my low-performing employee can’t take feedback, telling coworkers I eloped, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My low-performing employee can’t take feedback

I have an employee who has been with our organization for six months. I’ve noticed that she begins crying whenever anyone points out an error, or if someone informs me or her trainer of a mistake she made, she gets offended because they aren’t coming to her directly. If a coworker is joking with someone else (they are not racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. jokes) or if someone is supposedly “short” with someone else, she gets offended, even if the recipient was not offended. I have also noticed she is only producing one-third of what the next lowest person is producing. When I asked what she needed from me to help with her production, she began crying and saying I pick on her. She has also accused me of favoritism because she is never given special projects to do, but everyone else gets the good projects. (I have given her projects, which are either not finished in a timely manner or she will not make any decision for herself, but will ask me or others every step of the way.) I have explained this to her, to no avail.

I talked to her old boss, who I am friends with, and she stated she was always a very sensitive person and very slow on the job causing their department to backlog, but didn’t mention it when I checked her reference because she didn’t want to speak ill of her because she is a kind person. They always treated her with kid gloves, not allowing anyone to kid around or just having others fix her errors. While my personal side knows she really needs her job, my supervisor side doesn’t think it’s right to have everyone to walk on eggshells and not be themselves or not give constructive criticism because one employee is extremely thin skinned. How do I handle an employee like this?

Your primary job is to ensure work is done, not to coddle someone’s feelings. You need to give her clear and direct feedback on what needs to change, and that should include both her productivity level and her openness to feedback (because you can’t have someone on your team who is too sensitive to hear feedback and incorporate it into her work).

Productivity at one-third of your next lower performer (!) is a dire enough performance issue that it’s highly likely that this won’t work out, so you should get her on a formal improvement plan ASAP — give her a clear bar that she needs to meet (like X amount of work done accurately in X amount of time, over the next four weeks), spell out what must change, and clearly explain that if she doesn’t meet those benchmarks, you’ll need to let her go (because that is the solution when someone is performing so poorly and doesn’t improve after direct feedback). Frankly, you should also address the constant taking offense (saying something like, “we do joke around in our culture and, knowing that that’s not going to change, I need you to decide if that’s something you can comfortably live with”), but it sounds like she’s not going to be able to meet your performance standards anyway, so you might just address the performance piece of it rather than getting into the rest (on the assumption that that will end up being a quick and direct route to replacing her without getting into all the side issues).

2. Telling my coworkers that I eloped

My boyfriend and I are going on a vacation in a few weeks, and we decided a few days ago to elope while we are there. We have been talking about getting married for a while and we both would rather just have a stress-free ceremony while we are on vacation. We already told our friends and family and we plan to have a small celebration with them in my hometown in a few months.

However, I’m not sure how to go about telling my coworkers about our plans. I work in a small, all-female office that can honestly be very gossipy. I didn’t have a proposal with a ring, and I’m not someone who is interested in making a big deal about being engaged or having a wedding (hence why we are eloping). However, I am excited to be married and I would like to share that with my coworkers. I’m also planning to change my name and use the married name professionally. I’ve been working at my current job for about 4 months and I’m nervous to bring it up. I think my coworkers will be surprised and think it’s a little weird that we’re getting married quickly without a traditional engagement and wedding. Any advice for the best way to casually make the announcement?

Just be straightforward — “Xavier and I are planning to get married while we were there, so I’ll be Persephone Montblanc when I return.” (Or, if you don’t mention it until you’re back: “Xavier and I ended up getting married while we were there. I’m now Persephone Montblanc.”)

Who cares if they think it’s weird? You’re happy with your plans, and any expression of disapproval can be responded to with “We’re not big wedding people’ or “We’re really happy with the way with did it” or whatever, followed by a shrug and/or “wow” if they persist. The correct response to an announcement that you just got married is “congratulations,” not criticism — and I don’t think you’ll really get a ton of the latter after the fact. (It tends to be before you get married that people want to impose their beliefs about How One Should Wed; once the deed is done, they seem to lose interest — or move on to the state of your uterus.) Plus, you’ll probably find plenty of people who, having been through the headaches of planning a massive wedding, will fully understand and possibly even envy the way you’ve chosen to do it.

3. Can I ask for a sign-up bonus to be paid early?

After months of unemployment, I recently received a job offer for a position that I am very excited about. Included in the offer is a sign-on bonus that is to be paid with my first paycheck. However, the position does not start for a couple of months and I am currently in a rather tough financial situation. Is it appropriate to ask for the bonus upfront? If so, what is the most tactful way to do it? The position is at a nonprofit, so I understand that their budget is probably tight, but having the money immediately would be ideal.

I suppose you can ask, but I’d be prepared to hear “no.” It’s set up the way it’s set up for a reason — they want to make sure you actually show up and start working before they pay it out. What would you do for money if they told you no or if you hadn’t gotten this job at all? Whatever that answer is, that’s what I’d lean on now, if at all possible.

4. Starting a new job when I have an old client who might go into labor at any moment

I’m self-employed as a doula, but it’s not yet self-sustaining. So, I’m currently looking for a regular job in admin. The problem is this: I currently have a birth client who is due soon. Since my role is to attend her birth from start to finish, I go on call in a couple of weeks, which means when she calls, I answer and when she’s in labour, I go to her – right then.

If/when I get an interview, when and how do I tell them this? I list my business on my CV, and since most people don’t know what a doula is, I’m likely to get questions. Should I take it off my CV?

There’s no reason to take it off your resume. If she’s due in a couple of weeks, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll have started a new job by then. (Even if you were offered one tomorrow, it would generally be a few weeks until you started.) However, if you do get offered a job before she’s delivered, just explain the situation — that you have a commitment to this one client, that you can’t precisely predict when that work will need to happen since it’s tied to when she goes into labor, and that you’d be glad to delay your start date until after the birth if they’d like you to.

5. Giving guidance to an intern who was just promoted to a full-time position

My unit just promoted a part-time student worker to a full-time job (different function) with more responsibility – let’s call it events manager. Our areas didn’t overlap much in her previous job, but they will now, and on a consistent basis. The person she’s replacing was good at her job, reliable, and is training her. We’re a pretty flat organization, but I am at a higher level than her. She’s a new grad and this is her first job in her desired field post-graduation. Is there anything I can or should do in terms of setting up a good working relationship with her? She doesn’t report to me, but I will be at 80% of the events she runs, often escorting VIP customers (this is how our jobs overlap). I’d like to have the same peace of mind as I did with her predecessor, namely that my needs for each event (which are always A, B, and C) will be met so those VIP customers stay happy. Should I talk to her about this in advance, or let her get a few events under her belt and see if there are any issues? I’ve never worked with anyone that made the transition from student worker or intern to full-time employee, and I want to be sure I’m setting the right expectations for her in her new role. I’d appreciate any advice you can offer on navigating this new work relationship.

Yes, talk to her! Not because she’s a former intern, but because she’s new to a job that you depend on. Walk her through what you’ll need from her and why, any pitfalls to watch out for, and make sure she understands the things that are important to you.

{ 253 comments… read them below }

  1. ZSD

    #2 Eloping
    I’m really not sure what your co-workers would have to gossip in this case. Actually, one of my previous co-workers did what you’re doing – she got married while she and her daughter were on vacation – and when she got back and told us, we all thought it was really cool. We congratulated her and gave her a belated shower.
    Generally, I think people are happy for co-workers who get married, regardless of the circumstances of their wedding ceremony (or lack thereof).
    So don’t worry! Just tell them, and I think they’ll all just be happy for you.
    Congratulations!

          1. ZSD

            Oh, I see. Well, that rumor is pretty easy to nip in the bud early on (or even pre-emptively).
            Also, I think it would be weirder (and more prone to triggering gossip) for her to wait six months or however long and then tell people that she was married. “Why didn’t she tell us right away? She must be ashamed of her marriage. I’ll bet it’s because…”

            1. Mary

              We had a co-worker who did this, was married for 3 years before she announced it at work. But hey, different strokes for different folks. She did not announce it to her family for 2.5 years. I could never understand why she kept it a secret; she was very anti marriage for a long while so maybe that was it. The most reactions she got from work was congratulations!

            2. do not pass go

              I kind-of eloped. We ended up having a small ceremony with little planning at the city hall. When I told people at work, I just said “I got married yesterday! And nope not pregnant.” All in one breath.

              (One of my coworkers was a huge gossip sooo…)

          2. ZSD

            Hm. The more I think about it, the more I think that telling them *before* you get married is the way to go. I feel like that might make them less likely to think it’s a shotgun wedding. At least they’ll see that the wedding is planned, albeit planned quickly.

            1. Turanga Leela

              In my (limited) experience, people who would think it’s a shotgun wedding will think that anyway. The only way to convince them that you’re not pregnant is to wait nine months.

    1. Jen RO

      She is ‘missing out’ on the wedding experience. Or it’s not fair for the family/friends that they can’t be there. People can find gossip topics out of anything. My boyfriend was told, at his mother’s funeral, that it was not fair they were burying her so fast, since relative X (who had not even been close to his mother) could not make it there with such short notice.

      1. Lizzy

        Yup. People can be tunnel-visioned when it comes to how they conduct certain cultural ceremonies or rites of passage (i.e. Marriage, kids, buying a house, etc), that they can be critical of how others who don’t do it “their way.” For instance, on my paternal grandmother’s side of the family, big weddings are normal. When one distant cousin eloped with her fiancée, everyone treated her with such disdain. Once the pregnancy rumors cleared, the new sentiment was that she was selfishly willing to shutout her friends and family on such an important occasion because she was so desperate to lock down her man.

        Like you said, people can find any reason to gossip over something, especially if it goes against how they view things. I don’t know how gossipy LW #2 coworkers are, but at least in her favor this isn’t something that would be dwelled on for an exceedingly long time (unlike family).

        1. Jen RO

          To be honest, if I were the OP, I would just get married and announce it when I got back to work.

          1. Kara

            Yeah, I’m with you – I’d just tell them when I got back. There will still be an element of “why didn’t you do things the way I would have?” but at least the deed will be done, and she can shut it down.

            And congrats, OP!

          2. C Average

            I did exactly this. It went fine. No regrets.

            (The “elopement” was actually several months in the planning, because I made my own dress and we held a small ceremony at my in-laws’ house with my husband’s father officiating and we flew all of our immediate family to the east coast to celebrate with us. But only one of my colleagues knew I was planning to get married. Everyone else just thought my fiance and I were going to Boston to run the marathon, as we did every year.)

          3. Lizzy

            I misread #2 and assumed she already did it, lol. If her coworkers were gossipy types, I don’t think it would matter when she announced it. But truthfully, this stuff blows over pretty fast.

