my new employee wanted to quit and now wants to stay

A reader writes:

I have had a new employee for 3 weeks. Our jobs involve analysis and project management, and thus the skills needed, as well as the range of tasks we do, are broad. We are hiring due to growth in our small branch office in a market that began in 2001 and is constantly changing, and there is still a lack of standard operating procedures both in house and across the industry.

The new employee today asked me if she should quit, and had a wide range of grievances – no training, being given busy work, not understanding why she is doing what she is doing, not doing what she was hired for. This came as a surprise for 3 reasons. One, I have been explaining the start-up nature of our branch since the first interview. Second, I have devoted considerable time to formal trainings, writing SOPs, and detailed emails on tasks. Third, she expressed a concern that we talk to her as if she has industry experience, which I do not.

As I am out this week, my boss met personally with her. At the end of the meeting, she emailed me “everything is fine.” It is not for me! I feel like I now have a high-maintenance whiner on staff. Instead of just learning and working, she has apparently been putting a lot of mental energy into analyzing the politics of her work, which she can’t even understand yet. Further, she disrespected me today by assuming I lacked a training plan, and has disrespected me a few times by over-questioning why I am giving her certain tasks. Someone else in the same position would be thanking me for the all-inclusive training on our industry.

She may very well be a high-maintenance whiner. Or she might be a bad fit for an environment where people need to be able to tolerate uncertainty and change, despite your efforts to screen for that in the hiring process. Or your training and management style and her learning style might be a bad fit for each other. Whatever the explanation is, there’s a problem to address.

The first thing you need to do is to sit down and talk to this employee. Someone who works for you had such strong concerns after three weeks that she was listing grievances and considering quitting. So it doesn’t matter if she now feels “fine”; you haven’t yet had a chance to talk with her, and you need to. Ask her to tell you what happened last week and why she’s now feeling okay about things. It’s possible that her explanation will make sense to you once you talk. Or maybe it won’t and you’ll still feel uneasy, which we’ll get to in a minute.

But you don’t want to go into this conversation with a chip on your shoulder because you feel disrespected. In fact, I recommend that you drop the whole disrespect thing entirely; it makes you look weak, as if your authority can be shaken by someone questioning you.

So instead, if she’s questioning you too much about why you’re giving her particular tasks, don’t just get irritated by it; talk to her about what’s up. For instance: “You seem concerned that you’re being given work outside of your job description. Let me tell you why I’m giving this to you.” And then: “This kind of thing is definitely a part of what you’ll be doing. Does that bring up concerns for you?” (If so, it’s better to bring this to the surface and deal with it now.)  And when she assumed you didn’t have a training plan: “It sounds like you’re worried there’s no plan for training you. Let me tell you how we’re going to structure this over the next few weeks and what you can expect.”

In other words, identify the issue, calmly and straightforwardly give her your take on it, and then check to see where she is in response. If you’re picking up on worries or weirdness, ask her about it. Don’t be a jerk, but don’t stew silently either; be straightforward. That’s the best way to get this addressed now rather than having her implode in a month or two.

I’d also say to her at some point in this conversation:  “Given what we’ve talked about and what you’ve experienced of the job so far, are you having second thoughts? If the fit just isn’t right, I’d rather we figure that out now rather than having you stay unhappy and quit later on.” And say this in a nice tone, even if you’re incredibly frustrated on the inside that this new hire might not work out and that you might have to go through all the work of replacing her. Because if you make it safe for her to admit she doesn’t think it’s working, she’s more likely to tell you now, and that’s in your best interest.

But she might tell you that this was all just a misunderstanding and she feels comfortable now. In that case, then you keep moving forward, but you stay alert for continuing signs of problems and you address them immediately if they come up again. What you don’t want to do is be quietly annoyed or feel it’s not working out but not talk to her about it. It may end up working out, or it may end up that it’s not the right fit — but you’ll only make the right decision in the right timeframe by having ongoing open conversations with her, and encouraging her to do the same.

At the same time, take a hard look at yourself and be honest about whether her concerns might have any merit. Is it possible that you didn’t clearly convey the job during the interview process? Is it possible that your training has been haphazard or difficult to adapt to?  Every manager should ask themselves these things anyway, and these are the types of problems that it can be hard to see in yourself, so really consider it with an open mind. You might spot ways you can do your own job of training and managing her better. Or you might decide that yeah, your training hasn’t been ideal (and you’re probably not the perfect manager, because no one is), but you ultimately need someone in the job who can work well in those conditions. But make sure you take an honest look at this part of it too.

By the way, it’s legitimate not to want a whiner on your staff. But you also want to be glad that she spoke up about her concerns, rather than keeping them from you. If this turns into a pattern of her constantly having complaints, then yes, it’s probably not the right fit. But being honest about her worries isn’t in itself a bad thing.


{ 89 comments… read them below }

  1. Joey*

    I’d also recommend the op follow up with her own boss. If her boss spoke to the employee while she was out she needs to make sure she addresses any complaints the boss heard. Sometimes employees bring up complaints to higher ups that they don’t feel comfortable sharing with their boss.

    1. NDR*

      It’s unfortunate, but possible, that the employee also believes the OP’s boss more than the OP, even with the same explanations. Instead of thinking “my new boss keeps putting me off with these weird excuses,” she understands that this is really The Way Things Are Around Here.

      1. Anonymous*

        OP here, this is true, and it is not unfortunate, but maybe he just added credibility to what I said.

    2. Vicki*

      Absolutely. SOmething happened in that conversation that made the employee feel more comfortable. The OP needs to know what that was.

