my coworker keeps butting into my new employee training

A reader writes:

My manager specifically tasked me with training a new employee who is transitioning from one career to the same position I hold. I created a very detailed orientation packet that my manager approved.

The problem is that my coworker (a peer in the same role) seems to have decided that training the new person is her responsibility — or at least one she is sharing with me. She is an excellent employee, but hasn’t even been in the role a year. In fact, she hasn’t even been out of college for a year. In double fact, I trained her when she started.

Today she was giving not exactly correct information and talking about things well outside her role and well outside what a new employee needs to know on day one. She was also hindering me from reviewing the new person’s orientation packet, which includes important stuff that needed signing. She wouldn’t leave the two of us alone until I explicitly asked her to. At the end of the day, she told the new employee (who has more work experience than she has even been alive) that it would be ok to go home, as though giving permission.

How should I address this? As my manager rarely works with us directly, my manager has never witnessed this behavior, so I’m afraid that mentioning it would seem like tattling or complaining. And I’m afraid it might send the wrong impression to the new employee if I start off our relationship by warning that my coworker isn’t necessarily the best source of information. I also hesitate to confront my coworker, as previous attempts have been ineffective and met with defensiveness, and in all cases my manager had to back up what I was saying before she would listen.

You need to be direct with your coworker. She may not realize that you’ve been specifically tasked with training the new employee and may assume it’s a group responsibility, or she may just be oblivious about how stuff works. Either way, your first step is to be direct with her.

Say something like, “Hey, Jane asked me to train Bob, and I have a plan that I’m following for that. I don’t want to confuse or overwhelm her by having her get different info from two different people, or in an order that won’t make sense for the plan I’ve created, so please don’t do a separate training thing with her.”

And don’t be shy about being direct with her in situations like the one where she wouldn’t leave the two of you alone. You eventually did directly tell her to leave, but don’t feel like you need to drag that out. If she comes over to the two of you while you’re in training, you don’t need to let her just hang out there. Stop your conversation with the new employee and ask your coworker what she needs — making it clear that it’s not going to be a training conversation of three. If she says she just thought she’d join to help the new employee say, “Oh, no thank you. We’re all set.”

If the problem continues after you’ve been direct, then at that point, you might need to talk to your manager and ask her to explicitly call your coworker off. That’s not tattling or complaining — that’s alerting your manager to something that’s impeding your effectiveness and potentially impacting the training of your new employee. And once you’ve tried what’s in your power to try and the problem still exists, then someone with more authority needs to step in.

{ 51 comments… read them below }

  1. P.*

    It sounds like she’s annoying about this, but I thought it was a little unnecessary to make so many subtle references to her age. If she’s a peer in the same role, she obviously brings some sort of comparable experience regardless of how much younger she is than the OP and the new co-worker.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, I thought about that. In fact, if otherwise the OP gets along with this co-worker, I’d suggest having a brief meeting to get feedback from the recent hire about the training process. That’s valuable input, and you can do that without having the other employee as co-trainer.

      1. P.*

        To be clear: I’m not saying that the OP should have to make her co-worker a co-trainer simply because they’re peers. I agree that because the co-worker has less than a year in the role, she’s most likely not as strong of a trainer.

        I just think that adding “In fact, she’s not even a year out of college” is irrelevant. Likewise, since it wouldn’t have been okay for her to tell the new co-worker to leave even if she was the same age and had the same amount of work experience, mentioning that the new co-woker (who is also both women’s peer) has “more work experience than she has even been alive” was equally unnecessary.

        To me, the fact that the OP brought up her peer’s age in such a snarky way more than once during the course of the letter colors the OP’s perspective — maybe I’m reading into this, but part of the issue seems to be that she’s not okay being an equal with someone who is younger and, from her POV, “less” experienced. And it may also be coloring her response to this situation.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I might be misinterpreting, but I read that as just explaining that the coworker isn’t bring special expertise or seniority to the table to help out the OP.

