I work in IT, in a healthcare facility in the US.

The IT department manager was fired. Unrelated, the next level boss—the CFO—transferred to another facility. It has been declared that the manager position was closed and will be replaced with a supervisor position. I am certain I will be given the supervisor position—and my tech position will not be replaced.

As a byproduct of the strenuous circumstances, I have come to realize that one of my coworkers—a junior tech—is under-performing. Although his technical skills are competent, his workplace-skills are severely lacking. The rest of the team has a difficult time interacting with him, the majority of his work requires follow-up & re-completion, and other departments have complained about his attitude and performance.

Prior to these circumstances, I deferred judgement to my manager. Additionally, I have become friends outside of work with this under-performing coworker. Admittedly, I've been a terrible example to my coworker due to burn-out. I privately discussed his attitude and performance with him, and he has slightly improved. However, I don't know how to approach the rest.

We have met our new CFO, and discussions have started concerning the supervisor position and the structure changes. With the expectation that I will be the new supervisor, how should I approach and communicate the issue concerning my under-performing coworker?

The morale in the department is fairly low and this is causing additional stress. Additionally, I believe my coworker may be capable of maliciously retaliating.

These are the ideas I came up with

  1. Privately encourage him to seek alternate employment.
    • Being a junior, his position may be eliminated in further re-structuring (unlikely).
  2. Discuss the issue outright—risk losing a friend
    • Morale is low enough that the outcome may be disastrous
  3. Bring the issue to HR and new CFO
    • I feel like this would appear political and give a bad impression.
  4. Do nothing until leadership and structure changes are in-place.
    • This actively harms the department and customers.
  • So right now, he doesn't have any manager to report to? – Masked Man Sep 21 '17 at 7:01
  • @MaskedMan, Correct, none of us do. Technically the new CFO is next in line, but I don't know how to handle that without it possibly affecting the supervisor position or restructuring. – James Wolfe Sep 21 '17 at 7:01
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    @MaskedMan, Due to the situation with the previous manager, we literally don't report to anyone—me and my good coworker are basically autonomous. This has been the biggest issue with the bad coworker—he's trying to learn basic workplace skills and manage himself. I really feel for him—I just don't think he's a good fit. Had my previous manager been effectively managing, this would have been dealt with in the probationary period or be a non-issue. Unfortunately, I think the expectation have been set. – James Wolfe Sep 21 '17 at 7:14
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    I am certain I will be given the supervisor position—and my tech position will not be replaced. - Does this mean you'll be doing both supervising and tech stuff? You say you're already burned out - be careful of responsibilities and scrutiny increasing while you're burned out – Daenyth Sep 21 '17 at 17:38
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    I think you are not his supervisor yet and I truly feel like you acting as if you will be the supervisor is kind of arrogant. Until you are his boss leave him alone. – JonH Sep 21 '17 at 18:10

Wait until you have the supervisor position (if you get it) and the authority to enforce things that comes with it before doing anything.

Otherwise you risk a friendship, morale issues, and possibly even seem like you're the one with the problem.

Once you have the supervisor position you will be able to do some management on other staff from a strong position, until then you have nothing much at all.

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    (not the OP) Would it not be acceptable to approach the colleague in the sense that you're trying to help protect him from negative feedback from the (future) supervisor, whoever the supervisor will be? I guess it depends on whether it's commonly known that the OP is a shoe-in for the position? – Flater Sep 21 '17 at 14:40
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    @Flater In a perfect world, yes that's reasonable. However in a time of turmoil and low morale that might not be in anyone's best interest. If he accuses OP of overstepping his bounds that could jeopardize getting the supervisor position. If the kid panics it could be bad for everyone involved. If he quits, an even short staffed department is even MORE short staffed. – corsiKa Sep 21 '17 at 16:13
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    @Flater I agree with Kilisi. You are overstepping your role to act before you have the supervisory position. It is likely you will get it, but there is still a chance you won't. Acting like a supervisor when you aren't can only damage your opportunities to get the role. I'd play dumb about the underperforming until you are blessed with the task of monitoring other's performance. Also, it biases the under performer against you before you have the job. Remember, it is possible to motivate people (that will be your job). The employee might become a performer, if done right. – Edwin Buck Sep 21 '17 at 17:21
  • @EdwinBuck: My suggestion was more to approach the colleague as a colleague, not as a soon-to-be-supervisor. Of course he can't tell the other guy what to do from a supervisory position, but he can still approach him and ask if he needs help or explanation, no? – Flater Sep 22 '17 at 7:53
  • This seems to be the consensus between all the current answers. I'll add an update at the end of my question. – James Wolfe Sep 22 '17 at 17:55

Until you do have the new leadership position, do nothing officially. If there are talks between you and your CFO about the structure of your department, maybe a good place to talk about possible changes in the workforce.

