my new coworker is rude to clients, my company won’t give me my personal laptop back, and more

It’s five short answers to five short questions. Here we go…

1. My new coworker is rude and hostile to clients

I have a new coworker who sits behind me and who I have only known for a month. She is super nice to me, but lately I have noticed her having outbursts over the phone at patients. I work in the healthcare industry and we have access to sensitive information and sometimes we call people who don’t feel comfortable talking to us. Lately, about one to two times a day, she has been getting in arguments with patients and acts rude/ somewhat hostile, and instead of just resolving the problem professionally, she seems to not understand normal customer service ethics. She has told me several times that she has “anger problems” and has shared personal problems she has. After these heated arguments, she gets so upset that she doesn’t do anymore work for about 20-30 minutes and keeps the negative attitude throughout the day.

This week, I have a trainee, and since we can typically hear everything that goes on with this coworker, I’m afraid this is going to negatively affect my training, as well as bring complaints towards my department because of her. I am also very worried about my coworker’s well-being. She needs this job, so I feel guilty if I could possibly get her fired, but I don’t know how to handle this. I don’t want to gossip about this to other people, but my manager and her boss respect me and I feel like this is something I should mention to them. Would the best way to confront this situation be to confront the coworker (I’ve tried casually mentioning advice on dealing with patients who don’t want to confirm info a couple times), talk to the person who trained her, or go straight to my manager?

If you’ve tried giving her advice and she’s not taking it, you really should talk to your manager about what you’re seeing. The behavior you’re describing is serious, so it’s something your manager should be in the loop about. You can say something like, “Lately Jane has been getting into arguments with patients and being hostile with them once or twice a day, every day, and then seeming very upset for the rest of the day afterwards. I’ve made some suggestions to her, but it’s continuing.” You can add, “Do you have advice on how else I might approach her about this?” if that makes you more comfortable, but this is serious enough that you don’t need to frame it that way.

A good manager isn’t going to fire your coworker on the spot, but will lay out clearer expectations for her and give her a chance to meet them. But if she’s going to eventually get fired over this, that’s going to happen sooner or later anyway — it’s just a question of how long it takes your manager to discover the problem. (And the longer it goes on, the harder it will likely be for your coworker to change — plus, she’s doing real damage to your company meanwhile.)

2. I gave my office my personal laptop for repair and now they won’t return my personal files

I work from home and was using my personal laptop for work. My laptop stopped working suddenly and since it had work files that we needed, my boss agreed to have a computer person at the company look at it. I sent the laptop to the guy and they were able to take the hard drive out as it was still working. He told me to he would return the hard drive to me and I could plug it in to any computer with a USB and still be able to access the files.

My manager ended up sending me an old laptop with some of the work files I needed and hardly any of my personal files. He will not respond to me when I ask for the personal files, which I clearly stated from the beginning that I needed also, since the laptop was a personal laptop that I bought with my own money. I email him about it and get no response. What can I do now? He is also giving me about 10 hours a week now when he was giving me 30, so I think he has found someone else to do my work now that he has all of the files. Anyways, I am wondering if there is anything I can do to get my hard drive back since in my opinion he is basically stealing it.

For starters, stop emailing and pick up the phone and call. Have a conversation with him and find out what’s going on. If you can’t reach him that way and your office is near enough to you, go there in person and talk to him. Meanwhile, you should also try contacting the tech guy directly and state clearly that you need your hard drive returned to you.

I do wonder if the reason you’re getting the runaround on this is because they didn’t keep the hard drive and now don’t have your personal files and are too cowardly to tell you. But you won’t know until you get more assertive about talking to one or both of them.

3. I manage a team of writers who aren’t great writers

I am a writer who currently manages one person and have been told that my team will soon increase to five. However, the people I will manage are not great writers. The expectation is that I will somehow help them meet our CEO’s high standards through my burgeoning leadership skills. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that this is possible! I’m unable to devote all my time to development (I’ve tried this in the past with only limited success) and yet I still need staff who can create effective communications under pressure. Do you have any tips on improving the performance of an average team, let alone a team of writers? These employees have many skills to offer, but written communication isn’t their strong suit.

It’s very, very difficult to make people better writers, at least not without a significant investment of time — which usually isn’t the right use of a manager’s time and resources. If writing is a key skill needed for the job, you may be looking at a team of people who aren’t right for the jobs they’re in. You can certainly try the usual course of action for subpar performance — lay out clear expectations, explain where they’re falling short, and give them a chance to meet that bar — but I’d also start talking now with your own manager about the gap between your staff’s skills and what you need, so that you’re both on the same page about the situation and how to proceed.

4. My coworker told me she might not return from vacation

I work in a health and weight-loss field, and as you can imagine, January is a very busy season for us. I will be out of the country for my honeymoon, and a coworker informed me that she will be on approved vacation while I’m away. We both have coverage, which is great.

I am concerned, however, that my coworker will not return. She has told me about conflicts with our manager, and she mentioned that her vacation will be indefinite. Our manager does not know this. Although I have coverage in place, she does not, which is obviously problematic given our high volume of clients at that time and a substitute who may not be aware of the circumstances.

My gut tells me to speak up and tell my manager. Not only does this absence affect me, but it affects clients, and the people who’ve willingly stepped in for us during this time. Is it appropriate to give my manager notice that my coworker may not return even though I don’t have proof?

Yes. You shouldn’t make it sound conclusive if what she told you wasn’t definite, but you can simply relay what your coworker told you. For instance: “Jane mentioned to me that her vacation would be ‘indefinite’ and that might not return. I don’t know if she was serious or not, but I thought I should pass that along to you.”

5. My employer makes me wait to clock in until it gets busy

Is it against labor laws for my employer to keep me on premises and make me wait to clock in for my shift until it gets busy, stating that they need me there and ready to clock in when it gets busy, sometimes for hours at a time?

Yes, that’s illegal. If you’re required to be there, you must be paid for that time.

{ 227 comments… read them below }

  1. MR*

    For #1: Yes, this is a significant impact to not only the company, but what you are doing (training). It’s imperative that your manager knows what is going on, so they can handle it (hopefully sooner, rather than later).

    2: Ug, this sucks. This is why you need to use a cloud based service such as Dropbox for your personal documents. Hopefully everyone reading this uses something similar to backup their stuff. If the hard drive on your computer goes, you will be fine if you have your stuff backed up in the cloud.

    3. Alison is spot on. It takes a long time to develop great writers and if they aren’t good now, they won’t be great next week. Make sure the CEO is aware of this and hopefully you can get some changes made!

    4. Give the heads up as Alison suggests. From there, it’s up to your employer as to how it is handled.

    5. Yep. There are many articles in the archives here on how to handle labor/time violations. Check them out and proceed accordingly.

    1. EJ*

      #2 – any local backup would do as well, large USB storage is easy to come by these days. Cloud services certainly are convenient, but are not without risks.

      1. Emily K*

        Yeah, I have an external HD as my primary backup and just use Dropbox for files that I frequently want to access from multiple machines (home, work, mobile). The cost of a 100GB hard drive that you can use forever is roughly equivalent to just one year of 100GB cloud space, and I’ve had my 100GB external for several years now without needing any more space.

        1. Marmite*

          In fact they’re cheap enough these days that’s it’s worth buying two and backing up important files twice, then storing the hard drives separately. Particularly so if you are deleting files from your computer/laptop once backed up otherwise you are still just at one copy of everything.

          I’m wary of cloud storage for files with sensitive personal information (medical stuff, passport copies, etc.) but I do use Flickr as a free extra backup for photos I’d hate to lose.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I just bought a huge HD to back up all three of my computers (including the wheezy old one, which is XP and I don’t have a restore disc for the OS). My most important files go with me everywhere on a flash drive.

        1. sunny-dee*

          My brother backs up all his stuff to a couple of external HDs, and leaves one at my house. He just swaps it out every few months, but it’s an easy way to get offsite storage.

          As for an XP restore disc, Microsoft support may actually make one available to you if you need it. I haven’t asked for a restore disc, but their customer service has been excellent, at least in my experience. YMMV.

      3. Anonymous*

        More specifically, cloud services have huge risks. The cloud service has unlimited rights to peruse through any data you store with them. They also have absolutely no guaranteed level of service – as in, they are not required to keep your files, can delete them at will, and can be subject to courts in any number of countries seizing your data or revoking access to it. There is also no significant legal or practical barrier to cloud services copying or searching your files.

        If you want a reliable backup of your data as a typical home user, just put a copy of it on another hard drive. There are tools to do this on an automated schedule if you have multiple hard drives in your (usually desktop) computer, or you can do it manually.

