I am frequently being criticised for the mistakes made by an underperforming colleague, which is slowly grinding me down and making me feel like I should look for a new job. My boss seems to be unaware of how negatively this management style is affecting me, despite me trying to communicate this already.

I am getting increasingly frustrated and I want to let my boss know that I'm not happy to continue with the status quo. I want to indicate that my job satisfaction is important to me without coming across as unreasonable. My question is, how do I constructively communicate job dissatisfaction to my boss?

Additional Detail

I work in a small team of developers with a line manager who is our collective boss. My boss' approach to the team ethos is that I and my colleagues are operating on a peer-to-peer basis and none of us are 'senior' or 'above' one another (with the exception of himself as the line manager). This means that in practise we are encouraged to give each other feedback and to work collaboratively, but none of us have any authority to tell the others what to do or what not to do. In theory I would have no problems with this team dynamic, but over time I have found myself becoming increasingly disatisfied with how accountability is managed within the team by my boss.

I have one colleague in particular who underperforms - by this I mean, their work is often sloppy and full of mistakes. They do not have an eye for detail and demonstrate forgetfulness, so when I offer them friendly feedback or point out mistakes which need fixing, they take my feedback positively but often forget to implement any fixes. (I believe my colleague's working style has always been this way, but the full extent of it did not become apparent to me until another colleague had left the company. I believe the colleague who left had habitually cleaned up the other guy's work for him, but hadn't mentioned this to anyone.)

I have found over time that my boss prefers to deliver any negative feedback to the team collectively, so when he discovers shortcomings in our work, instead of speaking to the person who implemented it, he tells us as a group 'You guys need to perform better'. At first I was sympathetic to this approach because I understand that it can be demoralising to single out individuals for criticism. However, I am now finding that I am becoming increasingly stressed and demotivated by the near-constant reprimands and criticisms being aimed at the group. I am quite certain that the collective criticism is not aimed at me as an individual**, but am finding it increasingly difficult to be patient with my colleague. I have tried delivering peer-to-peer feedback, first in a friendly way and later in a more firm tone, communicating that he needs to improve and also offering advice on how to improve. I've even offered to take on extra work to help him manage his workload. I've found so far that he doesn't take my feedback seriously and often dismisses the criticisms from my boss as 'don't worry about it, he's just in a bad mood'. I've found that by overseeing and helping to manage my colleague's workload I have had some success in raising the quality of his output, but I feel like this is hugely inappropriate for a peer-to-peer relationship. I have spoken to my boss privately to express that I am having difficulty dealing with his expectations - it is very demotivating to be powerless to motivate my colleague while still coming in for criticism when his efforts are negatively impacting the group's output. My boss has privately expressed to me that he isn't sure how to approach the situation with my colleague and that he will need to 'think about it'. This has now been going on for several months, and I have spoken privately to my boss three times; in every case he said he still needed more time to 'think about it'.

** In one-to-one meetings with my boss, I have always consistently received positive feedback and my performance always either meets or exceeds expectations.


That's a tough situation, you have my sympathy. It sounds to me like your manager is pretty inexperienced in what "managing" actually entails.

He has adopted a team driven approach, without actually making sure that all the parts of that team are functioning, and that team-building elements in place for the enterprise to succeed.

I'm only guessing, but his hesitation to address your co-worker's shortcomings, and his insistence of speaking to you all as a group is probably indicative of him being uncomfortable with confrontational situations, such as pulling someone aside to reprimand him.

Here's a few things to consider:

1) Don't get so involved.

Do your work, and let him do his. You are not the manager! It's not your job to supervise, train, or otherwise instruct this guy! You've given him advice, and you've told your boss as much.

Keep in mind, that you were unaware of his shortcomings until your team-mate quit! Don't become his new cover-up. Let his failings speak for themselves, let everybody notice - especially your boss's bosses. At the very least the rest of the team needs to step up and speak to the guy, but don't shoulder this responsibility by yourself - it's not worth your sanity.

