workplace deal-breakers, part 2

A reader writes:

Earlier this week, you wrote about deal-breakers from the employee side of things. Is there a similar list of deal-breakers for managers when it comes to employees?

Interestingly, while deal-breakers can vary quite a lot on the employee side, the list for managers is — or should be — pretty universal.

I’d divide deal-breakers for employees into three categories:

1. Obvious instant deal-breakers — theft, assault, falsifying a timecard, etc.

2. Performance deal-breakers — these are issues in the work itself, like attention to detail, thoroughness, follow-through, accuracy, and overall quality of the work you’re doing. “Quality of the work” is pretty broad and can mean all sorts of things, depending on what the job is — but ultimately it means that you’re not getting the results you need to get.

3. Interpersonal deal-breakers — things like an inability to get along with colleagues, refusal to consider other points of view or take feedback, a chronically negative approach to the work, being a toxic presence in the office, and so forth.

However, a good manager will give feedback on all of these except the first catetgory before it becomes a dealbreaker. But if uncorrected, all of these should indeed be deal-breakers.

{ 83 comments… read them below }

  1. AMG*

    To me the interpersonal ones are more important than the performance ones. I think it’s easier to teach performance than how to gracefully receive feedback or whatever. Of course, anything can be taught if the person is receptive and open.

    Mine is backstabbing and/or going around me. Having direct reports that do that and a manager that goes along with–ugh. The funny thing was that she was so bad at her job that when she complained to my boss about me, he told me to let her succeed or fail on her own merit. I made sure he understood the impact, and went along with it. When she screwed up, he came to me and asked me what I was thinking my letting her do what she did. Whuck??

    After I finally ended her contract, I left and he was there alone. He sank further and further until his close friend/CEO finally had to get rid of him.

      1. Ruffingit*

        That’s not a sandwich, that’s a Subway chain of restaurants. Geeze AMG, glad you were able to get out of that nonsense.

  2. Ed*

    Interpersonal deal-breakers can be tough to clearly define but I wish more managers would take a stand. I’m constantly amazed at the poor behaviors I see employees get away with. I can understand a little leeway if the employee is an extremely talented at their job but the employees that pull a bunch of crap are often easily replaceable.

    When I was growing up, my father was the HR manager at a large foundry. I remember him telling me they always let people go that committed serious offenses, regardless of how short-handed they were at the time. He explained that it destroyed morale and encouraged more bad behavior to show any favoritism. And the remaining employees almost always said good riddance when those people were let go, even though they had to pick up the slack.

    1. Anonymous*

      Your father sounds cool, can we clone him and have all companies hire him?

      I used to work at a big retail store where one of the stockroom men was groping cashiers, making creepy sexual comments to everyone, and just being a gross person, but the manager didn’t want to fire him because it was Christmas time and he was good at stocking shelves. yuck. Eventually he got fired but not soon enough.

        1. LOLwhut*

          Much easier to find a good shelf-stocker than a competent retail manager. I’m not really convinced they exist.

          1. Anonymous*

            You would think so, by the stupid way they handled it. Eventually he got fired but I had to make it my personal quest.

  3. Anonymous*

    Ugh, my workplace tolerates all these things: assault, very poor performance, chronic negativity and temper tantrums — all in one person!

      1. Anonymous*

        I guess it depends on how you define assault. Someone threw something at someone else out of anger. To me, that’s assault. The person just got written up, not fired.

        1. Anonymous*

          Do you work in a restaurant? My bf used to work in a restaurant where somebody threw knives when he got mad and never got in trouble for it.

          1. Anonymous*

            Nope, not a restaurant. That is crazy that it happened regularly and he never got in trouble for it!

        2. Joey*

          Depends on the details. But not firing doesn’t automatically mean they tolerate it. If they took appropriate steps to stop it that means they DON’T tolerate it.

          1. The Clerk*

            The appropriate step would be firing. If they didn’t learn not to throw things in elementary school, they’re not going to suddenly learn now.

            1. Bea W*

              Throwing things at other people crosses the line. It’s no different than someone trying to hit you with a fist. The only appropriate response from an employer is to promptly escort the thrower out the door. Workplace violence should not be tolerated. If the offender wants to mend his ways, he’s free to do it at a new workplace.