        If you want access to files (that are NOT sensitive) from many different computers, then use drop box or similar services. Never rely on them as backups, never use them for sensitive information.

        1. Raluca*

          Can you please share some tools for automated data backup on an external HDD? Or something like a more affordable version of Apple’s Time Machine? All wireless HDDs I’ve found so far only allow wireless access from tabs and smartphones, while the actual backup is manual via USB.

  2. Pete*

    #4 – Follow your gut if it’s usually pretty smart about these things, but I would not tell my manager. The vacation might give your co-worker a chance to resolve the issues she’s had. If you tell the manager then she, the same conflicts have been noticed, may very well go on the offensive when the co-worker isn’t ready. (It shouldn’t be a surprise that Alison, A Manager, recommended informing the manager.) It doesn’t matter if you say it “wasn’t definite;” I expect the manager would start the paper trail….

    1. PEBCAK*

      I agree. People quit jobs with little notice sometimes. It happens. It’s really not your business, in this case.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      (It shouldn’t be a surprise that Alison, A Manager, recommended informing the manager.)

      You know, I’m going to take issue with that. I advise people all the time not to share things with their manager if it’s not in their best interest. I certainly think that reasonable people can answer this question different ways, but I hardly have a record of being blindly pro-manager.

      1. PuppyKat*

        As a long-time reader, my opinion is that Alison maintains objectivity and responds to the facts presented to her.

        1. Judy*

          I think that Alison is generally impartial, but I was surprised that this was not in the “If it’s not causing problems with your work, then don’t tell your manager.” If you see one of your co-workers coming out of a competitor’s business with an interview suit on, should you report it? At this point it’s just speculation.

          I was also confused by the comment that they both had coverage, and then the next paragraph stated that the OP had coverage but the co-worker didn’t.

          1. Anon*

            I think OP meant that they both have coverage for their scheduled time off, but the co-worker certainly wouldn’t have coverage for any days beyond that.

          2. Liz*

            I took that as meaning that there was coverage for the approved vacation but not for afterwards.

          3. AB Normal*

            “I think that Alison is generally impartial, but I was surprised that this was not in the “If it’s not causing problems with your work, then don’t tell your manager.”

            The OP wrote “Not only does this absence affect me, but it affects clients, and the people who’ve willingly stepped in for us during this time.”

            Even if not causing problems directly with her work, it certainly looks like it will end up affecting the entire team and quite possible even the OP directly if the coworker doesn’t return, given that there’s no more coverage available after the coworker’s scheduled vacation ends.

            1. Anon*

              So even if the co-worker gave the usual two weeks notice, you don’t think this would still be a problem? I think it comes across as a little pious to try to pretend like we’re acting in the interest of one person, at the expense of another.

            2. Judy*

              Where does it stop? “Her mom was just diagnosed with cancer and she might want to take FMLA.” “She’s gaining weight, she might be pregnant, she said 2 years ago she was wondering about staying home, better tell the manager.” At this point it’s all speculation, until something happens and it does affect the OP’s work.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                The coworker directly said that her vacation will be indefinite, contrary to the arrangements she’s made so far. That’s not speculation; that’s relaying a direct statement that she doesn’t plan to return when she said she would.

                1. Anonymous*

                  Yeah, but people say things all the time when they’re frustrated. Doesn’t mean it was actually a statement of truth. It’s still speculation. Even if the colleague meant it at the time, she could cool down after a break. This has such serious implications for the colleague (she will probably end up losing her job), it’s not worth reporting on speculation. People quit. Sometimes without notice, and sure that sucks. But it’s another animal to take a random comment and enable someone to be pushed out the door.

        1. TychaBrahe*

          Your response is incredibly disrespectful. Differences of opinion between women are not catfights. I hope you aren’t as dismissive of the women you work with.

          1. John B Public*

            …except this was a difference of opinion between Pete and Allison. Why can’t catfights be between any gender? I’ve been”Meow”ed before.

    3. Grace*

      I second Pete. OP #4’s motives seem disingenuous to me to stir up problems for a co-worker based on a “might” happen scenario (if the co-worker doesn’t return from vacation). What’s to say that the manager isn’t causing strife in the workplace and the co-worker needs a cooling off period? If this manager was a better manager wouldn’t the workplace be a happier place, happier employees, better morale and happier customers?

      1. Anonymous*

        Wha…? There’s nothing in the letter about the manager not being a good enough manager.

        1. BCW*

          It does say there are conflicts between the manager and co-worker. So that doesn’t mean that she is a bad manager, but it does mean there are issues that are probably being handled poorly on both sides.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I wouldn’t conclude that. Poor performers, in particular, are somewhat likely to have conflict with managers who are trying to get them to change the way they’re operating. Sure, it’s possible that the manager is part of the problem too, but there’s nothing here to indicate that it’s the case.

    4. WIncredible*

      You’re right. Coworker couldn’t schedule vacation in the “busy season” without approval, so for that I wouldn’t worry. As for not coming back from vacation…really, not your business unless you’re trying to brown-nose and gain manager approval.

    5. hamster*

      Maybe she was fired/let go and this is a way to communicate it with her colleagues while keeping them vague

    6. some1*

      “(It shouldn’t be a surprise that Alison, A Manager, recommended informing the manager.)”

      Um…I doubt Alison first job ever until now was always CEO. Even after becoming a manager, she probably reported to someone above her and understands what it’s like to have a boss.

    7. Sara*

      I’m not entirely sure the coworker won’t return, it’s not clear. Even the OP is questioning proof. I also don’t think Pete means any disrespect, or at least I hope not. Alison gives great advice but I do disagree here on telling the employer that the employee won’t return. That’s up to the employee to say. But it’s not wise of the employee to say why they did, as there could be consequences, such as we’ve read here. Sometimes you have to kept a manager/employee sort things out, and adding your two sense even if accurate isn’t necessary? People are allowed to quit jobs, and yes it will almost always inconvenience a company if they don’t have an opportunity to quickly fill a vacancy but that’s a business risk. If this persons job is so critical then I’d hope some planning went into thus from the company. But inconvenience is just a short term thing when dealing with turnover. Not a second hand story to pass through.

    8. Lanya*

      I agree with Pete. It says it in the title, “coworker told me she might not return from vacation”, with ‘might’ being the operative word. This is not the OP’s problem and not the OP’s business to share, and could have disastrous results to the coworker, who might have just been venting. People make comments like this all of the time.

      I feel this way because it happened to me. One time at work, I said “I can’t take this anymore!” out of frustration with a project, and a concerned coworker thought I was going to leave the company. They told their manager, and a day later I was called in to talk to the CEO. I had no idea what it was about until I realized how my comment had been misconstrued with a “whisper down the alley” affect. It was incredibly awkward and uncomfortable and put me in a very bad light. Luckily, I was able to convince the CEO that I wasn’t planning on leaving…but my working relationship with that coworker was never the same and the whole situation fostered a lot of mistrust all around. I wish my coworker had minded his own business.

  3. Ruffingit*

    #1: If a person has anger problems, customer service IS NOT the field for them. Just saying.

    1. Chinook*

      Especially if it is customer service in the healthcare field where you are potentially dealing with people when they are not in the best state of mind. I have dealt with an angry report when trying to find a family doctor and she escalated my anger and frustration due to her reaction.

      1. Chinook*

        I should add that her reaction to me caused me to sound suicidal in her mind and she sent the police for a wellness check. They weren’t impressed when they found someone of sound mind and body.

    2. The Clerk*

      There really aren’t that many fields which don’t involve customer service in some way. Even IT or accounting, for example, which I was always told I should “do” (I guess you just sign up or something) because I have problems with social anxiety, deal with customers all the time. Higher level positions probably don’t have as much, but you can’t start your career there.

      I’ve had people tell me I shouldn’t be in customer service (one of my jobs) or education (the other job) if I struggle with anxiety, but it’s not like I have a lot of choices unless I want to work in a warehouse the rest of my life. It’s a little disingenuous to say someone shouldn’t be in a particular field when right now it’s hard to start any career.

      1. That Tall Girl With The Big Hair*

        There’s a difference between social anxiety and anger issues, though admittedly one can feed off of the other.

      2. Anonymous*

        I’m very shy/awkward/suck at phone conversations, so I’ve always avoided customer service centered jobs, and my field of study was for something that only involved some customer service. I can’t find a job in my field though, so I’m applying to customer service centered jobs now. I’m kind of worried that everyone is going to be able to tell I’m not a people person in interviews, and that even if I got a job I might not do well at it. Does any other shy/awkward people have experience with customer service being something they got used to and better at?