2) Group critique, begone.

I would change my tune. When you go up and corner your boss about your problem team-mate what you're doing is shinning a light on your boss's inability to manage his team. I would back up - fast. He is an inept manager, that much is obvious. But don't try to tackle both his failures AND your co-workers. Let the problems take care of themselves.

Instead, the next time your group is criticized approach your boss. Ask him if your performance is somehow sub-par. He will, according to what you've written, praise you. Then gently, but firmly, express that you do not appreciate being criticized for the failures of others. That you feel like you are personally being reprimanded, even though you are putting your heart and soul into your work, and that it is negatively impacting your motivation.

I wouldn't get into the whole team morale aspect simply because you want to avoid becoming everyone's spokesperson. They are all "your peers", they can fight their own battles.

Hopefully he will understand. If he once again criticized you all as a group speak to him again. You may want to become more forceful, and say that you would like any problems with your work to be addressed privately, and that you will not accept criticism for the failings of others.

If he says that you guys are failing as a team, say that you've done what you can to advise others as to how they might be more productive, but that you haven no authority to implement changes, or conduct training. Basically point out that it's his job to manage the team, not yours.

3) Escalate

If this behavior continues, with absolutely no improvement then you may want to address your concerns to HR. This is a pretty aggressive move, politically, and so I wouldn't do this unless you are willing to compromise your relationship with your boss forever, and/or possibly leave that company.

You could complain to them that you don't feel that your performance is being accurately judged, and that the constant critique is affecting your morale, and quality of work - in other words your boss's negative feedback is unfair, unjust, and damaging to your well-being. In some countries that's a big deal, and a serious accusation. A complaint like that is bound to attract upper-management's attention, and the consequences for your boss, under-performing team-mate, or yourself might be dire. (and then again nothing might come of it, which would be negative as well).


It's not your job to shoulder this slacker's dead weight. Advice him, document that you advised him, and do no more. If he refuses your feedback, he's on his own.

Try to disentangle yourself from the group criticism. Others may take your lead and have similar conversations with your boss, and the "group sessions" might stop.

If those two things do not work, escalate to HR.

Good luck!

[PS] Some StackExchange related advice: your question reads a little too much like a rant, and the situation is expressed in a very personal way. Take a step back and ask the question in a broader sense. Leave out a bit of the back-story and focus on the facts. As it stands, I wouldn't be surprised if the question was put on hold sometime soon. If it does, do not panic - simply edit it and apply to have it reopened.

  • Go to HR and complain that the boss holds the team responsible instead of individuals? What if they don't agree? – user8365 Nov 16 '15 at 20:07
  • Thanks for the feedback, it is very insightful! With regard to the stackexchange-related advice, I see what you are saying. I originally was just going to post the 'summary' but was concerned about asking too broad a question. I'd like to edit the question to be more neutral but at present I'm not sure which parts are most in need of removal. I shall continue to think on it! – FibonacciSharpe Nov 17 '15 at 13:14

Since the team is being held accountable, the you need to ask to boss to give you the authority to smack down or fire this underperforming employee. Inform him that this individual is not at the same level as the rest of the team and is dragging down the overall teams performance. You could get more work done if he wasn't there at all. Additionally mention your former colleague was likely covering for this individual and that this is not something new.

Then you need to redefine some of your team dynamics. Start looking at pair programming, establish coding standards, and code reviews with mandatory approvals before being merged. If you are using GIT the repositories can be setup to enforce this. On our team, we require 2 peer review approvals, all code tests pass, test coverage, and a static security analysis to all pass before the changes can be merged and accepted.

  • 1
    +1 - Excellent answer. If the team is responsible, then they need to act like it. If the boss doesn't empower the team, then there's nothing that can be done except look for a new job or ignore him. – user8365 Nov 16 '15 at 20:05

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .