how to deal with an overly eager junior colleague

A reader writes:

I’m the senior non-manager on a team of ten, and I work closely with a new hire (three months). She comes to me with a lot of questions, which is great, and (quickly after the questions) suggestions about how we could improve the process she’s asking about. However, the suggestions tend to be be a little bigger in scope than it’s reasonable to do.

For example, last week I emailed another team to clarify one small part of a process we do weekly, copying her in so she’d know what was going on:

Me: “Hey teapot team! I’ve noticed that when we’re assembling the teapots, sometimes you guys send the spouts first and sometimes the bowls first. This has a small effect on the way we do things — do you have a preference? We’re happy either way, but it would help us a bit if it were consistent.”

Her: “Jane, I’ve been making sure to put them together bowls first, because that’s what it says in this [3-year-old training documentation on an obscure part of the network she found on her own]. We should probably arrange a meeting to discuss our department’s documentation generally and the way we communicate with the teapot team — shall I see when everyone on their team is free? As well as the head of the chocolate household items department and the managers, so we can talk about the broader documentation issue?”

I am trying to figure out how to communicate a few things, like:

• Our company culture is to sort questions of that complexity and importance level (ie, not very) out through emails, not meetings
• If I (and probably other people at the company, although obviously I can’t speak for them) ask another team for their input, it’s because I want to hear from them and possibly have a brief conversation about whether it’s the best way to do things, not (necessarily) because I don’t know “the answer”
• Small problems generally don’t deserve an exhaustive discussion, meeting, and possible overhaul of every single part of the procedure involved, and it’s okay to just have a quick chat about the small problem and get on with things.

And how to do that without going “OH GOD PLEASE BREATHE IN AND BACK OFF,” which is how I’m starting to feel. I’m also starting to feel a little bit of pushback from her, like she’s losing respect for me because she thinks I’m not taking action on things. (In one case, this was my not asking our manager for a timeline on a medium-term project for the fourth time in one week — I was sure if there was anything to hear, we’d have heard it, but I got the impression she thought I was blowing her off or ignoring the issue, and I’ve been getting that impression more and more as I say things like “I don’t think we need to worry about that until we hear differently” or “I think the department head has that under control.”)

It’s her first job out of university and I think she’s not used to the way bigger companies work (i.e., slowly and with much management faff). I also think a lot of it is down to wanting to make a good impression (like looking up documentation on her own, and “proactively” problem-solving and looking for big-picture things to “fix”). I’m not sure how to say, “Thank you for your initiative, but…please please take it down a notch!” without reinforcing this image I’m worried she’s getting of me.

Well, this might be a job for her manager, but if you want to try to talk to her, you could say something like this: “Hey, I wanted to follow up with you about your suggestion that we have a meeting to talk about X. I didn’t want you to think that I was ignoring it, but we’re usually able to handle these things with a quick email or informal conversation, and usually save big meetings for times when we’ve determined something is a strategic priority. That’s not to say that documentation isn’t important — it is. But we have pretty quick ways to sort this type of thing out, so because everyone is so busy, that’s generally our default unless something really requires more attention.”

And the next time she does something like asking you to ask your manager for a protect timeline four times in one week, say, “I’m not going to ask her again because she already knows it’s an outstanding question and there are higher priorities for both her and us right now.” If you’re inclined, you could add, “If I asked her again, it would be annoying and would look like I don’t understand the relative priorities of everything we’re juggling.”

And if you’re up to it, at some point you could say, “Hey, we’ve had a bunch of conversations recently where you’ve suggested something and I’ve told you that it’s not something we need to worry about. Would it be useful to talk about this stuff more broadly, so that you can get a better understanding of when we do and don’t generally spend time on something?”

If she’s receptive to that, you can then explain to her how this stuff works in your office … and you can even say, “I think it’s great that you’re thinking about how to improve things, and you’re absolutely right that there are lots of things that we could spend time on improving, but we deliberately don’t spend time on all of them, because it would take our focus off other priorities. I know that when you’re new, something might seem like an oversight that should be corrected, but often it’s just a strategic decision to focus on something else. Even when something is a good idea, we’ve got to judge it relative to other priorities — and that’s especially true when it involves other teams, when you’re likely not to know all their other priorities.”

But also, realize that ultimately her manager is the one who can most effectively address all this, and — if her manager is any good — you’d probably be doing them both a favor by tipping the manager off to what’s going on and how it’s being perceived, so that she can talk to her about a more effective way to operate. A good manager will see this as a development opportunity for an inexperienced staff member and will be able to help her channel her energy in ways that will be more useful and well-received (as well as save her from alienating most of her coworkers if it continues much longer).

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 150 comments… read them below }

  1. darsenfeld*

    I would suggest a two-step process here. Firstly, just have a gentle chat and say “well, what’s standard here is that we document by e-mail, and not have meetings to discuss that”. don’t be harsh with her, since she is new and learning, and you’ll only make yourself an enemy in that regard.

    If brief chats don’t help, then tell your manager, but don’t do so in a whiny or denigrating way. Simply say “well, xyz is settling well I find, but she seems to be overly eager in some respects. She doesn’t seem to get some aspects of our organisation’s culture, even though her work in general is good.” From there, your manager will also have a brief word, but just in a coaching capacity, and not to berate her. If your manager does berate her, then really s/he is not a capable one.

    This reminds me of when I first started to work and was similar to the OP’s new co-worker, but the leader of our team and our manager often used to sit down with me and in a friendly manner say “in future, don’t do xyz, but it’s no issue since it’s a learning curve”. this helped me a lot, and even though our team leader at that time no longer works in our department, I still value his input and think it helped me a lot as now I am a senior department member. I think in general, people of longer tenure, experience or know-how can greatly assist new hires.

  2. Anonicorn*

    Given this part of the letter…

    I’ve been making sure to put them together bowls first, because that’s what it says in this [3-year-old training documentation on an obscure part of the network she found on her own].

    … I’m wondering if she was trained well enough or isn’t confident about her work yet.

    And does she have enough work to do so that she isn’t perusing your network for obscure documents and focusing on all those higher-level “fixes”?

    1. Lanya*

      That was my first thought as well. Maybe she’s looking for training documents because she doesn’t feel she has enough direction, or is reading through old documents because she is bored. I have done both of those things myself.

