Employee with performance issues says I’m bullying them

(44 Posts)
Isleepinahedgefund Sat 18-Apr-20 11:50:05

I have an underperforming team member, whose actions are having a huge detrimental impact on the team and the work area. They do a very distinct role. Months of supporting them to make improvements with coaching, feedback, training and a structured plan and hasn’t helped, so I’ve now invoked the formal procedure which could lead to dismissal.

The employee has mentioned to several of their colleagues that I am bullying them - no formal complaint as yet but I’m sure it is only a matter of time.

What can I do to shore myself up? I’m being as fair, following the procedure and asking for reasonable and measurable improvements. HR and management are happy with the way I’ve handled things.

I don’t ask people what’s being said about me, but people have told me about it - it seems that a lot of the employee’s grumble is that I am constantly bombarding them with emails. I do send them a lot of emails - mainly because I’m frequently having to chase time sensitive tasks that have fallen into a black hole and I’ve been chased about myself (we also need an audit trail for our work), or because when I ask them for things verbally they are often misinterpreted. They also tend to misremember events/conversations etc and have told me on a number of occasions that I asked them to do the opposite of what I actually did ask, so I feel a bit safer with written instructions to be honest.

Any advice? It’s difficult to act natural with someone you know is saying those things about you.

OP’s posts: |
KillerofMen Sat 18-Apr-20 11:58:08

That's really hard and not uncommon. How long have they been working for the company?

Is there the opportunity to pair them up with a coach/mentor/buddy. Ideally another (well performing) member of the team on the same level as them. The mentor can support of needed and the mentee won't feel victimised.

HarrietTheShy Sat 18-Apr-20 12:06:26

How many emails are you sending them a day vs. other comparable staff?

PoorlyWeasels Sat 18-Apr-20 12:21:15

Have you actually had a 1:1 conversation with them to ask them how they feel about the situation? I've been through this twice, as the "failing" employee and when my DS was the "failing" employee.

In both cases HR/higher management etc were happy and the bullying boss was "following procedures", but also in both cases there hadn't actually been an initial conversation of "how do you think you are doing/do you need any help", before they jumped in with the meeting to say "you're shit and we are taking action".

I know you've said you've been supporting them and training, but my boss was adamant I'd had loads of training while I had no clue I was doing anything wrong. The bombardment of emails is also really soul destroying.

For example, mine would set me a task like: come up with a spreadsheet to record xyz. No specifics at all, no instructions. I had zero experience, which they didn't take into account. I would come up with the spreadsheet. It would be "wrong". She would completely redo it, huffing and sighing all the way, but never ever explain what she wanted or why it was wrong. She was always far too busy to sit with me and show me how she wanted something done.

One incident she asked me to save this document and keep it updated, which I did. She sent a link to the rest of the team having saved a different copy somewhere else. So of course I was updating the original, but everyone else was looking at her duplicate. It didn't come up until the end of year report, when she wrote "duplicate documents caused confusion". It wasn't my doing, yet she refused to accept responsibility!!

She absolutely refused to communicate except by email, even though we sat back to back and in my previous jobs we'd been encouraged to always speak F2F. So of course she had tons of email evidence of my wrongdoing, while I didn't because all mine had been to her face.

I am still really bitter about this as it held my progression back by 3 years, almost drove me to a breakdown, and cost me a lot of lost pay and bonuses, yet it was almost 10 years ago. I've had decent bosses since and the situation has never been repeated (except for my DS who got sacked).

Can you hand on heart say it's all the fault of this employee and you have done everything right? If they believe you are bullying them have you actually listened to what they are saying? Of course it's possible that they are as useless as you say and are being awkward, but there are 2 sides to every story. Perhaps get somebody neutral to mentor them, start from scratch and get to the bottom of it.

BirdieFriendReturns Sat 18-Apr-20 12:43:49

PoorlyWeasels - I agree that there are two sides to every story.

I was bullied by a military officer when I was a civil servant. Very long story but ended up in me being put on a stage one disciplinary - out of the blue. I was new to the role and for 12 weeks I had no IT access. I was sitting in a damp, basement office with no IT. Shadowing a squaddie who did about two hours work a day before he had a long lunch and went to the gym.

He left it until the day before Easter leave started to tell me I had a performance meeting after the Easter break. I was SO angry and then submitted a grievance against him. I resigned too as I was pretty sick of working in a job where nobody spoke to me and I sat on my own in the basement all day. The manager dropped the case against me and in my notice period he completely ignored me! He never spoke to me again or emailed me.

I heard later on he was bawled out by his CO and from DH I know that he has never gotten the promotion he’s been chasing.

Only time I’ve ever had any issues at work and he’s the only person I’ve ever hated and wished ill.

nuttymomma Sat 18-Apr-20 14:47:03

I'm the 'failing' employee. In my case I needed adjustments but did not always get them. I was also criticised for not implementing learning that I could not access without adjustments in place.

My manager had been gathering 'evidence' and 'witness statements' for years but bided her time before telling me there was a problem.

Unfortunately for her, I'd been gathering evidence as well as I was suspicious.

