Question: How do I respond to my subordinate who discredits me?

A millennial employee I manage went to upper management asking for a raise when I told him no (I did ask my boss if this was possible and was told no). This employee is good, but has only been in this position briefly, with no previous experience and has received regular raises.

During a conversation about this with my boss I was told that employees feedback about me was "things run smoother and are less stressful when I am not there."

Upper management also said no to his request for a raise. Not only did I find this hurtful, it has also made me very uncomfortable interacting with this employee now. We have limited interactions on professional and work related topics only.

12 Expert Insights

I fully understand the desire to separate yourself from the employee and as a boss it is important that you make a reasonable effort to resolve the issues before taking that approach.

It seems important to make a good faith effort to "restore the balance" between you and this employee. I did something similar in my first year out of college. My boss called me in and explained how the process worked and what he had done to support me. I was totally humbled and pretty humiliated. It was a tough experience and I never made that mistake again.

This employee may be naïve and trying to get ahead without understanding the political landscape.

You also need to gain input about the comment about things running smoother when you are not there. If the employee sees something you don't - you will benefit from the feedback. If the employee is naïve, it is an opportunity for you to help him/her broaden perspective and become more savvy.

I wish you great success in managing this employee.

Anytime your authority is undermined, it is uncomfortable and potentially creates barriers to good working relationships. The best way to handle this is to understand a few things.

1.  Does the employee understand the right protocol?  If not, it may have seemed entirely reasonable to keep asking higher levels of management.

2.  Does your employee realize that you have the authority to grant raises.  His asking you first may have been his way of respecting your position and finding out how you responded to the request.

Now that the deed is done, what should you do about it?  Doing nothing is the wrong choice!  If this employee has value and you want to explain the process without alienating him/her or creating an additional problem of how they perceive you, ask for an informal meeting to discuss the issue.

Start by telling him/her that you received feedback from your boss about their actions and feedback that was given to them (your boss).  Let your employee know that you want to make sure they completely understand how these requests work and that you have some additional areas you'd like to discuss.

Ask them why they decided to appeal your decision about the raise once you told them?  Listen the their response before interrupting.

Ask them if there is anything about how you decide these matters that they need to understand more clearly.

Now, tell them that you also received some unfavorable comments from them to your boss.  Tell them what was said and ask them to tell you why they feel this way.  You may not like what they have to say but listen and take it in.  Sometimes, you will learn what only one employee is willing to share that others are thinking.

Your goal should be to set them straight about the chain of command and learn what you maybe doing to make this employee feel you are not as valuable as you might think.  Remember, authority is granted by the position. Leadership is earned from your team.

ok, there are a couple of issues here.  while the issues may not be related, they are related because they involve you.

First the going around you re: raise.  if i were your coach, i'd be asking you this:
- did you tell your direct report that you asked your boss and also got a decline? if you didn't close this communication loop, learn that lesson.
- take your DR to lunch ... ask them what compelled them to ask your boss for raise.  you want to know how they are perceiving you. that's Critical here and to the other issue.

Another issue: what people are saying about you.
- if you want to accelerate the process of developing yourself so people do not say what they do about "things run smoother when you're not there", ask do to a 360. take yourself on. get the issues into the light of day and have a facilitator help you navigate the process.

basically: don't ignore the feedback you're getting. Use it to improve your leadership and management skills.

Lots of good advice here. Just to add my "take".  You are in a managerial/leadership position and it seems your organization supported you in this matter. My advice is to sit down with this employee, tell him you know he went over your head and that you are not angry about it - he did what he thought was right (he may not have, but your are taking the high road. This will also put him on notice that the organization supports its managers).  Also tell him that in the interest of working together and in supporting the team, you want to be honest with him; you want there to be as much transparency as possible, and you want him to know that your are interested in his growth. Ask him what he has to say about it and listen to him. Then let him know that you'd like to know in what way things are better when you are not there - you really want to know about it so you can improve your skills, just as you would like him to develop his. A good manager/leader helps develop team members while maintaining the role of leader.  Good luck.