      1. Anonymous*

        OP here, I struggle with this one because I don’t want employees to be uncomfortable, but my role is not to go way out of the way to make them comfortable. Because as soon as whatever I said or did on a short-term basis wears off, that original feeling is back – they are not happy with the way things are, which are great by many standards. I think the employee need(s/ed) to experience those negative feelings. This wasn’t a bride feeling sad on her wedding day, in which case I would be very concerned with doing whatever I could to make them feel 100% great.

        1. Anonymous*

          OP again – and keep in mind I always have to talk up my people to my boss and deflect any negativity aimed at them from him. And I was concerned with getting them the highest starting salaries and rationalizing their continued employment (and raises) on an ongoing basis, which is a fight with the boss this new hire ran to. He won’t be so happy with this after they are with us for a while.

          1. fposte*

            I’m not sure I’m following these statements exactly (which right there may indicate that you’re a more opaque communicator than you realize), but I’m not sure I agree with what I think they’re saying.

            In the first one, it sounds like you’re suggesting that employee unhappiness has nothing to do with management and no change in management would change the employee’s feelings. I mean, I get that you don’t want to say “Sorry we’re fast-paced and mercurial, but here’s a candy bar!” but if the feelings are based on a problem with the way you’re communicating expectations, then that is in fact something that you can probably change, and it might be easily addressible. It sounds a little like you think it would be pandering inappropriately to find a way to make this new employee more comfortable, when in fact it’s going to be a lot better for your organization if you and she can work together more effectively. And the second post makes it sound like you’re mad at this employee because she should realize that you’re better at advocating for employees than your boss. Which may be true, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be less effective at communicating with this particular employee, or that a brand-new employee might not be able to appreciate you in ways that haven’t really applied to her yet.

            By the way, was her actual work all right? Would you have any reservations about her if she hadn’t had this episode? Have you hired other people in this position, and was her freshman month on a par with theirs? That might help shed light on whether she’s a poor fit completely or whether she’s just uncertain in a way that managing could solve.

            1. OP*

              It is true I do have the feeling of “hey I advocate you more behind your back,” very perceptive of you. Not sure if that shows to employees. As per the question in the last paragraph, the work is good. This person has had a few more minor “crises in confidence” and I don’t understand why. I appreciated the humility in the beginning, which was a welcomed characteristic and one I remembered amongst the many interviews I had. I’m learning that this person needs more positive reinforcement than I ever would. Again, that is not a negative, I’m just not sure how to handle it. I am very happy the worker is not the opposite – mediocre and thinking they are great:-/

              1. OP*

                …and the last hire hit the ground running, but I don’t expect everyone to be like that. That person temped alot so knew how to start new jobs in a systematic way….since there are only 2 of these positions, there is no one else to compare them to.

              2. fposte*

                So her work is okay for her experience level, it sounds like.

                Is there any chance that you can forget to give feedback beyond correction? I have a tendency to assume that people know I’m satisfied because otherwise I would have told them what to change. That’s not always effective, because people are much poorer at mind-reading than I expect :-). That similarly has played out when employees haven’t figured out I want them to work more independently–because I haven’t told them that. Any chance that there are things like this that you’re assuming your employee must know and it’s possible she doesn’t? Because once you realize them they’re pretty easy fixes.

              3. Laura L*

                You could try giving her more positive feedback… :-) Some people need it, some don’t. There’s nothing wrong with needing it, it’s just the way it is.

  2. fposte*

    Yeah, I wouldn’t call this unsalvageable yet, and I’d definitely try to be open to a fresh start approach.

    It sounds to me like she was really concerned that she was going to do a bad job without knowing exactly why. One possibility is that she’s not sure how to prioritize all the information she’s been getting, too. “Things are broad and rapidly changing here so a lot of stuff is up in the air” and “Here is a detailed overview of how this particular process must happen” are two different messages, for instance. I understand that both those things can be valid, but if you’re in the stage where you’re still figuring out your role in an organization, that can seem like “Pick one and have people be mad at you for not getting the other.” It might be really useful for her to know what stuff she’s not expected to have under tight control, and what areas are messy and confusing not because she’s new, but because they’re messy and confusing.

    1. OP*

      I never get to be awake this late! Merry christmas. I like you responses, you made me think of the little things I don’t do, like when I ask her to send me something, and don’t send back a “thank you,” or always tell her what I need it for. And your comment about people working independently makes me think about setting boundaries and expectations in a “start up” office – what are those boundaries to be. They can’t be the current cut-throat make-profit-or-die boundaries anymore, people can’t last long-term like that. But… what? I don’t really know.

      Dont get why people are attacking me here. If you don’t understand the responses or original post, ask. For example, in terms of the SOPs and working in changing industries….(which other people keep raising), consider this: in some industries (and I am being vague on purpose), regulatory bodies come in and can make seemingly life-changing changes to many jobs in the industry in the course of only a few months. Maybe this happened to us recently. And I am sure someone will call me defensive when I say this, but no one has ever been there to hold my hand. In fact I fight internally and externally convincing people who don’t want to listen that things are changing, and not in their favor, and we need to act now before certain parts of our business are hurt.

      1. Under Stand*

        That happens in all businesses. Gov’t comes in and says “you cannot do that anymore” so you look at your model for the task, say “we now have to do z, y, x instead of a,b,c to make the rules guys happy” BEFORE implementing the task. How in the world are you going to repeat the actions if you do not have any plans on how to do them. SOP are basic outlines of how things are to be done. You have certain forms at work (say time sheets) that are the same across the board, right? You do not let everyone report their time the same way, do you? That would be a mess. That is an SOP. It is a way to ensure that your employees (no matter which one does it) are consistently coming back with the same kind of results. You do not want to ask an employee how many apples they have and them come back and say “I don’t like apples so I decided to tell you how many oranges we have instead”. This is not an attack, it is an attempt to tell you that your methodology may be flawed.