          1. P.*

            True, but I feel like that could have been accomplished by acknowledging how long she has been in the role (i.e., not very) and the rest of her actions throughout the letter. The references to her age stuck out to me. Partially, yes, because I am in my 20s and have had to manage my relationships with co-workers who are twice my age or more – occasionally, they subconsciously or not attempt to fall into a default managerial role even when we are explicitly peers.

            But I still think the subtle snark (“more work experience than she has even been alive”) and the fact that she mentioned it more than once in places where her co-worker’s youth wasn’t relevant is worth a pause.

            1. OP*

              part of the issue seems to be that she’s not okay being an equal with someone who is younger

              That isn’t the case at all, as I am not even too many years older than she.

              I didn’t intend the snark, subtle or otherwise, but do see how someone could read it that way. My main concern with her age vs. New Employee’s is that comments like “yeah, it’s OK with me if you go home now” might come across as particularly patronizing to someone who has spent many years probably needing no assistance in that regard.

                1. OP*

                  No, fair assumption. I have definitely been (and sometimes still am) in the “young employee struggling to be taken seriously” battle. Your comments have made me conscious not to mention my coworker’s age to New Employee.

              1. Kou*

                I feel you may be overthinking this whole thing a little bit. No matter how much experience the new employee is bringing in, she is new to the company and that’s sort of a culture issue. Even if you have 20 years experience doing the job at Company A, you don’t necessarily know what the cultural standards are at Company B. In this case, in some offices you’d stand out if you left exactly at 5 because people usually stay a little later, but in some you’d be the last person left if you weren’t out by then.

                Overall I don’t get the impression your coworker is being unreasonably invasive. If she’s distracting from your plan, you need to let her know that you need one on one time– don’t expect her to know that without your communication. And just because you’re in charge of training doesn’t mean your coworker shouldn’t try to share anything with her– wouldn’t you be uncomfortable if you started a new job and none of the people around you volunteered any information? And, really, wouldn’t you think it was silly if the new hire had been offended by a person in the exact same role as them telling them about the office just because of the age gap?

                1. fposte*

                  It’s day one, though; people who aren’t training a new hire actually *shouldn’t* be expecting to tell the new hire stuff that day. The OP needs to get the hiring done in the planned time frame, and unless there’s a clear gap where the OP’s missed something now isn’t the time for somebody to dive in.

                  I think this is probably the co-worker thinking of the situation the way you are, though, and not realizing that she’s interfering with training that somebody else has been tasked to do. So hopefully if the OP kindly and directly tells her (and can even say it’ll be great for the new hire to have co-worker as a resource when training is through) that’ll take care of the problem.

        2. fposte*

          And I phrased my mention of that weirdly, so I apologize. What I meant is that the co-worker is actually in a good position to have this specific insight, which might be a way of diverting her training impulse into useful information and limiting it to that.

    2. Anon*

      Yes.. I thought I got that subtle feeling from the letter but thought I was reading too much of my own experiences in to it as usual lol

      I think it might be good to approach it more as a teaching lesson rather then a – “oh gosh she’s annoying” lesson. It might be good to enlighten her on how training works – after all who will be training once you’ve moved on and upward? She needs to know that one person does it and how the training is planned.

      I also think it’s really important to see your coworker as a peer rather than someone who’s young and inexperienced. Would you like the younger coworker saying something like – “Oh she’s a fossil! She totally doesn’t know what she’s doing with today’s technologies – gosh old people!” I think it’s important for co-workers to respect each other’s unique qualifications.

      1. khilde*

        “I also think it’s really important to see your coworker as a peer rather than someone who’s young and inexperienced.”

        Sure, she’s the OP’s peer–a young and inexperienced one. Don’t you think that does provide some context and texture to the situation, though? I didn’t find the reference to it snarky; I guess I found it relevant that the coworker just doesn’t have a clue as to how these types of things are handled. When OP does have a talk with her, OP shouldn’t make references to her age. The coworker shouldn’t be berated or insulted because she is young and experienced. She should be coached (which is nothing more than what Alison already suggested she say). But I do think age could be a relevant factor in how the coworker is behaving.

