Welcome to the Sidebar’s advice column, where otters, potters, and squatters alike sit down for a chat with our very own Muffle.  Her advice might be bad, but hey, at least someone’s listening.  Today we’re talking about how to handle complaints from people you work with. 

Dear Muffle,

We recently hired a new employee into our unit/team, of which I’m the supervisor. She seems like she’ll be great, but there’s an immediate problem: at lunch she told me that she was hired at a lower rank (and thus salary) than she had thought she was going to be—basically at “entry level” rather than “experienced.” She’s also spoken to my boss about it and was quickly rejected. This means that right out of the gate she’s starting with low morale, which I surmise from her use of words like “shafted” and “blindsided.”

She has some professional experience, so personally I think her displeasure is justified, but my boss may be interpreting the qualifications differently since our work is pretty niche. So my question is, do I have an obligation here to do anything more than sympathize and say, “Sorry, that sucks”? Should I not get involved at all? What do I do, Muffle?

Thanks in advance,

Befuddled Bureaucrat

Ahh, the joys of middle management.  You have people beneath you looking to you for guidance and leadership, but people above you to whom you are totally accountable.  Welcome to never being able to make everyone happy ever again!

Regardless, though, since this woman is part of your team and reports to you, you have an interest in her being a happy, productive employee, and you have some obligation to represent her (valid, professional) interests to your boss.  That being said, it doesn’t sound like you have nearly enough information to even have a full picture of what’s going on here, let alone whether your new coworker has been wronged.

My approach would be to bring this up with your boss, though you need to do so carefully to avoid implying blame or throwing your new employee under the bus.  If you have regular meetings with your boss, I would introduce the topic then rather than as an isolated discussion; that keeps it from taking on more weight than it likely deserves.  And when you do discuss it, frame it in terms of your job responsibilities and your concern for your team rather than as a question of who got screwed and how hard.  Tell your boss that you’ve noticed that your new coworker seems a little uncomfortable, and that you’re concerned because she’s a member of your team.  Ask your boss if she knows what’s going on, and listen to her answer — she may blow you off, in which case, there’s not much more you can do, or she might give you another side to the story than you’ve heard so far.

At that point, you can decide whether you need to do anything else.  Once you have a little more to work with, you can figure out if it would be fruitful to discuss the issue further with your coworker, or if it’s something that she’ll just have to get over.

As a note, I’d be a little concerned that she was willing to complain so vocally so quickly; whether she’s totally justified or not, it’s a little troubling that she’d think it was okay to talk to her direct supervisor about being “shafted” by her grand-boss almost immediately upon starting.  It’s not a deal breaker: If she really was jerked around, that can be pretty upsetting, and none of us are at our best when we feel abused.  But keep an eye out, and see if over-the-top complaints seem to be a habit.  That’s an issue that’s likely more damaging to your team in the long run, and something that you’ll very probably need to address.

Snark and tipples,


Got a question for Muffle? Send it to mufflemayi@gmail.com.