        1. Lynn Whitehat*

          No, sorry. I had the opposite experience–I waited tables because that was the job I could get, and it never got any easier. I wish I could say you get used to it, but I never did. The tipping thing in particular set off a nasty vicious circle. Being judged on the spot like that triggered all my anxieties, which made customers unhappy (it feels weird and yucky to have a jumpy, nervous waitress), which caused them to leave low tips, and round and round we go.

        2. Laura*

          Depends on what your particular issues are. I’m both incredibly introverted and incredibly shy, and I suffer from a host of social-anxiety issues on top of all that…but I’m really, really good at customer service so I keep ending up in jobs that involve a lot of it. Doing it in person (e.g., at a front desk or in retail) is awful for me, but I do fine with positions that are mainly phone support, because for me that’s enough levels of removed from the person that it doesn’t trigger my anxieties. I do still tend to get a little twitchy when people try to be chatty with me (like asking where I’m located, or about the weather — anything outside the scope of the issues I’m here to help with), but it happens rarely enough that it doesn’t make me curl up into a ball at the end of the day. Get to know your issues and triggers and that will help you narrow down the jobs that will be best for you and that you will be best for.

          Incidentally, I also suck at phone conversations in every day life, but — with the exception of the chatty people mentioned above — phone support is not really the same thing, as you’re not expected to make small talk or fill up the silence with anything more than “I’m just waiting for that screen to come up, please bear with me.”

      3. Ruffingit*

        Someone with anger issues is going to find it very difficult to survive in a customer service field where you interact with others on the phone all day long. This is especially true in the health care field as the original post illustrates because people with health problems are already in a fragile state of mind, they do not need someone with anger problems on the other end of the line.

        It’s the same idea behind why I would not work as a manager. My temperament does not suit me for management positions though certainly my background would allow me to apply for those jobs.

        1. The Clerk*

          I’m still unclear what she’s allowed to do for her living, though. Like I said, almost every entry-level job is customer service oriented. Until she moves out of entry level, she almost certainly can’t afford counseling, just like I can’t afford it for anxiety because both my jobs are part time with no insurance.

          I admit that a medical office is a particularly bad place for her to be, as would a grade school, but with “entry level” translating to “3-5 years’ experience with a degree in one of these two specific majors for $8 an hour” these days, I don’t think anyone can afford to wait around for a job that’s the perfect fit.

          And honestly, where can you work that anger issues aren’t a problem?

      4. Observer*

        There is a big difference between anger issues and social anxiety. And there is a huge difference between a job whose PRIMARY function puts in constant contact with strangers and which absolutely requires positive – neutral interactions at all times vs a job which sometimes requires interactions with people, and not necessarily strangers.

        If someone has anger issues, or anxiety issues, that interfere with the basics of their job, they need to find another field, even if the choices are very, very limited, or get a handle on those issues.

  4. Confused*

    OP #1
    Please, please talk to your manager. I have had several encounters with rude/angry people when trying to visit doctors or get health information. It is one of the worst and most upsetting times to have to deal with bad customer service.
    I think a lot of physicians are unaware of what goes on at the front desk between staff and patients because they are either interacting with one or the other.

      1. Elle D*

        I am about to switch doctors due to the staff as well. Various members of the staff have come across as rude, disorganized or some combination of the two, making it difficult for me to schedule appointments or get necessary information. OP, please report your co-worker’s behavior. Everyone has bad days sometimes, but this pattern of rudeness/anger makes it clear that your co-worker is not a good fit for a customer service role.

        1. S*

          Yes, please report this person.
          I have switched doctors after I witnessed an employee (front desk) of the office yell at a patient in front of 10 people waiting to see the doctor!

      2. Just a Reader*

        I switched dentists due to the staff. Well, the receptionist. His wife. Who would call and leave me nasty messages about missing my appointment while i was sitting in their waiting room, on time for my appointment.

        1. tesyaa*

          Not the same thing, but this reminds me of the time a school principal called me to say one of my children had cut class… at the exact same time I took her out of school for a dentist’s appointment, signing her out per procedure (and chatting with the school secretary for good measure). She hadn’t checked the sign-out log before she jumped to the conclusion that the kid was cutting. Oh well, the kids no longer go to that school.

    1. LisaLyn*

      I agree with these other comments and I have also wondered if perhaps the doctor doesn’t know what goes on at the front desk. I also don’t think that every doctor understands the importance of having really good front desk people.

      1. Confused*

        I also think it might because physicians are trained to be physicians (diagnose, prescribe treatment, etc.). I don’t think they receive any training or in running a practice and managing staff. So even if they do become aware of a staffing issue they may not always know how to deal with it.

      2. Wren*

        yes! one of the specialist physicians I go to has amazing office staff! It’s such a breath of fresh air compared to a couple of other offices I go to including my primary care physician’s whose staff are sour, inefficient, and outright obstructive. I don’t need them to meet the “amazing” standard of the first office. If they just met the “normal” standard that they have at my dentist’s office, I’d be entirely happy.

        I always wonder if I should try to talk to my doctors about it. I certainly would never be anything but honey to their staff for fear they would deny me all but the worst appointment times.

    2. True That*

      Rude and dismissive behavior among healthcare provider staff is unfortunately not uncommon. It’s another indication that healthcare is not a free market.

    3. ChristineSW*

      I think a lot of physicians are unaware of what goes on at the front desk between staff and patients because they are either interacting with one or the other.

      This, a million times this! It’s becoming more and more common in my opinion, and causes unnecessary frustration.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      The office manager may be able to do something. When I had a problem with the actual doctor, that’s who they told me to go to. (He sent me a letter denying my BC and then wouldn’t get back to me when I called to discuss it.)

      1. Anonymous*

        What??? Why would he deny BC? I didn’t think BC was something that is typically granted/denied. It just is. Like tylenol.

        1. Ruffingit*

          They might deny it if a person had risk factors making BC a poor choice such as the person has previously had issues with blood clots. Not saying that was the issue with Elizabeth, just giving you an idea of why a doctor might not prescribe BC. It’s not something that everyone can or should be taking, it’s a drug like anything else that can have side effects for certain people.

          1. Emma*

            Or it’s because some physicians, nurses, other healthcare providers, pharmacists, etc. have personal moral objections to providing or helping to provide certain types of reproductive health care.

            If it were a legitimate medical contraindication, I cannot imagine the doctor would send a rejection letter without counseling the patient first on the decision.

            1. Ruffingit*

              I would think they would counsel the patient first too, but then I’ve seen a lot of weird crap happen with medical stuff so it wouldn’t surprise me if the doctor didn’t do that. Though, again, certainly he should.

            2. Mander*

              This kind of thing annoys me. It’s fine if you have that objection, but surely a professional should tell their patient or customer the reason why they won’t fulfil that request?

        2. Elizabeth West*

          He found out I had a blood clot (14 years earlier, and it wasn’t even from the BC I was taking). He said it was contraindicated and he couldn’t in good conscience provide me with BC pills any more. But what burned me was that he sent me a letter, then ignored my calls to discuss the situation. I had to complain to the office manager to get him to call me.

          He left not long after; I don’t think he wanted to be in family practice. The doctor I got after that was wonderful, but he also refused to put me back on the pill. Then he moved to Hawaii, the lucky dog. Now I have a NEW doc who seems nice, but I’ve barely talked to him.

  5. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

    #3 creative, both design and writing is under my umbrella and believe firmly that you can’t ask someone to manage creative without letting them pick their own team. My job was to get the right leaders, their job was to build the right team.

    Is the problem truly this fundamental?

    but written communication isn’t their strong suit.

    For heaven’s sake, there are a million writers out there looking for a job. It is challenging enough to guide people who *can* write to write to purpose/audience, to write with the appropriate voice, etc., that’s all challenging enough without having to work with “writers” who don’t have written communication as a strong suit.

    Hopefully your boss will see that you can’t do your job without being given the proper tools, which in your case would be starting with writers who can write.

    1. Kerry*

      For heaven’s sake, there are a million writers out there looking for a job.

      My thoughts exactly. It’s in no way like there’s a shortage in the market right now. That said, my second thought was that they might not be paying enough to attract really good writers, as I’ve got the impression from my freelance friends that it’s not a particularly valued skill at the moment. That might not be the case at all, but I wonder if the budget for the positions has something to do with the quality of staff they’re getting?

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        Yeah, I think freelance writing is like freelance art. There are tons of people wanting to pay pennies, and tons of people (many not good at all) willing to work for pennies so it’s all full of noise and glutted up.