        (And I’m 32 so have spent the better part of the last decade hearing “I have socks older than you!” or “I was graduating high school the year you were born!” But I also look back on my learning curve in the last 10 years….and I as an idiot about some things. The things I thought were within my scope or the things I thought I could just do astound me now. But here’s the key: no one ever made me feel like I was a young punk. They just professionally helped me understand boundaries and what is and is not acceptable. That’s what I think the OP is being advised to do here.

    3. OP*

      I didn’t realize I made quite so many references to her age. But, as AAM said I did include it to highlight that she has no particular expertise in her role or the workforce in general yet to warrant training a new employee.

    4. Steve G*

      Yes, the age point can be annoying to listen to, especially for a young person. However, you have to admit, it can rediculous when someone who barely has any work experience tries to “help” in ways that are clearly reserved for workers w/ more years of experience. And you have to ask, is the younger person really interested in helping, or are they doing it for a self-serving purpose (as I’ve experienced when very inexperienced people jump up to train others – either they want to be able to say “train new hires” on their resumes, or they just want an excuse to talk, or they want to play manager).

      1. Kou*

        Or they’re afraid that if they don’t get involved at every opportunity, they’ll look stupid for not having contributions or lazy for not wanting to contribute. The closer people are to their time as a student the more likely they are to do this, I think, due to weird academic standards of what constitutes worthwhile input and/or slacking.

  2. SJ*

    That’s hella obnoxious. Is it possible the interrupting coworker is worried she’s about to be replaced so she’s helicoptering? Even if that’s not at all what’s happening?

    1. Jazzy Red*

      I think the co-worker is really just trying to help. She doesn’t seem to know how things work in an office, though.

  3. Jamie*

    Today she was giving not exactly correct information

    I know I’m about to focus on something besides the point, but are you addressing the erroneous information with the co-worker?

    It may be the auditor in me, but I’d have to say something (not in front of new trainee) if the co-worker was factually wrong regarding procedure or policy. Anything irrelevant or subjective I’d let go – but misinformation leads to work being performed incorrectly which leads to corrective actions…

    Yeah – if it was factually wrong I’d have to find a way to have a diplomatic chat about it.

    1. OP*

      I don’t think it’s beside the point at all. Thanks for addressing it. The incorrect information really was irrelevant, and, like you said, I just let it go.

      But given that she has already misinformed New Employee in unimportant stuff, I am afraid she could potentially share incorrect info that is relevant.

  4. Ash*

    Is there any reason that you can’t draft an e-mail to the co-worker using the language that Alison suggests, and copy your manager on it? BCC it if you don’t want to upset your co-worker, but do it either way so that it’s documented that there is an issue. There is nothing wrong with pushing back because: 1) this employee needs to learn boundaries, 2) the new employee needs to learn the proper way to do things, and 3) you are not in the wrong here because your manager gave you specific instructions. If you handle this professionally (meaning that you don’t let your snark seep into the interactions), you’ll be fine. But document this behavior and do it now.

    It may help down the line. Who knows? What if the co-worker volunteers to train the next new employee and screws it up badly and you have to fix the mess? Take care of this issue now so that it doesn’t get out of control.

    1. Samantha*

      I would have a conversation with the coworker, as Alison suggested, before cc’ing the boss on an email. Cc’ing the boss immediately escalates the issue, and that may not be necessary. Especially since the coworker seems to be fairly new to the workforce, she may not be aware that her behavior is inappropriate . If, after a direct conversation with the OP she continues her behavior, then it would be appropriate to bring the matter to the boss’s attention.

      1. Ash*

        I think that when the OP had to explicitly tell the co-worker to stop and leave, that was the 1 chance the co-worker had to change their behavior. Clearly that hasn’t helped.