                1. Anonymous*

                  Anything thrown in anger should not be tolerated. Honestly, I think horseplay is for children and shouldn’t be a part of a productive workplace environment, especially since it can so easily be misinterpreted and escalate to something truly inappropriate/violent. However, I know that banning horseplay isn’t a popular opinion with some people here (because apparently throwing things like children is something productive adults do regularly in a worplace setting? None I’ve ever worked at, but okay), so I would just say that reasonable people wouldn’t conflate the two. Unless, like I said, it truly escalates or something. Throwing a beach ball in horseplay that lightly hits someone’s shoulder is different than throwing a beach ball so hard it whacks someone upside the head and actually hurts them. And throwing a beach ball at someone as a reactionary measure to anger falls into the blatantly unacceptable category.

                2. QualityControlFreak*

                  I think actual horseplay would be recognized as such by both parties and unlikely to be reported to management at all. And while some workplaces conceivably might have beach balls lying around, I’ve never worked in any of them.

                  The only time I’ve heard of someone throwing something at work, it was a nail gun. Which endangered anyone and everyone in that area of the warehouse. Even though it was not thrown AT anyone, that person should have been shown the door immediately. And wasn’t.

          2. Anonymous*

            Not firing,in the case of throwing something or assault, means they tolerate it. Writing someone up for it is not adequate. It says they value the aggressor more than the other employee which is awful for morale.

      2. CEMgr*

        I’ve heard of cases where one employee on more than one occasion chased another around the office, waving a hammer in a threatening manner. This was laughed off by “management” as a “joke”.

        (Context for those who need it: The chaser was a 60+ year old unattractive man, his chosen target was an attractive woman in her 20s.)

        1. Windchime*

          It doesn’t seem like the attractiveness, sex, or ages of the chaser/chasee should matter at all. Being chased by a person with a hammer is never a good thing.

  4. John*

    Mine is lack of reliability. An employee can have amazing expertise but if you suspect that, come crunch time, they are likely to be out ill or with a stubbed toe or something, I’d rather have a much less amazing person instead. You know the types — you wake up on that big important day and your first email is them calling in sick.

    1. Sascha*

      We had someone like that on our team leave several months ago for a different job. And she left just in time – she was about to get fired for lack of reliability. She was really great talking to clients, and a hard worker, but too many times she would leave work in the middle of the day or not come in. We’ve pretty flexible but she really pushed that flexibility too far.

    2. tcookson*

      ” or with a stubbed toe or something”

      That made me LOL.

      We do have one person who is always “with a stubbed to or something” every time there’s an after-hours event that requires all hands on deck. And after a few sessions of her “help” at these things, though, everyone else is just fine with her not being within 10 miles of us at any of these things.

  5. Lily*

    Communication is the top interpersonal deal breaker for me, because I work with so many contractors I see so seldom. If they start ignoring emails and missing appointments, I can’t discuss any other performance or interpersonal issues with them.

  6. Joey*

    I’m assuming you mean grossly falsifying a time card for employee benefit. I’ve seen two other scenarios where employees falsify time cards that don’t necessarily warrant term on the first occurrence

    1. Falsifying time that benefits the company. Employees that say come in early, do work, but don’t clock in until the official start time. (May be term for manager)
    2. Falsifying by a few minutes because it’s condoned.

    Same with theft. Taking home incidental office supplies is technically theft, even though most people don’t consider it theft.

    Here are my deal breakers:

    1. Being unreliable in almost any sense of employment.
    2. Causing problems unnecessarily.
    3. Being a “yes” man.
    4. Making unethical decisions.
    5. Making decisions that are likely to cost me a lot of money after all is said and done.
    6. Being an asshole.
    7. Making decisions without appropriately weighing the pros and cons.

    1. Anonymous*

      #3 is one of my deal-breakers in the reverse; I can’t work for managers who only want “yes” men. Not that anyone should be overly critical or contrarian, but I firmly believe that those who genuinely want nothing but “yes” men are egoists who tend to rule by fear and/or lack conviction in their own leadership abilities. So it may be a symptom rather than a cause, but it’s an easy one to spot.

        1. Bea W*

          You pretty much know it when anything you say no matter how reasonable, correct, and presented well is rejected if it doesn’t fit with what the manager wants to hear. Someone who wants a “Yes” man will shut down any expression of opinions that don’t agree with his own. He may even go so far as to act offended when disagree with. Unfortunately, it is really hard to identify these people without interacting with them for a bit because they can seem perfectly reasonable until you get to a point where your thinking diverges.

