my employee accused me of favoring her coworker — Ask a Manager


A reader writes:

I recently expanded my team from one direct report to two. “Tammy,” my original staffer, is proficient but not great and can get confused by complicated projects. “Carrie,” the new hire, is still learning but is a superstar. She picks up on nuances of projects that Tammy misses, even though Tammy has been in the role three years. Carrie also volunteers for more work and to learn new projects, while Tammy only does the minimum that is expected. I am fine with the level of work Tammy puts out and it’s what I expect of the position. Based on Carrie’s current learning curve, I expect within the next three months Carrie and Tammy will be directing projects at the same level of difficulty.

Tammy is very insecure about Carrie and has repeatedly told me that she feels that I favor Carrie. She mentioned that we spend a lot of time together, and I pointed out that I’m still training Carrie, not socializing. I said that I trust Tammy to do her work without my oversight, and it’s not favoritism. I asked if there were any examples of times when I treated them differently. Tammy could not provide any, simply saying others outside the department had made comments to her about it. I told her that others might perceive it that way because Carrie and I eat lunch together in the cafeteria every day, but Tammy chooses not to eat lunch with us because she goes to the gym. Tammy replied in an angry way that it was her lunch hour and she could do whatever she wanted. I told her that I agree and was not upset that she goes to the gym.

Since Carrie was hired, Tammy has been terse and almost rude. Recently, Carrie forgot to invite Tammy to a meeting involving multiple teams. Tammy was very upset that she had not been on the invite and exclaimed, “I need more lead time than a few minutes to attend a meeting! You can’t expect me to drop everything!” I snapped and said, “Then don’t go” and walked away. It was not professional and I have no excuse, I’ve just become so tired of this childish situation! She did not attend the meeting, and when we spoke later, I apologized for my angry response, but told her that if she speaks in a rude way to others, others may respond in a similar manner. Two days later, she slipped me a note as she left for the day. In the note, she said that I favor Carrie and that I don’t have to like her, but I do have to respect her.

I am at a loss about what to do. Tammy keeps bringing up “favoritism” and I feel uncomfortable giving Carrie public praise or Tammy constructive feedback. Please help!

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.



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