Millennials are an interesting breed.  There has been a lot written about how they are very different from other generations.

With that said, I always want to "seek first to understand, then be understood".   Try to understand what motivates him.  Does your company use assessments?  if so, go back to the assessment to dig through the report.  (If the company does not use assessments, they should to enable better management.)

I'd also want to find out if the disrespect is in all areas or just some, and why you cause him stress.  Is it micromanagement?  If so, discuss ways to get the productivity without as much oversight.  Are the goals too lofty or is the person putting too much pressure on himself?  A chat over lunch out of the office will likely help.

After you'd found some common ground and defused the situation a bit. You might want to tell him (and others) about "your rule" that keeps everyone communicating.  If they make a request that requires you to go up the chain of command, tell them to give you one week per level.  If they don't get a satisfactory response in that time frame, then they can go over your head if they tell you first.  In this case he would have taken action, but you would have known first.

My instincts tell me that this is someone with low Emotional Intelligence (low EQ, probably high IQ).  This type is difficult to manage, so just do your best.  Your manager will see it as well, and maybe give you some tips.

There are many good points listed here and the best advice I have is to keep your options open with the employee. Don't burn bridges!

Part of the issue may be impatience so my question would be: Did you tell the employee you had discussed the potential raise with management in a reasonable time frame? If you did then the person can benefit from your example. If not, then you need to make some adjustments. For example, I have a policy that when someone asks me something that may require a higher level approval, I will tell them I will get back to them within 24 hours, assuming the necessary people are available.  Be as transparent as possible. If I have to delay response, the employee is notified.

Any time a person is reluctant to accept your answer, then, if you are comfortable with the option, tell the employee they are free to contact a more senior person with his or her question but coach them on how to approach properly.  Use it as an educational moment. Let the employee  know you will alert the senior individual that they may be contacting them.  After that discussion make sure you let the superior know they may be contacting them and why. (Transparency)

Since this situation seems to have created some roadblocks between you and the employee, my suggestion, like those above is to have a private conversation with the employee. Tell them what was conveyed and ask in a non-judgmental way why they feel that is the case. Make the conversation as coach driven as possible, not chastising or negative.  Ask them for suggestions on making things better but be sure there are defined and recorded next steps for everyone involved.

Hope this helps.

Do the communication clearing processes suggested by others here. If you play your politics right, you will outlast him. This is short-sighted behavior on his part.

There are two things that you've said that I believe are key to gaining insight around next steps:  This is a "good employee" and this employee is a "millennial".   While it's certainly a generalization, many millennials are very ambitious, eager for their career to take off, and don't intend to stay with one company for very long.  While this can be challenging to manage from a traditional hierarchical stand-point, it's not surprising at all that this employee sought out what they perceive to be the fastest route to getting a raise.  If this employee is reprimanded, it's highly likely you'll either see their performance suffer or you'll find them looking elsewhere.  Millennials are changing the way way we need to lead and manage.  If this employee is indeed good, I encourage you to leverage their ambition.  Identify their strengths, invite their ideas on how they can add more value, solve bigger problems, and set a strategy for them to get to the next level (monetarily or otherwise).  

As far as the feedback your boss shared with you, I think there's two things you might consider.  Camille's suggestion about doing a 360 is a good one (if, of course, you grow from the feedback), but that on it's own won't change your relationship with this employee.  I encourage you to set up a time to talk with them.  Let them know how valued they are, how committed you are to helping them succeed, and sincerely let them know that you'd like to understand what they need from you in order for them to be successful.  Then listen!  Don't react.  If you can model being open to taking feedback and showing sincere interest in their success and what they need, I suspect you will find this employee will continue to perform well and the tension will be eased.  But the conversation must come from a place of mutual respect - not boss-to-subordinate.  

Good luck!

I believe that everybody who is/was in a leadership role had one or another time such an experience. I think it is important that you "clear the air". I believe in an open and honest exchange with the employee that went and asked for a raise from  your boss. Share what you know and tell the employee that it is important that he/she first talks to you as you are the one that would recommend him/her for a raise.
Having such a conversation in a non-threatening environment, such as going for lunch together is beneficial. I have found the book "Crucial Conversations" very helpful in deciding how to deal with such conversations.

