A Manager Badmouths an Employee

Manager badmouthing an employee draws attention own shortcomings

Recently, I observed the following instance of a manager’s poor attitude towards an employee.

Here is the case of Sandy, a manager, and Clark, her employee.

Clark had joined Sandy’s team four months previously. She did not get to interview and select him into her team.

Clark was not one of Sandy’s favorite employees. They had little in common and had difficulty getting-along. A communication break-down ensued.

Sandy paid little attention to Clark and did not train him well. Nor did she elaborate her expectations of his performance. Over time, Clark’s sub-standard work resulted in serious consequences for the organization.

Every time customers approached Sandy and complained of problems stemming from Clark’s carelessness, Sandy underscored those complaints. She portrayed him in a negative light: a troublemaker, a nonconformist, and obstinate to feedback. In due course, she exclaimed she was helpless and recommended laying-off Clark.

Eventually, Sandy’s badmouthing Clark did not go unnoticed. The leader of the organization reprimanded Sandy for her poor attitudes toward Clark and demanded correction of her behavior. When Clark learned of Sandy’s recurring badmouthing, he was upset and lost confidence in her. He requested a transfer to another organization.

Badmouthing is Disrespectful

Manager badmouthing an employee is disrespectful In venting her grievances about Clark to the organization’s customers and peers, Sandy was perhaps trying to draw sympathy towards her helplessness—for not being able to change Clark’s behavior. On balance, she did not have a say in interviewing or selecting him.

Sandy did not realize, however, that by openly criticizing Clark, she was drawing unnecessary attention to her own shortcomings in two important aspects of her role as a manager. Firstly, with the communication break-down, she did not anticipate problems with Clark’s projects and take timely measures to mitigate potential negative consequences. Secondly, she failed to coach Clark, provide corrective feedback, and help him to change his behavior.

Take-Away Lessons for Managers

  • Do not openly criticize employees in public Do not openly criticize or air grievances about your employee in public. In addition to creating employee frustration, you draw unnecessary attention to your own managerial failure.
  • When people approach you with problems they face with your employees, acknowledge the problem, pledge to study further and correct the problem immediately. Show support for your employee. Ask what steps you could take to avoid such problems in the future. Promptly follow-up with your employee and help him/her overcome the problem.
  • Recognize that trust is the foundation of a good working relationship between a manager and an employee. An employee looks to a manager for support, feedback and opportunities for improvement. Not supporting—and worse, badmouthing—your employee can be detrimental to this manager-employee relationship. As we have discussed in previous blog articles here and here, an employee’s relationship with the boss is a key determinant of the employee’s satisfaction with his/her job.

Handling criticisms of employees is a routine part of a manager’s job. By acknowledging an employee’s shortcomings, being supportive of the employee and encouraging corrective actions, a manager can earn respect from all quarters of the organization—employees, peers and superiors.


  1. David says

    I went for a job on Monday and a ex manager from 19years ago who now works for another company said he would not employ me for a accident I had 19 years ago …and it’s very stressful for me ..what can I do about this as he is making it hard for me to get a job in this line of work? ??

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