    2. Jane Doe*

      I wondered if that part was maybe due to her thinking that she had to “justify” the way she put together the teapots. If this is her first job out of college, she’s probably used to having to “defend” her position on things with evidence.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think the problem with that email wasn’t that she was looking at old documentation; it was her proposal that she set up a meeting on something that wasn’t a priority, complete with other depts’ directors.

          1. Lisa*

            True…but why would she think that after only three months she could call an interdepartmental meeting, complete with department heads, when she wasn’t even hired as a director?

            1. Cat*

              I think new grads – or people coming from a more informal environment – often don’t pick up on workplace hierarchies right away. Some people get it pretty quickly by osmosis, and some people need to be told more directly (which sounds like it might be appropriate for the manager to do here if it’s a pattern).

          2. Cat*

            I think that is an important point. She probably got the e-mail from her co-worker and felt like she had messed something up (which it sounds like she didn’t; she was just being asked to do something a little differently). So, probably having heard career advice her entire life that said “if you mess up, figure out how that mistake won’t happen again!”, suggested the most proactive solution she could think of. This isn’t necessary, of course. But it sounds like a “no worries, our practice is to deal with this stuff by e-mail when it comes up, which we just did,” is what’s called for.

            Tangentially, I did think the reference to her going and looking for old documentation herself was odd. Was this part of the criticism? Because that seems like a normal – and beneficial – thing for her to do. If the issue is that the documentation is out of date, that’s something to address separately but isn’t this employee’s fault.

            1. twentymilehike*

              She probably got the e-mail from her co-worker and felt like she had messed something up

              Maybe OP needs to clarify that if you are CCed on an email it doesn’t necessarily mean it was intended for you–just for you to know about so you’re in the loop. I often run into communication issues when I CC people on emails, and they fail to look at who the email was actually intended for. I usually counter this by specifying at the beginning of the email who I’m explicitly looking for a response from.

        1. OP*

          Yes – it’s partially that I was a bit taken aback that she was using docs from 2009 when we have more up-to-date docs in a higher-level folder, but mostly it was the idea of calling a meeting with people way above our pay grade that had me going “whoa!”

          1. Another Emily*

            Maybe you could give her a pro-tip on this too. Tell her her instinct to go to documentation when she was unsure was a good one, but she should use the newest document. That’s what I do anyway. (Referring to documentation before asking questions is also a good way to reduce unneeded questions.)

          2. Anonymous*

            The whole thing sounds to me like she is saying, “Things are poorly documented and I don’t know what you expect.” Then you go and interpret that as some young twat trying to mess up the existing processes, compounding the communication failure.

            If you have better documentation, point her at it. Encourage her to ask about documentation if it isn’t readily provided. Encourage her to ask questions. Frankly, if she is just out of school, she may be coming from an environment where questions to real people are heavily penalized and look-it-up-yourself is heavily rewarded – that’s how my schools all worked. Just explain that it’s okay to ask questions, and tell her a good person to start with (her boss, you, the project manager, whatever is appropriate in your organization).

            Then, tell her to try to put herself in the boss’s shoes (or yours) whenever she makes a suggestion. Tell her to think about who would have to do the work and whether that person would likely find it valuable. Finally, YOU should not be so hesitant to shoot her down when her suggestions are bad. That is the only way she will learn about the organization’s needs and priorities! Just try to give her some feedback on why it’s a bad idea. If she resents you or judges you for that, then that is HER problem. That’s business!

          3. Vicki*

            Speaking as a person who does content management professionally, the best thing you can do about those older docs is to archive or delete them SOON. Keeping ancient stuff around is a good way to assure that it will be read and assumed to be correct. Simply putting the newer doc in a “higher-level folder” isn’t good enough.

            And yes, I know that no one has time to do this. That’s why they hire people like me… sometimes.

            1. OP*

              Yeah, I’m definitely going on a hunt for this file on Monday.

              She couldn’t find it again when I asked her where it was so I could update it, and I couldn’t find it when I searched for it. Which is frustrating because I couldn’t fix it right away, but I agree it’s a really bad thing to have these old training docs floating around somewhere.

  3. Mike C.*

    I understand that there are priorities and compromise and all that required in the workplace. I also understand that somethings are decided because of reasons that might not be obvious at first glance.

    That being said, we’re always told to be the “one who takes the initiative”, who “makes things run better and leaner” and that’s what this employee is trying to do. Sure there are reasons not to do something, but OP, are you sure those reasons aren’t “because” or “we’ve always done it that way” and so on? Telling someone that we don’t have the time and resources to do everything isn’t an excuse to not do anything, either.

    And look, as long as normal work is being completed, give this newbie a tough but low priority project to work on. No harm if they fail, and if they succeed they’ve improved things in a real way for the company. Maybe they’re a big talker, or maybe, just maybe, they can actually deliver. If nothing else, they’ll learn a ton about the company. As Allison said, at least point them in the right direction.

    And if for some reason there is no time/money/resources to do any improving whatsoever, then you have much bigger problems to worry about than an overeager newbie.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think, though, that it’s also about helping her understand how offices operate — for instance, that she shouldn’t schedule meetings for the heads of other departments without checking to be sure that this really is an organizational priority.

      1. Mike C.*

        Sure, it’s important to understand how things work. Yet at the same time, it’s good to take care that someone who isn’t fed up with the way things are or has interesting ideas isn’t completely quashed. Reigned in? Sure. But even these faults aren’t huge red flags – they’re things that are easily corrected with a little chat.

        I just don’t see the “eager beaver” as a problem. You have an employer that’s thrilled to be at work, learn everything they can and wants to make things run better for everyone else, what’s not to like?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Right, I don’t think anyone is saying she sucks and needs to be fired, but rather that someone needs to have that chat with her.

          I’ll also say that in my experience, when someone comes in like this — new to the work world, full of ideas that they’re being pretty aggressive about pushing — the vast majority of time those ideas are (a) not good, (b) good but simply not a priority relative to other goals, or (c) have been tried and aren’t in use for a reason. Not every time, but the majority of the time. So it’s not unreasonable to trust the OP’s assessment that that’s the case here.