      2. Stephanie

        There were a few relatives on my dad’s side who were upset that my parents didn’t have a wedding (big church weddings are common on his side). Like Jen RO said, those relatives thought it wasn’t fair that my parents got married and didn’t have a ceremony. So some of those relatives decided to fly to Boston (where my folks lived at the time) and throw an impromptu reception (where my mom said she ended up doing some of the cooking herself). Nearly 30 years later, relations between my mom and that part of my dad’s family are strained, to put it mildly.

    2. The Wall Of Creativity

      Do it & send a postcard to work so know before you get back. It’s what I did.

      1. Twentymilehike

        Oh late to the party, but …. ME TOO!!

        We actually knew ahead of time, but didn’t tell more than a small handful of people. We ended up having photos taken and made an announcement that we dropped in the mail the night before our appointment at the courthouse. Everyone got them on the day of when we were happily out of cell range :)

    3. Josh S

      The easiest language to use when eloping instead of having the full blown event is this: “Weddings are SO expensive now, and offer so little time for the bride and groom to see their loved ones. We decided we would rather save that money and use it [for a down payment on our first house/our dream honeymoon/some vacations to see all our loved ones/etc] instead of an overpriced party we don’t even get to fully enjoy.”

      People who don’t respect your personal choices about something they feel they ‘own’ in some small fashion, sometimes WILL respect you using your money the way you choose. And it has the ring of truth to it–weddings aren’t cheap.

      1. C Average

        I dunno, I think I’d rather use language that doesn’t imply there’s something wrong with other people’s choices. I’d be wary of using the phrasing you suggest, because nobody likes to think of their own big wedding as an overpriced party or to hear someone else call it that.

        I just went with, “We really wanted to keep it small and to have just our families thee. It was really lovely and everything I’d hoped for, and I’m so happy to be married.”

        [I agree with everything you’ve said, but there are people who WOULD rather have a big party than a down payment–and I’m not going to tell ’em their priorities are out of whack, even if I think they are, just because there’s no way THAT conversation is going to go well.]

        1. neverjaunty

          Yes, this. “Our wedding choices mean we’re much smarter and better than other people!” is really not a good message. As somebody who also went the no-big-expensive-party route, I’d be rolling my eyes at a co-worker who gave that little speech about their wedding.

      2. Kelly

        The busybody relatives who are insistent on large weddings where your entire clan is invited don’t realize how expensive weddings have gotten since they’ve gotten married. I have several cousins who are either engaged, living together, or are in common law relationships. I wouldn’t be shocked if the one who is engaged now simply elopes with his girlfriend because neither of them wants a large ceremony. It would also be more them to have a small informal party than a large wedding.

        I think most relatives would understand if you chose to elope or have a less formal ceremony if you had other priorities like buying a house or paying down student loans. I know my parents have offered to give my sister and I money for that purpose when we do get married and pay for a small informal reception.

        1. bearing

          “The busybody relatives who are insistent on large weddings where your entire clan is invited don’t realize how expensive weddings have gotten since they’ve gotten married.”

          I think they’re the same people giving free job advice.

        2. Cath in Canada

          It’s only expensive if you let it be expensive.

          We had a fairly big wedding (150 people), but we did it pretty cheaply. We found a cheap but lovely venue run by a non-profit, found our own caterer, ran our own bar, had minimal flowers (just bouquets for me and my one bridesmaid), my sister-in-law made the cake, my other sister-in-law made the centrepieces, my brother-in-law brought his band, and we played the rest of the music from a laptop and an iTunes playlist. It was awesome!

          I have friends who had extremely lavish weddings, and friends who eloped (including two who both worked with me who sent a postcard from their vacation saying “p.s. we got married while we were here” at the end – the only reaction was “That’s awesome, congratulations!”). Everyone was very happy with their own choice, and that’s all that matters.

      3. Artemesia

        There is no need to explain your choice to co-workers. Maybe your mother needs an excuse — but noone else does. Defensive nattering on about why you did something always seems self absorbed and needy. Come back to the office with a smile, an announcement and a box of candy or cookies or other goodies perhaps from your vacation destination. No one needs an elaborate explanation.

        1. Jen RO

          Depends on your relationship with your coworkers. I am close to mine and we know a lot about each other’s personal lives, so it would be very odd if one of us just said ‘I got married’ with no other comments.

    4. seesawyer

      One more tactic you can use (besides just being straightforward and using the “big weddings are soooo expensive and stressful” line, which are both good ideas) is to talk up how /romantic/ the ceremony was—tell your coworkers about the beautiful scenery or the nostalgic significance of the place. This way the “but it should be your perfect day/you missed out” people will be satisfied or at least back off. Of course only do this if you’re feeling it to some extent at least, and I only suggest it because you mentioned you will be going on vacation. Oh, and congratulations!

    5. Lamington

      I had a small ceremony and just showed some photos to my coworkers after the fact and yold them we wanted something small with our parents and close relatives. there’s never an obligation to invite people.

  2. Stephanie

    #1: Whoa, how is she still employed? She could also cry as emotional manipulation a la crying to get out a speeding ticket. (“If I cry, Boss will feel bad and not fire me/put me on plan.”)

    #3: At FirstJob, we were allowed an advance on our first paycheck (we didn’t get paid until over a month after our start dates). Maybe your new org has a some sort of advance policy?

    #4: If an interview does come up, I would just mention this while scheduling. I’m now curious about the financial aspects of being a doula–does insurance cover this?

    1. Nina

      I was thinking the same thing about #1. She could be using the tears as a way out of any kind of criticism.

    2. Purple Dragon

      # 1 – Crying
      I agree with Stephanie.
      This much crying is emotional blackmail, and I’m a cryer (the humiliation !). And she seriously said you “pick on her” ?

      Allison’s advice is excellent, per usual. I’d like to add a bit from my own experience dealing with someone like this FWIW.

      When you’re talking to her ignore the tears, just push through. Hand her a tissue but keep going. It’s uncomfortable but maybe if you ignore them and she figures that out, they will decrease. But be prepared for push-back in the form of being offended more often. Confirm everything in writing that you discuss, which is probably covered with a PIP, but I thought I’d mention it specifically because she will not remember most of what you say. You may have to go through it multiple times.

      How have you put up with this for 6 months ? You have more patience than me.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

        I’m a crier too and will defend tears-in-the-workplace as not the most god awful thing in the universe. Once in awhile!

        There’s multiple issues in this situation, but the only one that matters is the low performance. A soft hearted manager needs to rearrange her thinking to what is true: the kindest thing to do here is to be direct.

        What I would do is tell her that she’s about to lose her job for low performance. I’d also tell her that I don’t think I can help her not lose her job because she responds to feedback so poorly and this is going to be a handicap her entire career.

        99% chance, her response to this won’t be helpful. 1% chance she says, I know I have a problem taking feedback and I’d like to fix it. Should the 1% happen, challenge her to spend the next four weeks working, listening & not reacting.

        Calling out the behavior is right thing to do. Maybe she can fix herself sometime. Getting further enmeshed in it is the wrong thing to do because other people need your time.

        1. MissM

          I am a crier too, but while crying is *sometimes* involuntary, the way she shifts the blame by claiming the manager is picking on her is not involuntary. She is manipulating people and deflecting criticism, by acting as if she is a victim of bullying. If I was the manager I’d be worried that next she’ll file a harassment complaint with HR.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

            Mmmm, good point, yeah, I’d definitely have her flagged as a potential lawsuit and make sure all dots and crosses were in the proper spot. People don’t need any grounds, other than what’s been made up in their own minds re unfair treatment, to file.

            Good point. Keep HR looped in tightly.

          2. T

            At this point the woman may believe her own story that she is being picked on, and this sort of deflection and crying may be a defense mechanism. It sounds to me like her reactions are more than responses to negative feedback or joking at work and that she will need help beyond what a manager can and should give her.

            1. fposte

              That’s my thought–it doesn’t have to be conscious to be learned advantageous response.

            2. Ruffingit

              Yeah, I thought about that too. I tend to think this is emotional manipulation, but if it’s moved beyond that point to the place where she believes her own persecution narrative, she’s going to need help that no one in the workplace can provide.

          3. Adam

            Agreed. She very well may not even be aware that she’s doing it. She may have just learned this over the years and does not understand why people respond to her the way they do.

        2. C Average

          Your answer to this is PERFECT. If this is a 99% situation, you’re rid of the problem. If it’s a 1% situation, you’ve just turned around someone’s professional life by being direct and having the difficult conversation. (And you may even get a productive employee, too.)

        3. Not So NewReader

          Really great advice for the OP, here. I especially agree with the point of “ignore and plow through”.
          OP, if you show no reaction to her tears, you will make it easier for her to slow down the waterworks. There is something about people getting concerned and dialing back their message that can bring out MORE tears.

          Say what you need to say, keep your voice even/steady and forge ahead even when she appears not to be hearing you. That is the point, she will have to stop wailing to get what you are saying.
          Crying does nothing to fix her problems. Tell her that. Heck, if crying actually fixed problems then most of us would be CEOs by now. Crying is not a job skill and one’s ability to cry will not enable them to keep their jobs nor move ahead.

          My one concern is that you do not get drawn into her life issues. Prepare yourself to say things like “that is an at home problem” or “perhaps you need to seek outside help for that issue” or “my involvement in your life is in work place stuff and no where else”. Pick your own wording that you are comfortable/convincing and have those phrases ready to use. Don’t let her problems creep out to encompass everything on earth.

          I think also that if you focus on behaviors and missteps you have seen first hand, you will gain the most ground. If you can gain ground here at all.
          Maybe a PIP will be enough to get her packing and you won’t need anything further.

      2. Vancouver Reader

        I’ve worked with women in the past who used tears to get what they wanted because they knew (consciously or subconsciously) that their older male bosses didn’t know what to do with crying women and would do whatever they needed to get the crier out of their office.

    3. Ruffingit

      #1 is absolutely emotional manipulation, that was the first thought I had as well. It’s really ridiculous to be that low of a performer and be that thin skinned, I say she’s doing it because it works. Clearly it does because her old boss was willing to still give her a good reference (since she’s kind – WTF) regardless of her obvious numerous problems.

      This woman needs to be dealt with ASAP and HR looped in on it.

      1. Mimmy

        Forgot to mention the former boss in my post down-thread. Wow. In addition to everything, OP needs to have a serious chat with her friend…that was not a cool thing to do.

        1. neverjaunty

          The BEST possible interpretation of Old Boss’s actions is that she privileged the bad employee’s feelings over LW’s friendship and needs as a manager. Wow, no.

      2. Totally Anon

        #1 Reminded me of Dan Savage’s DTMFA!!! posts. (For those who don’t read him, he’s a sex/relationship advice columnist and completely wonderful. DTMFA stands for Dump That Mother F—-er Already!)

        Sometimes–rarely–I feel like Alison needs a workplace version of that. FTSLPA? (Fire That Sensitive Low Performer Already!) Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it….