    2. Adam V*

      Falsifying a time card to benefit the company can get the company in hot water for having an employee working while off the clock. You don’t want to allow that either.

      1. KellyK*

        No, but it shouldn’t be an instant fire. It’s not the same as theft or punching someone. Depending on the company and the industry, the employee may even have thought it was expected/required.

        1. Adam V*

          I think it could be an instant-fire… of the manager. The employee shouldn’t be strongly disciplined for it, unless you get a situation where they were told by others not to keep putting in false timecards, and yet continued to do so.

          But a manager who allows employees to work off the clock is exposing the company to legal issues, and they should have had the training to know that it wasn’t kosher.

          1. Jamie*

            This. We have zero tolerance for anyone working off the clock. Any manager caught expecting or allowing it would be boxing up their stuff immediately.

            1. Joey*

              Zero tolerance as in fired or zero tolerance as in get in trouble?

              What about someone who was never given the policy or told?

              1. Jamie*

                Not possible to work in management there and not know that working people off the clock is illegal and not tolerated.

                If the tone from the top down is that pay is done legally and by the book, that message is impossible to miss.

        2. Adam V*

          BTW, I’m thinking of the situation where the manager is saying “we’re short-staffed and we need you to come in an hour early tomorrow, but we can’t pay you for that hour, so just don’t clock in until your regular start time”. The “hey, if you get here a few minutes early, you can’t start working before you clock in, and you can’t clock in until your start time” situation is a different one and I agree that the manager needs to talk to the employee if they do that more than once.

    3. KellyK*

      I think that any company where employees track their own time (as opposed to punching a clock) really needs to be clear about how much “leeway” employees have. Technically, it’s falsifying a timecard if you leave at 4:59 and mark yourself out at 5, but I don’t think anyone even vaguely reasonable would instantly fire someone over a minute, or even ten minutes.

      My personal rule is that unless told otherwise, I’ll use standard rounding based on the smallest increment the timesheet will allow me to put in. If it’s a quarter-hour, and I leave at 3:57, that’s essentially 4:00. Same if I leave at 4:06. But if it’s 4:12, then yes, I’m counting that extra quarter of an hour. (And I am anal retentive enough to try to keep track of whether I rounded up or down when I arrived in the morning, so I don’t accidentally short either the company or myself by double rounding.)

      As far as falsifying for the company’s benefit, I definitely agree that it shouldn’t be an instant fire. If someone is working off the clock, it’s their manager’s responsibility to tell them that it’s not acceptable and to address whatever problem makes them feel like they have to do it. (I’m assuming employees who are non-exempt and/or paid hourly here.) Yes, it would be necessary to fire someone if they repeatedly continued to do so, but only if you’d actually corrected the underlying issue.

      1. Jamie*

        I don’t think standard rounding would be an issue for anyone…it’s such a common practice that if you want it done differently just explain.

        Falsifying to me is an instant deal breaker, if they are knowingly beefing up their time to steal money…because if you say you worked hours you didn’t you’re stealing through payroll…no different than taking the money right out of someone’s purse. Also instant is a manager tolerated anyone working off the clock…you don’t allow anyone to violate labor laws.

        But different accounting practices is isn’t falsification.

        1. Anonymous*

          I agree that violating labor laws should be a Big Deal at most companies, but even Alison has said that at most companies, treating non-exempt employees as exempt is common practice (I believe Alison even argues that the laws around non-exempt professionals are outdated) and that being a non-exempt employee who tries to push ‘the 40-hours/week or pay me overtime’ policy could be rocking a boat that isn’t worth it for them (particularly since non-exempt employees tend to be fairly junior). And it’s even worse for them if they bring up the legality of the situation because many companies will take it as a threat and, rather than changing the situation, will begin to freeze the employee out or worse.

          So while it’s truly great that your company doesn’t tolerate practices like the above, I think it’s worth noting that it is standard fare for many, many, many companies. It’s another one of those things that is how the world does work, even though it should work another way.

          1. Anonymous*

            I know it’s been said, and I agree, that many companies classify employees incorrectly, I.e. Positions that should be non-exempt classified as exempt. But that also means that while improperly classified they get the benefit of being paid even for time off if they worked part of the week.

            I don’t recall Alison ever advising that non-exempt people should work off the clock. In fact she’s made the point that non-exempt people need to be paid for all time worked.

