the more you will create the opposite impression of what you want to communicate.

If he asks for more details, then tell him

"I blew up at him. Then he quit."

Describe what happened, not your interpretation of what happened. Then you can go into the specifics of what he said, what happened, and what you thought. But if you don't start with "I blew up at him. Then he quit", and leave it unspoken, then I assure you this is the explanation they will give themselves when you have your back turned. And it will sound ten times worse when they say it than when you say it.

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    "I blew up at him. Then he quit." is already common knowledge, since three or four people witnessed it. Your point about "stick to the facts" is well taken, but I guess my question is do those facts include Ed's historically poor performance? It doesn't seem like a good idea to get into that with everyone. – s.phillip.c Sep 13 '15 at 19:29
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    I'm sorry. I misunderstood. You're right. You probably don't need to get into the specifics of what he did wrong. Besides, a lot of that can be opened to interpretation. But I would still own up to the part you played in his quitting. Seeing it is one thing. Hearing that you admit you lost your temper is another. If I were you, I'd still preface any explanation with "I blew up. Then he quit." Then, you could just tell them the explanation he gave the manager as he quit. The part about his performance could easily be inferred from you blowing up at him and from what he said to the manager. – Stephan Branczyk Sep 13 '15 at 20:20
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    Owning your mistake with "I blew up at him. Then he quit." is probably the best idea here. – sevensevens Sep 13 '15 at 21:14
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    Great answer. For morale reasons, I wouldn't talk at all about his performance. Yes, your managerial credibility took a hit, but that doesn't make you an irredeemable monster. Like the answer says, #1 Assure your workers you know that your blow-up was wrong and that you aren't going to repeat it on them. #2 Don't give your workers the impression that you're going to trash-talk them after they leave. They will infer the part about the performance issues--or just gossip, but you aren't going to be able to control that anyway. – brian_o Sep 14 '15 at 16:01
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    Anyway, the others are perfectly aware of his poor performance, and probably wondered what took so long. – RedSonja Sep 15 '15 at 10:18
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I barked at him, in view and earshot of other employees and my manager [...]

[...] and I've apologized to him for that

There is an asymmetry between a public humiliation, and a private apology.

I don't need to tell you that a reprimand should have been done in private, but when you've already done it in front of so many others, the apology would have carried more weight if done equally public, regardless of whether or not you were right to do so.

How can I publicly be accountable for my own action without taking the blame for his?

Since Ed already quit, you might have lost that chance, and since your next worry is about how you should go about shirking your responsibility ("without taking the blame"), I'm afraid this falls off-topic, as we generally don't give advice along the lines of "you should do such-and-such".

However, since I'm posting this as an answer, my advice is to own up to it. You yelled at him, and he quit. Make it clear that you regret your actions, and that it will never happen again.

When they inevitably ask you "why did you yell at him?", make sure you don't badmouth Ed beyond the scope of the conversation. This can be a fine line, and hard to see, but Ed was still a hard-working employee, and for all his short-comings, he was still a person. Don't harp on it. Be concise, and to the point, then shut up about it. Your behavior is the topic now, not his.

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    Precisely, you should avoid any reference to what Ed did. The issue/scope is for you to acknowledge that you did not behave profesionally and that you plan to make amends, by discussing issues with everyone calmly and privately. Not what did Ed did, or if you were wrong or right in being unsatisified with him. In that context, if they insist, you can reply that you won't talk about the issues you had with Ed in the same speech in which you vow to not to publicize them, and much less once that Ed no longer is present. – SJuan76 Sep 13 '15 at 20:15
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    You are to blame for him quitting; you were pretty much the icing on the cake, along with the reasons of him not making a good fit. His reasons for quitting were the same reasons you flipped out on him. So my best bet for you is to just say, Ed no longer works here. As a manager, its very unprofessional to get into detail about his performance anyway. @s.phillip.c – LOSTinNEWYORK Sep 13 '15 at 20:35
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    He never said he didn't want to take the blame for his actions. He said he didn't want to take the blame for Ed's actions! That's a huge difference! – o0'. Sep 13 '15 at 21:08
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    @Ginger nope. If he was already thinking about quitting, than anything could have been the proverbial icing. And that's irrelevant: the real reason is somewhere else. How can you reckon that this was only an icing, and than also claim that it's relevant? – o0'. Sep 13 '15 at 21:09
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    @s.phillip.c From my point of view you are responsible for him quitting. You're not the be all, end all cause, but you did provide the straw that broke the camel's back. That being said, beyond breaking composure in front of other Employees you did not do anything wrong except perhaps abstain from correcting the issue of Ed's performance in the office for too long. I realize that, from your question and back and forth, you did everything you could to assist him. However much an Employee is likable or is trying, eventually you have to cut the support and if he can't perform, cut him loose. – zfrisch Sep 13 '15 at 21:17
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edit: I'll be making assumptions based on what I read between the lines. I might be wrong.