          1. Steve G*

            I like Khidle’s comment. I think the way you can stop acting like the person in question is to acknowledge you have value as an individual contributor. However, I was given sink-or-swim projects at a young age to prove myself; not everyone gets that opportunity. I wonder if she is just lacking in difficult or long-term tasks and is bored with her day-to-day stuff, so is looking to make more projects for herself…..

          2. Mike C.*

            No, I think that’s reasonable.

            I just see myself in this person from my own experience, and yeah, lots of my ideas weren’t that great or weren’t priorities. In places where I was successful, someone was there to answer my questions about why my view wasn’t right, why my ideas weren’t as useful as I first thought and where our priorities actually were.

            Where I am now, my coworkers were really open about these sorts of things, and my bosses went the next step of throwing me in the deep end to give me something to do. I was able to quickly prove myself and now I’m handed all sorts of crazy projects and have to split my time between two different departments due to demand.

            If people told me just to keep my head down or that I was overreaching, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’m not saying that folks are pointing in this direction rather I’m just urging caution.

            1. Jesicka309*

              The flip side is that if you reign her in too much, she’ll lose all enthusiasm for the job altogether. I’ve seen it so many times: eager new employee comes in, with ideas and excitement, current staff beat her down into the way things ‘are done’ here, eager employee becomes disgruntled and unhappy employee (this was supposed to be my big break!?).
              Why hire an eager grad if you actually want a jaded worker bee? Arg.

        2. FiveNine*

          There comes a point when such behavior actually is not just an irritant but something that impedes the normal course of getting the job done. On top of that, the relationship between the new worker and OP is starting to have frayed edges, largely due it sounds like to the new worker.

          The publisher of one media outlet I worked at called a meeting of the entire staff to announce the launching of a new publication. When he finished and opened the floor for thoughts, an intern — AN INTERN — suggested not just that the organization needed a different publication type altogether but an entirely different business model, period.

          1. Henning Makholm*

            Intern, schmintern. That sounds like a suggestion that would be out of place coming from anyone at an all-hands meeting. Even someone whose actual job it is to contribute to strategic decisions shouldn’t waste everyone’s time trying to discuss things there.

            The intern, by the nature of things, at least had the excuse of being inexperienced.

    2. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog*

      In my experience, it takes longer than three months to learn how an organization works. You need to know how it works before you try to improve it. To me, it sounds like this young colleague is trying to wow everybody by going above and beyond, when really her best way to wow is them is doing her job well (many people don’t). She’s putting the cart before the horse.

      1. Ron*

        Totally. Classic newbie mistake. She has good intentions and doesn’t realize that her behavior might be seen as a negative instead of a positive. It’s something we all have to learn when we start working in an office, to get a sense of the culture first and understand your place and what is and isn’t appropriate to try to improve or change.

      2. Mike C.*

        A new employee can certainly tag along on an improvement project at three months without having the lead it.

        I guess what I don’t understand is that at three months, I’m chomping at the bit to take on things like these and for the most part my bosses threw me in the deep end of the pool and I had to work through the issue. I had to learn a bunch on the fly and ask a lot of questions, but I made it through, delivered and before I knew it was pushed into another pool.

        If someone is asking to take something on that no one else wants to do, I say in general give them a shot. If they want to prove themselves, let them! Maybe it isn’t a project of their choosing, but everyone has things that need or should be done but get pushed out of the way because that’s life.

          1. Mike C.*

            If this is the case then sure, but I didn’t see it mentioned. If that’s the case, it sounds like there are more serious issues here.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think that’s the implication throughout — for instance, wanting to schedule the meeting for all those other people, including dept heads, to talk about something that wasn’t a priority.

    3. felipe*

      I was thinking the same thing, Mike C. I’ve seen it go both ways for “eager beavers” like the one described in the letter (and, maybe not coincidentally, each transitioned from a for-profit background to a non-profit one): One time, an eager beaver who kept implying/suggesting that we were doing things inefficiently (and that she could improve everything if we just gave her the chance), was fired after 3 months. She was polite all the way, though. In another eager beaver situation, the person was promoted like craziness to the chagrin of all of my colleagues. And this eager beaver was a throw-everyone-else-under-the-bus type, so it certainly wasn’t about whether she was likable or not. She just happened to have a manager that appreciated that kind of work ethic, whereas the other eager beaver had a manager who resented it.

      I think being an eager beaver can get some people really far IF they’re in the right office and right culture. If not, they can crash and burn.

    4. OP*

      That being said, we’re always told to be the “one who takes the initiative”, who “makes things run better and leaner” and that’s what this employee is trying to do.

      I totally agree – she’s really quick and clever and I’m trying to figure out how to help her put those skills into things that work (for lack of a better way of putting it) instead of shooting for ideas that are way above what we’re able to change and then getting pushback and resentment when nothing happens.

      Sure there are reasons not to do something, but OP, are you sure those reasons aren’t “because” or “we’ve always done it that way” and so on?

      Yes. A lot of our processes have been gone through slowly but thoroughly in the past five years, which is as long as I’ve been working here, and I know that a lot of things we do that I was annoyed with at first are done (a) because it’s the way clients prefer them, even though we think it’s dumb and faffy, or (b) because it saves the company significant resources in other areas, even if it means our department duplicates work every so often.

      I totally agree that inertia and always-done-ism are frequent and should be avoided, but it isn’t the case here and I’m not sure how to communicate that broadly instead of going “nope!” every time she has a brand new idea about how to totally overhaul our processes for one thing (which I know won’t work).

  4. SerfinUSA*

    There is a person like this in my dept who has managed to leverage her ‘enthusiasm’ (read backstabbing pushiness) into a huge promotion by eavesdropping, butting in, going over our manager’s head, flattery, spying, etc, etc.

    Her inappropriate inquiries over and outside of usual channels have led to work assignments denied other more qualified and senior people. Job-jacking. And our direct manager is cowed by anyone ‘above’ her in rank, and just shrugs helplessly when asked about this issue.

    Lots of politics involved, which may vary in the OP’s situation, but I would be very careful in staying on the sidelines if there are opportunities or risks in the offing that might catch the interest of this person.

      1. SerfinUSA*

        I’m probably not describing the situation well, but in this case the helpful eagerness was/is a front for some less than nice motives. Hopefully this isn’t a factor for the OP, it’s just that the description of the newbie’s behavior sounded so familiar….