  3. Jen RO

    I have a coworker like #1. When she got a bad performance review, she cried in the company bathroom and texted the team lead to come get her. When she was given any assignment, she messed it up, then whined about how we all had more responsibility than her. It took the boss about a year to understand that coaching and helping do not work and she will just be a bad employee forever. She was on the verge of being put on a PIP, but she finally got a new job and she’ll be out of here in a month! (She probably still thinks everyone was mean to her and actively working to undermine her genius.)

    1. BritCred

      yep, I had a situation in a recreational group just like this. Said person boasted about doing things left right and center… but never actually *did* them. I did them with full management consent – in a rush just before the event – because they hadn’t been done and she threw a hissy fit because I wasn’t told not too and to let her do them. At group events it was dubious that anyone could claim she was doing her expected standard either.

      She later left the group citing “group dynamic changes” , not being “given the respect and valued as she is due” and claiming that my closeness to a member of management was clouding his judgement.

      Reality is that she’s never had a job where she’s been anything but coddled and expects the world to revolve around her.

      1. Jen RO

        I have no idea… (It was during my “break” – the 9 months I spent in another company before coming back here.) The team lead had to go there with tissues because the coworker was crying so hard…

        1. fposte

          Because the snowflake couldn’t wipe her precious tears with toilet paper?

          You have successfully convinced me to dislike this person immensely.

          1. Jen RO

            Join the club! June 23rd is her last day, after 3+ years with the company (a fact she pointed out over and over again… while people who had been there for a year did a much better job than her).

      2. KrisL

        Bizarre. My tear ducts seem to be wired to flow sometimes when I get very angry or stressed or both, but the very few times I’ve had to cry in the bathroom, I did it as quietly and privately as possible because I didn’t want anyone to know.

  4. Artemesia

    I am sort of stunned that the first question is about how not to hurt this employees feelings rather than ‘how soon can I fire her’. This is a clear case of an employee who should be fired. The only advice the OP needs is what that process should be and perhaps Alison’s path is the way to go. But frankly, just firing her would probably make more sense than to spin it out further. Imagine what having this unproductive incompetent is doing to morale of the rest of the staff.

    Elope? I did this myself for many reasons. We got married and then told people. That is usually what an elopement means. And when you come back and just announce you are married then you don’t have to put up with opinions on what you should do — most people don’t criticize what you have done, but they will tell you what you should do. Where is gossip going here?

    For the intern/staffer — I’d take her to lunch and tell her how thrilled you are about her hiring and how impressed everyone is with her work and then discuss the partnership you hope for making clear how important her work is to what you do and what you need from her. Notice how much positive regard runs her way in this conversation. It is critical to make expectations clear and not wait until there are problems.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      I am sort of stunned that the first question is about how not to hurt this employees feelings rather than ‘how soon can I fire her’.

      Yeah, but you and I have had a few laps around the block, haven’t we?

      One of the first things we look for in a new employee is how she takes on feedback. People who are defensive or are blame shifters don’t make 30 days. Can’t work with them – weed ’em out.

      Give me a slower learning feedback taking person over a faster learning “I was never told! It’s not my fault!” person any day.

      I’m not interested in taking resources to try to coach someone who is seriously feedback impaired into improving, but, it takes a few experiences to learn how fruitless such an effort is.

      1. Kay

        What about an “I never knew that, let me incorporate it going forward”.

        My boss has a tendency to make up policies that haven’t been around since I started and then tell me I’ve been “misinformed” about the policies… I’m always able to work with them, I just have to be told they’re happening.

        He’s one of the major reasons I’ve been job-hunting…

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

          Oh, completely different (and my sympathies on your boss troubles).

          We have consistent, but not infallible, training for our new folks, and a lot of moving pieces. Everybody who starts is going to make mistakes.

          Person A makes common newbie mistake might say either “oh, I didn’t know” or “I didn’t realize” or just a simple “gosh, I’ll fix that right now”.

          Person B makes common newbie mistake and says, “I was never told”.

          Happens once, nobody thinks about. A pattern, though, of “I was never told”s is a bad sign of someone who will point outward when given feedback rather than looking at themselves.

          1. Office Princess

            Ugh I have a couple people who are “never told anything”. Except somehow I have the training packet, remedial training notes, and six emails as written proof that you were told in addition to the times you were told verbally.

      2. SherryD

        Interesting point there regarding blame-shifting. I have a coworker who is EXACTLY like the problem employee in #1, and that was the first problem behaviours I noticed from her — nothing was ever her fault! It was only later that I became aware of her emotional neediness and low performance issues. It’s frustrating. I don’t want anyone to be unhappy, but, geez, we’re here to work, not hold each others’ hands.

      3. ella

        I’ve worked really hard to make sure I’m a decent feedback-taker, largely because of this blog. My current strategy is to, in the meeting, listen and agree and nod my head a whole lot. Then I go home and bitch to my roommate about how terrible that conversation was. Then I admit that my boss had a point and go back to her a couple days later with, “So, this is what I heard the other day, and these are ideas I have to fix X. Did I misinterpret? Am I on the right track? Is there something else you would like me to do?”

        I’ve also been slowly trying to train my manager to give me behavior-based feedback, not attitude-based. (This is starting to make it sound like I’m a terrible employee who keeps getting corrected, which I swear isn’t the case!) We had a discussion a few months ago about how she didn’t think I was prioritizing my workload correctly or efficiently. I came back to her with, “So, I know you have concerns about my priorities, but me simply telling you I’ve altered my priorities, or that I actually have the priorities you want me to have, isn’t going to my behavior. So I will start doing X, Y, and Z and you can monitor my workload by doing B. That way we can evaluate my behavior instead of my mental processes. Is that okay?” And it was.

  5. EAA

    #1 – This employee should be let go. Alison’s proposal for a PIP is probably the best way to go. It will be hard as it appears she wasn’t held to a standard in her last position. I also might be a little leery of future references from your friend. She is doing no one any favors by not being honest. The cynic in me wonders if the old boss’s reason for not being honest about the short comings was because she wanted the employee out and didn’t want to deal with what it would take to either manage her to better outcomes or out the door.

    1. Jessa

      Yes, I’d be really, really annoyed at the friend. It’s bad enough when a total stranger omits details like this, but someone who is supposed to be your friend should have given you a heads up, officially or not. That’s a rotten thing to do to someone. At minimum there should have been one of those damning with faint praise or even just “dates and salary,” but to stick a FRIEND with this worker, Not on.

      1. GrumpyBoss

        That, to me, was the worst part of #1. You have a connection now that pushed their problem on you. Was it a passive aggressive choice, thinking, “if she gets a new job I’m rid of her?” Or was it as #1 wrote, and the old boss was just really enabling the problem by leading with, “she’s so nice…”

        In any case, that’s a connection (notice I’m not using “friend”) who I wouldn’t be considering too much job related advice from in the future.

          1. KrisL

            That’s what I think too. She’s making the job tougher and less pleasant for the people who actually get work done.

          2. SevenSixOne

            I will never understand why so many people soften criticism by insisting the person being criticized is “so nice”. THAT IS NOT THE ISSUE HERE!

    2. The Other Dawn

      I totally agree. This employee needs to go.

      And what a crappy thing for the OP’s friend to do. It’s my opinion that the friend just wanted the employee out of her hair and lied, either outright or by omission, during the reference check.

  6. Carolum

    #1: Let me be blunt here: She needs to go. Or at least give her a PIP with a *maximum* 30-day timeline (which I’m not optimistic she’d pass).

    #3: Maybe they could pay out the entire bonus and, if it doesn’t work out, have it garnished? I don’t know the law on this.

  7. Brett

    #3 If the OP did not have the job offer at all, presumably they would cover the gap with unemployment… so would the OP now be ineligible for unemployment, since they have an offer that probably makes them no longer available for work in the eyes of the state?
    If the offer makes them ineligible to collect unemployment, that might be a good justification for an advance.

    1. Stephanie

      Yeah, my old state (Virginia) would let you collect until you officially went back to work full-time.

      1. Stephanie

        Although that would put OP in the ethically murky territory of still having to look for work after accepting an offer.

        1. Jessa

          Most unemployment offices would understand “new job starts in 3 weeks” to exempt one from having to continue to look. It’s just harder to file if you’re doing it online with one of those “fill in the boxes about where you looked for work.” You may have to do it on the phone with a live rep.

          1. Skippy Larou

            This is not true. I had a firm job offer, with a start date a week away, and nothing happened to make it fall through, but I was told by a staff person for UI to continue to make my assigned job contacts every week until I actually started working. Because sometimes things do fall through. And I was applying for UI until the new job started. If I wasn’t asking for their funds, I didn’t have to follow their rules.

            Because I had thought the same thing, “I have a firm job offer, I don’t have to keep looking”. I found this out in time to make 3 hurried job contacts for that week. Good thing I did, because I was audited by UI for just that one week. I’m sure because I had told the UI employee that I wasn’t making my contacts since I had the job offer.

            This was an honest error on my part, and fortunately it all worked out, I passed the audit, but anyone on UI, keep making your assigned job contacts until you are actually working, not until you have the job offer.

            UI is strained by the numbers of people claiming their help right now. Anything they can do to push people off of it or to reclaim funds they will do.

    2. Colette

      I would think that “waiting for the job to start” would be a reason to not actively search, but that assumes she’s eligible for unemployment in the first place.

      I understand that money is tight, but I would find a request for a starting bonus before starting a little weird, and it would raise questions about whether she even plans to start.

      1. Monodon monoceros

        Yes, I would avoid asking for the bonus up front if at all possible. I wouldn’t want my new employer to know anything about my financial status. I would rather max out the credit cards and borrow money from friends/family than ask my new employer for this.

    3. Elizabeth West

      Eh, I kept applying up until starting time. I was afraid something would happen and the job would evaporate (it didn’t). Yes, I was a little paranoid–it seemed too good to be true!

      Ironically, my first week on the job, I got two callbacks from places I had applied to months before with no replies whatsoever. It was with extreme satisfaction that I told them I had already accepted a new position. :)

  8. Ann Furthermore

    “I talked to her old boss, who I am friends with, and she stated she was always a very sensitive person and very slow on the job causing their department to backlog, but didn’t mention it when I checked her reference because she didn’t want to speak ill of her because she is a kind person.”

    I doubt that’s the reason the former boss didn’t say anything about this employee. More likely is that she was thrilled at the opportunity to pass her along and have her be someone else’s problem.

    1. Jen RO

      My thoughts exactly. No matter how kind a low performer were, I would never in good faith be able to recommend him/her.

      1. Artemesia

        Not only is that person NOT a good friend, she is also not a good manager. No way would I ever take her advice on any hiring decision again.

    2. Sara

      But what I don’t get is, what makes a special snowflake crier so “nice” and “kind”?

      1. Colette

        I think this is similar to the “jerk” conversation a couple of weeks ago. She probably is kind – most of us are, in some situations. It becomes problematic when we use those traits as a shortcut for how to deal with someone (i.e. “we can’t lay her off, she’s too nice”, or “I’m not going to listen to what she has to say, she’s a jerk”).