I am going through the grievance process and now going through the tribunal process. . I've heard (but obviously no one will confirm) that my manager will be disciplined. Covid 19 will impact upon any job search also.

So ask yourself if you have really truly helped that individual as performance management processes can be discriminatory. You cannot apply it equally to everyone as we all have individual circumstances and needs that need to be taken into account. I fucking hate performance management processes with a passion.

Like a PP I have never hated anyone as much as I hate my manager, her manager and my HR business partner.

Superfoodie123 Sat 18-Apr-20 14:54:19

I was 'bullied' and made a lot of mistakes as I was new to the industry. My boss would point out my every flaw which made it worse, I was so stressed that I became complacent and stopped caring about doing my job properly. She didn't deal with me compassionately, just like I was crap at my job rather than someone who needed help getting more experience.


Isleepinahedgefund Sat 18-Apr-20 14:56:02

@PoorlyWeasels Of course there are always two sides to every story. I’m sorry you had such a bad time - I also very well aware that this will be very stressful for this individual, and it definitely isn’t fun for me.

I meet weekly with all my team members individually. I have asked the employee many times what issue might be affecting performance etc, how they’re feeling etc etc. Formal procedures are definitely not a surprise out of the blue - it comes as a very last resort after months of working with them and trying different things. Without saying too much, it isn’t a nuanced dip in performance, it is a complete failure to perform key parts of the role at all, and also covering that up.

Imagine if you were employed just to do the photocopying, you didn’t do it, got someone else to do it for you and pretended you had done it yourself. The solution is quite simple - start photocopying. Lots of people have shown you how to use the photocopier and have offered to stand with you while you get confident at it, but you still put off doing any photocopying. So I’m not requiring them to do things the way I want them done, I just want them to start doing what they’ve been employed to do (it isn’t quite a simple as photocopying!)

I will have a good think about your point re do they actually understand what’s required, ie have I have been clear (they say they understand). We are at point not where there is definitely no possibility of starting from scratch - if I said I wanted to I’d probably find my own performance being questioned, because of the enormous impact of the underperformance.

@KillerofMen - they’ve been there a while but in this role for about 2 yrs. A mentor is a good idea. It has been suggested a few times but not taken up, but I haven’t suggested it in those terms. There definitely isn’t anyone in the team who could do it for various reasons (will deffo be saying too much if I explain) but I have an idea who might be able to do it if they’re willing.

I probably send up to 10 emails a day. I’d say most are unavoidable as we genuinely need an audit trail but I can see that it won’t be nice to be on the receiving end of constant reminders that you’ve missed things and messed up again. There is no comparator. (again can’t go into too much detail to explain)

OP’s posts: |
ChipotleBlessing Sat 18-Apr-20 15:01:59

Have you spoken to HR about this? Claiming to be being bullied is a very very common reaction to formal disciplinary procedures and HR will be used to this. Ten emails a day does sound like a lot, how many do you send to other team members? Could they be consolidated a bit?

Isleepinahedgefund Sat 18-Apr-20 15:02:57

@Superfoodie123 what would have been a better approach for you? Genuinely would like to know what else I can try. It can be unavoidable pointing out flaws if things are constantly done wrong.

OP’s posts: |
Isleepinahedgefund Sat 18-Apr-20 15:11:39

@ChipotleBlessing I have spoken to HR, we have specialist external advisors for these situations.

A lot of the emails (probably 8/10 on a bad day?) are follow ups to other emails that haven’t been auctioned. I can’t consolidate most of them because of the requirement for each piece of work to have an audit trail. Where I’m sending chasers they’re always reactive ie something has been left for 5 days so now it’s beyond urgent and someone at the top of the chain is stamping their feet about it.

I don’t send 10 every day - that would be the max on a v busy day. Because of the different work they are doing there is no cause to email other team members in the same way.

OP’s posts: |
GinghamStyle Sat 18-Apr-20 15:15:19

Rather than sending 10 emails a day, could you have a weekly meeting on a Friday to review what’s outstanding and set clear deadlines for the work to be completed. This could be typed up ready for Monday morning and reviewed the following Friday ready for new targets to be set for the following week. This would allow the employee to prioritise work and hopefully have more transparency over how they meet deadlines etc

ScrapThatThen Sat 18-Apr-20 15:19:43

Honestly, just keep doing what you are doing. You are not bullying them. Direct them how to make a complaint if it is raised by them.

WingingIt101 Sat 18-Apr-20 15:35:56

I feel for you - I had this situation a few years ago and as you say it’s unpleasant for both sides.
Sadly it resulted in dismissal of the employee and she raised a grievance against me and the company as a result. It was all completely disproven and it’s on record that I did nothing wrong and would have had grounds for a grievance against the individual for vexatious grievance that I decided not to pursue.

Ultimately I remained factual and kept a log of things that had taken place and why - particularly things I knew they were going to try and use against me. This might help you if you’re concerned and ultimately keep you factual and clear if it is needed.