        1. Under Stand*

          “You do not let everyone report their time the same way, do you? ”

          *That should have been “You do not let everyone report their time the way they want to that particular day, do you?” Dang, never hit submit without having that first drink of Dr. Pepper.

      2. fposte*

        I understand how that has its emotional implications, but it doesn’t necessarily mean your employees are going to foreground this story in dealing with their own jobs.

        I hope you understand that I’m not attacking you–you’re the one here, so you’re the one who’s going to get suggestions. But also, I feel like I’m hearing a little bit of the problems I struggled with when I started managing. I was great with employees like me. I wasn’t great at differentiating between employees who weren’t like me and who weren’t good at the job, and when my resources–time, funds, potential–were limited I became even less able to move outside of my mindset. (Okay, this probably shouldn’t be in past tense.) I had little enough time, and I’d worked really hard on managing them, and why the hell weren’t they satisfied? Because they (the fools) weren’t me.

        It just seems to me like this employee baffles you in ways that aren’t really key work issues, like what she spends her emotional energy on, and I think that may mean she’s just really different from you, and what makes work sensible and rewarding to her is going to be very different from what does for you. If you’re a dog person at all, think about the fact that there are dogs indifferent to food rewards and thrilled by playing with the ball. You can’t just insist that the border collie change itself and find satisfaction with the food reward, no matter how hard you fought for it.

        And I wouldn’t say that this is necessarily a sign of an overall bad fit (or employee on either side)–that difference often indicates really useful complementary strengths, and it’s certainly an opportunity for you to enhance your skills as a manager. And that’s true even if she is a whiner–you can still learn from this, and you may find that she’s a whiner worth having who’s much less problematic if you’re more keyed to what actually drives her.

      3. Joey*

        Op, it sounds like your employee just needs more feedback about her work, some understanding of what kinds of decisions she’s expected to make, and some clarification/acceptance of the types of things she’s expected to figure out on her own. Then she needs to decide if she’s going to agree to accept that or move on.

        I’d also review your hiring process to see if there’s something that should have tipped you off to these sorts issues. Frequently employees who haven’t had experiences working in have a hard time adjusting.

        One other thing that bothers me is that you were surprised she was ready to quit. That tells me that either she’s not comfortable talking to you or you don’t give her enough opportunities to give you feedback about her job. Sure you don’t want to spoon feed her forever, but at three weeks you should still expect lots of questions.

        1. Joey*

          That should be frequently employees who havent had experiences working in an environment with little structure have a hard time adjusting.

      4. Anon.*

        “Dont get why people are attacking me here.”

        They’re not..
        You wrote in looking for advice – why not take it all in without the defensiveness.

        Many of these folks answering you have been commenting on this blog for a long time – constructively, respectfully, and with civility. The intention is not to ‘attack’ you, but to try and help you.

  3. Anonymous*

    I sort of wonder if what is happening here is similar to what happened to me at my first job: My boss would explain the task at hand, but not give me any details about the project as a whole or how this task fit in to the other projects that were going on. I wasn’t able to do much beyond the specific task because I had not context. (Had the task been a party, for example, I would have been told to book a party at Bar Whatever for 12 people from 6 to 10pm, but not being told whether it was a birthday party or retirement party. I could easily book the space for the party, but I could not assess whether the space was acceptable, nor plan any additional events, nor pick the best menu for the attendees because I had no context).

    I never questioned her because I didn’t want to be “whiny.” However, I really wish I had. I felt incredibly confused, and I felt really stupid, because I needed a lot of help just to do a basic task. But if I had been given more background I probably would have been able to run with it (e.g. please book a retirement party Bob. Bob is an introverted heavy drinker and so are his friends). At the same time, I’m sure my boss thought she was giving me detailed training (she explained to press 9 first, gave me the bar’s phone number, told me exactly what time…)

    As Alison said, I can’t tell from the OP’s message if the employee really is whiny (certainly a possibility!) or if the OP isn’t as good a communicator as she thinks.

    1. Anonymous*

      OP here – I think the sort of task you just mentioned is me, you are the first person to really point out a flaw:-/. It feels like you are really giving in-depth training, but only because you have absolutely no time to train. Point taken.

    2. Another Anon*

      I’m an over-50 experienced self starter who never expected to have such problems, but I can relate! My new manager gave me a vague job description about how I would play a role in several projects. That’s okay, I thought, I can figure things out for myself. What I didn’t expect was that the project team strongly objected to a new policy that made my job – whatever it was – necessary, and they started in with passive aggressive behavior, leaving me out of meetings, lying and rumor mongering to keep me and a new project manager at bay. Word spread that we were incompetent, difficult, and best avoided, leading to further trouble. My manager was the taciturn sort who gave strong signals that he didn’t want to hear about the new hires’ petty problems with long time employees who had critical skills. I backed down for fear of sounding whiny. Bad idea! Two years later the project team quit and we learned that they had been prickly to hide the fact that they had accomplished nothing. I don’t think my manager ever understood how it happened. Three years later I had fairly well lived down the rumors and built trust. But both I and the company would have benefited greatly if my boss and I had both communicated better. Did the OP dig into the employee’s concerns one-on-one with an open mind or just get a second-hand summary from the senior manager? There might be more to the matter than it appears.

      1. OP*

        Wow, what a horror story! Um….things move so quick this kind of got brushed under the carpet, I’m seeing I might have to bring it up next week……….