        1. Samantha*

          Perhaps, but I still don’t like the idea of cc’ing the boss on an email – it comes off as passive-aggressive to me. I’d talk directly with the boss and let him/her handle the issue from there on.

          1. fposte*

            I’d still address the co-worker directly about the overall problem of training the new person not being her purview. It sounds like she genuinely might not know this, and it’s simple enough to take this one step before escalating in a way that tends to complicate collegial relationships.

            OP, is this co-worker the most junior colleague aside from your new hire? I wonder if she’s also really excited about an opportunity to be the knowledgeable expert. It’s clear that she’s not that and she shouldn’t try in this situation, but I have some sympathy for the impulse.

            1. Samantha*

              I completely agree, which is why I suggested talking to the coworker directly before going to the boss (last resort). I also agree that she may have jumped at the chance to be the “knowledgeable expert” and doesn’t understand that her behavior was inappropriate. If the OP just asked her to leave them alone, the coworker may not understand WHY her behavior was inappropriate.

            2. OP*

              She is the most junior, and her being excited is a good interpretation of the situation, certainly one I’d rather operate from and can sympathize with as well.

    2. Lils*

      I agree that BCC’ing the boss is a bit aggressive.

      Why not use Alison’s time-tested technique of asking your boss for “guidance” on how you should handle the situation and/or “clarification” on who is supposed to be involved in the training?

      btw, I *love* that you created a detailed training packet and are putting so much thought into this. imho this is great mentorship and I personally would have loved it as a trainee.

  5. K*

    I suspect I can tell you exactly why she told the employee she could go home at the end of the day: it’s because normally on your first day at professional-type jobs where people don’t work strict hours, you sit around thinking “Is it okay to go home now? Will people judge me as non-committed? When is everyone else leaving?” until it’s far later than you should have stayed. It’s just kind to stop by at the time people actually leave and tell people they can go home on their first day and I always make a point of doing it.

    1. nicole*

      I think it’s up to the new employee’s boss to let her know it’s ok to leave, not her coworkers.

      1. K*

        Well, if it’s a question of “what time is this person allowed to leave?”, sure. But if it’s an office culture issue – e.g., the type of office where the official hours are 8 to 5pm but people usually actually stay till 6pm then leave – then a lot of supervisors (or at least a lot that I’ve seen) tend to forget to mention that 6pm is a reasonable leaving time and they don’t need to sit around till 7pm. In those cases, I think it’s kind for co-workers to swing by in the evening and make sure that new people know those kinds of cultural things.

      2. Lanya*

        I agree with you nicole that it was up to the boss to let the new person know what time it was OK to leave…but K does have a point. I have been in a few poor-first-day-training situations where the little cultural aspects of the job (such as when it’s OK to leave) are forgotten about, and it’s nice to get that heads-up from someone instead of waiting around as a pleasantry. But…it should have been from the boss.

        1. K*

          And I’ll say, most of the time when I’ve seen this, the boss is already long gone so it’s not really an option to go to them and say “Oh, did you remember to tell Wakeen when to leave?” It’s more that whoever the straggler in the office is realizes that the new hire is still pouring over the training manual wondering when they can leave without looking like a slacker.

          Incidentally, nor have these ever been situations where the boss would care a whit about someone else informing Wakeen that most people leave around 6pm unless there’s an emergency, but the boss leaves earlier and then works from home because of child care, so you can e-mail him, or whatever. I mean, it’s great for bosses to fill people in on all that, but when you’ve been in a workplace for a while, it is not uncommon that you won’t remember everything that’s different about it (a fish not thinking about water situation), so it’s been taken for granted that other people would step in and fill gaps as they came up. But I’m sure that’s a know-your-workplace issue and in some it is the practice that that kind of info comes only from the boss or designated trainer.

        2. Chinook*

          True but since the OP had a detailed training packet, it implies that time to leave was part of the schedule. The coworker said that it was okay with her if she went home (which IMHO makes it sound like she had a say in the matter). This makes it sound like she was piping up when not necessary.