            I’m not condoning misclassification, but I can see where that can be done in ignorance and not malice. But requiring a non-exempt person to put in time off the clock and not paying them is theft, the same as falsifying a time card in an employees favor is stealing from the company that is stealing from the employee.

            That’s not a gray area for me. And in my environment it’s such a internal part of how we do things there is no way a manager would think it was okay…so they’d be breaking the law unnecessarily of their own accord – I think that’s a deal breaker.

  7. Just a Reader*

    For me, it’s drama, which falls under interpersonal.

    My last managerial role meant I had to get firing approval, and my boss until employees were a GIANT problem instead of a precursor to a giant problem.

    One of my hires turned out to be incredibly toxic and dramatic, but nothing fireable on its own (example, telling me her boyfriend was mad at me because she had to work late). But all of the behaviors added up equaled drama that nobody needed.

    Instead of helping her pack her bags, I ended up having to have all of our conversations mediated by HR before my boss let me pull the trigger.

    ANYWAY. Drama is a dealbreaker.

    1. Yup*

      I read something once, that every manager has a version of the Pareto principle with their employees — there’s always that 20% who command 80% of your attention with performance/interpersonal issues.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        How true that is. Great way of phrasing it and that’s what I’ve found to be true is that its a minority of employees who command a major amount of attention with performance or interpersonal issues.

    2. Jamie*

      Yep, this is why checking references is so important. Because the interpersonal stuff is harder to screen for in the interview environment.

  8. Bea W*

    1) Insta-deal breakers – Some of the same things as the other post – Dishonesty, illegal behavior on the job, unethical behavior, and behavior that puts the business or co-workers at risk of serious harm, creepy sexual behavior or harassment, being violent or threatening violence.

    Lie, commit armed robbery, and take upskirt photos all you want on your own time. Don’t do it at work, and don’t encourage your co-workers to do it at work.

  9. The Other Dawn*

    My biggest deal breaker is someone who likes to say, “It’s not my job.” You’re job description has that magical line, “Other duties as assigned.” Yes, it’s your job. This isn’t really an attitude you can change, at least in my experience.

    1. Just a Reader*

      That and people who love to say NO. Just no.

      That’s very different than, “No, but let’s talk about how we can meet the criteria,” or “No, but you might check with Bob.”

      N O on its own is a pet peeve.

      1. tcookson*

        That, or “I don’t know.” as a final statement. Not, “I don’t know, but let me check such-and-such”, or, “I don’t know, but you might ask so-and-so.” Just plain, “I don’t know.” and the subtext is, “I don’t care”.

        1. AshRad*

          Ugh I have a co-worker that does the final “I dont know” and leaves it at that. It drives me insane! Yesterday the owner of the company was looking for a file he was *sure* she had on her desk, and instead of helping him look or offering to do anything at all, she just said, “I dont know anything about that file.” And that was the end of it – she turned her back on him and went back to work.What?! When the owner of the company needs help finding something, even if you dont have it, you offer to help!

      2. Lily*

        I’m thinking that I would prefer “no” to “yes, of course!” and then not doing it, but I’m talking about people who aren’t my subordinates. Are your subordinates telling you “no”?

        1. Anonymous*

          No, but we’re a service organization, and I have a colleague who tells clients both “no” and “I don’t know.”

          We are NOT “yes” people but there’s a difference between no as part as a conversation and no as a flat-out, uncooperative, non-negotiable statement.

  10. Omne*

    For me it’s harassment or bullying. Before I was a manager I worked in some truly toxic environments where some employees unmercifully picked on others in a vicious manner. I hated it then and I was extremely vocal about it. Even though I couldn’t directly address it I made sure someone up the line did, even if it was only to shut me up.

    Now I have zero tolerance at all for it and I’m very direct in dealing with it. As I tell me new hires ” I can’t control what you think and feel about your coworkers but I can control how you treat them on the job”.

    1. coconutwater*

      Omne, If I could choose my own Manager, I’d chose you! I am glad to know there are Managers like you out there. :-)

  11. anon - don't want to be named*

    Currently at work we are having issues re: being treated like children rather than adults, which just effects us adminstrative employees. Things email more or less threatening that our break will be stopped (18 mins at break rather than 15) we have flexi but we must inform manager before leaving (no more just checking with colleagues and saying goodbye) and a sick “policy” which goes against or at least isn’t in company policy – must call manager when sick so they can discuss any “urgent” work (they can get into my.emails and check) i was off recently and was sleeping in until 11 or so by which time they coukd have.looked at my inbox!!!

