My column, Workplace Referee, is designed to help employees and managers gain better insight into each other's points of view (POV). Have a situation you'd like me to address? Please submit it by email HERE. Don't worry, I'll keep your identity private.

New Employee Is Making My Old Employee Bad, Now What?

Employee POV: I've been a loyal employee for 10+ years. I helped the company through some tough years. Recently, my boss hired a much younger employee to help with additional workload. The new guy is definitely more tech-savvy than me, works a lot of overtime, and is getting a lot of attention for how well he is producing. Meanwhile, I'm sensing a cold shoulder from my boss. He's been more critical of my work and less chatty with me. Should I worry about losing my job? I can't imagine they'd let me go, I've got a lot of company knowledge.

Manager POV: My long-term employee has provided good value over the years - and he's been paid well for it too. However, there were several occasions where I felt he was getting too relaxed in the job. But, then he'd pull through in a clutch, so I would let it slide. However, my newest hire is now showing me how much more productive the older employee should be. I'm starting to resent the fact the older employee is getting paid double what the younger one is. Why am I paying so much and getting so little in return? Maybe it is time to change things up.

Who's at fault?

This is a classic case of a working relationship getting too comfortable. Both sides got lazy. Here are two things to consider:

  1. Employees are really businesses-of-one who are selling their services to the employer. Employees must always provide the greatest amount of value they can, or risk being replaced by someone who is better, faster, or cheaper. Over the course of the ten years, this employee didn't continue to learn and grow in a way that increased value to the employer. He lost sight of the fact that every time he got a paycheck, he'd been paid in full for what he'd done. Loyalty isn't a form of job insurance.
  2. The boss is also at fault for not voicing his concerns as they arose over the years. If he felt the employee wasn't delivering the right level of activity, he should have said so. Allowing the behavior to go wrongly made the employee think his performance was acceptable.

What can both sides learn from this?

In this situation, I would advise each side as follows:

Employee Takeaway: Your performance is your responsibility. Proactively set regular meetings with your boss to discuss how you can continue to add value and justify the cost of your employment. The boss is the customer and you need to regularly check-in to make sure he is satisfied. The moment you get a sense he is unhappy (i.e. changes how he communicates with you), it's time to set a meeting to find out what you can do to make things right.

Manager Takeaway: Never let average performance and complacency go on long-term. When you feel like an employee isn't pulling his weight, you need to have a one-on-one conversation with him. Not acknowledging the behavior and allowing it to continue sends the wrong message. More importantly, it can make for an uncomfortable situation should you one day need to let the employee go for lack of performance, since it will likely catch him by surprise. And, depending on the circumstances, it can also put you at risk of an age discrimination lawsuit. Especially, if you are letting the older work go because a younger, less expensive employee is replacing him.