  4. Dawn*

    This sounds a bit like what I went through when I started my current job.

    “One, I have been explaining the start-up nature of our branch since the first interview.”
    If someone has never worked for a start-up, they might not have any understanding of what it will be like. I know I didn’t when I started this job. I was used to micro-managers with exacting expectations and long lists of tasks to be done every day, and suddenly having this job with gobs of freedom and an expectation of flexibility in the day to day tasks was overwhelming. What was I supposed to do? What was the standard to hold myself to? What was a “good day” and a “bad day” in terms of productivity?

    “Second, I have devoted considerable time to formal trainings, writing SOPs, and detailed emails on tasks.”
    Awesome, but if the tasks change from day to day and week to week depending on what the organization needs, it can still be overwhelming. Again, if someone’s coming from jobs where they’re just a cog in the company machine, suddenly being a team player on an even playing field can be hard to adjust to.

    “Third, she expressed a concern that we talk to her as if she has industry experience, which I do not.”
    I know that, for me, working with a bunch of super smart people who really know their stuff and who all work together like a well-greased engine made me super intimidated whenever they talked about *anything*. So consider that perhaps your employee is just intimidated by her lack of knowledge of the industry.

    Also, your employee has only been there for three weeks- it could very well be she’s feeling overwhelmed by the tumultuous nature of the new job and intimidated by the experience of those around her, and that’s totally valid.

  5. Andrea*

    I’d be worried about the fit of someone who is in a project management/analysis role and who needs be hand-held and taught every step of the process. These roles are really about being self-starting learners. Someone who is uncomfortable without everything being spelled out may not last/produce. Did the posting and interview process get to these deeper skills? Why might there be a bad match here?

    Also, if this person doesn’t work out and the job is in NYC, can Ms. Green link to it? These aren’t the most common skills, but there are those of us out who have them!

    1. NicoleW*

      I was going to ask this, too! In case you end up rehiring, any chance you are in Minnesota or the NY metro? :)

    2. anth*

      Honestly, not sure if I’d want to work for the OP.
      Also, does the employee not have the industry experience or the OP? I couldn’t determine that from the original.

      1. Piper*

        Yeah, I couldn’t figure this out, either. From the sound of sound of the sentence, the employee does have industry experience, but the OP is refusing to speak to her as if she does. Which I find to be rather condescending. Why treat someone as if they don’t know something when, in fact, they do? I’ve been in that situation and it’s not fun.

  6. Anonyme*

    You might want to talk with your boss about this too, to get another perspective. Also, since your boss will be more comfortable discussing your management style with you than your employee, you can ask if she thinks there is merit to your employee’s concerns.

  7. Vicki*

    I’m a bit worried about the OP’s management style, personally. It’s only been three weeks and you recognize that the employee “can’t even understand [her work] yet”, but in other places you seem to feel that she _should_ understand her work, be up to speed and (this one really worries me) be thanking you for the all-inclusive training on your industry. Obviously, the OP and the employee have very different ideas of what “all inclusive” training means.

    You can’t just write her off as whiny. And you really need to talk to both the employee and your own boss – soon.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      “be thanking you for the all-inclusive training on your industry”

      Yeah, that one worries me, too.

  8. AGirlNamedMe*

    Totally, totally agree about the OP talking with her own boss. In fact, I would do that first. “Everything is fine,” doesn’t give you the information you need to have a conversation with the employee.

  9. The Other Dawn*

    It sounds like there’s several things going on.

    Maybe the OP isn’t being as clear as she thinks she is. What I think is spot-on direct is often vague to other people. I always have to remind myself that people can’t read my mind.

    Possibly the employee is a bit shell shocked at having to deal with the up-in-the-air nature of a start-up. Working in a start-up company is really tough. The employee really needs to be a self-starter and be resourceful. Also, she needs to be able to deal with the fact that there are often no written procedures, things change from day to day, and she’ll be doing a lot more that what her job description says. If someone hasn’t worked in a start-up, it can be extremely overwhelming to deal with. It often takes a long time to get a sense of familiarity with most tasks.

  10. mishsmom*

    “I’d be worried about the fit of someone who is in a project management/analysis role and who needs be hand-held and taught every step of the process.” Andrea, i couldn’t agree more! there is only so much training one can give. The rest is up to the trainee, which imho means that among other things she should have brought up any issues she had with her direct supervisor (the OP) in order to work them out, and if the OP was not available (she must have known the OP would be gone this week) then she should have waited a bit until they could meet. instead of waiting for the solutions to fall into her lap and panic when they didn’t, she could have been more active at finding the solutions herself by speaking with the OP. …and sometimes people just aren’t the independent employees we need them to be and then it’s time for both sides to look for a more reasonably fitting situation. also, this is after 3 weeks! not 3 months, weeks! almost any job will be overwhelming in the first month, why the panic to the point that she has to speak to the OP’s supervisor immediately? it just doesn’t sound like a good fit here.

  11. Anti-BS*

    OP is full of contradictions:

    “hiring due to growth in our small branch office in a market that began in 2001 and is constantly changing”
    —If your startup has been around for several years (since 2001?) it is no longer a startup.

    “still a lack of standard operating procedures … in house”
    —yet you say you have “devoted considerable time to formal trainings, writing SOPs”?

    “she emailed me “everything is fine.” It is not for me! … Further, she disrespected me today by assuming I lacked a training plan, and has disrespected me a few times by over-questioning why I am giving her certain tasks”.
    —Say what? She is not a slave and the office is not your house/personal fiefdom; she has a right to question whatever she doesn’t understand.

