When Your Talented Employee Loses the Plot – Did You Leave Them Stranded?

Ever had a talented employee you saw as a core part of your team, only to find their attention wandered and they lost the plot and finally went elsewhere? You might find this story food for thought - because the problem could be you! 


Emma and I always offload about work on the bus ride home. A few years back when we worked at the same place, we used to talk office politics. Now we’re in different jobs and it’s normally the nitty gritty. You know – projects that take too long, clients who won’t make decisions, colleagues with interesting personal habits. That sort of thing. 

So, I’m on the bus with Emma yesterday, and she’s getting more intense than usual. We’ve known each other since school, we’re pretty frank and I know when something’s getting to her. The thing is, stuff rarely gets to Emma, because she’s Emma the Wonder Kid. Always having a great time at work. Always getting quick promotions, big responsibilities. Everyone loves Emma, and there’s nothing she can’t do. It drives me crazy. She always was a bit of a champion. Until yesterday.

This job, she says, I’m just not into it. They’ve got me working on this roadmap for a new product, and I just can’t see how it’s going to fit in. It feels like I’m wasting my time. 

Yeah, I say, I know what you mean. I hate running round in circles too. I was being sympathetic. But really, Emma is such a talent, I find it hard to believe they would have her working on anything non-critical. Maybe she’s just got a manager who isn’t good at explaining how things fit together and what the end goal is.

So then she says Plus, I’ve got this feeling they don’t think I’m very capable. It’s like I’m not that useful to them. 

What the hell? There’s no way they think this about superstar Emma. So I ask her, Did your manager tell you that in a feedback session or something?

And she says, Nah, this manager never does feedback. You know, in the past the people I’ve worked for have always said good things about what I’m doing. Now it’s just this silence. I think he’s avoiding having to tell me bad news. 

I’m looking for a positive slant on things. But he must think a lot of you if he’s trusting you with the new product roadmap? Sounds like a tricky job.

She doesn’t look reassured. Or maybe he’s just sidelining me!   You know, sometimes he has meetings about this thing I’m working on and he doesn’t even include me. What does that mean? 

At this point I’m starting to wonder if maybe Emma is right. Could she be falling short of her manager’s expectations? Hmmm. Has he suggested you have extra training, or buddy up with someone who can work with you?

Well, no, she says, but then I’ve never noticed anyone else getting that sort of treatment either. That’s another thing he doesn’t do – training. I don’t know, it’s just so frustrating because I can’t tell what I’m doing wrong. What should I do?

Could it be that I’m smarter than Emma today? Because I think she’s missing something obvious! 

It just might be, I say, that it’s actually your manager who isn’t up to the job.

She says Well he’s pretty well respected. He knows this business inside out, manages the whole operational side.

He’s not managing you very well though, is he? I point out.

I felt bad getting off the bus and leaving her in such a discouraged state. And I couldn’t get the conversation out of my mind last night. It’s so unusual for Emma to be in a situation like this! Normally she knows exactly what she’s doing, and her employers give her heaps of great opportunities. I’m the one who isn’t sure if I’m useful! 

And then it hits me – there’s a role coming up where I work that would be perfect for Emma. So I make some calls. Because hey, whether the problem is her or her manager, maybe a complete change is what she needs. 


Leaders of engaged teams:

  • Build trust and are inclusive
  • Align teams with a strong common purpose
  • Mentor and develop team members
  • Provide ongoing feedback



Disclaimer: This post is intended to provide general information and does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Formal advice should be sought in particular matters to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct for your location. This information is for guidance, ideas, and assistance only.

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