Yolo2 Sat 18-Apr-20 15:44:08

I hate words like coaching/ mentoring. Modern buzzwords and sounds so patronising! She needs to be taught how to do her job, if she doesn't know. If she does know and just refuses to do it, that's just gross misconduct. I would stop bombarding her with emails as it clearly isn't helping. Assign her some isolated tasks. It she doesn't do them, ask why. Maybe get someone to 'coach' you and independently verify the situation? Get HR to sit in on meetings so you can be sure what you are saying isn't misconstrued. Are you sure your instructions are clear? Are you sure you aren't asking her to do too much? Sometimes managerial or structural issues make a job hard to do well. I'm not saying it's you but if her performance is that bad, I'm not sure why you need to do so much managing of it all. You should have already have ample evidence.

MT2017 Sun 19-Apr-20 00:50:22

I also think that's too many emails - can you send one at the end of each day summarising the issues.

They truly may be feeling quite overwhelmed shit as they may be

vanillandhoney Sun 19-Apr-20 07:49:03

I was bullied out of my old job.

Constant pressure to meet unrealistic targets, everything I said or did when my manager wasn't present somehow got fed back to him. Other people could do certain things but when I did it I got pulled up on it. It was horrible and I ended up off sick for over two months before I gave him my notice (plus another sick note) and never went back.

The training was non existent although he would claim I was fully supported. It was really horrible and has such an impact on my confidence and self-esteem.

Please tread carefully.

Overthehill1 Mon 20-Apr-20 01:54:49

You are setting the employee (and the others who are grumbling about you) up to fail by overwhelming her with your bombardment of e-mails.

You claim you mainly send the e-mails because you are frequently having to chase time sensitive tasks that have fallen into a black hole and you've been chased about. (you also need an audit trail for our work), or because when you ask them for things verbally they are often misinterpreted. They also tend to misremember events/conversations etc and have told you on a number of occasions that you asked them to do the opposite of what you actually did ask, so you feel a bit safer with written instructions. Nonsense, the problem is you! Its time you did some reflection. It definitely seems that you are dealing with the consequences of your own inadequacies. Sounds like you are not giving clear instructions, and what you are actually saying is different to what you think you have. You also have trust issues too, there's no need for audit trails for every item/instruction. No wonder she is not performing, I actually feel sorry for her.

RAOK Mon 20-Apr-20 02:33:14

I think 6 emails a day is generally considered to be the limit and talking face to face is always preferable whenever possible.

Could she go to her GP and perhaps have some counselling? She might be unwell. This was the case for me but I was bullied.

carfiend Mon 20-Apr-20 15:30:33

I totally agree with you! I think the OP needs to take a good look at themselves. They clearly do not listen or behave in a totally fixated way.

I am going through similar and it is soul destroying I have done the job I'm in for 15 years successfully and now I am subject to daily workplace bullying and vile behaviour.

Iamthewombat Mon 20-Apr-20 15:55:34

I don’t think that you are being unreasonable. You have given this individual plenty of chances, you’ve tried a structured training plan and you have given plausible reasons for the number of e-mails you send. You also note that your management team and HR advisers are happy with your approach.

As for how to behave, knowing that this person is complaining to colleagues that you are ‘bullying’ her: as a PP says, know that this is really common. Frivolous accusations of bullying are the weapon of choice for people who aren’t much good at their jobs, can’t bear criticism and want revenge. It can’t possibly be their fault so it must be yours for being a horrid, wicked bully who must be punished and vilified. It’s so childish.

The only way is to paste on a smile and remain professional. People aren’t that stupid. The colleagues who believe the ‘Isleepinahedgefund is a rotten bully, boo hoo poor me’ narrative will be the people who don’t like you much anyway. Most of your colleagues will have more sense.

Iamthewombat Mon 20-Apr-20 15:57:08

Other posters’ experiences of being on the receiving end are irrelevant. They don’t know you so the ‘take a hard look at yourself’ remarks are meaningless. They are conflating you with the bosses they dislike.

BillHadersNewWife Mon 20-Apr-20 15:59:04

Why emails? Have a Slack channel and use that.

YE420032c Mon 20-Apr-20 16:04:56

A few years back I was bullied by another member of the team. The bullying was subtle and took the form of constant interruptions, not passing on important information (such as changes to meetings), blaming me for every failure, end so on. It was nothing overt like name calling or threatening. But the constant drip drip drip chipped away at my self esteem. I tried in vain to enlist the help of my immediate line manager but she did not want to become involved in what she saw as "different styles of working". Fortunately I too kept a paper trail. Eventually it affected my health and I was off sick with anxiety and depression. Suddenly it became a dsciplinary matter. I was the underperforming team member, although I had gone through a performance review where I was described as "excellent". The union of which I was a member got a solicitor who began tribunal proceedings. Because the manager and the company failed to follow their own procedures and keep the correct records I left with a good out of court settlement.

Companies need to be very careful to dot all their "i'"s and cross all their "t"s. Sounds like the OP has done that.

dodobookends Mon 20-Apr-20 16:20:08

You also have trust issues too, there's no need for audit trails for every item/instruction
Actually certain jobs do need a full audit trail (finance or legal professions for example) and when it comes to trust - obviously the OP doesn't trust the employee, because they are known to be incompetent. And the OP needs to be able to prove to her boss that she is following correct procedure to the letter. And covering her back at the same time.

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