  5. Looking forward*

    Does she have enough to do? She also just may be over eager to prove her value. Maybe she needs a “special assignment” to focus on.

    1. OP*

      Actually, I didn’t mention this in the letter because I didn’t think it was relevant, but our manager mentioned to me that she hasn’t been getting through her assigned workload (this was part of a broader conversation our manager and I were having about our department’s work).

      It might be also that she’s being asked to improve her efficiency and is trying to find outside ways of doing that (“create a project to fix this one thing I have to do twice sometimes!”), rather than necessarily focusing on improving her own processes. Maybe.

      1. EM*

        Uhhh, I think the manager needs to tell her that she needs to accomplish her assigned tasks before she can look at process improvements. I’m wondering if her eagerness isn’t actually a smokescreen….

      2. Anon. Scientist*

        It’s not clear if you think your coworker is floundering and deflecting, or avoiding what she’s supposed to be doing.

        Someone who’s not getting all their assigned work done and is nitpicking stuff that isn’t in their job description is usually less “eager beaver” and more “bored with this job.” And the problem is that they’ve been hired to do the stuff that they’re not actually doing.

        One of my former coworkers (later fired) was like that. He was chomping at the big to get new, big, fancy assignments and to change processes, but he wasn’t actually good at the work we needed him to do. Well, he may have been good at it, but he avoided it so much, who knew?

      3. Kou*

        Hm, I wonder if she’s having a lot of issues with certain processes or roadblocks and is trying to sort those out without realizing that the scope doesn’t really make sense. I think if you gently guide her through how your company usually handles this stuff she’ll respond to it, and maybe give her ideas on how to work around some of the weird stuff? She may have been finding those old training documents because she’s having a difficult time navigating some of the things that aren’t intuitive or consistent, and she thinks she can fix the problems with all these meetings and suggestions as well.

  6. LMW*

    I think I was a little like this when I started my career – and I’ve definitely encountered a few other eager beaver types in my career. I think that this is a typical issue with younger employees because these little suggestions that might not have an impact on the big picture can have a huge impact on individual roles. So it’s easy to get worked up over something that is causing an issue in the day to day operations of my job, and hard to understand why no one else sees it as a priority (because it’s not actually impacting their jobs, and not important to the company overall).
    An example of this from my childhood:
    Me, age 8: Wow, it takes me a lot longer to unload the dishwasher when I have to sort the silverware. Can’t you sort the silverware as you put it in the dishwasher?
    Mom: I have to help you with your homework, take your sister to ballet, make dinner and then I still have to wash the dishes and load the dishwasher. So, no, I’m not going to spend extra time sorting the silverware for you. It’s not worth the effort on my end. Do your teeny tiny job.
    Realizing this was a huge shift in perspective for me.

    1. Anonymous*

      I know not the point, but I agree with your 8 year old self. It really doesnt take any more time to load sorted and it makes the whole process more efficient.

      1. Jamie*

        Sorry that was me. On my phone because stupid stupid rain killed data line. Been dealing with tech support from phone co for last 18 hours and ready to snap.

          1. Jamie*

            I’d settle for some Maalox, Excedrin Migraine, and a hug.

            It’s been a really, really long day.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Ah, but if you put all the spoons together, isn’t there a danger of them nesting and not getting as clean as if they were in a more diverse group?

        Yes, I think about this.

        1. Josh S*

          I’m with you, Alison. You gotta mix them up so they don’t nest and keep from getting clean. I hate pulling nested spoons out and finding crud still on the surface. :(

          1. Sarah*

            I just moved in with my BF and realized that he places all silverware prongs up… I didn’t even know where to start about how this was a bad idea. I think asking for sorted would be way too much atm.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I was told early on by my fiance that I should stop placing everything prongs up. I still don’t totally understand why it’s a bad idea. I’m convinced they’re getting more clean that way! (But I’ve capitulated and am placing them prongs down.)

              1. AnotherAlison*

                I was asked to not put the knives facing up. My response is that you shouldn’t be jamming your hand in there, anyway. Do you not have eyes? I don’t think they get as clean when the dirty part is face down in the basket.

                Mostly I do not understand why no one else at my house can grasp that big plates go at the back, facing right. Little plates in front, face right. Bowls up top or around the edge. It’s not me — it’s how the prongs are laid out. Nothing else fits neatly.

                1. A Bug!*

                  My mom taught me knives down so we don’t cut ourselves, but spoons and forks up because their handles look the same and it makes for quicker sorting if we can identify them immediately.

                  (But we didn’t have a dishwasher – this was about the drying rack, so I don’t know anything about how well the utensils would get cleaned in either position. And thinking about it now, I guess an all-handles-up situation would be preferred from a sanitary perspective if you weren’t confident that the person putting them away is going to wash their hands first.)

                2. Lisa*

                  I put my forks in prongs-up, but the knives go in blade down. Even if I am paying attention to what I’m doing, I can still get klutzy if I’m rushing…and stabbing myself with a fork is nowhere NEAR as painful as stabbing myself or slicing my hand open on a knife blade.

                  I think I still have the report I did in..8th grade?…on how to properly load a dishwasher.

                3. Camellia*

                  Yes! Yes! Yes! The exact way to load a dishwasher! We are kindred spirits. And here is the best part for me – my husband does it the same way! Yes, I am actually that lucky! You may all now drool and curse my name.

                4. Ellie H.*

                  Exactly. How is it that so few people in this world understand how to load a dishwasher properly? Argh!

                1. Jamie*

                  Oh – according to mine it’s the one thing I’m incapable of doing properly. I opt not to argue about it…just let him load it like it’s his job.

                  He is totally the Lionel to my Jean.

              2. Rana*

                I put everything prong/bowl/blade down, because it’s easier to grab a handful all at once and I don’t have to worry about getting the clean eating part dirty (not that my hands are filthy, but they’re not as clean as freshly washed dishes). I also find it challenging to drop a dirty spoon or fork into the basket prongs or bowls up without getting it all over me.

                (We have an amazing dishwasher that will actually clean even pretty dirty dishes, so we don’t do much in the way of prewashing or even rinsing. That may be another factor.)

                We do have a pretty large basket for the silverware though, with lots of pockets, so it’s relatively easy to sort them and make sure they’re not nesting when you drop them in.