        The other possibility, of course, is that they’re defining “kind” as “deplores conflict of all types and just wants everyone to get along”, which is not actually kind in the long run.

      2. Jen RO

        Well, the coworker I described about was kind of nice. She didn’t kick puppies, she could be funny, we could chat about the weekend or the weather or TV shows. As long as we didn’t get into work-related topics, she was not an unpleasant person to be around. And it was sometimes hard to even get angry at her when she screwed up: usually it was painfully obvious she simply didn’t understand what was going on. We covered for her for ages because, at first, we thought it was the steep learning curve; afterwards, we hoped that her performance would improve with coaching (it did, but only for a while). In my team’s case, many mistakes were made due to having a remote manager (in another country) and inexperienced employees who didn’t recognize the extent of the problem (I am very much included here). Once a team lead was appointed in our location, she managed the situation better.

      3. neverjaunty

        Guessing that the old boss was making excuses. It was easier to say “I didn’t want to be mean” than “I kept my mouth shut because I wanted to get rid of her.”

      4. Helena Troi

        She was kind as long as she was getting her way and never being held accountable for anything– people like that usually are.

    3. KrisL

      Her old boss might have been “kind” to the worker, but this certainly wasn’t a kind thing to do to this worker’s new manager.

  9. Smilingswan

    OP 1- you sound like a really compassionate manager. As someone who has difficulty with interpersonal relationships, I would hope that if that was part of the reason I was being let go that my boss would tell me. I agree she needs to go, due to performance issues if nothing else, but it would be a kindness to tell her exactly what it is that she needs to work on, so that this doesn’t keep happening to her. She needs to know that being overly sensitive at best or extremely manipulative at worst is not going to help her career. She may not take the news well in the moment, but she’ll thank you in the long run. I also wonder, was she fired or asked to resign from her last job? It seems like that might be a possibility here, given her previous manager’s recommendation being essentially false.

    1. Stephanie

      OP 1- you sound like a really compassionate manager.

      I agree. It sounds like this employee might be beyond saving, but I’m glad you’re not taking a firing lightly. Even if she is The Worst Employee Ever, a firing will still be a huge financial and emotional hit for her and not something you want to do until you’ve exhausted every other option.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

        Even if she is The Worst Employee Ever, a firing will still be a huge financial and emotional hit for her and not something you want to do until you’ve exhausted every other option.

        I believe that effective managers can’t think like that. That’s one of the ways that co-workers who cause extra work for good employees and/or make other employees lives miserable stay on the job. Unless someone brings a knife to work and starts threatening people, there is always one more option to save their job that hasn’t been exhausted yet.

        Compassionate managers need to put good employees first. A well run organization gives back money that can then be paid to good employees in raises and bonuses + provides a healthy, positive working environment.

        What is kind to a low performing or mismatched employee is to move them out sooner, rather than later, so they can find another job with a better fit. A manager’s highest priority should always be the people who are showing up every day, working hard and doing a good job.

        1. Cool Name TBD

          I love this answer. I have a similar situation with one of my employees, and I needed that dose of perspective. Thank you!

        2. Colette

          Agreed. If the employee is working to improve – and succeeding – then I agree that keeping them on is appropriate, but if they’re not able to improve, it really doesn’t matter whether it’s because they have issues accepting feedback or they aren’t suited for the job or they aren’t getting the perfect kind of help – ultimately, they’re not able to do the job you need them to do.

        3. fposte

          Thank you so much for this answer. It’s so easy for us to fall into the trap of sympathizing only with the person who’s a character in the story, but she’s hurting everybody she works with, and that has to stop one way or another. You don’t want to lose the good employees because they’re demoralized by having to do her work for her and be patient with her meltdowns.

          1. ella

            It’s so easy for us to fall into the trap of sympathizing only with the person who’s a character in the story, but she’s hurting everybody she works with, and that has to stop one way or another.

            This. Also, as a person who’s particularly vulnerable to being made to feel guilty, the strategy of “You need to improve your performance because you’re making life harder for your coworkers” is a sure-fire way to get me to change my behavior.

        4. Stephanie

          Ok, good points. And I’m sure unless this employee is completely delusional about her performance, a firing might be a relief (at least initially to her) and to her colleagues.

          Just to clarify, I don’t think the OP should give her unlimited chances. You’re right that if it’s just performance, it’s easy to get a soft spot and think things will improve. Alison’s suggestion of a strict PIP is a good one. My point was that since OP’s probably about to deprive this employee of her livelihood and routine, the OP should be as tactful and straightforward as possible. This will keep the employee from getting resentful and (if she’s the litigious type) possibly suing.

          1. Beti

            I’m not trying to be argumentative but I don’t think it’s fair to say the OP is about to deprive the employee of her livelihood. The _employee_ is about to deprive _herself_ of her livelihood.

            If this employee’s previous manager had required the employee take responsibility for herself and her actions, the OP would never have been placed in this position.

            Of course the OP should be tactful and straightforward and compassion is commendable. To be a good manager, though, you cannot set “requiring good performance/professional behavior” equal to “being Ebenezer Scrooge”.

            1. Totally Anon

              This is a great point! I taught undergrads when I was in graduate school, and I can’t tell you how many angry, tearful emails and rants I got saying, “WHY ARE YOU LOWERING MY GPA?!?!”.

              Umm, no, honey–YOU’RE lowering your GPA by not doing your assignments, not asking questions, talking/texting through class, and otherwise not showing up and doing the work. People EARN grades, just as they earn money at their jobs and the right to keep doing those jobs.

          2. De Minimis

            I think one reason companies avoid firing is also that filling the position may be a tough process, and in the meantime it may be hard for those who remain.

            That’s actually a good barometer for when firing should be considered—if this person leaves, how much slack would there be for the others to take up? In this case, sounds like not very much at all.

            1. Sara

              I would imagine in this situation, they’ll still be doing the extra work, but could possibly be more relaxed because they’re not having to walk on eggshells around this person. It’s hard to describe what a wonderful feeling that can be….

            2. Stephanie

              I did hear a manager at my old job (a federal agency) say firing was really hard if the employee was permanent, that for the amount of work required, it was just easier to try and get the employee to improve or hope he quit.

              Of course, my old agency used the two-year probationary period and was sure to get rid of low performers before they became permanent employees.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                That was a crappy manager, not useful guidance for others. First, that was the federal government, where firing someone comes with a long waiting period and tons of bureaucracy. But second, even in the federal government you can fire someone if you’re willing to deal with the paperwork. Please don’t take that manager’s laziness as guidance more broadly.

                1. Stephanie

                  You’ll probably wince at this: he gave this nugget of “advice” to a roomful of 200 people.

                  In reality, I’m having a hard time imagining that happening in that particular job. TPTB took full advantage of the two-year probationary program (I think it’s the Federal Career Intern Program) and in that, employees were subject to standard performance plans and firings. Turnover was pretty high between firings and resignations (about 50% a year), so the remaining employees (who’d be subject to the drawn-out firing) were usually the higher performers.

                2. De Minimis

                  It actually isn’t true of the federal government in my experience, I’ve been at my job just over a year and a half and my workplace has had no qualms about firing people, even including a physician. Longtime employees have also told me of several cases in the past where employees were fired, although in cases of higher level employees it did take longer.

            3. Ask a Manager Post author

              That’s actually a good barometer for when firing should be considered—if this person leaves, how much slack would there be for the others to take up?

              No! That is not the barometer! The barometer is “will the organization be better served in the long-term by having someone else in this position?” If the answer is yes, then you have an obligation as a manager to make that happen, even if it means a difficult short-term period. Difficult short-term is better than long-term drag on your team.

        5. Artemesia

          Exactly. I know a small business that was really struggling recently and one problem was several key players who were difficult to work with and manage and in one case actively crossways with the vision of the owner/president. Firing them happened far too late, but the immediate result has been an immediate upsurge in productivity and morale and it looks like the business which was in danger will survive.

          Failing to act can cost business and certainly costs morale; this company nearly went under as a result of avoiding crossing key people who weren’t getting the job done.

        6. Smilingswan

          “What is kind to a low performing or mismatched employee is to move them out sooner, rather than later, so they can find another job with a better fit. A manager’s highest priority should always be the people who are showing up every day, working hard and doing a good job.”
          I agree with this, but since she was not on a PIP, it’s possible this employee has not been taking her manager’s coaching seriously. At the very least, the manager needs to make sure she really understands her job is definitely in jeopardy if she doesn’t improve. That doesn’t sound like it’s the case here.

        7. Ask a Manager Post author

          I came here to say exactly this. The standard for firing isn’t “have I done everything I can to help this person?” You’re never going to have done absolutely everything you could have done to create the optimal environment for every person. There will always be one more thing you could have tried, or another chance you could have given. You can’t hold yourself to that standard, or you will never fire anyone, and you will have low performers holding your team and your organization back.

          The standard you should hold yourself to is: Hire carefully (while knowing you’ll never get it 100% right); give clear and frequent feedback; make sure that if you have concerns about an employee, that employee knows it; and address it forthrightly when something isn’t working out.

  10. Al Lo

    #2: In my junior year of high school, a new English teacher and a new Physics teacher were both hired — both young, both single. Many of the kids in both of their classes started teasing them about getting together, especially since their classrooms were right across the hall from each other; he was the guys’ basketball coach, she was the girls’, etc.

    Toward the end of that year, the drama class was putting together a showcase of scenes, and I wrote a little 5-part “mini-scene” series that was designed to be transitions while the larger scene and costume changes were happening. Basically, I took their “relationship” (which was, as far as any of us knew, not actually existent) and wrote it as a kindergarten playground wedding, using very not-disguised versions of their first names. It was a hit — the kind of sketch that students often do in roasting teachers and exaggerating their personalities and classroom tics.

    A week later, the Tuesday after the May long weekend, lo and behold, they came back to school married! Somehow, they managed to keep their whole relationship private from virtually everyone, including many (I think) of the teachers. Needless to say, we were all thrilled for them, and it was one of the most exciting events of the year.

    She finished out that year as Ms. MaidenName, and came back the next as Mrs. MarriedName. And I printed off a fresh copy of the scenes and gave them to her as wedding gift, and she was one of my favorite teachers through all of high school.

    1. Turanga Leela

      I love this! I’ve been on the flip side–when I worked with a group of kids, they thought I was dating every one of my male coworkers.

      1. Ali

        Haha I did something like this when I was in eighth grade and the teacher was NOT amused and I got detention for it. For five days too! Technically, it was a fake play that I had forwarded around over e-mail when I wasn’t even in school and the principal found out and said they had to take it seriously. At least there was a sense of humor in this case!

        1. Al Lo

          This was a drama class assignment, which the drama teacher sanctioned. I can’t remember now if she knew that the two teachers were dating, which would have made it extra hilarious from her perspective, but either way, the sketch was completely above board from an admin perspective.

