Direct Report Driving You to the Breaking Point? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I have a high-stress technical job serving the sales department of a professional services company. I have one direct report I am struggling with.

Everything is an emotional event with him. He takes everything personally and even finds ways to get offended by positive feedback. He is always melting down and getting sick. I am doing more and more of his job myself, and I spend inordinate amounts of time talking him off the ledge.

In his defense, our sales people move fast—and it’s true they have dumped extra work on him, and even some work he shouldn’t be doing. I have talked to my boss about getting more help, but my boss tends to stay out of things like this as long as the work is getting done. In this case, he just smiles and tells me I can do it!

I am at my breaking point. I just don’t know what to do. Help?

At Wit’s End


Dear At Wit’s End,

You are clearly kind, compassionate, competent, and over-functioning for everyone else. It will feel mean when I point out that you are role modeling perfectly how to allow yourself to be taken advantage of. So, stop it. Right now.

Your battle is on two fronts: 1) the problem with your direct report 2) the problem with getting what you need from your boss.  Decide which to tackle first and then get up on your horse and charge. Remember, you say you are at your wit’s end, so at this point you have nothing to lose.

Regarding your direct report: first go to HR and get yourself some help. You need to put your direct report on a performance plan and hold him accountable for his share of the work. You can provide him with information about what the company offers in terms of psychological support. Many Employee Assistance Programs offer at least six sessions with a qualified therapist and it would at least be a start for him to address his emotional instability.

A manager can only provide so much support, and it sounds like you crossed that line a while back. The guy must get professional help or risk losing his job. I know it sounds harsh, but honestly—he is not going to have a successful career without some real help, so you are doing him a favor. The longer you cover for him and spend critical work time providing amateur psych services for him, the deeper you are digging your hole. Heck, get some of that psych support yourself—talk things through with someone and develop a strategy to protect yourself from your own niceness in the future.

In terms of your boss: it’s hard to tell, but because you are so nice, I’m guessing you aren’t being direct about all aspects of this situation. Get super clear about what you need. If necessary, use a spreadsheet to show the amount of work coming in and how many hours go into different tasks. That will paint the picture of how out of whack things are.

You may have to threaten to quit if you can’t get the support you need, which means you should be answering calls from headhunters, trolling job sites, brushing up your LinkedIn profile, and preparing to make your move. Be prepared for the possibility that you might have to go, it will strengthen your position. But don’t think you can run away from your own inability to set boundaries and stand up for yourself – if you don’t really work on this now, you will get yourself right back into a similar pinch in your next job. Use this opportunity. It will be really uncomfortable, but worth it. I promise, you will never look back.

You can do it. Apply the same fierce analytical skills and high-level competence to this situation that you use in the technical parts of your job. Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard Headshot 10-21-17

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

Leave a Reply