The problem is that Ed is well-liked: he's a friendly, helpful guy (as noted above, too helpful sometimes)

From what I read from this, it could be that Ed helped people perform at good speed, and taking responsibility for making sure everyone could work in good conditions.

In other words, he was doing the manager's job (yours).

You should really ask yourself if it's ok to have 4 people performing at 100% and 1 at 50% because he helps a lot or 5 people performing at 75% because they are isolated. (those numbers reflect my personal experience)

I call it "chain of responsibility": if your manager expects you to monitor every single person an assess their performance, then you have to shout at Ed.

On the other way, if your manager just wants a well-performing team, then (sorry) you're the bad manager for not noticing how Ed's help was affecting your team's performance.

Helping is not something you can measure, yet it doesn't mean it's useless. In fact, I've yet to see a team where working without help is more efficient than the other way. It's also the best way to spread knowledge and increase performance over time.

To me, it looks like Ed paid the price for caring too much of the company and not enough of himself. That's exactly the kind of management I've seen so often and that leads to mediocre results, simply because it forces people to shift their efforts toward themselves instead of toward the company.

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    While this may be a potential interpretation of the happenings - I think it's just that: an interpretation. You can't know if the OPs team works that way and I think you are making a lot of assumptations here. – s1lv3r Sep 14 '15 at 9:52
  • I am. In case I'm right it's very helpful, im case I'm wrong the OP will post more detailed explanation of his situation. I'll add better disclaimer that I'm making assumptions. – Gryzorz Sep 14 '15 at 10:20
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    Yeah, this is really off-base; all of us help each other all the time, but we also have a list of stuff that we are each primarily responsible for on a daily basis. I also don't see how this is relevant to my problem. "not noticing how Ed's help was affecting your team's performance" I did notice: his helpfulness is directed at everyone in the business, not just our team, and it distracts him from his own work. Generally, as a non-manager, the most important thing to do for the overall business is worry only about your assignments. – s.phillip.c Sep 14 '15 at 18:44
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    So you don't mind making an employee quit who is beneficial to the company? Your last sentence is ridiculous. – gnasher729 Sep 14 '15 at 23:44
  • @gnasher729, are you talking to me? I don't know why I have to say this so many times: he's not beneficial to the company, because he's not doing his f'ing job. It's actually been a hard lesson for me as a manager than I often can't let my employees go off on their own and try to fix all the problems they see. I like to trust them and give them free rein. But I'm not your manager, and things may be different in your industry. This is how it is in mine. – s.phillip.c Sep 15 '15 at 19:13
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It's a long story. He had some performance issues and was thinking to quit. And when I lost my temper amd yelled at him last week, it helped him realize it is time to move on.

I think it's important to point out the long-term factor, otherwise people will think they have to react the same way when there is trouble. It's sad he left because he was so nice and you hope he finds a place where he fits in better.

  • To be clear, you're advocating that I explain the long-term issues that I've had with Ed, to other employees, when they ask about him quitting? Can you expand on why you think that's a good idea, because to me, it seems like it would be seen as plain old badmouthing, and even covering up my own mistake(s). – s.phillip.c Sep 14 '15 at 7:20
  • @s.phillip.c not "badmouthing", simply state that he was already planned to leave, and this was only the icing. They shouldn't think that Ed left just because the OP yelled at him. – o0'. Sep 14 '15 at 9:06
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    No, this is very bad advice, you should never discuss even generally someone else's performance problems. How would you feel if you boss did that to you especially when you are not present to defend yourself? – HLGEM Sep 14 '15 at 13:04
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    @s.phillip.c No, don't explain the long-term issues. Just state that they existed. And if people ask for details, refuse. Just say that you don't want to talk about people behind their back. Or skip that part, more or less. The key here you want to get across is that he was thinking about leaving and then your temper tantrum made him pull the trigger on quitting. – Shane Sep 14 '15 at 16:48
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First, Ed's performance is a private matter and cannot be discussed in public.

Next, why he quit is not a topic that you can discuss either. It is no one else's business.

What you can do is address your own performance problem in public. You apologize to your team and Ed (in absentia) for the blow up, state that it was wrong and tell them it won't happen again. Ask them to tell you if they see that you are starting to stress out.

