This is Why Management is Hard

A manager has a complicated issue that she thinks is about performance, but it's really about relationships.

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Suzanne Lucas

I have a small group of female employees. Two--Sarah and Julie*--are very good friends. Recently Sarah called in sick, which left Julie to do a project that had to get done that day, and Sarah hadn't prepared what she could have ahead of time. Julie was a little annoyed and came to me.

I pulled Sarah aside and told her she needed to document all of her work (we have recently had priority issues with her) and the president of the company now wants to monitor her workload (the conversation was much longer, I just want to give you the gist). I didn't mention Julie's name in this conversation.

In the meantime, Julie pulled her friend Sarah aside and let her know that she spoke to me and that she might be getting pulled aside. You can imagine this is causing havoc, as now Sarah is not speaking with Julie.

Is Julie out of line, and is her warning to Sarah before my conversation grounds for termination? Julie is a great employee--but does that matter in this type of circumstance?

I’m trying very hard to figure out why you are so upset with Julie. This is how I’m reading the situation. Julie was upset and told you. She then said to Sarah: “Hey, it really bothered me that you stuck me with all this work yesterday and I told the boss that you hadn’t done the prep work on that project. She may want to speak with you about it.”

In what universe is this an offense worthy of firing?

I think what you are truly upset about is now you have employee relationship issues when, previously, you only had one employee with work issues. This is why being a manager is a huge pain in the rear end. It’s not just about managing work, it’s about managing people.

Sarah and Julie’s relationship was doomed to failure if Sarah wasn’t pulling her own weight and Julie was left to pick up the slack. This fallout was bound to happen at some point.

Your job as a manager is to manage your people. You need to work with Sarah on her performance issues. Part of these issues is an inappropriate reaction to being instructed in areas in which she needs to improve. You need to draw clear lines between Sarah and Julie’s workload. You can make it clear to Julie that you will deal with Sarah’s performance issues and she is not to mention any of them.

I will say, though, that in my experience, a coworker who won’t cover for a slacker is the best cure for laziness. Bosses are often seen as making unreasonable demands, but coworkers aren’t, so you may be giving up a valuable tool in your management belt.

Nevertheless, don’t be mad at Julie. Work on Sarah’s performance issues. Demand they be civil to each other and work together, but don’t place blame where blame shouldn’t be.

Suzanne Lucas has nine years of h uman r esources experience, most of which has been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources Certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady .

* Editor's note: Names have been changed.