    2. Layla

      Aww, that’s sooo sweet! I love hearing good stories like this! By the way congrats OP#2!

    3. Brett

      That was an awesome gift. I bet that mini-play will be performed at one or more of their anniversaries :)

  11. M

    We had a coworker elope and not tell anyone – actually, I have the impression it was unplanned. She just came back after Christmas with a different surname, made it known, and smiled and said little to the questions that inevitably arose. Everyone was happy/excited/chatty, because we’re a fairly gossipy office too, but after a few days it just went back to complete normality – with the odd “Oh, she’s Jane Z now, not Jane Y, isn’t she? I forgot!” being the only reminder.

    I wouldn’t worry about it too much. It’s not really anyone’s business anyway.

    1. EE

      A big fuss was made when I got back from a holiday married. But that was largely because I was the first person among all the accountancy trainees to get married. (I was 28, not an unusual age to get married, and almost all the other trainees were 25 or younger, an unusual age to get married.)

      1. EE

        For clarification: very unusual in my country (Ireland) at any rate. I’m sure it’s common in other countries.

  12. Sophia

    1. “While my personal side knows she really needs her job,…. ”

    I have to say, in this economy I reallllly can’t stand when bad employees get to keep their jobs. There are so many GREAT employees who badly need jobs. It’s wonderful that you are a compassionate manager, but on the other hand, it’s not compassionate to the people who have to work with her or any really great unemployed person who could perform her job instead.

  13. MR

    While I agree the low performer in #1 needs to be let go, giving her the axe right away is the wrong way to go. It just adds on to the bad management of her performance up to this point.

    She should have never been treated with kid gloves to start with. This is an adult in the workplace – not a child in daycare.

    Do the PIP and then hold her to the desired expectations – while also making sure the outcomes are clearly explained. Don’t back down when the inevitable waterworks start to flow.

    This is a good reminder to not allow poor performers to stick around. Be a manager and manage these situations as they arise so they don’t balloon to problems such as this. Good luck!

    1. Rebecca

      “This is an adult in the workplace – not a child in daycare.”

      Yes, so many times yes!! This should be stressed in manager school. This is a workplace, not kindergarten, and people should be treated accordingly.

        1. fposte

          I think they should be treated as adults regardless of how they act. Being treated as an adult doesn’t preclude being subject to greater supervision and not being trusted.

    2. Mike B.

      Agreed about the PIP. She sounds like a disaster, but it also sounds as though it was never properly conveyed to her that her job could be in jeopardy–if she thinks that criticism is just “picking on [her],” she sees it as a negative end in and of itself rather than a warning, AND she doesn’t really realize it stems from her own poor performance. It’s hardly mature, but it would be fair to connect those dots for her.

  14. Juli G.

    OP2, if you’re worried about coworkers putting up a fuss (a wedding shower, lunch etc.), I might suggest bringing in donuts or some kind of treat. When someone asks what the occasion is, you’ve hosted your own celebration.

    1. Turanga Leela

      Yeah, in many offices I’ve worked in, people would want to take you out for a celebratory lunch, serve cake, or something similar. Would that bother you, OP2? People like doing that kind of thing, and they might want to do it even if you bring in donuts with your announcement.

  15. Sarahnova

    “It tends to be before you get married that people want to impose their beliefs about How One Should Wed; once the deed is done, they seem to lose interest — or move on to the state of your uterus.”

    HAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh, Alison, you never spoke truer words.

    OP#2, I’d personally 1) not bother telling them until you get back for the reason above, 2) be prepared for a lot of attention to suddenly focus on your uterus. For God’s sake, don’t say you feel tired or sick at work unless you want every eye in the place eagerly fixed on you. :) Also, congratulations!

    1. Kay

      Yes! I’ve been married almost a year and I get comments ALL THE TIME about when are my parents going to be grandparents. Ugh! It’s still early, we have plenty of time and as a parent with a married child, you do not get to pick when you become a grandparent!

      Sorry for the rant, but that one has really been bugging me lately.

      1. Smilingswan

        Can you imagine sending out a yearly/holiday newsletter to your family called “The State of the Uterus”? Hilarious!

    2. C Average

      I married a guy with two kids from a previous marriage, and I occasionally get asked if we’re having more. I smile sweetly and say, “That would be a medical miracle, and NOT the good kind.” I never get follow-up questions ever. :)

  16. Rebecca

    #1 You didn’t say how many employees you have and who work directly with the low performing employee. I can guarantee you they want you to do something. Look at it from their perspective: you give them projects, set expectations, and expect them to perform, and they do. But water works girl? She’s performing at 1/3 the level of the lowest performing coworker, and she’s still employed.

    You need to do something about this before the rest of the team becomes so resentful they start looking for other employment.

    1. Anon Accountant

      I’d venture a guess that some other higher performing employees have job searches in the works. What happens with the assignments she doesn’t finish? Are they reassigned to others?

      That’ll build more resentment and encourage her best employees to seek jobs elsewhere.

      1. Rebecca

        This happens at my workplace. My manager’s friend works in our office, and she is the lowest performer, to the point the manager watches out to make sure she does things, and when they’re not done, she assigns the work to the rest of us. This created a lot of resentment, and has been going on for years. If the economy wasn’t so horrible, and decent paying jobs so scarce, my PHB would be left with her low performers and that’s it.

        1. OP 1

          No, I don’t reassign the work to others. If it’s time sensitive, I will handle it. If it’s not, I have her continue to work until it’s done. I have never believed in punishing others for one’s person’s errors or misgivings.

          1. fposte

            Aren’t you “others”? Isn’t there work you’re supposed to be doing that isn’t hers?

          2. Did#1UsedtoWorkForMe

            OP – I had one of these as a manager and I would do the same thing – taking on her work when she couldn’t make it happen. But believe me my other employees knew it, especially when I was taking on her work or she was working more slowly than the rest. (It was a system where it was inevitable that they knew, not because I complained or talked to them about it inappropriately.)

            She was such a drag on the team they finally asked me to fire her. I didn’t get to because of the emotional manipulation (she’d cry about me to our male boss when I’d ask her to do her job correctly), she ended up working there for almost a year and I think was the start of the demise of our culture in that department.

            If you don’t want her out in the cold, provide severance. It’ll help and you’ll all be happier.

    2. Artemesia

      Well look at it this way, the lowest performing worker except for her loves having her around.

  17. GrumpyBoss

    I had my very own #1 once (the sensitive employee, not the LW). Mine was male and had the extra fun of deciding that he was picked on or people were trying to offend him on purpose because he was a born again Christian. For the record, he wasn’t being picked on anymore than #1’s employee is and I always find false accusations of discrimination to be the most offensive thing in the office place.

    One day I had a one on one with my employee. I planned on asking him why he didn’t complete his tasks I had requested, but he showed up with a presentation in hand, so I gave him the floor. His presentation was 30 slides proposing a categorization system for what he found offensive. Think “level 1” meant something minor like not saying hello to him in the hallway up to “level 4” which was cursing. He had vent diagrams showing how some of his coworkers overlapped on his perceived levels of offense (there were no “level 4” offenses, FWIW). It was extremely thorough. I asked him how long he had spent on it and he told me 4 days. I knew at that very moment he would never be a fit on our team, he would never be able to deliver the results I was looking for, and most importantly, he would never be happy on my team. I had an impending RIF coming up and made sure he was included.

    It’s always tough to know when to cut bait on overly sensitive types. I just hope that #1 has made progress with her employee one way or another before she is listening to a presentation about how victimized her employee is.

      1. GrumpyBoss

        He wanted me to establish a threshold and socialize it. So many Level 2 offenses = some type of reprimand.

        I’ll give him this – it was very well thought out (even if a bit insane). That’s one of the most frustrating parts of his performance. He was obviously capable of performing some sort of analysis and constructing his argument to try to build a consensus with his boss. It just had nothing to do with his job. So it made his cries about not getting his work done because nobody would work with him/show him/help him a little disingenuous.

      1. GrumpyBoss

        It’s been 5 years so now I’m able to keep it in my pocket and pull it out for a “so, you think management is glamorous” story…

        At the time I was just as frustrated as the LW was and had felt like I tried everything. Unlike the LW (and as my name indicates), I’m not as compassionate. I’m sure my body language was suggesting great frustration. I don’t remember what I said of how I reacted but I do remember feeling like I was demonstrating restraint.

        1. Ruffingit

          What is amazing is how many people out there think “I’m offended” requires some kind of action on the part of others. You’re offended? So what? Deal with it.

          It’s one thing if we’re talking about discrimination, harassment, etc., as those are entirely different issues, but when people like your subordinate start talking about all the things they’re offended by, I just want to say “Too bad. Deal with it.” It is not the job of everyone else in the world to police themselves so you’re not offended by a curse word that may slip out every once in awhile or whatever.

          1. GrumpyBoss

            I told one of my current direct reports to “suck it up” when he was offended at something his coworker said/did last week – it was so not worth my time to discuss it as it wasn’t even work related. He ran straight to HR and not only complained about the offense, but how I was disrespectful to him. HR responded to me that they completely support me dressing him down further if need be, because he needs to grow up (but at 55, it probably isn’t happening!).

            But yeah. I guess it’s a sign of the times that “I’m offended” supersedes “I’m not doing what’s expected of me”.

            1. Artemesia

              We live in a country where in many places ‘being afraid’ no matter how ridiculous your fear is (boy playing loud music scares me) allows you to shoot someone to death — so ‘being offended’ is not surprisingly a national pastime.

            2. MR

              Now a days, it seems as though everyone is offended by everything. The ‘politically correct’ police are everywhere, ready to slap your wrist at every perceived injustice.

              I’m to the point now where I don’t even care what the latest ‘faux outrage’ is…it’s just not worth my time.

              1. neverjaunty

                Well, that certainly makes it easy to ignore actual outrageous behavior, like in the good old days. /eyeroll

                A good manager understands the difference between silly offense (“somebody three cubes over used a curse word!”) and actual workplace problems, and doesn’t pretend the latter is the same as the former.

        2. Artemesia

          I think you have the start of a novel here — if you can’t use it, send it to Connie Willis. If you are an academic, get her book Bellweather for a good laugh. But all her stuff is pretty good.

    1. Stephanie

      Wow, this is effing nuts. So clearly he could do a very good job on projects, just only on things he cared about.

    2. Layla

      Okay, I know he didn’t mean for it to be funny, but did you giggle during presentation? Because I literally LOL’d when I read that.

        1. Not So NewReader

          It’s scary how much of this type of behavior leads to more behavior that makes headline news.

    3. Sigrid

      That is AMAZING. Every time I think I’ve read it all, a LW or commenter on AAM manages to prove me wrong.

    4. KrisL

      As a Christian myself, the guy who said he was Christian and was easily offended offends me. Some people who say they’re Christians manage to make the rest of us look pretty bad.