    “Someone else in the same position would be thanking me for the all-inclusive training on our industry”.
    —Get over yourself. It sounds like your boss has better communication/management skills than you (thankfully). S/he managed to address the employees concerns and leave her with a positive disposition. You could benefit from management training, assuming you are cutout for it.

    —Hopefully you can: you can erase the chip from your shoulder, wo/man up to your failings, debrief with and learn from your boss’ approach, refrain from targeting said worker to “punish” or fire her at first opportunity. It is way more expensive to rehire than to rectify this situation.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think there are a lot of assumptions here that aren’t actually based on what’s in the letter.

      Some offices do have a start-up culture, despite not being technically a start-up. The idea is that it describes a particular way of operating.

      The employee might very well have been inappropriate in how she interacted with the OP. For instance, repeatedly demanding to know why you’re being assigned something is obnoxious after a certain point. I don’t know if the employee behaved that way or not, but it’s certainly possible from the OP’s letter.

      It’s very possible that the problem here is the employee, not the OP. There’s not enough information to decide that it’s the OP, and there are certainly some red flags being raised about the employee (like what mishsmom’s cited above).

      1. Anonymous*

        I am the OP and want to let the comments keep coming without interjecting, but this set is a little dramatic:-).

        The market starting in 2001 doesn’t mean my company jumped in the first day, we joined very recently. The point being that not only our office faces issues that are new, but the industry as a whole does.

        Also, let me explain the “contradiction” concerning SOPs. We don’t have them for the majority of tasks, so I wrote them for many of the tasks the new hires does right before their start date.

        “Someone else in the same position would be thanking me for the all-inclusive training on our industry” – I don’t get how “get over yourself” is a response that has anything to do with this. Ego doesn’t come into play. I that if someone gets their first job in a high paying industry, they should be grateful for the training and what could be a permanent boost to their earning power if they decide to leave.

        1. Anonymous*

          “…….repeatedly demanding to know why you’re being assigned something is obnoxious after a certain point.” Yes, if “it just needs to get sent” isn’t accepted, you may be pushed to say something like “do this to CYA because XXX likes to pretend they don’t get information that doesn’t make their accounts look profitable,” and some tidbits of info like that are rather not shared so early:-/

          1. KayDay*

            ” ‘do this to CYA…’and some tidbits of info like that are rather not shared so early”

            Actually, I think that type of information is what new employees need to be told the most! (maybe in more…um…”gentle” phrasing). You can’t expect new employees to understand the logic behind task that seem redundant, random, or illogical.

              1. Under Stand*

                Heck yeah, the “remember to carbon jimmy joe bubba and send it as return receipt” as a CYA is sometimes the most important part of training. Showing them how to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Yeah it may be boring, but that is what keeps your job safe. That means a heck of a lot more to the employee than you can imagine.

        2. Katya*

          My guess is that “Boy, I’m getting all this useful training and I could take these skills elsewhere!” is probably pretty far from the employee’s mind. Instead she is probably thinking “I have no idea if I am doing this the right way and if I am actually fulfilling the duties of this position.” It’s true that in this economy, people really are grateful for jobs, but it’s also true that an employee is ipso facto of benefit to your company (unless her work is inadequate) so it’s not like you are doing her a huge one-sided favor.

  12. Anonymous*

    Anti-BS is right. There’s no way this person is going to drop the “disrespect thing” because frankly disrespect sounds like the only thing the OP wants to address rather than the new hire’s actual concerns.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think that’s kind of a knee-jerk pro-employee take on it. I’ve certainly had employees who fit the profile the OP is describing, and there ARE people like that, who can’t handle uncertainty, are too quick to leap to complaining, etc. This could very well be one of them, and the OP is right to have concerns. If for no reason other than an employee who goes from “should I quit” to “everything’s fine” without talking with her boss about what happened is someone without great judgment.

      The OP should also do some self-scrutnity, of course, but there’s no reason to assume the employee is great and the OP is the problem. There ARE problem employees out there.

      1. Under Stand*

        And there are problem managers out there. From my view, this OP seems to have communication issues. The grammar of his posts, the very gist of his arguments, is riddled with vague language. He thinks he is speaking clearly, yet what he is saying strikes me akin to a poorly translated foreign language. IF he is this confusing specifically trying to make a case here, how much more so would he be on a day to day basis in the office.

        Also I am amazed by ANY industry that has been around for a DECADE and has no SOPs in the industry as a whole. I can see the individual company not having them, if it has just started in that industry, but no matter how changing the industry, there should be some SOPs out there. That worries me about the managerial skills of this OP. Heck, I work in an industry that is changing rapidly. And true, we do not always have SOPs for “new” tasks and procedures. But how long do you think we sit around just doing stuff without coming up with SOPs? I just get a visual image of a baseball team all standing on the field just swinging the bats until finally one of them hits a ball and then trying to say “this is how baseball is played”. If you do not have written guidelines, then the tasks should not be in production. If you cannot say how you came up with the results, how are you ever going to repeat them.

        Perhaps the employee disrespected OP by going to the boss, looking for clarity, because OP listen to his employees as much as he is listening to what so many here have to say: poorly and defensively. The employees that owe him “thanks” for what he is teaching them about as much as they should be getting him a year end present. The present and the thanks they give him is a more profitable employee for the company. If training them was not going to create an employee who could make the company more money, then why would he do it?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I do want to say that to the OP’s credit, I haven’t seen any defensiveness in his responses. I’ve been impressed by how open he’s been to the feedback here!