In all fairness, if you have a junior employee who never got properly managed, it sounds like he deserves a chance to prove himself in the new structure with proper goals and sanctions.

That said, if he is hurting the business and you are convinced he needs to go, you´d probably be best off seeking some help with HR / your superior etc. to get it done properly and smoothly. Also think about who will do his work in the future and have a replacement ready. Don´t expect your friendship to survive this.

If you want to give him a chance - what you can do now, is use your private access to him to speed him up a little bit. Like "With all this restructuring I worry a little bit about our job-security, we really need to show our best right now." Once you have the position you can set performance goals with him, and see if he is able to "take the ball and run with it". If he does not, at least he´ll know why you fired him.

Last I want to give you a little warning. This sounds like they are trying to make you continue your old work, take on the main body of work from your former manager and get away with only paying for a single supervisor position. Getting used to your new role, firing a colleague, and - as morale is low - probably unexpectedly loosing someone else can put you in a hard place. So just be prepared and make sure you have a good overview of all the critical processes, systems, passwords, licenses etc.

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    +1 for "sounds like he deserves a chance to prove himself in the new structure with proper goals and sanctions". But sure be ready to provide that structure! – Lamar Latrell Sep 21 '17 at 21:54
  • You are right concerning him deserving a chance. I can't convince my other teammate of this, but I need to be patient. As for the last paragraph, we're fairly well cross-trained. Not for a good reason, but nonetheless it makes 3AM emergencies easier. – James Wolfe Sep 22 '17 at 18:34

Make sure that if you are asked to take the supervisor role that there is a clear definition of responsibility. As a supervisor I would expect to take instructions from a manager and report back on behalf of those I was supervising. The role of supervisor is to help allocate workload and track progress and performance, and report the results to management. It isn't a supervisor's place to act in a management capacity and hand out sanctions for under-performance. Just report the basic figures to management and let them handle under performing colleagues. If they expect a supervisor to do that, then it's only a manager by a different title and salary and expectations and responsibilities should reflect that.

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    And companies making people do the work of a higher position for less is not unheard of. They close a management position, close a senior IT position and get OP with a supervisor salary doing both. Nevermind that he already stated burnout.... – Mindwin Sep 21 '17 at 14:20
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    Supervisors are supposed to handle performance issues in every company or government agency I ever worked for. However, one should never do so as a new supervisor without extensive consultation with HR and your own supervisor because how you do things can cause legal issues. – HLGEM Sep 21 '17 at 14:34
  • Thank you for bringing this up. I brought up the responsibilities with my HR, and they clarified the position. We're negotiating a senior tech position as part of the restructure. – James Wolfe Sep 22 '17 at 18:41

As Killisi says in his answer there isn't much you can do prior to getting the supervisor position. But you can't do anything untill you make the most important decision - whether you think the junior can be "salvaged". Given what you say about his being technically competent and how the previous managment wasn't the best I'd say it's worth a shot but only you can make that decision (and you are far better placed than I am to properly evaluate him).

Let's have a quick run through your ideas so far:

Privately encourage him to seek alternate employment.

Obviously this becomes a moot point if you are working to salvage him in the company, if you decide against that then I think as you have a friendship with this person you probably owe him the courtesy of a private heads up but I can't tell you how to manage your friendships.

Discuss the issue outright—risk losing a friend

If you are working to keep him then you do need to tackle this relatively directly with him. It doesn't have to be done in an authoritarian or heavy-handed way that he would likely percieve as an attack on him, in fact this would likely be counter-productive based on what you have told us.

Instead you can present it to him in quite a positive way. Explain that the change in management provides an opportunity for something of a clean slate. A chance for him to correct the perception that some in the business have of him - referring to it in the context of a perception it softens the blow somewhat without lying or pretending that there isn't a problem, it also implies that you have confidence in him. Never underestimate the postive effect it can have on a subordinate when their direct manager/supervisor has confidence in them, many will really step up to repay that confidence and prove that the supervisor was right to have faith in them.

Also depending on how your friendship dynamic works you could factor this in - tell him that you are having to step up to take on the manager's duties while maintaing your technical responsibilities and that you could really use your friend's help to make it work. You can then present the changes you need him to make in this context.