      1. Not So NewReader

        I belong to a Christian denomination, too. And the first thing that jumped into my head was our faith gives us the tools to help us with the verbal cuts and bruises that come along in life. It would be all I could do to stop myself from saying “Christian? Good. Then you know what tools to use when someone offends you.”

        I agree, this type of talk makes the rest of us look bad.

        1. hildi

          “…our faith gives us the tools to help us with the verbal cuts and bruises that come along in life. It would be all I could do to stop myself from saying “Christian? Good. Then you know what tools to use when someone offends you.”

          Oh my gosh, yes. This is a perfect perspective I love it and am using when necessary.

  18. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

    He had vent diagrams

    You have won the internet for the entire day with that typo.

    You might have won anyway with the story, which is priceless.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      * was supposed to be in reply to GrumpyBoss’s post. Time to get off the internet and make hamburgers and cut watermelon.

      1. GrumpyBoss

        That is probably why I’m not embarrassed by it. Normally I freak out when I put my name on such an obvious typo, even if it’s an anonymous internet name. It was unintentional, but I am chuckling at how witty it is.

    2. Mimmy

      Maybe I’m a bit dense, but I don’t see what the typo is….

      Enjoy those hamburgers and watermelon! :)

  19. Nodumbunny

    Re: #1, whomever above said to loop in HR from the very beginning was right. If this person is so convinced everyone’s out to get her, she may also be the litigious type. At former job, we had a similar employee who was eventually put on a PIP, was so offended by this action that she basically stopped showing up for work, so was then fired for cause. First she sued for unemployment, then she sued because the employer had discriminated against her (she was in a federally protected class). What a nightmare.

    1. fposte

      Clarifying a bit–everybody is in a federally protected class by EEOC terms, so everybody is covered by antidiscrimination law.

    2. MR

      Good, let them sue. If they have no case, the judge will throw them out of the courtroom so fast, their head will spin.

      I’m amazed at how often people are afraid of firing someone that must be fired, because they don’t want to be sued. If you have a reason to fire someone, then fire them. Just because someone may be part of a protected class doesn’t protect them from being fired if they suck.

      1. neverjaunty

        The problem is that some companies are very sloppy about their record-keeping or their enforcement, so they aren’t able to say “Yes, this employee was sued for performance issues, and we apply those performance issues company-wide”.

      2. Stephanie

        Lawsuits are terrible PR, even if they are dismissed or settled. Plus, outside counsel to defend against a suit isn’t cheap and internal counsel probably has better things to do.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yes, but it’s still really important that employers not be held hostage by fear of lawsuits when they’ve done nothing illegal. Just because someone “might sue” is no reason not to fire someone. Controlling the makeup of your team is one of the most important things managers do (if not THE most important). You have to fire people who aren’t performing at a high level. Too often, fear of lawsuits is used as a reason not to do that, and it’s a wildly overblown fear.

          1. Stephanie

            Yeah, it’s overblown. Again, lawyers aren’t cheap, so that probably deters most people trying to sue for wrongful termination.

            I did have a job where wrongful termination suits seemed higher than normal and were really publicized (most got thrown out or settled). It took leaving that job to realize “Oh, it’s not normal to have lots of former employee lawsuits.” Even in that weird toxic scenario, I’m pretty sure most people quit or were dismissed without incident.

          2. neverjaunty

            It’s also an excuse. “Oh, we can’t fire so-and-so in case they sue us” is a great way for a spineless manager to avoid making a tough call.

          3. Vox De Causa

            Can an employee sue a manager personally (rather than suing the company) due to a termination? I mean, I know anyone can bring suit against almost anyone else, but would they have a leg to stand on?

  20. Hummingbird

    #1

    I was reading through the other comments, and I saw the phrase “emotional manipulation.” That’s when I realized one of my coworkers does the same, just not to the extent OP #1’s employee does. Working in a shift setting, my coworker claims seniority and just has our manager wrapped around her little finger. If she doesn’t like how my other coworker or I got a certain shift, she will become “very upset,” as the manager puts it, forces the manager to change it for her benefit. Then, when my other coworker or I come in and see the change, we’re the ones upset, but we cannot emotionally manipulate our manager because it is “whatever ‘Marcy’ wants, ‘Marcy’ gets.” Nonetheless, I have not witnessed the so-called “very upset.” I wonder if that includes waterworks or a temper tantrum of sorts.

    OP, you need to nip this in the bud. Whether it’s through your own story or mine, you can see the emotional manipulator starts to run the show. The boss gets wrapped around her finger, and the others get frustrated with how it’s all being handled (and sometimes they get walked over). But you have one thing going for you – you are aware of the problem and you want to solve it. If only other managers had that sense.

  21. Colette

    #4 I’m self-employed as a doula, but it’s not yet self-sustaining. So, I’m currently looking for a regular job in admin.

    I’m not clear whether this really is one last client – i.e. the OP is wrapping up her doula business – or whether it’s just the one that’s nearest to going into labor. If it’s the second option, that’s something the OP needs to make very clear before she accepts an offer – and admin work (which tends to be less flexible with respect to hours) may not be the best fit.

    1. Diet Coke Addict

      A good point and I wondered the same. Babies tend to come when they please, and I don’t know if a hard 8-to-5 would be compatible with that. If it is one last client, I think it might be an easier sell than “needs ongoing, unexpected, last-minute time off.”

      1. OP 4

        No, it’s not my one last client. It’s actually my first client, lol, and I don’t intend to stop doula’ing. I doubt I’ll get anyone else any time, soon, though. I would have warning on when I’m on call, as we meet up a few times beforehand (starting around 20-30ish weeks) and go on call from 37-42 weeks.

        The jobs I’m looking for are salaried admin/secretarial/PA type jobs that don’t deal directly with customers and where I’m part of a team, so the business wouldn’t be left completely in the lurch if I get called out / am attending a birth during work hours.

        Are there other job types you would suggest I apply for instead? Admin is the only thing I have experience in.

        1. fposte

          It’s not just the business, though; it’s the co-worker having to cover somebody else’s position at short notice.

          Some businesses could be okay with this, especially if you don’t have many clients, but think of it from their point of view: you will call out suddenly and with no real notice from this job to attend your second job. That’s something that needs to be discussed at hiring, I’d say.

          1. Diet Coke Addict

            Yes, what fposte said. This is going to be a serious dealbreaker for many, many companies, and with good reason–you’re telling them that your other job is more important than this job. Which is not what you should be telling a prospective employer.

            Secretarial positions can be very difficult to cover for in the lurch–especially in the event of “I had to call out at 2am, nobody could answer the phones at work.” It’s not enough just to be on call and notify your work that you will need unexpected time off, but in an admin position you will be putting a lot of other people out (“no one was here to collate the flyers/send out the FedEx shipment/make arrangements for the big meeting”) and that is not something that may be very compatible with administrative, hard 9-to-5 work.

            I second trying temp work (shorter assignments), seasonal jobs, or certain types of retail that will be more open to short-notice call-outs.

        2. ella

          OP4! I am wondering–have you considered temp working, or is that something you can do? I’m assuming that you are hoping to gradually increase your doula caseload so you can stop working a 9-5 and be a full time doula? If that’s the case, I don’t know that any longterm employment will really help you out. But if you can work with a temp agency who can find you jobs that will work for one to two months, and then you can leave or cut back your availability when your clients’ due date nears, and then after the baby is born you can pick back up with the temp work, that might be a more workable system? I’m thinking that balancing the doula work with a longterm 9-5 won’t just be hard in the beginning of the job; it’ll be hard to balance (or to find a boss who’s okay with you leaving on a moment’s notice, even if you’ve been there a year or more).

          1. Colette

            Yeah, I have a job that has few busy periods and somewhat flexible hours, and it would still be a problem if I started calling in to work a second job (or showing up half asleep because I’d been up all night). Temp work might be a good solution.

          2. OP 4

            Yeah, I’m considering any and all work that pays the bills. :)

            I can’t stop working for the five weeks I’m on call, though, but reducing availability is a good idea, if temping. As a new doula, my charges only cover expenses. I will also look into retail.

            Thank you, everyone, for all of your advice. You’ve enabled me to figure out how I want to approach this as I job-hunt.

        3. Von Bomb

          I work in admin and think you have a skewed view on how a business would take you up and leaving for another job (which is all doula-ing is for you, it’s not like your sister suddenly going into labour)
          Without them fully understanding at interview stage what this would do to your role you will just look short sighted, like you don’t care about this role or their company, and flaky if you actually get the job. I would go for catering jobs or last minute type roles to work in with you.

          1. OP 4

            Thank you. I have an interview at a coffee shop on Thursday, so I will make sure I fully explain to them.

            I do understand that certain scenarios would really impact the business, based on when the call comes and how long the labour lasts, so this has reminded me to find a doula I can work with to provide shared-care or back up. That way if I’m working, the other doula can go to our lady while I can’t get away or if I really need to go in.

            I think that might be the best option in my situation.

            1. hildi

              I wish you lived in my area (state capital in the northern plains by chance?). The chiropractor that I see is looking for an admin person – the chiro is a husband-wife team very much into the natural lifestyle (and she is a doula herself). Culturally, it would be a perfect match and the clinic is actually not open a full 8-5pm all days of the week. Their hours are varied through the week. Anyway, even though this exact office obviously isn’t possible, maybe checking into a scenario like that? (small medical practice with complimentary philosophies?).

              1. Stephanie

                Seconding this! My PCP is into complementary alternative remedies (don’t worry, she definitely will give prescriptions if needed), so I’d look into offices that focuses on that. At the very least, the offices might be able to include you in a referral network for doulas/birthing aides.

                By my old office, there was a birthing center. I know even those places will want an admin who’s on the desk for a regular shift, but they might be more amenable to your situation or have suggestions.

              2. OP 4

                I’m American, but I live in the UK. :)

                I’m not too sure how likely it is I’ll find any private alternative-type healthcare places around here, there’s probably more chance in London but it’s too expensive of a commute, but it’s definitely something for me to look into, just in case.

                Thank you for the suggestion!

        4. Pleasefilloutthisfield

          If this is your first client, I would be cautious as to how you list this on your resume, just as your should be for a short term job. I would recommend listing any apprenticeships, training or certifications that you have as well.

  22. C Average

    Re-posting with a minor edit to avoid moderation.

    I eloped on a planned trip and told my colleagues about it when I got home. (My mom had done the same thing–it’s a bit of a family tradition!–so I had the benefit of some guidance.)

    I sent out an email something like this to the department I’m a part of and to people from other teams with whom I regularly correspond: “Hey there! I have some exciting news. Mr. Above Average and I got married on our recent trip to Boston. My new name is C Average and my new email address will be [address] as soon as the lovely IT folks finish processing the change request. Please resist any impulse to give us gifts! We have at least two of everything, including children. I’ve acquired two lovely new stepkids in addition to a husband. Swing by my desk if you’d like me to bore you with a few random snapshots of all of us at City Hall. ”

    I got nothing but congratulations. (A couple of colleagues even thanked me for sparing them the months-long wedding planning play-by-play that usually accompanies an office marriage.)