              3. Joey*

                I think its a guy thing with our bigger hands. Have you ever jammed a knife or a fork prong under your fingernails? Yeah, that will change your tune. Besides isn’t it logical to always grab silverware the the handle?

            1. Malissa*

              But sorting two different sizes of spoons is easier than sorting knives, forks, and spoons.

              Although at this point I’d just be happy to not have to do any dishes. ;)

        2. Marmite*

          I grew up in a house without a dishwasher and have never had one as an adult. I remember being shocked the first time I visited a friend with a dishwasher and realised you couldn’t just chuck the dirty plates in there any old how, you have to actually rinse and arrange things. Seemed to make it no less time consuming than just washing the dishes by hand!

          1. Evan the College Student*

            I was thinking the same thing the first time my mom had me help her in the kitchen!

          2. Stacie*

            I agree that it’s about the same amount of work, but there are other benefits to a dishwasher. The hotter water and stronger soap almost sterilizes them. My family almost never passes around colds or flu, and they sure did before we got the dishwasher.

          3. Rana*

            It depends, though. We have a dishwasher now that you actually can put unwashed dishes in, provided they’re not too dried out. It’s pretty damn amazing.

            1. Malissa*

              What brand and model is this magic dishwasher? I will be buying one soon and now I want yours.

              1. Rana*

                It’s a Frigidaire, but that’s about all I can tell about it. It came with our apartment. I think it’s probably pretty new, though, which might make a difference.

                The trade-off for the amazing cleaning prowess is that it is slow. I think it takes about an hour to complete a normal load.

        3. Esra*

          They do! Depending on your particular utensils, forks can also have that issue. They stick together and you get particulates of food in between that are a pain to clean.

          1. Julie*

            I was just reading the other day that most dishwashers have the “arms” that spray the jets of water on top and on the bottom of the dishwasher, so it doesn’t matter if silverware is right side up or upside down. In my house, there’s disagreement about knives, so some are up, and some are down. :( I like them down because I have stabbed myself with a knife that I didn’t see when I was unloading. We also have a kosher household, so there’s the meat silverware section, the dairy silverware section, and the treyf (for non-Kosher meals) silverware section. Fun times! :)

        4. Spanish Teacher*

          My dishwasher’s silverware compartment has these slotted lids so you stand each spoon up in its own little area, which prevents nesting. It is too much of a hassle to load & unload them that way, though, so they mostly go unused.

          1. danr*

            Huh? We have that kind of setup and it is no slower to load and unload. And the silverware is cleaner too. With this setup the forks and spoons are handle down and the knives are blade down.

        5. KimmieSue*

          Okay, I am a silverware pre-sorter. I put them all together in the dishwasher and have never considered the nesting example. But you have a really good point. This may impact my future behavior.

          On the other hand, I am a washer/scrubber prior to putting in dishwasher. I don’t care how new your machine is I do not trust putting dishes in that have not been completely removed of any food particle. I am obsessive about it. In fact, although I love her, I don’t let my S-I-L load my dishwasher because she is one of those people.

          1. Elizabeth*

            Eeek! Modern dishwashing detergent needs those particles in order to be effective. Otherwise, you’re getting soap residue left on the clean dishes.

            1. KimmieSue*

              Is that why???? Okay Elizabeth, I’m going to try and not pre-wash them with the next load. But honestly, the thought creeps me out. We’ll see if I can actually do it!


    2. Ellie H.*

      Oh my god. My roommate does exactly this. He has a diagram on our fridge whiteboard of where the silverware goes in the silverware compartments in the dishwasher, and has mentioned it to me specifically. He isn’t even the one who usually unloads the dishwasher. The diagram has been there since January, and I leave it up in perpetuity to show off to anyone who comes over.

  7. khilde*

    I can see myself in your colleague. When I first started in this position, I had tons of ideas and suggestions for things we could be doing/trying with our training. My coworker was senior in the position by about 12 or so years. In those early days I heard a LOT of “Well, here’s what we’ve found in the past….” or some variation of that. She acknowledged my ideas (which is so very important to me), but then gave the back story on how they’ve thought of that in the past or have actually tried it in the past but reasons why it didn’t work or why we’re doing a new process now. Eventually, I calmed down when (a) I matured a little bit; (b) the excitement of being in a new awesome job wore off; (c) I was given free rein to try some of my ideas and I saw them bomb firsthand (I learn my lessons better through direct experience because I fail to take people’s word for it); (d) I started to realize how the organization really worked; (e) I felt like I didn’t need to “prove” myself so much and that I had a place on the team as a credible contributor.

    1. Yup*

      Well put. I think C and D are biggies. New entrants to the workplace are bombarded with messages about “prove your value! go over & above on everything!” and I think a lot of that energy can be constructively directed into a big project. Especially a team or cross-functional project. People can’t really know how the place functions until they’ve seen the insides of the machinery. So any opportunity to get this new person onto a project team, or even to assign them to that dusty should-do thing that’s been moldering away, might be a great intro for her career. All that eager energy is directed into something worth doing, and she’ll start seeing the how the pieces add up to the bigger picture.

  8. Malissa*

    Eager Beaver Syndrome! Something I once suffered from. Well more like those around me suffered. ;) Tell the new person that you appreciate her ideas and contributions, but that she’s got to be there for a while before she has any credibility to enact any changes. The best thing for her to do is to sit on the ideas. If she still thinks she can improve upon whatever in 6 months, then definitely consider it.

    Also please take the time to explain to her why things are being done a certain way. It sounds like many of her suggestions are just from a lack of understanding.

    If you take the time to help her and mentor her it will help her out and it could help you out as well. It will show that you have leadership skills.

    1. Jamie*

      I was afflicted by this as well, long ago.

      Time will tell if she can back it up with real contributions…sometimes this is a sign of a great self directed employee once the edges smooth out a little.

      Annoying to be sure – but I’d take 1 of those bs 15 who come from the school of ‘it’s not my job.’

      1. Receptionist*

        Oh I have a longstanding personal vendetta against “It’s not my job,” as well as its cousin, “That’s not my problem.” I can’t stand those! I even have coworkers who, if they don’t know the answer to your question, will simply keep staring down at their desks silently as if you never walked in the room. It’s so rude and juvenile.