          1. Under Stand*

            I took the “first person to point out a flaw” comment that way. Several people had already pointed that they saw communication issues, but the OP didn’t see those as flaws?!?! That could, it would seem to me, be part of the issues. If you do not see that you are talking a different language, if you are commenting more on how you are standing up for them to the boss, behind their backs, rather than giving them atta boy buttons when they do something right, that would be a problem to me. The sad part of management is that you have to deal with people. And that means you have to manage them in the way that they react positively, not just in the way that you like to do it. It goes back to the value of the employee. When the effort to manage in a way that makes them valuable costs you more than the added value gains you, then maybe it is time to part ways.

            1. Anonymous*

              >>And that means you have to manage them in the way that they react positively, not just in the way that you like to do it.<<

              This! Some of my kids' teachers don't get this. It annoys them (and me) to no end when they actually ask a question and the teacher responds with "I just explained that" or "this is so easy my 2nd grader understands it". Okay, but obviously at least one kid didn't get it. A good manager must keep this in mind.

          2. Anon.*

            With all due respect Alison, I felt annoyance at this OP very early on .. I DID feel the defensiveness right away. I was surprised at the immediate interjecting of responses .. the defending of self when there was no attack at all. It was only part way in that the OP changed to different language. Me thinks perhaps you had other emails off board with this person.. perhaps coaching them to tone down the rash reponses ;)

        2. Rana*

          From my view, this OP seems to have communication issues. The grammar of his posts, the very gist of his arguments, is riddled with vague language. He thinks he is speaking clearly, yet what he is saying strikes me akin to a poorly translated foreign language. IF he is this confusing specifically trying to make a case here, how much more so would he be on a day to day basis in the office.

          I noticed this too. I couldn’t decide whether it was due to technology or what (like typing in haste from a Blackberry or iPhone) but, yes, some of the comments were vague and confusingly phrased. (I edit scholarly and ESL texts for a living, so it’s hard to turn off “editor brain.”)

          That said, the original email was pretty clear, so perhaps there’s the OP’s answer (and why the employee wished for more SOPs): write out what’s wanted, and edit it for clarity before giving it to the employee.

          1. jasmine*

            Since this is a public forum, the OP may have needed to be vague about certain things to preserve anonymity and confidentiality.

  13. Anti-BS*

    @OP: you say ego doesn’t come into play, but your post seems to reek of it. I view training itself as a standard thing and its delivery by me as snr employee/management as part of my job, no extra accolades required. Employee Y may be annoying, but that does not make me above reproach. In fact, there is more onus on me to have and facilitate efficient (for lack of a better word) interactions with and between jnr workers & newbies. It’s simply part of my job.

    I’ve come across problem employees AND problematic managers out there with about the same frequency. So yes this worker might have some fault, but to interpret frequent questions by a newbie as disrespect is extreme. It is more productive to figure out how to re-communicate things to her so that it sticks.

    @Ask a mgr: BTW, my response is neither pro employee or pro manager. I viewed it as “here’s problem X (which could have been on any subject really), writer of post seems a tad egotistic, which probably impaired his/her ability to frame/view the real issue clearly”.

    1. OP*

      Not everyone views the world as “BS” and “anti-BS.” Some people start and are start making their own pipelines and excel sheets, phone lists, password lists, are not afraid to call people for me, and when they don’t understand, they simply say “I don’t know what that is,” or “where do you enter x,” or “do we keep track of X?” Other people need to be told to do all of those things, which is a problem where there are 10,000 things going on.

      1. anth*

        OK, is this comment related to your employee?
        If so, it sounds like the problem is that s/he is not a problem solver and doesn’t frame questions adequately. This can be frustrating, and it’s hard to feel like you are hand-holding, especially when you don’t have time. I am sympathetic to that, and it’s difficult to have to take the time from your busy day to get them working. I’m guessing your employee may be a new grad? Try asking her to try 3 solutions and present them to you before asking for help – that way you can also figure out how her brain is working and try to point her on the right track.

  14. Rachel B*

    @OP, I think you are right to follow AAM’s advice and ask for details from your boss about the “turnaround” conversation that took place. If your boss felt that this employee was worth speaking to after quitting rather than accepting their resignation outright, that signals to me that your boss believes that keeping this new employee on is important. You may ultimately be evaluated on employee retention. It won’t help you to be defensive or unwilling to change your training procedures.

    When I started my current job, I was reluctant to ask questions or raise concerns about what I was told during the interview process really didn’t match my day to day responsibilities. I figured things would sort themselves. Well, I’m pretty miserable and my evaluations have been lukewarm, I believe because my boss failed to train or provide feedback to me even when I asked for it directly. I will be a lot more vocal in my next job. Maybe your current “problem child” employee had a similar experience.

  15. Emily*

    I’m sort of curious about the logistics here. OP says the employee asked “today” if she should quit, but that the OP is out this week, presumably why the employee met with the OP’s boss instead to have the “should I quit” conversation. OP, did the employee email you to ask if she should quit? That seems a pretty odd question to ask, especially when a manager is out of the office!

    Also, did the employee or your boss email that “everything is fine”? On first read, I thought it was the boss, and took that to mean, “the fire is out for now” but that there would be an opportunity to discuss the details in person when you’re back in the office.

    1. OP*

      I was doing a rare work from home to do a complicated analysis where alot of the inputs are subjective and unknown, and I had tried to start for weeks in the office but couldn’t do it getting interrupted all of the time in the office. The new hire called me to discuss, and my boss made a visit to our office, so they discussed in person. So it wasn’t a going-over-my-head thing, but he was there, so they talked. My boss never discussed it with me because we had 2 “emergencies” out of nowhere that afternoon and it got lost in the shuffle. Oftentimes things that are not hard, logical problems get pushed to the wayside in our office.