        A glamor place could get a good, just starting out writer to come work for peanuts. A non-glamorous place (us, we have no glamor) needs to pay in the acceptable range for college graduates of any stripe (that isn’t a highly technical degree). People who write well have other options for a day job besides being A Writer.

        1. just laura*

          Off-topic (sorry), but hasn’t someone posted about how to research what to charge for freelance writing gigs? Thanks!

      2. Elizabeth West*

        It’s a TREMENDOUSLY important skill, but unfortunately, too many people see it as something they can toss off themselves because they took a basic English class in college. :P

    2. Joey*

      #3 creative, both design and writing is under my umbrella and believe firmly that you can’t ask someone to manage creative without letting them pick their own team.

      Oh please! Completely crap, not to mention unreasonable. That’s like saying you can’t have a high performing team without nothing but all star players. If that’s your excuse that’s a cop out and a bit primadonna-ish.

      1. John B Public*

        Ummm, no. If you saddle someone with people who are fundamentally bad at writing, don’t expect to get much out of them- you’ll either get a little something decent or a ton of unusable crap. And the decent thing will probably be from the manager.

          1. fposte*

            Agreed. As long as they were reasonably chosen for relevant capabilities, it doesn’t matter who hired them. It took me a minute to remember which of my writers I hired and which I didn’t, in fact.

            Unfortunately, in this case, it sounds like their writing ability isn’t being well assessed at hiring. OP, I would suggest that you ask to be involved in any future hiring and that it involve writing exercises, because I suspect that the current team was hired without that.

          2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            That’s not exactly what I was saying. I’m using “pick your own team” the same way I’d use it with a professional baseball manager or football coach.

            A new manager of the Phillies wouldn’t start with an empty clubhouse and start signing players but, it’s my strong belief that if he is accountable for the overall results, he has to be able to pick his own team to achieve those results.

            If he doesn’t have pitching, PTB saying “there are plenty of guys here, just use the extra third basemen and teach them how to pitch” doesn’t work.

            1. Anonymous*

              And just because you *do* pick your own team doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed stellar results. (Andy Reid, I’m looking at you.)

              1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

                Yo! ‘sup?


                I was also thinking of Andy Reid when I wrote that….no guarantees!

    3. LMW*

      Ugh, yes! I started a previous job with a staff of contract writers (who were actually being paid really, really well) who just weren’t delivering what we needed. They were all really experienced in different types of writing, but even after months of coaching, I couldn’t get the content where it needed to be without basically rewriting everything (and I am NOT that kind of editor!). It took me a year to gradually convince management that we should find some additional freelancers who knew our niche, and then gradually let those other writers contracts lapse. And I felt horrible, because they never should have been given long term contracts like that in the first place.

      1. Kay*

        OP #3 here, thanks for all the advice! I agree that there are many talented writers out there, but my company is unable or unwilling to hire externally. The one person we did hire (who trained to be a writer) is still mediocre at best. At the moment I am stuck rewriting everyone else’s work, which doubles my workload. I don’t want to end up in the same position as LMW, especially when these employees didn’t set out to be writers in the first place!

        1. LMW*

          This actually kind of reminds me of either an open thread or question last week – where the OP was in a position where there were three elements, one was graphic design, and she was struggling with that role and felt that she might lose her job. Kind of the same thing here – if these people are being placed in this type of role without the background or really the desire to be writers, they’re being set up for mediocrity, if not failure. Not fair to anyone.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You need to go to your manager and really push on this issue. Don’t resign yourself to them being unwilling to make external hires. If you can show a strong case for why it’s needed here, that could change.

        3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Yeah, I sensed that was the situation. It sounds like a bright idea I would have had in the old days. Let’s get Gladys in shipping to also be a writer because I have seen her send emails!

          Hopefully you will be able to get commitment from the higher ups sooner rather than later to set things up for success.

        4. Joey*

          Ooh. You’re doomed to mediocrity at best. It might be easier instead of persuading them to hire externally to at least allow you to COMPARE your internal candidates to external candidates.

          But I wonder if the pay is so low the only candidates they can get are internal ones. If that’s the case its hard to expect great without commensurate comp.

        5. JR*

          What type of writers do you have? Creative, technical, marketing, or something else? What, specifically, is poor about their writing skills? They don’t understand the subject, they can’t use the tools, they use inappropriate grammar or structure? What are the goals of the writing and who is the audience? Some contracts require documentation be submitted just so the box can be checked. Does your CEO have realistic expectations given the schedule, volume, availability of SMEs, etc.?

          It does take time to overcome any of these deficits, but the way to resolve them varies. For some, effective training is available. For others, like CEO expectations, a level of honesty may be required for the present, with a plan for how to improve the skills that are deficient.

          1. Kay*

            The roles are technical / internal comms and the employees have kind of risen through the ranks (i.e. didn’t set out to be writers). I actually think the pay is pretty decent for the role (~55k … not amazing but more than I could have dreamed of when I was an unemployed writer).

            Typically the writers understand the subject well but don’t communicate clearly. Structure is the main problem — in general and at a sentence level.

            Joey – Thanks for the great idea to compare internal candidates to external. That should help build my case to hire the best we can get :)

            1. MissDisplaced*

              Maybe your company can spring for some training?

              If they do understand the subject well, but are having issues with the technical aspect of writing there are a number of one or two-day seminars available out there specifically for technical and business writing. It might not solve ALL the problems, but it would at least give them a good review, which could end up lightening your load on editing and rewriting.

              1. MissDisplaced*

                Skillpath and National Seminars are a few that I’ve seen, and they cost about $99 to $199 per person.

                I once went to a Skillpath seminar for a different topic (Excel, I think) and found it to be pretty good. I also sent some of my design team to various ones over the years. They won’t learn EVERYthing of course, but they can be helpful for the right people.

            2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

              This is good info.

              Okay, if the magic wish fairy granted you a team of fabulous writers, you’d have the opposite problem — people who could write well who didn’t know the subject well. This is a current bit of tension in my group and it’s not easily solved.

              Going on only this information, I’d choose to restructure so that the technical people feed work to a re-writer. This takes the burden off the technical people to be evaluated unfairly on their writing ability, and also helps train the re-writer in the technical areas. A smart cookie re-writer will be able to pick up enough on her own to eventually create the source material on her own.

              Hopefully the technical people don’t mind be re-written. If they do, well, yay to managing creative and how much fun is that.

        6. Elizabeth West*

          One thing that might help the writers is a style sheet, if they’re consistently making the same mistakes over and over. It’s a bit time-consuming to prepare, but you can use it to help them achieve your expectations. It’s basically a sheet with some rules laid out as to the usage you want them to follow. They’re typically used for specific documents. If your team is producing these on a regular basis, instead of just doing random documents, the sheet can help them stay consistent.

          If they just plain can’t write coherent sentences, then your company is going to have to set some standards for who does that kind of work and test them on it.

          1. JR*

            +1. OP could even prepare a basic outline for the various types of documents to help them organize their thoughts and go down a standardized path. Also, implement a formal peer and technical review process to help ensure accuracy, understandability, and that the styles are followed.

  6. Apollo Warbucks*

    #1 I used to work in a call centre and our calls were all recorded, the quality assurance team used to listen to a random sample to see whT we were getting upbro on calls maybe you could give some times and dates to your boss so they can listen to some calls and address the problem from there.

  7. Not So NewReader*

    OP 2. I am not clear on why they gave you an old laptop. Why didn’t he just put a fresh hard drive into your own laptop and move the files over?
    I am also confused about the part were now the boss has your files so he is cutting your hours. Does this mean your personal files? I don’t understand why he did not have a copy of your work before now.
    Definitely call the tech and speak with him directly. He might have the hard drive right there and just give it to you. That would simplify things considerably. (If you need further help with the hard drive you might want to find a different repair place.)

    1. LisaLyn*

      From the letter, I think the hard drive was ok — it was the laptop (motherboard, who knows) that had the issue. That’s why they were able to get stuff off of the hard drive by hooking it up to something else externally.

      Being an IT person myself and looking at the state of my office, I would bet money the guy still has the hard drive. Not all hoarders are IT people, but … ;)

  8. Jamie*

    And this is why using personal computers to store work stuff makes my brain itchy.

    They should give the hard drive back so the OP can get the files back herself – once IT got the work files back it’s not their job to repair her personal computer or restore personal stuff.

    I absolutely agree they should give the hd back, and if they tossed it they should tell the OP, but she should focus on the return of her laptop including hd, not her files. Her files aren’t their problem.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      Ha. My IT guy did not read this thread but he still had to apply anti itch lotion in the middle of the night from my reading it. Transference through the tubes of the interwebs or something.