  23. LV

    “once the deed is done, they seem to lose interest — or move on to the state of your uterus”

    Most of the guests at my wedding reception were friends of my parents, and almost every single one of them said a variant of “Be sure to invite me to the baptism, too!”

    This was after several years of husband and I mentioning, when asked, that we don’t want kids.

    1. GrumpyBoss

      I’m well into my 40s and people still ask when my husband and I are going to have kids. Not sure when our reproductive systems became acceptable office gossip, but I’ll be happy when I am never asked again.

  24. Ruffingit

    #1 – Outside of this employee’s issues, which are numerous, please tell your friend (her former boss) NOT to leave out pertinent information like this next time she’s asked for a reference. She wanted to be kind so she left out that this woman has the skin of rice paper and doesn’t perform well? That is BS and the former boss needs to be called on it since you two are friends.

  25. Mimmy

    #1 really hits home because I was that employee in the sense that, as much as I told myself I was open to feedback, I just had a hard time hearing constructive feedback. I got along well with people, but my anxiety and sensitivity was definitely a challenge for some. Ugh…I want to be compassionate because I understand how she feels, but since there are also issues with her job performance, this needs to be nipped in the bud. Now.

    OP, you’re going to have to be direct with her and tell her like it is. Focus on her actual performance, but also address her behavior. She’s going to hate hearing it and she’ll most likely push back. But she NEEDS to hear it. It’s up to her what she does going forward–whether she seeks help or continues her poor performance and behavior at another job–but that’s not your responsibility. I don’t know what your policies are, but put her on a PIP with a short deadline, then let her go if she does not pass.

    1. C Average

      I’ve been that person, too, but when I look back, that reaction came from a place of me sensing I was failing to meet expectations, but not having a sense of how exactly or what to do about it.

      In one case, I was in a job I simply didn’t have the skills to do, and no one would just tell me so. I was quite young–just out of college–and wasn’t clear on what was expected of me in the position. I could tell by the way people interacted with me that I was falling short, but I didn’t know HOW and WHERE. This led to a lot of general anxiety and a feeling of helplessness that gradually became panic. Once I was in that state, everything set me off. I wound up getting asked to resign, and it was a huge relief when it happened.

      Set the expectations really clearly. That’s what you owe her as a good employer. Tell her she needs to produce on par with her peers. Tell her she needs to react appropriately to constructive feedback. Tell her she needs to accept that a certain amount of joviality is part of your workplace culture. Tell her these realities aren’t going to change to accommodate her; she needs to change to accommodate the realities.

      If she agrees that she’s interested in changing to be the kind of employee you need, help her break down the goals into clear steps. Is her lack of productivity due to difficulty with the actual work? Or is it because she’s unfamiliar with the tools, or poor at managing distractions? Help her isolate the root causes and deal with them.

      Is the poor reaction to feedback about something else entirely, maybe something that happened at a different workplace? There’s no need to go all Dr. Freud on the subject, but a reaction out of all proportion to the cause is usually about something different entirely, and it might take some talking through to figure out. Let her know everyone gets constructive feedback, and it’s meant to help employees identify what they can do better, not to call people out on their weak points.

      Is the sensitivity to other employees’ joking around because she doesn’t like the content, or because she’s not part of it? If the inside jokery is making a newer hire feel excluded, maybe it IS something that needs to be taken down a notch.

      1. Mimmy

        You hit on a really good point! I think my sensitivity and anxiety were born out of similar issues. I’m thinking of one job in particular. My manager really tried her best to help, but I do wish she’d have helped me talk through more of what I was having difficulty with–don’t just tell me I need to work more independently (they felt I was asking too many questions), help me figure out how! I ended up being laid off after less than a year. I feel a little bad that I didn’t give myself a chance–I’d probably still be there today–5+ years later–thriving in what really is a great organization.

        1. fposte

          Can you tell me what kind of input would have helped you figure out how? I think I would stumble on this one managerially too, and it would be useful for me to know in case it comes up.

          1. Mimmy

            Hmm, it’s hard to say. My position was strictly focused on providing information and resources to people calling or emailing our organization, so I’m not sure I can apply my answer to others’ situations.

            I just didn’t have the confidence to know that I was probably performing better than I’d thought and that I probably didn’t need to limit myself to the materials available in our office to research something I wasn’t familiar with. We did have occasional meetings where our manager would give us (there were 3 of us doing I&R, I think) mock situations and we had to come up with possible resources. I honestly think that I would’ve benefitted from additional 1:1 help with these mock situations, but they probably felt the group thing was adequate. Ahh you know what they say about hindsight… :/

          2. C Average

            You posed the question to Mimmy, but I want to take a crack at it, too.

            In my case, I’d only ever held student jobs (part-time food services stuff, summer trail crew work, that sort of thing). My work had never involved making decisions of any consequential kind or really in managing myself. I had a set of clearly spelled out tasks and I did them. My job was basically pass/fail, and since I’m not a lazy person, I always passed.

            The job I was asked to resign from required me to make decisions. Not big ones, but decisions nevertheless. It was a mindshift I wasn’t aware I’d need to make, and so I wasn’t aware that I was failing to make it. My manager wanted me to show initiative, invent projects for myself, learn about other aspects of the business. If he’d said, “I’d like you to get to know the other employees and familiarize yourself with the files about xyz and come up with some ideas for outreach projects with the local schools,” I’d have a) thought, “holy crap, I don’t know how to do any of the things he thinks I know how to do and b) figured out how to do them somehow.

            But I was still in the student-worker mindset of “my tasks are a, b, and c, and I have completed a, b, and c, therefore I am doing a good job.” I didn’t realize my job consisted of things beyond my explicit task list.

            (It sounds insane to me now, of course.)

            1. fposte

              Okay, that’s helpful. I think it was Mimmy’s particular phrasing that stumped me a little–I’ve said to an employee that I needed her to work independently and search for answers for herself before coming to me, and I was trying to figure out how I would explain that further if she hadn’t understood.

              1. Smilingswan

                Maybe just knowing where to look, and how long to look before asking for help. I am in a new job, something I’ve never done before, and it is very much a self-managed job. There are days when I don’t even see my manger. I’ve never worked in this kind of environment, so sometimes it’s hard for me to tell when to give up and ask for help, or to set something aside and come back to it later, so that I can work on other things.

          3. Stephanie

            I had the same issue as Mimmy at a job. My boss wanted me to write up every time I had a question, answered it myself and the steps I took to answer it myself. That was counterintuitive and time-consuming, so don’t have your employee do that.

            In my case, my previous job wanted us to ask questions as our work product was legally binding and deviations could result in litigation headaches down the line. Upper management wanted us using form paragraphs and certain methodologies as those were cleared as being compliant with case law. They wanted you to clear things with them before they were sent out. We also had a three-thousand page manual to assist us with questions. My next job was the exact opposite of this.

            If you do regular one-on-ones, I would say try to figure why your employee’s asking all the questions and that should help how you guide her.

          4. Not So NewReader

            I am chuckling- I have to answer. My boss and I are both relatively new at our jobs. Finding solutions and answers is a recurring conversation for us. We are not sure what our resources are.
            One question alone can take hours to solve.

            1. Not So NewReader

              It got away from me, again. Sigh.

              So what we hit upon was time limits. Certain types of questions we work on it for 15 minutes then we call someone. Other types of questions we will go a bit longer and if we still find no solution, then we call someone.

              Endlessly searching can be exhausting. We both find ourselves “working stupid” because of the brain drain.
              The time limits are really helpful. Since we started using time limits we are actually finding answers quicker. I think it is part psychological- we know we are going to call our resources and ask for help no matter how silly the question might be.

              It ends up that we do not call that much.

      2. Allison

        I’ve been in that same situation, I had a lot of anxiety about my performance and was very self-conscious, but my manager was way too focused on keeping everything positive, wouldn’t bother to admit that there was a real issue until it was too late to really help me. I’ve gone on to other jobs doing the same thing in better environments where my colleagues and bosses have appreciated my work, but because of that first job I may be dealing with a touch of impostor syndrome for a while.

  26. Allison

    #1, the employee needs a reality check, first and foremost. It’s not fair to beat around the bush just to spare her feelings, she needs to know that if she doesn’t improve she will be let go.

  27. nep

    #1 Indeed — job is to get the work done, not enable what sounds like counterproductive (or at least non-productive) behaviour for the sake of avoiding hurt feelings.
    #2 AMEN, Alison. Who cares if they think it’s weird, or what they think.

  28. OP 1

    Thanks for all the feedback. This is my first leadership position, so I’m trying to learn the ropes of how to do the job effectively and be as fair as possible. The reason I have been patient (besides just being a patient person in general) is I never observed any oversensitivity during training and her trainer’s evaluations were she was open to learning, and her quality and accuracy were great (they still are); the quantity would come later. I saw potential in that. I just wanted to know if there was anything else I could suggest. I guess I encourage employees as much as I can because I never had that in my work career until I started at this organization.

    And believe me, while my friend and I are still fine on a personal basis, we discussed that issue at length and I now know not to accept her professional opinion of personnel.

    1. nep

      You sound like quite a sensible and sensitive person, and smart in how you’re looking to reap the lessons from all this.

    2. QualityControlFreak

      I think you will do fine, and it’s great that you want to support and encourage your staff. You just need to be able to balance the needs of individuals with the needs of the group.

      One thing to remember is that disparate treatment of members of a workgroup can cause real discord in the team. I’m not suggesting that everyone should be treated exactly the same; people are individuals and should be treated that way, but acceptable performance thresholds should also be established that everyone is expected to meet. If a team member is falling short, the rest of the team will notice, and will hope their manager is taking steps to correct the problem.

      There’s some great advice above, and I don’t have anything to add, except to say you sound like a patient and compassionate person who will be able to navigate this situation successfully.

      Best of luck!

  29. Sara

    Something about #1 reminds me of a post some time ago, where the badly performing employee was coddled ALL HER LIFE/CAREER and there was nothing anyone could do. Was it the one who’s sons were violent gang members and she couldn’t be fired for fear of retaliation? That was really sad.

    I consider myself pretty sensitive, and I’m ashamed to admit I’ve cried a few times at work, BUT I tried to keep it private (ie. in the stall)….the other times I did, it was pretty understandable (verbal abuse from a client, found out some bad news etc).

    I just wonder how she’s progressed so far in her career by being so….sensitive? Getting offended when OTHER people joke with each other? saying “you’re picking on me!”…just….how does this even happen??