        1. Wilton Businessman*

          Spelling police in the house. Watch your P’s & Q’s.

          P.S. You forgot a period at the end of the sentence.

  16. OP*

    the “everything is fine” was in an email, but because she probably didn’t want to walk to where there is cell phone reception to talk again, so I get why she didn’t call….

  17. J.B.*

    There could be some issues both ways. I am the first person who has ever done my job which is pretty open ended. So I took various things and ran with them. One supervisor gave no direction and the next (who was the best boss ever) set overall goals and let me work out the details and then come with questions. That worked for me.

    Others I work with need more direction but do a really excellent job on assigned tasks. There’s always a balancing act between learning your own way and floundering.

    One thing that may actually help: where the employee thinks SOPs are missing or lacking, set him/her the task of updating them in consultation with you. Here are ideas, here are references, flesh things out and then we’ll talk.

    Then praise the effort. Really, I’ve gotten used to only the negatives being pointed out and know that with this crowd it’s nothing personal, but it can be a real blow to the ego.

    1. J.B.*

      Also, I should have said how the employee presented this may be part of the problem. I mean, asking “should I quit” is something I would never ever ever say…but I have known people who have done that and yes were a little higher maintenance but did really excellent work after being grounded.

      1. -*

        OP here, merry christmas! Struggling still with the situation and I appreciate your comment, especially as this is the type of job it is. I wrote the description with alot of “ensures” and “drives,” and ensuring stuff happens means keeping alot of excel sheets and call logs, and following up with random parties as you see fit. Its hard to train someone to “take ownership” (I hate cliches like that!) of tasks like that.

  18. Kathleen in AZ*

    It sounds like the new person may have more industry-related experience, and the writer may seem threatened by her, especially now that the new person went above her and spoke to her boss.
    I would definately have a chat with the boss, find out what went on, and clarify the chain of command.

    1. -*

      OP here. No, the new person has similar experience, not in this market though. But the new person knows the right questions to ask to learn it, which I like. I am not threatened by this person, I am looking for ways to make them feel secure in an job role that is vague, I guess. Your comment reminds me of past jobs where there were always a few “important” people that hogged crucial tasks and know-how for no good reason. this isnt like that. I have waaayyyy too much on my plate. And if I could hypothetically outsource my entire workload (including to this new person), my boss always has new markets or products we could sell but don’t, due to my bandwith (we don’t sell physical products, but need to register with regulatory authorities, buy the rights to the products from an agency, etc. etc., I will always be busy)

  19. Anonymous*

    It sounds like the OP maybe hired someone who didn’t quite fit their management style. You seemed to be expecting someone, well like you, someone who would just grab stuff and run with it. I’m guessing you created SOPs that laid out things like how to do X task that needs to be done 100 times. But not to the level your new employee needs. Especially if they are new to the industry. (Like in how to use your e-mail you need to create a list of things to do. This list for some people will need to include: Turn on the computer, Log into your computer, use the mouse to open double click (click the left mouse key in quick succession) on the picture of a e with a tilted halo. For some people it needs to say go to and create an account.)

    I have hired more than one person who needed very detailed information and a huge amount of oversight. They weren’t bad employees. And they were the employees least likely to make huge errors. But they were completely the wrong employees for me because I wanted an employee who was like myself, totally hands off. Take a project and rope and run to the finish line or til hung from it. I think that being very aware of the type of person you are hiring in the future will really help.

    For this employee try to shift your thinking and maybe shift the tasks you are giving them so that it is tasks that they can really excel at and get off your plate.

  20. OP*

    thanks for the comments (besides the sarcastic ones that are anti-OP for no reason). Did anyone want to quit a job and stay and succeed, or stay and realize that it wasn’t for them after all? Those types of comments would help

    1. Anonymous*

      I really want to quit a job right now that I’m fantastic at? Does that help? I mean by every metric in the book I’m excelling. I don’t want to stay but until I have the emotional fortitude to go back to looking for work I’ll be here and keep doing a good job. So who knows you could have someone there doing great for years until they get something else.

    2. Under Stand*

      Sure have had many jobs over the year that I did very well that I hated. And did the job well. And I am transitioning out of a job that I excel at but every morning, I have to go over the list of what I have to do each day to decide I HAVE to go to work today because the job is so bad. But I was told by the office manager that I am going to be hard for him to replace because I do the job so well. Basically I did the job well because that is what I agreed to do. But I had to take courses on managing upwards because my managers styles did not match mine.

    3. Emily*

      I think almost everyone has wanted to quit almost every job at one point or another, and if you stay, you either succeed or you don’t (I’m looking at this question in purely black and white; not trying to be sarcastic). It sounds like you’re trying to look at the situation from your employee’s POV —the “to quit or not to quit” is her question, but I don’t really think it’s the right question for either of you to be asking. When someone faces a problem at work, I think the sequence of questions ought to be more like: 1. Can I solve it this way? 2. That didn’t work; can I solve it this way? 3. That didn’t work; maybe I can’t solve the problem entirely, so how can I work *around* the problem in a way that’s satisfactory to me, my colleagues, my company?, etc. “Should I quit?” might be like, the tenth question, not the third or fourth, is what I’m saying.

      When I’ve experienced success in jobs that I wanted to quit, it’s usually because going through that problem-solving process and dealing with challenges is rewarding. I think employees (and managers) become better employees (and managers) in that process. No, you don’t want every day, every project, every task, and every conversation to be a struggle, but don’t forget that something that’s challenging or poses problems at some point along the way can still ultimately be a success!

