I work as a software engineer and during a recent meeting my boss mentioned offhand that if one of my coworkers (not present) didn't start making some progress on the project we are working on, that he would need to have a 'talk' with her.

I don't believe that her job is in jeopardy, but I can remember when I was new, and a friendly heads-up from a coworker that my boss was dissatisfied with my performance would have been nice.

She is still very new, and she is having some trouble getting up to speed. I would like to advise her that all our boss is looking for is that she should make more of an effort to at least try to make some progress despite not knowing exactly how to proceed, instead of just doing training all day everyday.

My boss is also her boss.

Would it be appropriate to tell her this?

  • 3
    Ha. In two of my first jobs, I had bosses who were like yours and wondered when I was going to stop poring over the documentation and get to work. When I did get to work, I literally worked myself out of both jobs. Sometimes that time is well spent, and there are some people who are actually not able to do a job until they fully understand it. I personally don't understand how people do work with just a sketchy understanding of what's going on, but that's just me. Dec 9, 2015 at 18:35
  • Firstly, do you have confidence that she'll be able to do her job? And secondly, are you on friendly terms with her?
    – Dan
    Dec 9, 2015 at 18:55
  • 9
    It sounds entirely inappropriate for your manager to be discussing the performance and disciplinary steps (of which a verbal warning is usually the first!) with anyone, much less a subordinate who is a peer of the under-performing individual.
    – corsiKa
    Dec 9, 2015 at 21:21
  • I wonder if the boss was giving the OP a roundabout warning that their own performance is lacking?
    – Kilisi
    Dec 10, 2015 at 22:23

5 Answers 5


Yes, I'd see this as appropriate to pass along. I would suggest focusing more on results than time here as the boss is likely looking more for results than just time spent on something. Some tasks could be done in 2 hours or 200 hours depending on how nit picky one wants to get and thus I'd look more on progress and checking things off of a to do list here.

  • 3
    Sometimes a boss will try to light a fire under someone by indirect means. I'm not saying it's a good way of handling things, but I've seen it before. I agree - pass the info along.
    – NotMe
    Dec 9, 2015 at 20:19
  • Upvoted, as I did the warning once myself, but the result was, errrrm, non-existant. So don't expect miracles. But maybe it can have positive results. At worse, your warning will have been useless. So nothing lost.
    – gazzz0x2z
    Dec 10, 2015 at 9:05
  • Thank you, everyone, for your input. While other responses were indeed helpful, I believe that this is my answer. Something that I should have considered more was how I could help my coworker, instead of just warn her. She is part of my team and someone who I will eventually be collaborating with on projects, and this discussion has made me realize that there is more I could be doing to help a struggling coworker.
    – AlexD
    Dec 10, 2015 at 15:16
  • I would help out a colleague and give them a heads up, but I'd also be incredibly cautious on how I word it. It may seem like you're interfering unnecessarily, and passing off your own judgement as your bosses. Keep it amicable.
    – Joe
    Dec 10, 2015 at 21:02

I know you want to be helpful, but be careful that you don't get caught in the middle. If you bring up her lack of performance, and then the boss "talks" to her about it, she may think you were the one who complained.

However, if you absolutely feel like you want to help, you might ask her to sit down with you to discuss how the project is going, and gently guide her toward what you know of the boss's expectations. Try to use neutral language (instead of "you should do this" explain that "Normally, what the bosses like to see is...") Since you are both working on the same project, help her to see that you want to help your teammates succeed, because it is a win for both of you.

  • Sounds iike mansplaining already. Be careful not to confuse "circuitous and condescending" with "neutral." "Continue working with your colleague to do a good job" would be more neutral advice to give.
    – user42272
    Dec 10, 2015 at 2:04
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    @djechlin not that it's any kind of conclusive evidence, but you do know 'Francine' is a female given name, right?
    – AakashM
    Dec 10, 2015 at 8:39
  • @djechlin: the problem with the advice "Continue working with your colleague to do a good job" is that the colleague is not currently doing a good job.
    – user145
    Dec 10, 2015 at 12:06
  • @AakashM what's your point?
    – user42272
    Dec 10, 2015 at 13:37
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    @MarkBannister which does not make her your mentee.
    – user42272
    Dec 10, 2015 at 13:38

First, it is your manager's job to manage - so be careful that you are not crossing that line.