    2. Bea W*

      Or using your work computer to store personal files. I have a company laptop and a personal computer. The two only mix if they must, and then I take the files from one and move them to the other as soon as I can.

      1. the gold digger*

        Related: If you store paper files at work, perhaps before you quit and your successor goes through those files, you might want to discard

        1. the printout of your new bank account information, including account number, your address, your phone, your email, and the last four of your SSN
        2. a photocopy of your passport
        3. your wife’s 401k statement
        4. a subpoena you received to testify in a criminal trial
        5. a 360 evaluation

    3. fposte*

      As we’ve discussed, I’m in academics so I’m not the only one who uses a personal laptop for work and our IT folks are in permanent itch mode. But I would treat handing my laptop over to my very beloved IT folks just like handing it to Best Buy–I make a copy of everything before it leaves my possession. Additionally, that’s enough of an SOP that IT may well be assuming that the OP is happily using her backups.

      1. A Teacher*

        Same here. Any PowerPoints I create or videos I want to show are on my personal laptop. The teacher computer is great, I do like my HP all in one but not conducive for use at home and doesn’t have the ability to be hooked to my smart board because of the required location of the smart board. My IT guy put a licensed app on my personal laptop for that.

      2. AVP*

        I work in production, where we’re traveling a lot and our personal computers and tablets sometimes overlap with work on the road. But my boss’ handy statement about ownership is – Your laptop is like your underwear. VERY few people get to see it, almost no one gets to touch it, and you really shouldn’t be lending it out, out of your sight.

        1. Dan*

          Your laptop is like your underwear. VERY few people get to see it, almost no one gets to touch it, and you really shouldn’t be lending it out

          I love it!

      3. Poe*

        Ugh, I am on the support staff side of academia and I find myself constantly explaining to our wonderful, lovely, patient IT folk that no, we cannot look at the server backups for the info because *gulp* someone did it on their personal laptop and saved it on the desktop and their kid borrowed the computer and…

    4. Lora*

      *Hands Jamie a bottle of Aveeno cream*

      I use my home computer very regularly for work things because in 14 years, only ONE workplace has provided me with a computer with all the capability and applications I need to do my flippin job. ONE. It was a startup where the engineers & scientists ran the show, they had one IT guy who agreed to everything as long as his server wasn’t going to be compromised.

      At home I’m running a top of the line home-brewed gaming rig. I have had ONE security issue from my home network, which was resolved in 48 hours, by me, since 2005. I can run AutoDesk, MatLab, Simulink, SolidWorks and just about any modeling program you care to name, all at the same time, I have scripts that format and transfer data sets between the programs so I don’t have to worry about file formats. I can work FAST. I have a giant stack of books on various programming languages for when I need to look something up.

      At work I don’t even always HAVE a desk, let alone a place to put books, and they give me the usual Dell whatever that they got a good deal on, with McAfee. Um, no. I explain, very nicely, what my computing needs actually are, and how I need this to do my job. “You’ll have to put the request in through the VP.” I send in the request, signed by my manager. It drops into a black hole and is never seen again. I request again, and again, nothing. Finally, upon inquiry, it turns out that they don’t even know how or where to purchase that hardware because they made this deal with Dell or whomever, they are forbidden by policy to have a Linux anything at all, and they have no intention of adding that much server space for one employee out of thousands. Plus, as a for-profit company, they aren’t entitled to the freeware versions and have to pay nearly half my annual salary in licensing fees for this stuff.

      Many of my bosses have been general manager folks who don’t know a single thing about technology, or who have been away from the field work for so long that they have no idea how the technology works. So they can’t exactly explain very well to IT why I need it, only that I say I need it and they believe me, and as a result, all my requests get denied. When I am connected to an actual IT person to explain myself, they stammer that pretty much they only support MS Office and Adobe and don’t know about any of that stuff, it has to go through the managers, sorry. Thus we end up in a recursive loop.

      When I find an old-timer IT person who knows their stuff, s/he nods sadly and says, “it’s ever since they outsourced/slashed the budget, we used to be able to do that stuff no problem.” But they can’t do it now, even if it means the business’ R&D (and thus future revenue) falls by the wayside.

      So, I work on my home computer. Frequently. As in, right now.

      1. Jamie*

        That goes back to my favorite pet peeve – businesses not giving you the tools you need to do the job properly.

        My engineers have the kinds of builds you’re using at home, because they need it. Just like I wouldn’t give the AR clerk a $3800 Precision I wouldn’t give an engineer a $600 vostro and tell them to make due.

        You give ditch diggers shovels, not teaspoons.

        It sucks that your company is so shortsighted on resource allocation.

  9. Not So NewReader*

    OP 4. Since this is your busy season at work and there will be two people out at the same time it does make sense to let the boss know there could be additional complexity because your coworker is talking about not returning.

    My experience with people like this is that I make the mistake of thinking that I am the only one they said this to. NO! Usually they have told everyone and their cats. By the time I mention it to the boss, the boss has heard the story three times already. I would not be surprised to find out she has even told the customers. (Some people lack filters.)

    Which ever way you finally decide to go on this one, don’t make your decision based on trying to protect her. That is the least of the concerns going on here. You could decide not to go forward because that is your standard practice or because you are not sure what you are going to accomplish by doing so. Those reasons would be stronger reasons than just to protect her.

    1. Anon*

      I would have to respectfully disagree. First, you’re basing your advice on some unfounded assumption that the co-worker who confided in LW #4 is the type to put her business out there to just about anybody. Just because that’s your experience with this type of person, that doesn’t mean it’s true for everyone. Second, I think “protecting” a co-worker would be a decent thing to do, especially if said “protection” involves not divulging information that doesn’t directly involve you to begin with. This is between co-worker and manager; don’t punish her for having a moment of weakness and thinking she can trust somebody in this backstabbing world (sorry, a bit dramatic, but I can’t think of a better way to put it at the moment). And anyway, I would rather protect a fellow employee (granted they were not doing anything illegal) than protect the employer. Employers can fire people in this country without notice. I don’t see it as unethical even to quit a job without giving notice. People do it all the time. Once a person stops showing up to work, managers can go ahead and find a replacement. The two weeks notice isn’t for finding a replacement, anyway. Yes, it’s to help the organization plan and prepare, but screw it. They don’t allow you the time to plan and prepare your own personal budget when you get the ax. Everybody has to look out for themselves.

      1. Anon*

        I feel like I must add the following disclaimers: I don’t recommend quitting a job without notice for obvious reasons (references, employment background checks, etc.)
        That is all.

  10. AnonK*

    #2 – was there any possibility that there was a work related file on your hard drive that you were not supposed to have? Even if it was nothing malicious, companies can get weird about intellectual property on your personal equipment.

    I’m in IT. I don’t want to see someone’s personal laptop unless a gun is held to my head for the very explanation Allison gave – I don’t want to be responsible for your personal files. But in some cases, you don’t always have a choice. A few years back, my team was asked to repair someone’s personal PC because it was super important for his work (translation: he was the nephew of someone important at the company). Well this guy had a password cracker on it with an excel spreadsheet ON HIS DESKTOP where he had cracked and was holding onto passwords for every executive in the company. This was a violation of the code of conduct and a few other standards that the employee signed off on. I called HR and Legal and they confiscated the laptop while they proceeded to have it reviewed for other misuse and to begin termination. Being someone’s nephew couldn’t help him here. He had the ability to logon as any one of our executives, send email on their behalf, access financial records for the company, look at HR data for everyone in the company, and a host of other things not related to his job in entry level marketing. I was instructed not to return calls or emails to the employee while this went on. I know he eventually got his laptop back, completely wiped clean.

    1. LisaLyn*

      Wow, now that is a story! I’m in IT, too, so I know how it goes with personal stuff, but I don’t have a story that good. I usually just stumble across pr0n. :/

      1. Poe*

        I once totally innocently clicked on a virus with pron from a work related website (we contacted the site and they were horrified their ad guys had okayed something so sketchy) and had to stand in my office while 3 guys from IT killed themselves laughing when I showed them what happened every time I clicked or typed. I became a legend around the company as the first person to ever truly accidentally download pron onto a work computer :(

    2. Heather*

      Holy crap. Did the termination actually happen? My head would explode if it turned out that his VIP relative saved his job for him.

      1. Liane*

        AnonK wrote, “Being someone’s nephew couldn’t help him here,” so it sounds like Uncle/Aunt VIP didn’t save the guy’s job.

  11. PEBCAK*

    #1) In reporting this, you may also end up being the trigger that gets this woman the help she needs. Hopefully you have the type of manager who will approach it in a kind way, perhaps referring her to the EAP, if you have one.