  21. Joanna Reichert*

    Now, if we weren’t American, and sue- and grievance-happy, I would think it’d be very beneficial to institute a quick Meyer-Briggs test with each application. Can tell you the world about how you process information and your environment and what makes you tick – very interesting and surely helpful to future employers.

    The closest I ever got to that was when I did a series of phone interviewers. During a conversation with the district manager, she asked if I’d ever heard of the Leadership Compass, and I said I hadn’t. She talked about what each of the 4 cardinal directions represented and their keywords:

    North – Action. (what we’d quickly judge as Type A) Control, perseverance, willingness, challenges.

    South – Empathy. Feelings, support, accepts blame, non-confrontational.

    East – Visionary. Creative, starting new ideas/actions, mission-oriented.

    West – Analytical. Logical, examination, impartial.

    She went on to say that in the stores they operate, they try to get a fair mix of different types so that it’s well-blended and harmonious, and not any one store is chock full of demanding showboats or indecisive wallflowers (my interpretation, not her hasty words.)

    I ended up not accepting their offer, but THAT’S the kind of company I want to work for – or operate.

  22. Liz*

    If it helps, I had a similar situation and I think I can see both sides here.

    In a very early job I had a manager who would give directions about specific little things, “I will need 8 column inches, not 6 or 9,” for example – but she was incredibly vague about the larger goals involved, “I need it for the newsletter” or about things like how to set the computer to measure column inches, “I don’t have time to hold your hand!” She would then dismiss or ignore follow up questions until I turned something in, at which point she’d either take it without comment, or turn it down with a vague explanation, “That’s not what I was looking for – I said it’s for the NEWSLETTER.” I had no idea what she wanted or how well I was doing, and it didn’t feel good to feel as if I was failing all the time.

    I ended up liking her a lot though, once we built up a trust level with each other. She told me later she thought about firing me in the first couple weeks, but that I suddenly started producing exactly what she wanted. I’m not sure anything but luck was involved there :) but something apparently clicked.

    Because of this experience, I could totally see how an employee asking more questions than she wanted to answer would have seemed disrespectful to this manager. I can also see how someone who is nervous about a new job and afraid of failing would totally assume that it’s a good idea to ask more and more questions, and then want to quit before being fired if the answers aren’t forthcoming. I know I thought about it, but decided to just keep plugging away and hope for the best. So I think all the questions might seem like a challenge to authority, but it’s probably only motivated by her feeling as if she’s failing and so she wants to minimize the damage.

    Maybe just as an experiment, the OP could try to give the employee the benefit of the doubt, and maybe try to say the things she/he doesn’t think need to be said regarding assignments? I really did have a hard time following the posts he/she left here. They seemed to be based on assumptions that weren’t explicitly stated, and I had to read a few of them three or four times before I could understand the point.

  23. Drone*

    At one job, my boss made me write my own training plan. I am still not entirely sure if that was a brilliant move on his part, or the most ridiculous thing a manager has every come up with.

    1. -*

      OP here. Merry Christmas by the way:-). I feel sorry for you that your boss made you do that. THAT shows lack of planning (most likely). Unless you are in a “standardized” industry like….nursing, for example, whereas the procedures are the same, but the supervisor may have wanted you to write a list of questions like “where do you store xxx?,” and “who do I escalate xxx to?” But in most business situations, you can’t write a plan about what you don’t know about!

  24. khilde*

    OP – have you ever done the personality thing? Like colors or Myers Briggs? As I was reading the letter and some of your early exchanges with fposte, it occured to me that you sound very much like a Green ( You struck me as a person who has high standards and a very independent nature, that doesn’t required a lot of extra hand holding or feedback. You value logic/facts or emotion/hunches. Your employee sounds like she could be someone like me (Blue) that is more sensitive to interpersonal nuances and responds well to more feedback and affirmation than the average person. To you, this will feel like you are pandering or hand-holding because you don’t require as much. But to your employee, it could just what she needs.

    If you are a Green, you will have rolled your eyes or scoffed at the suggestion of personality typing because you think that it’s not relevant to anything :) I am an employee trainer for state government and teach classes about personality/behavioral typing. It’s wonderful for me to watch the people that look like they could care less really learn about themselves and helps them shed light into situations. It’s ok that you have a particular management style/communication style; but understanding the needs of your employees (if she’s a solid worker) can help you communicate in a way she’s more likely to respond to and thrive in. That’s the hard part about managment, I think. Everyone needs something slightly different from their supervisor. Managers sometimes get into trouble when they begin to think of an employee as a whiner, troublesome, high maintenance, etc. when in reality, it could be a case of different styles of communicating and behaving.

    So, just thought I’d throw that touchy-feely, Kumbaya perspective to this conversation :)

    1. khilde*

      Good grief. I usually mean to review before I post.

      To clarify: I meant to say that I think you value logic/facts OVER emotions/hunches.

      1. OP*

        Thanks for the test (and that it was short:-). I was tied Blue/Green. But while I agree that I am both, I think my “greenness” is more of my unique side, all I need is a computer, phone, and MS Excel, and I can make alot happen.

  25. Anonymous*

    Sounds like the situation I’m in. I was high for a job and end up doing admin work 90% of the time. I’ve earned my way to higher level work through work experience and education. Employers often post jobs that are not the true position. Managers need to be thankful the employee is not a slacker, but ambitious enough to want to contribute to the company. Like my boss, she hears but doesn’t listen and places responsibility on others to give me direction and work, but as soon as they do, she pulls my back in. Question: how much are we willing to be paid to be miserable?

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