      2. OP*

        I totally agree – I’m really glad we hired her and I appreciate the fact that she’s generally quite self-sufficient and sensible! It’s just the “I’ve had an idea for a giant project to fix something that doesn’t really affect our bottom line! When can I talk about this with upper management?” that’s getting a bit much.

  9. Anonymous*

    Oh, how I wish organziations would take the time to put cultural styles into a brief email or memo, or even sit down with new hires and informally go over things. Frankly, much time is wasted when every new hire has to learn the less obvious things through osmosis. I put together a little 2 sheet for our interns, things like: Here’s the drive where everything is, here is the font we prefer, we tend to do things like THIS via email and THIS in staff meetings, the copier toner is here, ask Mrs. Teapot about this issue if it comes up, and here are the URLs for the six different databases we work from.

    1. Stacie*

      And I bet that every intern that got your 2 sheet has been grateful to have it. It probably saves an enormus amount of confusion and frustration.

      1. Jessa*

        OH yes, I wish every company did this. I ended up being “miss everyone copies my notes person,” because I would make these up for myself. Someone would see it and suddenly everyone wanted a copy.

        But if the place is more than a handful of people, this kind of thing is gold.

    2. Mike C.*

      That’s incredibly useful, and I’m willing to bet that you’ve saved your company a ton of time and money doing that. Nice!

  10. HAnon*

    Reading this post, I’m afraid that’s been me! I started a job several months ago where, two weeks after I’d started the position, the COO came to me and wanted to have a formal lunch about things that I thought could be “improved” about the organization…it was like he wanted me to be a spy for my department. It was so awkward. I tried to deflect by saying, “I really just started and I’m not sure I’m in a place to make those kinds of evaluations yet,” but he was super insistent so I created a brief list of things (free & easy to fix issues) and gave it to him…he shared these suggestions, and it created a lot of animosity between me and my co-workers because they felt like I was trying to tell people what needed to be fixed after I’d only been there for two weeks, but that was the position the COO put me in! Definitely not helpful. Since then (I’ve been in the position for 9 months) I’ve come across a few things that could definitely be time-savers/money-savers for our department, but they always get filed away under the heading “this is not a priority so we’re not going to put any resources towards this.” So I’ve pretty much just decided to live with the way things are–chaos, disorganization and all (I work for a start up)–until I find something else. And then try not to be an eager beaver ever again!!!

    1. HAnon*

      As a side note, I would really like to know — when interviewers say things like “We want someone who takes initiative, a self-starter, pro-active, blah blah” what does that actually mean? Because I have not once found this to be true in real life. I have started interpreting this as: “We want you to feel like we want independent thinkers, but we really want you to proactive about never disagreeing with our ideas.” I’m more proactive by nature (first-born), so I’d like to know upfront if this isn’t a trait that the manager finds desirable so I can curb that if necessary…

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It often means “we want someone who will take ownership for the realm they’re responsible for, not just execute ideas and instructions without thinking more broadly about how to best get the work done.”

      2. Malissa*

        Some days having initiative is actually trying to find the scanning setting on the copier before you ask for help. When I look for initiative it’s because I want a person who thinks before they ask for help. Because when I’m not here I want them to be able to come up with a good answer to something that’s come out of left field.

        1. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog*

          This is a great example. It’s not about starting grand new projects – it’s about really little things. Like getting a call from a random client you’re not responsible for, and staying on the phone with until they’re connected to the right department. Or double-checking the project plan to make sure you’re deliverables are in on time, even if the project manager isn’t following up with you.

        1. AB*

          HAnon wrote:

          “As a side note, I would really like to know — when interviewers say things like “We want someone who takes initiative, a self-starter, pro-active, blah blah” what does that actually mean?”

          I don’t know about interviewers in general, but research done by a professor with hundreds of managers to understand what differentiate top performers from average ones answers this question. I even wrote a short article about it to help the participants of one of my online courses. Do take a look (and read the book from the researcher if you have a chance, as it’s full of evidence-based advice):

      3. ExceptionToTheRule*

        Some days, it means filling the printer paper tray when you notice it’s empty or figuring out what to do when the copier says it’s out of toner.

    2. darsenfeld*

      Well, find out what the priorities are and meet them. Your manager should really communicate what priorities are, and what the general strategy of the department or unit is at the moment. For example, if the chief priority is to get more clients, then suggest how this can be done.

      1. De Minimis*

        Sadly, I’ve found it usually means “We don’t want to provide any kind of training or guidance and expect you to keep up with more experienced people.”

        1. darsenfeld*

          Not necessarily.

          In my current role, I often look at present processes and see how they can be improved and enhanced. Or I will think about a priority my boss has outlined, and think of a means how it can be implemented or facilitated.

      2. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog*

        +1! It’s not about creating a revolution in your new department one month after you start. It’s about figuring out what the priorities are, then tailoring your work to those priorities. Early in your career, being a “proactive self-starter” can mean taking on really small tasks independently. Like adding summary bullets to the top of your survey reports.

  11. S. Martin*

    Ok, pet peeve… if the training document (or really, any documentation) is out of date… update it! At the minimum mark it obsolete. Otherwise you’re just asking to run into the same situation again (and again). I’ll assume you’re not in a company where you get audited on how you actually do tasks vs. how your documentation says you do tasks, or the downside of outdated documentation is larger. Said update might even be a good task for the co-worker in question.

    As far as how to communicate priorities and culture… just tell her. For the specific example you gave of not wanting to go through a meeting for what your company considers a minor matter, you could walk her through what a former co-worker of mine called the meeting math: #attendees x average equivalent hourly pay rate x length of meeting x #meetings = cost of meeting/series of meetings; is the proposed change going to earn or save that much money? if not find another way (less people involved, different format, table the idea, etc).

    1. QualityControlFreak*

      Yes! Update or eliminate obsolete documentation!

      And I LOVE the “meeting math.”

    2. Lynn*

      YES! On the training document! Bring it up to date or get rid of it! Booby-trapping your network with fake instructions is worse than not having them at all!

    3. OP*

      Ah, I really should have mentioned! We do have up-to-date training documentation – it’s in a folder that all new hires are directed to. The one she found was in an old folder buried somewhere deep on the network (she couldn’t find it again when I asked her where it was so I could update it, and I couldn’t find it either) that I suspect someone just archived and never deleted.