A "friendly heads-up" that a boss is about to "talk" to a stressed and anxious co-worker is likely not going to be productive. If you think being direct with your colleague is acceptable and will lead to a productive, "how can I do better at my job?" type conversation, then you might mention it.

Your boss may have mentioned it casually, but also maybe is interested in seeing if your team can work as a team when someone is struggling. Just be cautious in your approach - suggesting better training materials, asking about progress on related work or sharing tips with her may help without distracting her with increased anxiety.

Conversely, some people spend all day doing training because they really don't know what to do. They are best suited for another job and/or with another company and you are wasting your time with a person like that. While someone commented that spending time on training materials allowed them to grow out of their job rapidly, that is not beneficial to the employer or the team, however much it may have helped the individual. That is also not likely to benefit you much.

  • It did benefit the employer. The work was done, so in the first case they didn't need me to work so many hours (so it wasn't sustainable for me to stay, but it was cheaper in the short run for the employer). In the second case, it was a finite amount of work that they had contracted to do, so they got a bargain when I finished early. Dec 9, 2015 at 19:03
  • you are describing "performing a job" which includes acquiring information needed to get it done - not necessarily "working yourself out of a job" which seems to imply that your acquisition of skills prepared you for a future job at the expense of your current one. Your additional comment sounds like you did excellent work - I was cautioning the OP against trying to help someone that, intentionally or not, is really training themselves for another job.
    – Jim
    Dec 9, 2015 at 19:31

The fact that your boss said this in front of you could be seen as an implicit indication for you to pass this info along to your coworker, particularly since you have more experience and could potentially provide some mentoring in this area.

What to do next will depend in large part upon your working relationship with this female coworker. If you and she have a good working relationship, that's a good sign. If you are a Tech Lead or even informally mentor this coworker, that's an even better sign. However, only you know best how she would respond to any information you brought to her. I have worked with people over the years whom I would NEVER bring up this information with them because they would not react or respond well to it.

If you feel that you are in a position to bring this up to her, and that she would react positively to it, then yes I think you should bring it to her attention. Have an informal one on one conversation with her. Tell her what the boss said and try to give some context. You don't want her to panic, and this kind of news can make people panicky. I would suggest if you're willing to bring this up to her, then you should be prepared to help if at all possible. A little guidance and a few answered questions might be all that's needed.

  • Basing a course of action on an could be seen as an implicit indication interpretation is a bit strange. The proper thing to do would be to verify this interpretation with the boss: "Are you saying this to me because you want me to address this?"
    – user8036
    Dec 11, 2015 at 14:57
  • BTW If this was not the bosses intent, he was actually gossiping (complaining about X to Y). Not that the OP can lecture him on that...
    – user8036
    Dec 11, 2015 at 14:58
  • @JanDoggen human behavior is never an exact science. Over the years, particularly doing consulting and contract work, I've found it essential to rely more upon intuition and less upon direct communication. People are generally really bad at direct communication.
    – Kennah
    Dec 11, 2015 at 16:46

It's not your problem, and it's not your place to lecture your colleague on performance. So don't. Simple as that.

  • 1
    People often don't communicate directly, including leaders. This kind of indirect communication should not be ignored.
    – Kennah
    Dec 10, 2015 at 21:00
  • @Kennah So... what does that mean? You have to read minds all the time? Just stay out of it I reckon, don't go looking for trouble.
    – Kilisi
    Dec 10, 2015 at 21:02
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    @Kilisi if you know how to read minds, then you have me at the disadvantage. My observations on this are simple. If the Manager wanted to deal with it directly, then he would have. However, if he was fishing for someone to talk to this person and say, "Step up your game", then this kind of general statement is how they might go about it.
    – Kennah
    Dec 10, 2015 at 23:42
  • @Kennah - exactly, see my answer on what a great opportunity to show how valuable you are to your direct supervisor and how you can help the entire team. Sitting quiet and taking no action because of risk aversion is just going to make sure you never advance your career.
    – user718
    Dec 11, 2015 at 0:53
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    It's not my opinion that she is incompetent, nor would it benefit me to watch her struggle. I believe it would ultimately benefit everyone for her to succeed.
    – AlexD
    Dec 11, 2015 at 15:06

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