Dear Truth Teller

Hey Jess,

There is this leader at work that is totally underperforming. All the other leaders talk about them and their lack of output, how they’re not “pulling their weight”, but no one knows what to do about it. Obviously someone should talk to them about it before it costs them their job. Everyone keeps looking at me, like I am the one who should do it, since I have a great relationship with them. This leader is a peer, but they technically have more seniority than me. I don’t really think it’s my place. What should I do?

Truth Teller

Dear Truth Teller,

This is a sticky widget isn’t it. In a best-case scenario a supervisor or manager should be the one addressing an employee’s performance, not a peer, especially if their performance has gotten to the point where it is a common topic of conversation in the office or it’s common knowledge that this individual is underperforming. We know, however, that not every leader is comfortable and equipped to have difficult conversations with people about performance, so bad behavior often goes unchecked or unaddressed.

I suggest you you address the matter in two ways.

First, from a professional stand point. I would talk directly to your supervisor and share what is happening. They might not be in tune to the office gossip. Share with them that the conversations make you uncomfortable and ask for advice on how to proceed. Your supervisor might feel comfortable addressing the issue with the under-performer’s supervisor or they may suggest a conversation with HR. If you’re lucky, you share the same supervisor or manger and they can address it directly. I do not recommend that you go directly to the under-performer’s boss, however. That would not be appropriate, in most cases. I also recommend that when you do encounter conversations related to this under-performer, you encourage those in the conversation to address their concerns in a similar fashion.

Secondly, if you are friends with this individual, I recommend you check in on them. Chances are that there is something going on in their personal lives or work that is effecting their performance. Take the opportunity to reach out as a colleague and friend.

On the off-chance that the under-performer is unaware of their deficiencies, it is not your responsibility to raise their awareness to them. Inevitably you’ll be the one who ends up with egg on your face. It’s a good rule to avoid getting involved in the office drama and gossip and putting yourself in the middle of other people’s conflict or problems. Those things pull your focus away from what matters most – doing your work and doing it well.


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