  30. Eri

    Ugh, I feel you on #1. On one hand, I’ve been the sensitive employee. Right out of high school I started working for my step mother’s medical billing business and it caused a lot of tension/anxiety/stress. The office culture was strained, employees overworked/underpaid, favoritism, and while I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to fill a space on an otherwise blank resume, it just wasn’t a good fit. I was so anxious about having to go in to work after class that I’d get viciously nauseous and have to spend inordinate amounts of time in the bathroom, which would get me a meeting with step mom, where I’d sit through another “You’re wasting my time” talk, and it cycled into a downward spiral of miscommunication and messy feelings. Not a good professional experience.
    I work for another employer now, and while 3 years at minimum wage isn’t glorious the culture and focus on meaningful productivity has drastically improved my performance. I was a little sensitive at first, but being able to separate feedback and discipline helps me from getting teary (It’s my least favorite trait. Get pulled over? Instant tears. Land lord stops by to say grass is too tall? MUST HIDE BEFORE TEARS! I’m experimenting now with different facial expressions to try and head it off, but an underbite makes everyone feel awkward). The feedback I get can be gruff but it’s because we -need- things done on short notice many times, and most of the time I get a follow up of “Ok, now that we have a minute, do you understand why I/we told you x? Will you be able to act on that in the future?” Plus the crying is non existent at this point.
    Now, being offended and just expecting everyone to tiptoe around that is silly. Overt offensive racist/sexist/dirty jokes? Understandable, but you’ve mentioned it’s not the case. Being offended on someone’s behalf when they don’t care…? Just sounds exhausting, and not something to act upon in the workplace (let alone make a big deal out of it).

    1. Sarahnova

      This may or may not be a helpful suggestion, but I used to struggle with tearfulness in part because I actually struggled to assert myself or get angry about the way others sometimes treated me. Instead of turning my feelings outwards and being able to set a boundary or tell someone something wasn’t OK, I internalised my anger or frustration and it came out as tears. When I got more able to stand up for myself, I became less tearful.

      Maybe it’s another thing altogether for you, or maybe you’re just wired to have the waterworks on a hair-trigger; I thought I’d throw that out in case it rings any bells.

  31. saro

    Persephone and Xavier Montblanc shall be the names of my next pets. I may just get goldfish so I can use these names…

  32. Student

    #2 Just wait until after the wedding, and then tell relevant people that you’ve gotten married and will now be going by NewName.

    You are not obligated to explain that you eloped. You are not obligated to tell anyone what size wedding you had, where you had it, or what your wedding dress looked like. You are not obligated to discuss honeymoon plans. If someone tries to talk to you about it and you don’t want to do so, steer the conversation back toward work. “Oh, it was fun, but I’m so glad to be back to the normal routine. How is Project X going along?”

    When I got married, I just didn’t bother mentioning it to anyone at work. I took a day off, didn’t give any special explanation, and went back to work the next day. Talked to HR to get my benefits adjusted, tweaked my tax status. My name hasn’t changed, though, so there was no reason to bring it up to anyone I work with since I didn’t really want to gossip about it either.

    I think it’s a lot harder to get away with not mentioning the marriage when you want to be called by a new name at work. You could always give it a try, though – at least that would give the gossips something besides your wedding to gab about for the week.

  33. Student

    #1 I hope you start taking opportunity cost into consideration here.

    Since you want to be compassionate and caring, I’ll focus on that instead of the business case:

    Every time you stop to mollify and coddle your sensitive employee, you are not helping out any of your other employees. You are not helping them develop career-wise, you are not mentoring them, you are not helping them improve. You are not giving them guidance on work or feedback. Is sensitive employee’s career worth more than the career of your other team members, relative to the time you invest in her?

    Every time you ask someone else on your team (we’ll call her fix-it employee) to fix sensitive employee’s bad work, what message are you sending to fix-it employee? How do you think that affects fix-it employee’s morale? How do you think fix-it employee feels when she’s told not to make jokes around sensitive employee, after fixing her bad work? Do you want to preserve sensitive employee’s morale at the cost of every other employee’s morale? Because that is exactly what you are doing.

    Is sensitive employee worth sacrificing your other employees for?

  34. C Average

    So I’ve been pondering the sensitive employee letter (because what else do you do while you’re out running on a beautiful holiday)?

    There are a small handful of people like this I’ve encountered in my working life and, as I mentioned above, I’ve also been this person.

    Do any of you think that an employee like this can be saved in their current job? I think I believe the answer is “no.” I think that only the shock of losing a job over this kind of behavior is enough to make someone actually change. They have to internalize that these specific actions (being too sensitive to valid feedback and normal workplace behavior) have specific consequences (losing a job).

    Does anyone have a story of a special snowflake type who was coached into self-realization and actually changed and became a different, more resilient and thick-skinned employee? Or am I right in my suspicion that these people have to be fired before they’ll actually change?

    1. fposte

      I think people are too variable to say that they always have to be fired (and I think that people who are determinedly locked into an “I’m hard done by” narrative may view firing as a confirmation rather than a wakeup call anyway). But if we’re talking about somebody who’s working what’s been a lifelong pattern (my guess here), I think that you’re right that changes are tough and they won’t come easily or quickly. I also think the key point here isn’t the snowflakeness but the failure to produce–people who can be productive yet unresilient are likelier to have a career trajectory, and even if she were lovely, the fact that she’d have to triple her outcome to rise to mediocrity says it’s time for her to change or move on.

    2. Stephanie

      Maybe not fired before they’ll actually change, but at the very least, I think it takes a good Come to Jesus talk.

    3. Ruffingit

      Firing rarely works because, as fposte stated, they take it as confirmation that others are out to get them, rather than as the wake-up call that it should be.

      In order to figure out what it takes to make this employee get a clue, you have to know where the thin-skinned behavior is coming from. Is it because they have figured out that this behavior works and gets them everything they want in the workplace because people will cater to them? Manipulators are these types.

      Is it because their parents taught them that they are super special snowflakes and coddling is what they should expect? Entitlement minded are these types.

      And so on and so on. It really depends on why a person does this in terms of what will work best in making the behavior stop. For some, they realize this behavior isn’t OK and that it needs to change and they make the effort. Others think the world is out to get them and they are just misunderstood/entitled. Those folks are harder to make see the value of change.

    4. MR

      I don’t think this person can be saved in their current position.

      However, as I said above, the manager did a disservice by not addressing these issues earlier. Had the issue been dealt with when it first arose, the employee might be just fine today. But it was allowed to fester and become the problem it is today.

      So managers, if you have a problem, don’t ignore it and hope it goes away. You know it won’t go away, so deal with it now before it becomes a disaster.

      1. fposte

        To be fair, we’re talking six months of management. While it could have been addressed earlier, I doubt it would have made any difference to how it plays out in this situation–the problem seems to predate this manager and was well past the bud stage by the time she got there.

  35. SherryD

    Yes, I agree, six months isn’t quite long enough for this to have festered. It obviously depends on the nature of the position, but I think many people are less productive in the first couple months on the job, while they’re learning. It’s only after a few months that people start to think, “Hm… Jane really should be able to do this on her own by now…”

  36. Collarbone High

    This is relevant to #1, I promise — I recently rejected a friend’s physical advances, after I’d made clear I wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship, and he wrote a long email that was supposed to be an apology but quickly turned into an attempt to guilt-trip me into changing my mind, including saying he couldn’t stop crying. I’ve been reading a lot of Dr. Nerdlove lately and it really helped me see how emotionally manipulative it was.

    As others have said, your employee is being manipulative in a very similar way, although she might not even realize it. In addition to all the good advice here, I’d recommend checking the archives for Dr. Nerdlove and Carolyn Hax on how to reject people — a lot of the same advice applies here too.

    Another thing that really helps me in these situations — because my learned response is to back down in the face of emotional blackmail — is to write down talking points in advance, practice them and stick to them. A manipulator will try to derail the conversation with whatever they think will work (anger, tears, sob stories) so in a PIP conversation I’ll write a note to myself saying “only discuss X and Y” and that helps me to refocus myself and the conversation when the derailing starts.

  37. ZoeUK

    #2 – Spooky timing! Just this weekend my partner and I have booked our flights for the trip on which we plan to elope! I really don’t want a fuss and lots of people asking me questions so I have decided to just mention it afterwards. I want to change my name so I will probably just do a round robin email to the people I speak to most often when I return from the trip. I am a very private person at work and don’t really like to discuss my personal life there.

    I am very excited about the wedding though!

  38. Katie the Fed

    #1 – I’m a day late here, and you’ve already gotten a ton of good advice, but I want to add something:

    When you do have this discussion with her, I would hand her a formal letter as well and ask her to read it, sign it, and return to you. When I’ve had some of my worst counseling sessions, that’s how they go (actually HR requires it). But you want them to take it home, read it a few times, and actually ABSORB what’s in there. Because chances are she’s so anxious and upset usually she’s not actually hearing what you’re saying.

    If you have an employee assistance program, you might want to refer her there as well. She clearly lacks the coping skills to deal with regular workplace issues.

    What a cluster. I’d be FURIOUS at her former manager for passing her off on me. That’s really uncool.

  39. Yikes

    #1 – So reading this, I had flashbacks. It is 100% spot-on to a co-worker I had to deal with for over a year. From Day 1, it was evident though that she wasn’t going anywhere despite her poor perfomance and lack of commitment to the task at hand (we speculated everything from a favor owed to nepotism as the reason she was even employed). Within the year, she exhausted the rest of the group as we were all responsible for her unfinished or incorrect work. She came in at 10 and left at 4 while we were putting in 10-12 hour days. She accused people of being racist and would start arguments with people on purpose in order to bait them. And overall, the whole group ended up walking on eggshells for her. She also was successful in lashing out and almost getting several team members fired when they stood up for themselves (yet her job was NEVER in jeopardy). Meanwhile, the manager of the group sat back, allowed morale to tank, and continued to do her entire team a major disservice.
    I ended up leaving the company along, with a few others, in part because of this awful situation that was allowed to go on. As far as I know, she is still employed. It was one of the worst working environments I have ever been a part of and thinking back, it doesn’t even seem real.
    So I agree with the other posters in that she needs to be dealt with immediately. Whether it is a PIP or simply letting her go, the impact to the overall team needs to be considered.

  40. MPL

    #2 – I eloped while on vacation as well. And yes, there were a lot of questions from coworkers, most of which I was reluctant to answer. I’m the kind of person who generally prefers to keep work and private life separate. One of the most offensive questions (imo) was when someone I barely work with – she works in an office across the country – asked to see my wedding photos. I DID have photos, but I didn’t feel like showing them to her, so I told her that since we eloped, and it was such an informal ceremony, there were no pictures taken. She replied by saying, “If you were my daughter, I’d be so upset with you!” This was all done over email, since we’re in separate offices, so I just didn’t reply. Of course, I still remember it, and it still rankles me to this day, but you can’t control other peoples’ reactions to things. Just do what you want to do, live your life, and enjoy! I don’t know why it’s so hard for other people to understand that there are some women who do not want all the wedding hoopla. But there are! We exist! Here’s to stress-free no-drama weddings. Best of luck with your future husband!

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