How to Deal with a Disgruntled Employee

Disgruntled employee_dealing with an upset worker

Question: “I applied for a promotion in my department – one I was perfectly suited for.  I was disappointed when the job was offered to someone else.  That person is no better qualified than me and I believe I was stronger candidate.  What action(s) should I consider?”

First, to the unsuccessful candidate:  You are very disappointed and probably frustrated.  Understand that you only see the outcome through your eyes (you didn’t get the promotion and someone else did, ouch). Hiring managers struggle to choose the best candidate – considering fit for the role, team composition, culture, past and current performance, potential, and interviewing “performance”.  Accept you won’t know everything that went into the decision.  Use this opportunity to learn how others see your performance and your future with the company.  Here are a few suggestions on how to gracefully approach seeking feedback and recommendations for future interview opportunities:

  • Arrange a one on one conversation with the hiring manager AND the recruiting manager.

Ask the hiring manager:

  • What are my development areas?
  • Was there anything in my materials or interviews which needed improvement?
  • If this, or a similar, position becomes available, am I a competitive applicant? This is a key question and you should listen carefully to the response.  It isn’t pleasant to tell someone they’re never going to be a top candidate for a role they ache to secure. Listen with a constructively “critical ear” for whether you are a viable candidate, ever.
  • Given my career path, where do you see my next career move?

Ask the recruiting manager:

  • Was I a competitive candidate? What could I have done to improve my position in the candidate pool?
  • Am I viewed as someone ready for promotion?
  • Is there anything I need to do (skill acquisition, experience, tenure) to improve my chances for a promotion? Recruiters want to retain and promote from within whenever possible.  Listen carefully and be ready to be proactive in responding to advice and counsel.
  • Are there other roles where you see me as a good fit?
  • As hard as it may be, do not argue with the feedback given. Thank those providing feedback, take good notes and then reflect. Hearing negative feedback is NEVER fun, not easy, and very easy to discount. Try to hear how others see and experience you and your work.
  • Send thank you notes to the hiring and recruitment managers. These notes reinforce that you are interested in opportunities with the company, genuinely interested in personal growth and development AND value the feedback given.
  • Confer with trusted advisers on the feedback you were given. Do they agree that the feedback is accurate?  Remember, their perspective is not informed other than what they know about you.  Their views should, however, help you balance opinions, so you can take appropriate actions to improve. 
  • Update your development plan – take initiatives to fill in the gaps you were advised. Don’t be one of those who ask for feedback from others and then do nothing with it.  That is the surest way to guarantee you won’t be considered for the next promotion available.
  • Finally, hiring is not entirely a science and there is a whole lot of subjective input over which you have ZERO control. Give yourself a limited period to “grieve” and then move on.  No “what ifs, would haves, could haves, should haves”. 

Now, if what you’ve heard and discussed with trusted allies’ points in a direction that doesn’t align with your career goals, what actions should you take then?  Never burn bridges, never check out while picking up regular paychecks and don’t bad mouth the hiring manager, recruiting, or the Company.  If it’s time for you to look outside for your next role - do so.  Whatever path you take, remain positive, invested in your work and cooperative.  Doing anything less will hurt you in the long run. Remember, you will not change the outcome – no matter what actions you take.

Now, to the hiring manager: You have a very disappointed employee.  Use this as an opportunity to provide honest feedback designed to improve their competitive positioning for future roles.  A few ideas for your follow up with the applicant:

  • Tell the employee, preferably in person, they were not selected for the role. It may seem easy to send a quick email – don’t do it. Telephone is the only option to an in-person meeting – and that doesn’t mean leaving a voicemail.  Personal contact counts – especially when delivering bad news.
  • Don’t emphasize the newly appointed individual’s strengths, their experience or degrees. This conversation isn’t about them.  It’s about why you didn’t select the individual sitting in front of you.  Keep the conversation positioned on selection criteria and where possible, how this candidate didn’t compete as strongly.
  • Be candid, not cruel. An applicant was told that she wasn’t selected because “no one sees you as management material”. While this may be the bottom line, the individual couldn’t do anything from their end to improve based on such commentary.  Give specific feedback which is actionable: “you don’t have the degree this position requires; you need experience leading people and this position isn’t an entry level management job; we were looking for specific expertise (fill in the blank). “
  • If you can do so, offer to collaborate on development opportunities to enhance the candidate’s readiness for the next opening.
  • If you honestly want the person to remain with the company reinforce their value. Let the employee know they are important, valued (giving specific examples) and you want them to remain with the organization.
  • Have a “stay conversation” (see Dr. Beverley Kaye & Sharon Jordan Evans, book: Hello Stay Interviews, Goodbye Talent Loss: A Manager’s Playbook).  Ask the employee what it will take to retain them. 

Most companies advocate for internal promotions.  Encourage honestly.  If you seek specific skills, you know you don’t have inhouse – stipulate you intend to recruit externally.  If an internal candidate applies – treat them with respect and use the occasion to engage in a productive feedback session.