The ripple effect of a problem manager

Q. In the past 12 months, a key position in my company has gone through 2 employees, and we’re about to lose the third. These people have chosen to leave–even in this job market–because of the unreasonable expectations for the position and the abusive treatment from the supervisor. I’m in another department and I need to work closely with the person in this role. This has all had a negative impact on my ability to do my job.

My boss understands this, and is not holding me responsible. I’ve talked to HR, and though he agrees it is a bad situation, the supervisor is considered “untouchable”. My question is do I have to be part of the problem? I’ve participated in the interviewing process for the last two people and with the next one I might need to say “can you deal with a sociopathic boss?” How can I look a stranger in the eye and interview him or her for a job I’d tell a friend or family member to run away from as fast as they could? I don’t want to make an “issue” out of not helping in the new hire, but I don’t want to be complicit any more in perpetuating a bad situation.

In this economy, and with the challenges companies face, fewer people are deemed “untouchable”, or they are viewed that way for a much shorter time frame. The cost of turnover in key positions can be been calculated in terms of real dollars, and lost productivity.


Effective human resources people and managers whose areas are negatively impacted are able to communicate this cost so the situation can be rectified. Offering coaching to difficult managers can be very effective, but not all offers are accepted.

I commend you for being courageous enough to discuss the issue with human resources and with your supervisor. Your manager needs to support you by having the discussion in greater detail with human resources, and taking the conversation to the next level of management. As your supervisor, your performance and professional livelihood should be important enough to pursue the issue. You are being prevented from being able to shine, to learn and develop, to be recognized for your success by others, to perhaps get a bonus based on your performance, or to be recognized on any kind of succession plans as having potential. Your career is being impacted negatively, not just your job.

Separating out the issues may help to evaluate what you can impact. You need the person in this key role to succeed, so that you too can too. If the expectations of the position are unreasonable, you may be able to help human resources redesign the job. With your insights, and the comments which were hopefully gathered during the past two exit interviews and by speaking with the incumbent, there may be a way to make the position more manageable. The challenging manager needs to be involved in this process. HR should be able to have a conversation about the cost of continually recruiting for this position, and the need to redesign the role to gain support from all involved.


In this way, the structure of the role might be viewed as the issue, and not the manager. As far as being part of the interview process, you can be honest with HR and decline to participate. Or you can also be part of finding a person to take the position who is made aware of the challenges, has experience working with difficult managers before, and wants a job where they can be successful.

This is also why applicants are encouraged to ask questions about why the position is open, and how the role is structured. When positions have history, it is most often not just because of the former employee.

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