Out of the brief scenario, I'm not sure about a few things so it's hard to posit an response. I have some questions:
!. What did the boss say exactly to him in turning down the raise?   You'll need to know this because it will tell you whether or not they truly have your back or not.
2. What questions have you asked your boss about how they want this situation handled?  Them just saying "handle it" won't help you if you have no parameters with which to work.
3. How many "employees" reported 'things work smoother....." or was it just this employee's relaying of supposed responses to bolster his case or handle his upset about you not giving him the raise.
4. What is the employee's understanding on which raise are given?  It appears there's a bit of "I want one so I should have one" going on....the employee may be overvaluing their own importance to the company and as such is a potential firebrand if they're talking behind your back.

so, my recommendations are, get clear about ALL that really happened from your bosses etc. Get clear about the exact nature of the alleged complaints against you regarding smoothness and what that really means. Get clear about just how far you can go with this employee (strategize with your boss and HR if need be) and then take the stand that you as a leader need to take whatever that is....If there's substance to the feedback, then handle it...and while some of my colleagues may think this is just a person who is ambitious, when ambition isn't channeled well it turns divisive.

I find myself wondering how much management experience you have. There is no implied judgement or criticism, but you seem to be reacting to events in a way that suggests relatively short tenure in management.

When we're triggered by events, e.g., a direct report escalating one of our decisions, we must of course deal with our reactions through reflection, talking to a coach or mentor, etc. Then it's time to act constructively.

One thing that helps is to assume -- until and unless proven otherwise -- that the employee's behavior was valid and reasonable from his point of view. While it may look to you (and me) that he seems naive, short-sighted and impulsive, you could shrug that off as a rookie mistake. If you can get your head around the notion that he was acting as he thought best, and even though he seems to have thrown you under the bus, you get to frame the events as an opportunity to engage with him.  Find out his story of events, his actions, the repercussions.  Then, if it seems appropriate, share with him a bit of your experience. "I have to admit that I was a bit upset when you went to my boss, and then threw me under the bus. But I'm over that now and trying to find ways we can both learn from this..."

Finally, I think it's potentially powerful to interpret his aggressive moves as healthy ambition in need of tempering in the realities of political forces. Ask him if he's open to your coaching him and helping him succeed and move ahead. Maybe you can help him understand and develop the skills and knowledge he needs to be able to handle YOUR job. Your willingness to help him in this way could be motivating for him, and engender trust. Meanwhile, it's time for you to set your sights on your next position. Maybe your boss would be open to helping you.

When anyone feels demeaned, ignored or discredited, the first response is usually ANGER.  That's why the first rule is Hold your fire! Check first.

1.  Were insulting remarks made... by and to whom? And if there were, what was the speaker's intent?  Were the remarks intentional? Are there grievances involved? Is misinterpretation possible? Male humor, for example, is typically barbed digs the victim is supposed to find funny.
2.  High-level executives often invite discussions of differences of opinion, but rarely accept it with other people present.  Are you over-reacting?
3.  Were the put-downs told to you by a third person as in, "I heard..."?  If so, was your informant accurate?

Second, discuss behavior.
1.  Inform Legal and/HR and document any incidents, meetings and plans to handle the situation.
2.  If the facts support your accusation, inform your subordinate that all behaviors have consequences and all organizations have rules.  
3.  Honest disagreements are usually acceptable but hostile put-downs and lying are not.
4.  How you say something is as important as what you say and where you say it.

Third, warn your subordinate.
1.  There are several basic rules:
        -Malicious gossip reinforces antagonisms and destroys cohesion and are always forbidden.      
        -No one is ever free to ignore the stated and unstated rules that govern the organization.
2.    While one significant error in judgment and behavior may be forgiven, there is no second.

Fourth, Follow-Through.
1.    Never threaten a punishment without delivering it.  Empty threats lead to contempt.