    1. some1*

      Yes. If the wrong person overheard what you have or called your company to complain about her, she could get canned on the spot. At least if management can lay out clear expectations she can either do what she can to manager her issues or start looking for something else.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      The coworker’s behavior may stem from a problem that can be remedied through EAP, but that is a conversation the manager needs to have with her.

      I feel sorry for the poor trainee; she’s probably thinking, “Oh no, do I have to work with this person?!”

  12. Del*

    #1 – Your concern for your coworker needing the job is really touching, but as someone who has worked in customer service with very belligerent callers, I’m going to say this.

    If she feels that she absolutely needs to keep this job at all costs, it’s on her to find ways to manage her anger issues appropriately.

    I’m an introvert, and I get very cranky if I don’t feel well. When I worked in the call center, I took the steps I needed to manage that – for example, I was very ready to call out or to leave early with sick time if I felt unwell, because I didn’t want to risk being snappy or losing my temper on the phone. I would eat whenever I felt hungry, because gaining a little weight was less of a problem than going into a low blood sugar-induced snapfit and putting my job on the line. I snatched a few minutes here and there of “after call work” so I could catch a few deep breaths and get my heartrate down after a tough call. That was what I needed to do to manage my job.

    It’s on her to do the same thing. If she’s not willing or able to manage her anger effectively, then she is not a good fit for this job.

    Counseling from the manager may help her; it may be a wake-up call that she is not behaving appropriately and that it’s a serious problem. But I would absolutely, definitely go to your manager over this. It’s a really big deal. Her performance is really actively hurting your company and your clients.

    1. Del*

      Oh, and to add – things like this can also negatively affect your calls, depending on how loud she is. During my call center days, I (briefly!) had a coworker who would vent her anger by putting her phone on mute during a call and indulging in short, very loud rants. “What an IDIOT!” “If you won’t listen to me, then I won’t help you!” “Get the hell off my phone!” and so forth. While the phone was on mute and her callers couldn’t hear her, she was loud enough that her exclamations were picked up by other people’s headsets. I, and the rest of us who sat near her, had to do a lot of smoothing of ruffled feathers because of her outbursts.

      She did not stay at this job for very long, naturally.

    2. Laura*

      This! Also, the sooner you tell your manager, the better. One really big blow-up or mistake on your coworker’s part could move from “counseling” to “instant termination” – if it’s very egregious. The sooner your manager is aware, the sooner they can address the problem, hopefully in a manner that lets your coworker work on her issues and retain her job.

      You’re doing your coworker a favor by bringing it up as well. It will come out; the sooner the better, for the company and for your coworker. (And for your trainee, who doesn’t need to learn the company tolerates that!)

    3. OP 1*

      YES she doesn’t necessarily mute the calls but afterward s just says similar things to what you posted! Thankfully no person I’ve talked to has heard anything-yet- but it does make it hard to concentrate on who I am talking to and making sure to give them the best care possible. Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply and good job for being able to manage dealing with the clients.

      1. Emma*

        Another call center veteran chiming in. I understood from your letter that these are outbound calls – i.e., unsolicited initiations of contact that may be awkward, upsetting, and contain personal information.

        I can’t help but feel, as a potential customer and former caller, that if someone interrupted *my day* to have this sensitive conversation *and* became abusive, I would absolutely want this person brought up to management, given the opportunity to self-correct and if not, penalized then booted out. Toute de frickin’ suite.

        There is no excuse to treat customers with that type of invective. Even if they’re angry, rude, or sexually harassing (all of which happened to me in my call center job). You disengage, ask them to stop the behavior if it is upsetting you and warn about concluding the call early then say “thank you for your time, sir/ma’am, but I am hanging up now” and you hang up.

        But you never retaliate with heated language yourself. The fact that she cannot or will not perform these disengagement behaviors and then self-soothe as Del described above if a customer becomes uncooperative proves she is woefully mismatched with this job.

        For the good of your customers, your team, and your company’s reputation, notify a manager and rehabilitate this coworker if it’s possible.

  13. Joey*

    #3. I have a bit of a different perspective. I think its generally unreasonable to essentially change the job and expectations on someone without giving them the tools to succeed. I know you said you’ve tried developing employees previously with little success, but that doesn’t mean you won’t succeed with these employees. And that doesn’t mean you were developing them in the most effective way necessarily. What I’m saying is you owe it to these employees if at all possible to attempt to help them develop their writing skills if they have the potential to succeed. You don’t have to be convinced it will work, just convinced it has a chance of working. And you owe it to them to continually evaluate and improve the methods you’re using to develop them. If its impossible for you to devote ALL of your time to development why not devote SOME of your time over a longer period of time? Im no professional writer so I wouldn’t know the best way to improve writing skills,, but a few universal things come to mind: 1. are there easier assignments that don’t require a great writing skills to do a great job? 2. Is there another GREAT writer on staff that can assist with development? 3. Are there professional resources they can tap into? 4. Are there homework assignments that will help?

    1. Ethyl*

      I guess those are good suggestions, but I mean…..people go to school for years to be writers of various kinds (journalism, technical writing, creative writing, marketing, PR, etc.). It seems like a real waste of talent to have people who aren’t dedicated writers trying to be writers while people who ARE are out of work.

      And in my experience, there is not really any way to make someone improve their writing. It’s a learned skill to a certain extent, but mostly people who learn it have an aptitude for it (like math or physics or sports). If what OP needs is writers, then they should get those resources, not have to babysit people who can’t string together three sentences to save their lives.

      1. Joey*

        Nobody’s saying babysit. I just think its unfair that from the employees perspective that when a new manager comes in their previously acceptable work is now unacceptable. Obviously the manager has every right to up the standards, but the fair thing to do is to help employees learn to achieve those standards or at least give them the opportunity to. Not automatically say “there’s no helping you. Let’s get someone else in here.”

      2. WriterGirl*


        I am a graduate of journalism school as well as a working freelance writer (in addition to my day job). I agree with Ethyl that it can take years to develop good writing skills. Not everyone is capable of becoming a great writer, just like not everyone is capable of becoming a great actor, doctor or engineer.

        I am not, however, a graphic designer. Because I work in marketing, I used to frequently get requests at my current job to work on design projects. I have no design training at all. I explained that graphic design requires a completely different skills set than I have and gave them the names of a few graphic designers I have worked with in the past. I also explained that graphic design isn’t typically something you can learn in a few classes or overnight. They finally understood and quit asking me to do design work.

        1. Joey*

          Here’s the thing though. It’s statistically unlikely that you’ll ever have a staff of all great writers. More likely you’ll end up with more average writers and just a few great ones.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Not if writing is a key part of the job. I’ve had teams of great writers and have worked on teams of great writers. If that’s what you’re hiring for, it’s very possible.

            1. Joey*

              Great is relative. Great to me is best of the best. If everyone on the team is great then they really aren’t the best of the best.

              1. Ethyl*

                I feel like you’re just arguing to argue at this point, Joey. If the job is writing and the OP is getting a staff of people from around the company who aren’t trained to be writers, that’s a problem. If you hire for a writing staff, you can get great writers. Why is this controversial?

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                As I’ve heard it used, “great writers” is usually understood to mean meeting a certain bar for writing. Not that they’re all “the best,” since obviously everyone on a team can’t be “the best.” But they can all be great. (I’m talking here about a team where the whole job was writing. It wouldn’t have made sense to have people who weren’t excellent writers.)

        2. Felicia*

          I am a graduate of journalism school too, and I have had similar requests for graphic design, because I work in a marketing role. My school actually did offer basic design training (it was a general media program the first 2 years and then you specialized in one of several things, one of the options for specialization was graphic design.) . But it’s very hard to explain to people that a one semester overview class 5 years ago wasn’t enough for what they were asking. I feel like writing and graphic design are both undervalued as a skill, and both require years to properly develop, and you need to start out with some aptitude. You don’t need to start out a super star, but I think I have very little aptitude for graphic design. I’m not a visual person, and it took ten times more work than I put in to any other course to get the 70% I got in that graphic design course.

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            It’s hard to explain to people that taking high school English doesn’t make you a writer either. But an awful lot of people think they can write when they really can’t.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              GOD this is so true. Arrgh. And they can’t take any feedback, either. It’s one reason I refuse to edit people’s manuscripts. If you really, really want me to, you’re going to pay me in actual dollars.