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    You've made the claim, both in this answer and in numerous comments to other answers, that Ed's performance cannot be discussed with the other employees. While I agree that, in general, that is the most professional policy, what makes you so certain it absolutely cannot be discussed with anyone in any circumstance? Do you mean legally? We don't (AFAIK) know which country OP is in, and even in the U.S., I'm pretty sure it varies state-by-state. ... – iamnotmaynard Sep 14 '15 at 14:47
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    ... Do you mean as a way to save face or maintain respect as a manager? OP's other employees surely know that blowing up at someone is a rare occurrence (as the case seems), and it could be beneficial to the team for OP to explain, "Ed just wasn't cutting the mustard, and after calmly trying to correct him in private on multiple occassions, I lost my temper." It still might not justify his actions, but it could help the other employees understand them. – iamnotmaynard Sep 14 '15 at 14:49
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    Whether it is legal or not is irrelevant, it is unethical. However, no good HR person would allow a manager to do such a thing. It leaves the company open for libel suits. – HLGEM Sep 14 '15 at 15:14
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    @HLGEM It's not libel if it's true. – Miles Rout Sep 15 '15 at 1:25
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    @KPM, it is unethical because the information is private. Do you want your coworkers told if you have a performance problem? Do you want them to know that you got your pay docked or are put on a PIP? This isn't about honesty but about privacy. Managers always have information that they cannot share for privacy and other reasons. As far as libel, performance issues are subjective and destroying someone's reputation opens you to a suit even if they would lose it. – HLGEM Sep 15 '15 at 13:46
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If Ed told you or your boss he was quitting because he felt he wasn't able to work well and wasn't enjoying the job, that's what you can tell people about why he quit.

As to your actual question - not taking the blame for his quitting. Well, you probably won't be able to erase that. St best, you can explain that you had been working with Ed to try and improve the quality of his work to meet the team, and had vented frustration after he repeatedly failed to meet the standard of the rest of the team, acknowledging that it was wrong.

Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, but people are more forgiving about them if you openly admit them.

3

Lots of great points already, just want to add a few things:

  1. First of all, you say: "yelling, and sometimes outright abuse, is the norm in some of those, I and my boss don't want that kind of environment." If you are a manager (or assistant manager), then you are largely responsible for the culture in which you work.

  2. I can't say I've worked in that sort of environment, but generally at the next staff meeting when announcements are made, you say something like "so-and-so will be leaving, his/her last day will be X," or "so-and-so is no longer working with us." I've been told that for HR reasons, and out of fairness to someone who's leaving/left and therefore not able to defend himself, it's best to not go into details.

  3. Usually what happens is having not gone into details, after someone leaving in the manner that Ed left your team, there is usually some team meeting/exercise to address the issue. In your case, it seems that either (1) your team prefers to work in a different manner then you have been asking them in which the team does more self-organization or (2) you have to be more clear about assigned responsibilities and why you want things run that way.

  4. A suggestion for how to coach people like "Ed" - I imagine that you didn't want him doing "extra" things out of fear of something going wrong that he should have taken care of. Often, it is easier to teach/coach to results then actions. Give someone a very small, tightly controlled scenario in which they're behavior leads to some bad outcome (but, a small one!), then discuss with that person what happened and why in order to show how their choice in behavior wasn't helpful.

  • Good points. +1 for the first one in particular. – Alec Sep 16 '15 at 9:05
  • Thanks for your points. What you describe in 4 I actually already think is a great tool, it's good to hear someone else uses it as well. For 1, we're very much aware of that. It's part of the reason I'm so ashamed about my behavior here. – s.phillip.c Sep 16 '15 at 21:14
1

Patently, you care and for this you should be commended as most simply don't.

I see 3 learning points from this:

  • be empathetic. Without being facile, what does that mean? It means getting to understand the POV of the other person. Why is this important? I have found in the past that people's apparently misguided actions are informed by all manner of misinformation and, mostly, simply miscommunication. When analysed properly, it has nearly always turned out that they have not heard clearly and unequivocally what their performance expectations are; so they do the best 'approximation' of what they understand they can. As, invariably, this includes things they 'should' be doing, it's easy to assume, as a manager, that they are choosing not to do what's asked of them when all along they simply haven't understood properly. I do hope that makes sense? Communication issues sit dead centre of nearly every problem with business and most of us managing forget that the responsibility for communication lies with the communicatOR (YOU) to ensure the message is both received AND understood - just ask them to explain back to you what they have to do in their own words!

  • be protective. Organisational culture is rarely engaging of employees as 99.99% of it is blame based. Here you have the opportunity to become the 'umbrella' over your team, shielding them from the rubbish that rains down from high on a daily basis. When you do this, your team sees that you are doing it, trying to protect them, and will appreciate it - hopefully going the extra mile for both you and their team mates/colleagues.

  • be honest. Ask the rest of your team for feedback (tis up to you as to whether it's private or public but public shouts more loudly that you care) on how you handled it. Ask how they might have done it. Ask how you go forward as a team to learn from it. Most importantly, LISTEN (without any agendas or excuses in your head) and acknowledge points by thanking the person brave enough to put their head above the parapet to make it. Then LEARN from it.

You WILL be fine, and if I can help in any way I'd be happy to via a PM

  • "Communication issues sit dead centre of nearly every problem with business" Lord, don't I know it. It's a fresh challenge every day. Although it's kind of fun to figure out how to say whatever to everyone so they get it. I appreciate your encouragement, but I think this advice is a bit too general for me to apply it here. – s.phillip.c Sep 14 '15 at 18:56

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