A reader writes:
I’m a manager at a large nonprofit. The budget is tight and I am short-staffed. I finally was approved to open up a position with the understanding that it would be a 90-day trial period and at the end of that period the organization would evaluate how well it worked and then decide whether or not to make that person permanent, non-exempt.
I hired a guy who had great experience and great references and was amazing in the interview. For 90 days, he was great – fast learner, very motivated, put in extra effort, reliable. I was happy he was working so well and my bosses were happy that they approved my staffing proposal.
Towards the end of the 90-day trial period, my hire started asking pretty frequently about being made permanent. Neither I nor my supervisors saw any reason why that shouldn’t happen. He had been great and I was so incredibly relieved to have the help. So at the end of the trial, we made him permanent, with benefits, PTO, vacation, the whole lasagna.
Since then it has been a NIGHTMARE. He has become a completely different person. He has only been permanent for a month. The very first week, he called in sick three of the five days. He comes in late and leaves early, is constantly making mistakes, he refuses to read or answer his emails, is rude to my other employees and upper management, and has hung up on patrons. I’ve gotten a lot of complaints.
I met with him twice to address these issues. At the first meeting, he said he was just confused about time off, organization policies, etc. I was confused since he did fine for three months, but gave him the benefit of the doubt and did some retraining, etc. But mistakes kept happening, he continued to miss work, and he stopped even trying to get along with the others. I met with him a second time in a much more serious tone, but I also asked him if there were any issues outside of work that might be the cause. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the day and night difference in him. He did not like that and said there weren’t any outside issues that were any of my business and then became very antagonistic and defensive. This meeting ended on a rather sour note.
Now I’ve been hearing from my other employees and also upper management that this new hire is complaining about me and the organization constantly. I heard from my direct boss that the higher-ups are getting concerned.
While writing this email, I got a meeting request. I just met with our payroll and HR manager because not only is my hire somehow in negative sick leave and PTO, but he has apparently been using his lunch hours to barge into her office and argue about his time off, trying to get the organization to pay for it for various reasons. Oh, and he tried to access bereavement leave to cover a vacation.
I am beyond mortified.
I fought so hard to get this position approved and I desperately need the help. I’m afraid that this will turn my higher-ups off to keeping this position and they’ll do away with it. And I am frankly embarrassed that I hired this guy. I feel like a failure. I’m disappointed I let my bosses down, but I’m also disappointed in myself for not being able to clamp down on this guy’s shenanigans.
Any suggestions on how to talk to my higher-ups to keep the position, or how to deal with this hire? I’m at my wit’s end.
Just be honest with your boss and whoever else you need to sign off on how you handle this: “He was on his best behavior during his probationary period, but as soon as it ended, his behavior changed dramatically. He comes in late and leaves early, produces low-quality work, refuses to read or answer his emails, is rude to other employees, and has hung up on patrons. I’ve spoken with him several times, and he’s been antagonistic and hasn’t improved. At this point, I think we need to cut our losses and let him go.”
And you almost certainly do need to let him go — this isn’t a situation where I’d use a performance improvement plan and give him time to meet your expectations. The issues you’ve described are fundamental ones that don’t show up in people who are going to end up as great employees in the near future, he’s been unresponsive (and even hostile) to initial attempts to talk about what’s going on, and his track record says that he’s likely to improve for the length of the plan and then regress back afterwards. (But if your organization insists on using a formal plan anyway — as some do — keep in mind that you can make it a condition of keeping him on that he sustains that improved performance over time, even once the formal plan is over.)
Should you be mortified? If you conducted a rigorous interview process and rigorous reference checks, no. This guy sounds like he pulled a con — he was one person at first, then changed to someone else as soon as he felt he had more job security. Sometimes people do that. And even beyond con artists, sometimes new hires just end up not working out. Sometimes that’s because the manager didn’t do due diligence, yes, but it can also be because hiring isn’t a perfect science and sometimes we get it wrong.
The biggest thing you could do to damage your higher-ups’ confidence in you would be to not deal with this situation head-on and get it resolved. That will be far more damaging than just straightforwardly saying “hey, here’s where we are, here’s what I think happened, and here’s my plan for dealing with it.”
Will they do away with the position altogether as a result? It’s possible — but this wouldn’t be a good reason to. Address it with confidence, lay out a plan for moving forward (including re-hiring and any ways to improve the process this time around if you can spot any), and assume that they’ll be smart enough to see the same things that you see.*
*And if they don’t share your perspective, try to figure out why: What are you putting weight on that they’re not, or what are they putting weight on that you’re not? Often the key to squaring two different perspective lies in those questions.