        3. fposte*

          Generally, I’d say it depends on what the writers are doing badly, how clear the task is, and how much time (and development skill) the OP has. I develop writers as part of my job and do some teaching as well; since the writers I develop are also those I edit, I have a fairly clear standard I want them to meet, given that I’m the one who has to edit the result :-). In my experience there are definitely writers who can be developed more quickly, but there are also writers, even decent writers, who won’t be cost-effective to train.

          What I’d suggest to the OP, if she’s going to have to try development, is to pick three things, preferably for each writer, that she wants them to work on. That’s obviously easy for things like proofable errors, but you can actually get pretty granular about style there, if it’s a style problem–I do a lot of “vary your sentence structures” to young writers addicted to subject-verb-object, I often have a list of forbidden adjectives, I’ve put a few on adverb diets, etc. This gives them something to check themselves for, offers them something concrete to work toward, and puts a fair bit of the development back onto the staff rather than the OP. Additionally, if they can’t meet such concrete requirements, that’s a lot easier to report than a general “they suck.”

          1. Ethyl*

            ::nods:: Those are really great suggestions and remind me of how my journalism profs taught. (I ultimately didn’t go into journalism in case anyone is remembering me talking about being a geologist. Life is weird sometimes.)

          2. Mints*

            Oh these types of “rules” are really helpful. My highschool English teacher would do this, and a couple TAs in college for writing intensive classes (usually on an optional day they would have one lesson of it, or a few guidelines available online)
            Things like only one sentence per paragraph can start with “there” or have a “to be” verb and every transition between paragraphs (first next thirdly) needs to be unique.
            I really liked these

          3. Kay*

            Great suggestions, thanks! A major area for improvement is the structure of their writing. Essentially, I’m trying to encourage people to think more analytically about what they’re communicating. If we have 30 minutes to create a communication that will be read by 20,000 people, I don’t want to spend half of that time restructuring the whole piece so the message is clear. I compare it to writing a newspaper article: state what’s happened first and then discuss the details. The other issue is passive writing. Although I’ve taught writing skills before, I’m not sure I’m suited to it… it’s really difficult to teach someone who is not naturally analytical to think analytically!

            1. fposte*

              Can you draw on the newspaper analogy to create a really directive template? That way they have to do less thinking and creating and you can just say “I need something about the new widget in the three-paragraph release format.”

    2. Jim*

      +1 Joey. Coming from a Training Manager/Leadership perspective. Part of Management is team development. Make sure part of the “burgeoning skills” of Management is also team development and coaching/mentoring. Make sure you document and share expectations with your team (pulled from your experience with the CEO’s standards, coach for improvement, document where standards are not being met and constantly provide feedback. This will help you show your manager that you are making efforts to improve your team and will help HR if there are member of your team who do not meet the standards. It is a lot of work, but that is what promotions are for. It also will help when new members join your team. Good luck!

      1. Kay*

        OP #3 here. Thanks for the feedback. I do see how this is a bad situation for the employees (no one wants to be in a job they’re not good at) but it’s also going to limit how we progress as a company.

        I spent ~40% of my time last year trying to develop my employee’s writing skills. I used many of your suggestions, Joey, but ultimately I’m inclined to agree with Ethel and WriterGirl: not everybody has the aptitude to become a great writer. And that’s ok! Or it would be if writing wasn’t perceived as being so subjective. There are more average Joes who think they are great writers than there are who think they are great doctors or engineers.

        1. Jim*

          So long as you have documented the attempts to improve, I am with you 100%. Given the nature of my job I hear employees too often say they were not given enough, guidelines, support, training, etc… Then it becomes difficult to terminate. I agree with AAM about saying the job has changed and generous severance, but the documentation helps you partner up with HR on the process.

      2. Contessa*

        I second documenting the standards and feedback. The first time I had to give my law clerk a review, I wanted to tell her to work on some writing skills, but I couldn’t give her specific examples because I hadn’t kept anything (I hand-wrote edits on documents, which she had seen to make the edits, but I couldn’t refer to them during the review to give a big-picture summary of the skills to work on, with examples). The next year was much better, because I could point to specific examples of grammatical things she needed to start remembering.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I agree with that stance generally, but not with something like writing. It’s very, very hard (often impossible) to get someone to become a good writer if they’re not already, and trying would take an enormous investment of resources. In my experience, great writing is sort of like having an ear for music. If you don’t have an ear for how words flow together, it’s very hard to teach it.

      This is a case where if they don’t have the skills, it would make more sense to explain the needs of the job have changed and lay them off with generous severance. You could give them some time to try to hit the new standards, yes — but in the amount of time that would be reasonable to give (say, a month), it’s not going to happen … so that would be more of a courtesy to them than a real investment in their performance changing.

      1. Joey*

        I think that mindset has more to do with the market than actual learning ability. Most professionals that have the luxury of excess talent in the market will say the same thing. That might be the most cost effective way to get a great writer, but it’s not what most reasonable employees would consider fair.

    4. the gold digger*

      But it doesn’t have a chance of working. The manager is not a writing teacher. Writing well should be a base requirement for the job. It’s not the manager’s job to teach people the basic skills they should already have to do the job. The manager’s job is to assign work, allocate resources, and offer professional development when the professional development is a realistic possibility. The manager’s job is not to provide remedial education.

      To address your specific ideas:

      1. “easier assignments that don’t require a great writing skills” Even if there are, there are still complicated assignments. Who does those?
      2. “GREAT writer on staff” If there is, that writer should be writing, not trying to teach writing.
      3. “Are there professional resources they can tap into?” Not sure, but that’s on the employee, not the manager.
      4. “homework assignments” The manager is not a high-school teacher. She is not there to get them up to speed. She is there to get a job done and unfortunately, if the current team cannot do the job, then they need to be replaced.

      1. Kay*

        “It’s not the manager’s job to teach people the basic skills they should already have to do the job.”

        You’ve just pinpointed exactly how I’ve felt for the last year. I work for an extremely large organization in a very demanding part of the business. I was beginning to think that I was naïve to expect my staff to be independent, capable, and effective, but perhaps I just need to stand my ground as to why we need highly skilled people in these roles.

  14. BCW*

    #4 In my opinion you personify why people don’t trust their co-workers anymore. What she said was pure speculation, but until you know more, you really are just stirring the pot. If you know when she is supposed to return, and then doesn’t, then sure, you can go ahead an say something so they can get someone else in sooner. But to go to your manager with what really could just amount to venting (and clearly to the wrong person) you are possibly making something out of nothing. If you found out she was applying to other jobs, would you snitch on her too? (Yes, I know that word is looked down on on this blog, but I purposely used it because I believe thats what it would come down to). If she leaves, it should be on her to notify management, or on management to fire her for not showing up, you shouldn’t be anywhere in this process.

    1. Joey*

      But wouldn’t you want to know as a manager if one of your employees might not returning from vacay? At minimum you’d probably want to talk to her to clarify and start thinking about a contingency plan.

      At the same time I think there’s a caveat. The manager only deserves to know if she’s known for being reasonable and rational. If there’s a history of her acting irrational I wouldn’t tell her crap.

      1. BCW*

        If she knew for a fact that she wasn’t returning, then yes. So if the co-worker told the OP that,” I’m going on vacation, and after that I’m starting a new job, but I didn’t tell the manager” then I can see it. Like I said, as a manager you may want to know that someone is looking for a new job, but I don’t think its your RIGHT to know that they are looking, especially if someone else tells you.

        1. Joey*

          But you can’t really know anything for a fact until it actually happens, right? Even if she said definitively she wasn’t coming back she could always change her mind, right?

          I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider that type of info a right or a requirement. Its more like extra credit. It would show me an employee is trying to make decisions the way I want them to -by considering what is best for the business.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Exactly. It’s not about the manager having a “right” to know. It’s about whether the employee sees herself as someone working for what’s best for the business or not. Obviously everyone draws that line in a different place, but it’s not outrageous for the OP to decide that she has information that will affect her and the company and she wants her manager in the loop too.

            1. BCW*

              Yeah, but to me, that makes the OP completely untrustworthy to anyone else. Sure, you may gain some brownie points with the manager for being a suck up, but in the long run, you just look like a bad co-worker (though that may make you look like a good employee to management). And its like I said, Alison, do you think the co-worker should tell the boss if she found out someone was close to getting a job offer as well? That could affect her and the company in the exact same way, but I’d argue thats just as shady to do to someone

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I’d argue they’re different — one is shady (“I’m going to be gone for 10 days” when in fact you don’t plan to return at all; it’s a lie) and one is not.