  12. Just a Reader*

    I think it’s hard for eager beavers to realize that their more seasoned colleagues (seasoned = time with the company) better understand priorities and business objectives. I experienced this a lot as a manager, and in my experience, the eager beaver becomes resentful if ideas aren’t implemented. This can cause behavior that comes across as entitled or pushy, such as the reference in the OP to the junior employee pushing the OP to follow up with his/her boss.

    Ideas are important but so are boundaries. It’s as much an etiquette and respect issue as it is an issue of reining in someone who’s pushing more senior people into things that aren’t best for the company/team.

    1. Mike C.*

      I think transparent and good communication goes a long way to not only smooth these feelings out but direct the efforts of the employee.

      1. Just a Reader*

        They do. But there are also times that something is handed down from the top and there doesn’t seem to be a good reason for it, and everyone needs to just suck it up.

        Questions should be encouraged. Transparency and priority setting are very helpful tools. But constantly pushing back is not a great way to assert that you’re a self-starter. Self-starters also need to be team players.

  13. Josh S*

    I don’t know if the new hire is a recent grad or not, but I know that there’s a certain feeling among some graduates (I was there too) that “I’ve kicked college’s a**, and now I’m ready to get out here and do some BIG stuff in the real world!” and was really caught off guard by the corporate inertia, not to mention the innate intelligence of the reason choices were made in the past that have carried through. It’s an idealistic desire to make positive change in the world, now that you’re “adult” enough to try.

    (Not to say that all culture/tradition remains relevant indefinitely–cultural change *can* be good–just that sometimes ‘the way we do things here’ is based on a long history of hard lessons learned.)

  14. Reader in DC*

    I have managed a bunch of eager beavers in the past few years (working for a non-profit that attracts a lot of entry-level, just out of college types). Being kind while informing them of priorities and culture is really important.

    I will say that I had one staff member a few years ago who annoyed the heck out of me. She was persistent to the point of pushiness, she was clearly impatient with the glacial speed of change in our organization and she was always wanting to Go, Go, Go. But she also learned quickly and had a good idea of when to push for change and when not to once she was settled in.

    I MISS HER SO MUCH. She was all of those things, but she was also innovative, creative and destined for greatness. She left my organization after 2.5 years for a manager position at another organization and is off doing great things. I am proud of the small part I played in preparing her for future greatness (she thanked me for my mentoring when she left, and it meant a lot).

  15. Coelura*

    I have two fairly new project managers on my team that are 1) eager beavers and 2) focused on process & documentation to the exclusion of seeing the big picture. We started with their peers giving them feedback and trying to provide guidance, but ended up with me directly giving them boundaries. I want hear their input & their thoughts, but not to the point that it causes churn. I want them to be able to make an impact to the bigger organizational picture (read process & documentation) but not to the detriment of project delivery.

    Its been hard – but they are turning into solid project managers.

    Loop in the person’s manager. Its part of mentoring & managing a newbie.

  16. Plynn*

    This is hitting home because I’M the eager beaver, usually. I’m not a recent grad, though, nor am I particularly early in my career. It’s good have this as a clear explanation of what the other side might be thinking, but I still don’t think I really agree. I mean, is glacial pace, inertia and resistance to change really the kind of corporate culture that you want to preserve and pass onto to new hires? I just about lost it at my last position because people looked at me like I had three heads when I asked “why?” As in, why do you do this bizarre thing with numerous arcane steps? Isn’t there an easier way?

    This same organization spent tens of thousands of dollars sending everyone to process management training, trying to get them to look at the way they did things, since it was all so wildly inefficient.

    1. Just a Reader*

      I think the point is that eager beavers may be pushing for the wrong changes/so far down in the weeds that the recommendations aren’t addressing organizational challenges or priorities.

      So it’s not that companies want to preserve things that aren’t working, but that eager beavers may not be focused on the right problem or the right piece of the problem. If the house is on fire, it doesn’t matter that the toilet’s broken, so don’t try to fix the toilet when what you really need is a hose.

      1. CoffeeLover*

        I think change and process improvement is important, but I also think you need to have some experience and understanding of the company before you can drive it. You need to learn where to pick your battles and what battles are worth your energy. Maximize your energy input to output ratio. That’s not even a concept for new grads. I think people at all stages need to learn this (kind of like the lazy-mans way to success; minimal effort for maximum results :P).

    2. darsenfeld*

      Offering ideas is always a plus, and something any good manager will value.

      Offering willy-nilly ideas is not though, and can annoy a manager. It’s best to think strategically when formulating ideas, based on what needs to be addressed at a given time. Say one works in an IT department and a new building needs network infrastructure installed in it. A worker can say “would we need wifi covering all floors? Would this wifi be n or ac? We may need several VLANs to account not just for desktops and laptops, but any electronic locks and cameras”. These ideas are pertinent to the priorities at hand, and not just flung up from nowhere.

    3. Yup*

      Glacial pace is frustrating, I agree, but I think a lot of it is about tone and delivery. I get better results when I ask “Is there a particular reason we do this in the order of ACDZ? It seems like there might be a quicker way, like ABC.” Which conveys a respect for the decisions that have gone before and the realization that I might not have the whole picture. Not saying that you do this, but presenting it as “this is dumb, we should all do that instead” can raise people’s hackles even if they agree with the premise — especially if they’ve already fought and lost the battle to make changes.

    4. Rana*

      Yeah, I’ve run into this myself. Usually I have the most problems when I come into a situation where all the people have been working there for years and they’ve reached a point where they assume that because Things Are Done This Way at their company, that Doing Things This Way is a law of the universe for their industry.

      I was regularly frustrated, for example, at being repeatedly told by one employer that “this is just how libraries work” when I knew full well – from my own experience and that of friends and colleagues who are librarians – that it was not “just how libraries work” – it was how that particular library worked.

      I don’t mind being told that them’s the rules, and this is how we do it here, for X reasons, so figure out how to cope – but being told that they’re not rules but inevitable laws of the universe, there’s no way to do things different because it’s just not possible, how could you not realize this? drives me bats.

      1. Jamie*

        This. Also, time and a place for suggestions.

        If someone had some ideas for how we can do XYZ to make ABC more efficient I am ALL ears. I built the system we have, it’s good but I am sure there are opportunities for improvement which would make it faster and maintain accuracy. I would love to discuss this and if feasible let someone implement their own changes.

        But not in the middle of ABC when the deadline is day after tomorrow. My system may not be perfect but it does work and is in compliance with what our auditors expect…so that is not when change is happening. Close the month and my door is wide open to discuss possible changes for end of next month.

        So timing is important, also. When I was a kid badgering my mom for something she used to say “if you need an answer right now, the answer is no. If you give me time to think about it you have a shot.” I use the same approach.

  17. Sniper*

    Those of us under the age of 30 have had it pounded into our heads that we need to always be taking the initiative and looking for things to do in order to advance.

    When you combine that with being new to an organization and likely not having much of anything to do, well, this is a probable result.

    The OP’s manager needs to be more cognizant of this situation and find ways to get the new employee better integrated into what is going on. Don’t temper that energy – be excited that someone with this energy is on the team – but find a way to channel it into activities that will help the team. If the manager is any good, s/he will be able to make this happen.

    1. OP*

      I’m the OP and I’m 27! :) I’ve just been working here a while…I agree that a lot of young people are told ‘take initiative!’ ‘take ownership!’ ‘make an impression!’, but not how, where and when it’s appropriate to do those. (I was also definitely like this when I was a new hire, so I can really relate.)

      I guess that was really my question, which Alison as ever answered very well – how to help her sand down the edges so she *can* take initiative in effective, helpful ways that will actually make a good impression (without driving me insane in the meantime!).

  18. Ralish*

    This might sound unrelated, but can you make sure she has a full plate in front of her? I remember when I first started a job, I’d have hours each day with no work in front of me. I tried to turn every little assignment into a bigger assignment just so that I wouldn’t sit in front of my computer, bored out of my mind! Once I had more work to do, I was 1) less bored, 2) less worried about showing my skills/ambition, and 3) more informed about priorities and workload.

    1. Cassie*

      Based on one of the follow-up comments by the OP, it looks like the eager beaver is not completing her assigned work. This reminds me of my coworker – she’s sloppy with her assigned tasks but wants to take on other tasks that are outside her realm. She’s bored with nothing to do but if she actually took the time to do her assigned tasks well, she would have plenty to do.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        And perhaps there is an element of Eager-Beaver-fresh-to-the-workplace wanting to get the promotion/bonus/reference to get a fantastic responsible job which pays double, so to do that, she needs to do something exceptional and outside of her usual assigned work?

  19. Yako*

    As a new graduate, I kind of feel as though she probably has the same problem as I do of not having enough work to keep her occupied so she tries to find more work. Maybe this is also something that her manager should discuss with her.

  20. OneoftheMichelles*

    I’m responding without reading the above comments for lack of time, but see myself in the “overly eager” employee.

    What I’ve needed to hear for a long time was 1) the feedback that I was inadvertantly pushing others around and 2) we *strategically* aren’t fixing every small thing that could be better, because we have only so much time/resources and need to stay focused on more pressing issues.

    Maybe it’s because I was raised by jerky wolves or something, but Aam’s first couple examples would’ve just sounded like one person’s excuses/personal reasons for not cooperating with me. Pointing up the Bigger Picture relationship between things is what clears the issue up for me. (Thanks for making me smarter :’)

    1. OneoftheMichelles*

      Actually, “2” is more important than “1”, but 1 would’ve gotten me to back off the people around me.

    2. OP*

      Yeah, I’m kind of worried that this is happening (she thinks I’m just coming up with excuses not to do stuff because I can’t be bothered), which is not the end of the world but is a bit annoying.

      1. OP*

        …so thank you for giving me your perspective on what helped you, is what I meant to add! :)

  21. UsedToBeEagerToo*

    Gosh, you guys are all so mean…you have an employee who is excited to work, genuinely has a desire and the work ethic to want to improve things, and has gone out of her way to read up on how to do her job properly, and just cause she’s a little too bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about it you all want to hack away at her little inexperienced ego until she becomes a mindless, mechanical follower who just does what she’s told? No wonder the economy’s in the toilet….

      1. businesslady*

        & if anything, she’s MORE likely to get discouraged over time if she’s not mentored into channeling her impulses in more constructive ways. the OP is doing her a favor by thinking about how to help her.

  22. KayDay*

    oooh, I was sick yesterday and missed most of this discussion, but I still want to chime in. This brought back memories of my first 6 months on the job.

    I understand where the “overeager employee” is coming from. Entry-level work is often “headache-y,” as opposed to intellectually challenging, which is a major change for most college grads. So it’s quite possible that she can both be bored, even if she isn’t getting everything done right. And that’s also why she’s probably looking for something that’s more of an intellectual challenge.

    Secondly, yes, I am sure that the overeager employee is trying to prove herself, take initiative, and all that. Which is good. But she’s going about it badly; it’s one thing for her to want to improve her own processes that she uses, but if doing so would create more work for higher level staff it is not okay. And just because her intentions are good does not make it okay.

    I think a very gentle/casual talking to is warranted. If she can’t get it from that, then her manager needs to have a more formal sit-down with her, something along the lines of “We really appreciate that you are always looking for ways to improve processes at work. However, many of these issues are really minor in the grand scheme of our business, and it would create more work for other employees than it would save. Therefore, we are going to keep things as is. Perhaps instead you could focus on improving __(insert better option)___.”

    Also, I’m giving the overeager employee the benefit of the doubt that she is an overall great employee who is trying her best, but a little naive about what her role is at the entry level. I truly think that is the case. However, another possibility is that she’s got a huge ego and is a complete know-it-all. If that’s the case, the company rejecting her great ideas (wasn’t there a post about that a while back?) might be really discouraging to her, to the point that she would become bitter and resentful. But I would not make that assumption unless she proves it to be true.

  23. Vicki*

    > • Our company culture is to sort questions of that complexity and importance level (ie, not very) out through emails, not meetings

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  24. JCC*

    Long-established employees so enmeshed in CYA that they’re afraid to schedule meetings with their bosses? Rampant computer illiteracy (why would it be surprising that an outdated manual left on the network would be read, unless the person involved would struggle to find it themselves?) combined with a reactive work culture where problems don’t exist until they reach a certain level of seriousness?

    I think maybe you guys might be able to help the British efficiency expert over on this forum, who was absolutely baffled by American bureaucratic mayonnaise —

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