  6. Magonomics*

    It’s possible that the co-worker with less experience can bring a different (and also helpful) perspective than someone who has been in the role for a long time. Not to say they should be replacing your training, but rather supplementing it.

    A newer coworker (presumably) remembers their own training better, and what it was like to start with zero knowledge. They know to point out important things or define an acronym that might seem like second nature to someone who has been in the role/industry forever.

    For example “I know it feels backwards but the reason we have two different head account numbers is so we can invoice the commercial clients in the account separately from the healthcare clients” or “I found it helpful to remember the difference between the XYZ and ABC by thinking of it as a Blah blah and a Yada Yada.”

    1. Lanya*

      This. A newer coworker can also pinpoint where the “holes” in their training were to improve the experience for the next person. Ideally, management would ask for that kind of input before training the next employee.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        So true. I made docs for new users, and always asked for new people to add to it. As soon as you’ve been there awhile, you forget to mention some of the basics, and a new person can often remember that better.

        1. Jamie*

          Oh this 1000 x.

          I feel for the OP because when I have a clearly outlined training plan and I wouldn’t like people to twiddle with it. However, for me training isn’t my strong suit nor is it something I particularly enjoy, so if it were me I’d totally be vetting the co-worker to see if I could pawn it off on her.

          But that’s me.

          I there are two things I do well in training. I’ve been told repeatedly that I have a way of explaining things without making people feel stupid so they are comfortable asking questions. May not sound like a big deal but some people have had bad experiences with IT training. I am also a monster at documentation. I pride myself that a Sasquatch could walk into my office, sit at a PC, and if they could read and follow screen shots they can perform most transactions if they had my tutorials.

          My problem is the constant second guessing myself of how much detail to go into (I like to know the global ramifications of everything and the big picture whys – some find that too much information) and how much basic knowledge to assume. I don’t want to insult people by starting too basic, but I don’t want to lose people by assuming they know more than they do.

          That and it’s a lot of close proximity with people and I don’t love that.

          Sorry for rambling – but training isn’t a delight for all of us and it’s worse if other people insert themselves.

          Now, I’m off to find a co-worker I can convince to do my upcoming training for me…ha.

    2. Kou*

      That’s a good point. If OP trained her, she might think of specific things that she wish she’d known or would have liked clarified. Even if the OP did a fabulous job (and I am operating on the assumption that you did, OP, this is not to imply that your training was bad!) it’s all about perspective, and she might actually have some good input.

      In fact, OP, you might ask coworker if she has some specific stuff she thinks you should add, that way you give her the opportunity to share anything she’s thought of that could help without distracting from the plan you’ve already put in place. And as a bonus, if coworker feels like you’re shutting her out of the process in an unfair way, this could buffer any hard feelings.

      1. littlemoose*

        I like that idea. If the OP wants to soften the blow with the coworker, she could politely tell her to butt out but also ask if there’s anything in particular she would have liked to know as a new employee, given that the new employee experience was much more recent for Nosy Coworker than the OP. You can glean what useful perspective she might have and let her know she needs to stop overstepping her bounds in one conversation.

      2. Lindsay*

        This is what we do when we create new training documents, etc. One of us makes the document, but before it is put into action we pass it around and ask the others if there is anything they feel is missing or that needs to be clarified.

    3. Steve G*

      very true. In fact when we hired someone this August my other coworker kept butting in and saying “oh when he says xxxx, he really means y, z, and f,” and we’d all laugh because I’d forget I was talking to a new person, and the new person didn’t exactly get what I was saying ’til the 3rd party butted in to correct us.