NB: I realise that this might might sound rather callous but I honestly don't mean it that way, after all the performance of a subordinate often reflects upon their supervisor/manager and having a "problem" employee from the outset is a headache you don't need when you are starting out in such a role and isn't helping friends out part of what friendship is?

Bring the issue to HR and new CFO

Don't do this... instead hang a neon flashing sign around your neck that says "I'm not ready for management responsibilities" it will be much more efficient.

Do nothing until leadership and structure changes are in-place.

As above you are limited in what you can really do until you are officially his supervisor, but you could start talking to him about the "clean slate" perspective in advance potentially. Or even talk to him about the fact that while the changes are happening it would be good to keep your heads down and not upset the apple cart, it's something you'd have to approach with some delicacy as you don't want to be seen as ordering him around with authority you don't have yet but given you say you have already talked to him about work performance before as a friend there is precedent.


Consider if you wish to be in the supervisor position to begin with.

You've already said that you were getting burned out, to the point that you served as a bad example to your friend/junior. Now you're getting promoted into a position that's likely to be more stressful, and you will not be replaced, leading to additional workload on your group and further stress. Is this position one that you actually want? Is it likely to wind up with you being more burned out or less?

If the supervisor position isn't going to be a good spot for you, then you may want to be looking for a different position. That's a context shift that would, presumably, have a significant impact on your other associated choices, this one included.


Agreed with others: wait until you actually have the supervisor position.

After all, if the organization is planning on hiring someone to manage you, it's entirely possible that they wouldn't tell you that in advance.

Until you have signed the paperwork, you don't have the position. Verbal approval means nothing.

Once you have the supervisor position - once you have signed the paperwork - and you are sure that position has hire/fire authority over the junior tech - then you can do something.

One option is to simply accept that this is the skillset of this employee. Plenty of folks in technical jobs aren't "people persons" (he wrote, looking in a mirror), and if this junior tech has some technical skills, maybe you'd be best off putting him in a position where he can better use his strengths and mitigate his weaknesses.

Another thing to consider is that professional behavior is a skill, not an aptitude. No one is born knowing how to act in a professional setting, and it's entirely possible that this tech hasn't picked it up through osmosis. He may not realize he's doing anything wrong.

The problems that you've described seem like they could be fixed, as long as you can give the tech specific feedback and expectations. For example, "other departments have complained about his attitude" -- this may be how the complaint is phrased, but no one can see or feel another person's attitude. We can only react to behaviors. So, if you can identify the behaviors that are off-putting, you can help him stop doing those behaviors. Feedback about specific behaviors is often a lot more effective than feedback about "attitude". If this tech is (say) rolling his eyes, or using an exasperated tone of voice, let him know that those behaviors alienate the people that he is supposed to be helping, and that makes him less effective at his job. He doesn't have to change his "attitude" - he just has to change some behaviors.

Of course, not everybody will change their behaviors. Which is why, as a supervisor, you will need to set goals and expectations for your team - and it's best if those are explicit and written down. Those expectations should include both technical and workplace skills. And it's totally reasonable to set performance metrics around those workplace skills. You can measure this stuff. (Lots of managers are too lazy/inept to bother. Don't be one of those.)

Letting someone go for performance reasons should only happen once that employee has been given repeated feedback, is clear about where the "gaps" in their performance are, and has repeatedly failed to improve (by changing their behaviors). That's not because of "friendship" - it's because letting someone go causes harm to both the organization and the employee. (Hopefully only short-term harm, but still.)


I believe that any good business operates under strict, measurable parameters.

This co-worker needs to be briefed very formally about those parameters and what's required of him on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis to help company stay in, or better yet above, those parameters.

He needs to be put on probation, which is a reasonable compromise due to the fact that you have been highly incompetent in your handling of the matter at hand.

In the course of his probation, he needs to meet all the standards that the other employees are meeting, if not, he should be terminated immediately at the end of the probationary period.

Don't be afraid to fire this guy just because times are hard in the workforce, continuing to keeping him under his current condition in the future will only spread his cancerous ways upon the rest of the team.

Sometimes you gotta let the house burn down and see who stays to help you rebuild it. Those will be the employees you should care about, not the flake you have been holding by the hand!

  • I believe this is heavy handed. As for you have been highly incompetent in your handling of the matter, The job title we both held until a week ago was equivalent of "Junior Analyst." If there was one clear job responsibility I was not responsible for, that was employee management. – James Wolfe Sep 22 '17 at 22:38

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