  12. anon - don't want to be named*

    So in continuation to above post, this is rapidly becoming my deal breaker but before I leave I am determined to fight these ridiculous things for the people who will join the company/who stay

  13. anon*

    What’s up with the decreased posts (fewer questions per post, more recycled questions, etc)? Will Alison be retiring from the blog-writing soon?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No change in number of posts — it’s typically 3-4 a day on weekdays and 1 a day on weekends. On Fridays, one of those posts is either an open thread or a flashback post (to something older) — alternating weeks.

      But on the daily short-answers post, I’m experimenting with doing 5 questions per post instead of 7, in response to a suggestion from some commenters that it would make it easier to follow the various threads discussing each question if there weren’t quite so many of them combined in one post.

      1. Anonymous*

        I like less questions in the short answers. The comments can be hard to follow with a lot of questions.

        1. Windchime*

          Agree, and sometimes when there were 7, some poor person would get no comments at all. Five seems more manageable, and still gives us lots of variety.

          I have to say that I also like Flashback Friday. It’s fun to see new comments and opinions on classic letters to AAM.

  14. Carrie in Scotland*

    Yes, I like this idea, as every so often there is a question like the ‘Is my name (Star) holding me back from getting a job?’ Where it is a shame (for the other question askers) that almost the entire lot of posts concentrate on the 1 question.

  15. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

    Blame shifters. Won’t tolerate it, don’t want them around.

    You can tell them in the first week or two, when a correction is made and the immediate response is “I wasn’t told” instead of “Thanks for telling me, I’ll fix that up right now.”

    1. Lily*

      Do they belong in the larger category of people who have a poor memory but haven’t figured it out? They shift blame, and don’t keep agreements because they don’t remember.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        That’s a good question.

        We all have deficits and have to develop coping mechanisms for them. It’s unfortunate when people’s coping mechanism is to blame somebody else because there’s not much of anything we can do next to help that person.

        “I wasn’t told” not only implies poor training, but also shuts off communication to help the person next.

        It’s entirely possible they “weren’t told” whatever because formal training can only cover a small percent of what happens next. What we do requires learning most of the job as situations come up, a new person needs to be open to that. It’s also possible that they “were told” and either forgot or didn’t realize the thing they were told applied to this particular situation. The former isn’t unusual and no big deal for new people, unless their reflex is to blame shift defensively.

        Teamwork, cooperation and positive energy are core values. Blame shifters aren’t teachable and don’t work out.

  16. Sarah in NJ*

    Or you could be like my manager and have no deal breakers. My coworker forged a bunch of signatures on clients’ documents and when I found it my manager asked me not to tell anyone. Coworker was reprimanded, I think? And now my boss doesn’t understand why I don’t trust either of them.

  17. Cassie*

    I guess my # 1 dealbreaker would be “attitude”. For me, a poor attitude contributes to the following:

    1. Poor performance – you don’t even care that you can’t consistently produce work (whatever it is for your job title) with minimal errors, in an appropriate time frame. Or you can but you don’t feel like it.

    2. Poor interpersonal skills – you think your job is more important than your coworkers or that you are irreplaceable. You think other people are dumb because they don’t act/think/dress like you.

    3. Poor communication – you shout at people because they’re too stupid to know you are right; you are always right. You can’t be bothered to explain anything longer than 2 words. People should be able to read your mind.

    Obviously, if you don’t have the technical skills for a specific position, there’s not much the employer can do about that, but if you have strong soft skills and the “right” attitude, I’d be much more inclined to find another role within the organization for you.

    I keep hearing people at work talking about how it’s impossible to deal with a bully (aka mean girl). It’s part of her personality, they tell me, that’s just how she is. And I get it – we all have different personalities, and I wouldn’t want everyone to be cookie-cutter-cookies. BUT I think we can change *behavior* – it all depends on whether the person wants to or not (and how much of an incentive there is, or how much of a consequence there is, to do so).

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      “Obviously, if you don’t have the technical skills for a specific position, there’s not much the employer can do about that, but if you have strong soft skills and the “right” attitude, I’d be much more inclined to find another role within the organization for you.”

      I’ll re-purpose somebody with a good attitude five times if I have to, to try to find the right fit for them….and if I end up having term them be very sad about the loss.

      It’s pretty rare. We can usually find something for someone who lets us work with them.

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