  7. Waiting Patiently*

    Yeah, I think the co-worker is annoying but she probably doesn’t mean any harm. First it needs to be clear to her that you are the person tasked with training the new employee. Then maybe you could ask for her input in the form of “since you’re fairly new too, when you were being trained was there any bits of info you felt like could have made your transition better?” and follow up with “I’ll be sure to review that and go over it with Jane” Of course review her input, because maybe just maybe she might have something useful to add that was overlooked…

  8. DSL*

    There is a good chance your training isn’t as great as you think it is. Since she was trained by you, there are likely many things that were deficient in your training ( nobody is perfect) that she thinks would be helpful to know on her first day. You harp on her age but it sounds like you are colleagues and you are not her superior, therefore, while you were tasked with training the new employee, the other employee will be working with her in the same role just as closely.

    I’ve been trained and after another employee has given me the “real” training which was much more accurate than the training the more senior colleague gave. You might take it as a sign,

  9. Abby*

    While I see your position, it may not be a bad idea to join forces with your peer. In more than one occasion, I have had new graduates coming up with amazing feedback and ideas. Considering her ideas and feedback may be to your advantage. Let’s remember that you both have the same job tittle and therefore you are both equally capable to do the job.

  10. cncx*

    While I don’t think that just because the OP’s colleague is young or new or trained by OP that she has nothing to contribute, I do think it is best for training to be a one-person show from a time mangement point of view.

    I worked at a job where I was one of four floor secretaries- a new hire, me (there around six months), another one who had been there a year and was jockeying for a manager position herself so had no interest in some aspects of the job common to all of us, and a recently promoted manager who had been in the position ten years (whose position the new hire was recruited to fill). The manager was handling the training but the new hire kept coming to me and the other secretary (who swore up and down she wasn’t “just admin” because she had a masters degree, another story) to second guess what the manager said, and then if our opinions diverged from how she was trained, she would go back to the manager and it was just this big circle of disinformation, sometimes the four of us would meet to clear things up, memos would get sent, etc etc. Even the bosses noticed, and this new hire constantly second guessing her training made the new manager, unfairly, look bad.

    Not just taking the training manager’s word for it and coming to the rest of us for tasks specific only to us (I did a lot of the Word and Excel support, for example, and the manager gladly passed on that part to me) was a huge time waster for the whole department, and had the added effect of making a very competent person, the manager, look bad.

    The nosy coworker should let the trainer do the training and then where her input or experience are relevant, contribute that knowledge on an ad hoc basis (like, “OP hasn’t managed the storage of the chocolate teapot database in a few years, and while what she told you was correct, here are some things in the way Big Boss likes the inventory done today, which changed from when she was working on this task.”), but where her added skill set is appropriate I hope would be obvious to OP as well. If not nosy coworker needs to close it.

  11. Cassie*

    The coworker might have valuable input/tips that the trainer (the OP) isn’t aware of, but I think it might be confusing for the new hire at this time, especially if there is conflicting info.

    I wouldn’t bother with sending emails (and cc’ing the boss) or anything like that – if you are in the middle of training the new hire and the coworker approaches, stop the training. Ask the coworker if she needs something. If she tries to “contribute” to the training, tell the coworker you don’t need her help right now/on this and hopefully she’ll get the hint to go away. Or just tell her explicitly to please leave. Repeat as needed.

    Once the new employee starts working on the tasks by herself, she may feel more comfortable going to a coworker to ask for help (rather than the trainer or supervisor) – that’s when the coworker can add her helpful tips.

  12. OP*

    Thanks to all who commented. Your insights are awesome.

    Part of the training plan already included my coworker meeting with New Employee to discuss the whole “newbie” experience, the things she found confusing at first that might be helpful to NE, etc. I gave her a heads up about this before NE started. I had also shared the rest of the training plan with her and asked for input.

    After reading other comments and seeing her in action again yesterday, I realized she might have simply been excited (which is good!) and didn’t realize that I am supposed to be NE’s primary trainer. Because I don’t want to risk offense, I have a really hard time telling people certain things sometimes. But I took AAM’s advice and told her that it’s confusing to have two people explain things, so she could help explain XYZ after I was finished with A, B, and C. Turned out to be a non-issue, of course. Seems silly that I was so worried about it before. So thank you, thank you, thank you!

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