              2. BCW*

                Fair enough. I’m not trying to justify the co-worker (if in fact she did just not show back up). But I think some things just aren’t your secrets to tell. I think the co-worker being close to getting a job offer, could in theory leave them without an employee in the exact same amount of time as this situation. Its just that semantics really. In one case the person is probably going to quit, in the other they are going to stop showing up. Either way, the position is open.

                1. Dan*

                  …some things just aren’t your secrets to tell…

                  This. I would be surprised if going to the manager with hearsay wouldn’t get OP#4 rightfully labeled as a snitch. Who would trust someone who showed such an inability to mind her own business?

    2. KJR*

      If I were in this situation, I would probably go talk to the co-worker myself to clarify this whole thing! If she does in fact NOT plan to come back, I would strongly encourage her to go the boss herself before I would consider doing anything.

  15. LV*

    Years ago at a former job, a friendly coworker and I were discussing our upcoming vacations. We were going backpacking in Europe – not together, but we were both going to be gone right before the busiest time of year for the business. I made a comment like, “I wish my trip were longer – I don’t want to come back for the busy period!” A third coworker overheard me and went to tell our manager that my friend and I had lied to him about our vacation times and that we both planned to stay in Europe past the return date we’d given him because we deliberately wanted to skip the busy period.

    Even though his “information” was proven to be false, his brown-nosing found favour with the manager and he was promoted above me – after which he kept up his underhanded tactics. Several employees, including me, quit because they didn’t want to deal with him anymore.

    This is obviously not the same situation as #4, but I’d still advise that OP to mind their own business here.

    1. LisaLyn*

      Ugh, sorry that happened to you. Glad you were able to move on. It sounds like that guy was doing it on purpose, but there are also a lot of people out there who don’t understand “venting” or even just joking around. People say things they don’t actually MEAN or aren’t intending to act on.

    2. Bea W*

      That’s how I feel about it too. The OP shouldn’t bring this to the manager. The co-worker could have been venting or it was misunderstood. It’s not clear what the intentions are, and going to someone’s manager and saying your co-worker might not returning to work after vacation based on your own personal speculation and reading into what she has told you could have unintended negative consequences for her and possibly the you (if she does plan to come back but was let go on account of a reaction by management). It is the co-worker’s responsibility to communicate that kind of thing to her manager. Firmly in the camp of MYOB here.

      1. Cat*

        I was actually going to say – I have yet to go on a vacation before which I don’t joke about running away to become a beach bum/hermit/Mongolia goat herder. Is the OP sure the co-worker was serious?

        1. Anomnomnom(2?)*

          I have a coworker who has yet to go on a vacation before which he didn’t joke about running away. He’s just a joking kind of guy. If I went to management with that, I would look so unbelievably clueless and probably branded forever as weird and illiterate when it comes to reading humans. (He’s also one of the most dedicated employees I work with.)

          Man, what an awkward conversation that would be.
          me: “Hey, I think coworker might not be coming back from vacation…”
          management: “What!? Why!?”
          me: “He said he was going to go herd goats in Vermont…”
          management: …….
          management: “Do you know what a joke is?”

          1. Poe*

            I’m always threatening to go live on a sheep farm in Scotland, and my coworker always threatens to go work for the National Trust (giving away my location, I suppose). Both of us adore our jobs, but sometimes you just need a moment.

    3. Mander*

      Personally, I don’t think I would say anything unless I had good reason to believe the other employee was truly serious — as in, I’d actually had a conversation with them and directly asked them. You know, “Hey, Bob, when you said you were thinking about an indefinite vacation, were you serious? Don’t you think it would look better for you if you just give notice?”

  16. Bea W*

    #2 – See if you can get in touch with the tech people directly instead of having your boss be a go-between. When you talk to your boss, ask for their contact info so you can follow-up directly. It could be he’s very busy and chasing down your personal laptop isn’t a priority, in which case, he’ll probably be more than happy to hand that task off to you. Ask him directly about your hours. Try not to assume it has any relation to your laptop data, or at least don’t let on you fear the worst. Overall, approach it positively when you speak to him even if you fear the worst.

    I’d ask for your laptop back, not just the drive. It is your personal property, and you paid for it. They have no business keeping it, not even if they give you a laptop for work. A work laptop belongs to the company, and you would likely be asked to return it if you left. Your personal laptop that you paid for belongs to you.

    I really hope someone didn’t goof and either discard or wipe you hard drive. Ouch! Definitely take the word of other commenters to use a back-up service. You can get a portable hard drive that connects to USB pretty inexpensively now or you can use a cloud service. Many like Dropbox and Google Docs are free. My Big Boss just gave everyone a 1 TB portable drive. It’s slightly bigger than a deck of cards and doesn’t need any external power other than the USB which makes it very easy to carry and store. IT installed a back-up program that will back-up all my files on a schedule or just by clicking on a button. Easy peasy mac and cheesy!

  17. Anon*

    I would advise against LW #4 saying anything. Not only would it be doing the co-worker a disservice, but I do not see how giving the manager a heads up could improve the situation. If the conflict between co-worker and manager is so strong to warrant the co-worker quitting her job, then the manager should not really be taken by surprise. Managers need to do their job, and *manage*. Which means having a general awareness of how employees perceive them, and how that might impact workplace dynamics and morale.

  18. Jubilance*

    #2 – why were you using your personal laptop for work stuff? Is that the norm at some companies? I’ve never worked in that type of environment – I’ve always been issued company laptop & then returned it on my last day. I’d be wary of wanting to do company work on my personal laptop, where the files were saved on the hard drive. I do remote into my work computer from my home computer, but in that case I’m actually controlling my work computer & all the files stay there.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      I don’t know how widespread it is, but I’ve certainly heard of companies that require their telecommuters to provide their own work equipment. Some even make it a job requirement.

    2. The IT Manager*

      This seems to be a new thing. Bring your own device is an new idea that people bring personal phones, tablets, and laptops to use for business. Saves the business the cost of the device and the user can use whatever they want, but it strikes me as an old network manager as an awful idea and nightmare to manage. But I am no longer involved in that area of IT so I am not up on the latest details.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        I work sort of in that area, and I keep hearing “using your own device for work used to be forbidden, but people won’t put up with that today.” I don’t get it. People put up with all kinds of things they don’t like to be employed, so why on earth would everyone draw their personal line in the sand there? Everyone makes it sound impossible or unenforceable or “so last century” or something, but I don’t see what’s so impossible about a business making the (extremely reasonable, IMO) decision that this is too much risk for too little reward.

    3. Meghan*

      I’ve had multiple jobs where I was expected to use my personal laptop for work. One was a small nonprofit with no office (I did “office” type work from home and oversaw a program that was implemented at a site run by another organization). My boss at that job also complained a lot when I wasn’t willing to purchase the most recent version of Microsoft Office and when I wasn’t willing to get a smart phone so that I could answer his emails at all hours of the day.

      I also had to use my laptop at my current job for the first year because my boss wouldn’t purchase ANY copy of Microsoft Office for the office computers (but didn’t like it when I sent him files created with Open Office), and it’s pretty necessary for the work I do.

      So yes, there are plenty of jobs that require you to use your personal laptop for work, but maybe not the most reasonable jobs ;)

      1. Jamie*

        This is so crazy to me! I know it happens, but I just do not get it.

        Boss wants documents in Office. Fine – I need Office. We won’t provide Office. I can use Open Office. No, use Office. But you don’t provide Office…

        It’s like Abbott and Costello run a business.

        I would like you to move this 2 ton machine. Okay, I will arrange a truck and a crane. I won’t pay for those…

        Same thing.

    4. Callie*

      When I taught in a K-5 school we had district issued laptops. Now that I am a graduate assistant at a university we have to bring our own because there is a TA office with three desktops for 70+ TAs in our department to share and that’s just not gonna work.

  19. Jubilance*

    #4 Strikes me as a “not your business” situation. Telling your manager seems like tattling to me. If your coworker chooses to not come back from vacation, then they should be the one to let your manager know.

    1. Joey*

      Id be a bit perturbed if I found out you knew she probably wouldn’t be coming back and didn’t mention it. Id wonder what else could affect the business that you didn’t want to tell me.

      1. some1*

        If you as a manager had to let someone go and told the employee’s counterpart in advance, would that employee to tell the co-worker?

          1. Joey*

            I wouldn’t put an employee in a position to tell the counterpart before I did. Because Id have a hard time holding it against her if she did.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Unless their job required them to work with such information in advance and treat it confidentially (such as IT, HR, or others involved in terminations). In which case, yes, part of their job is handling that information discreetly and I’d expect them to meet those job requirements.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep, I’d absolutely wonder what else the person didn’t speak up about. If that person was a manager herself, it would particularly concern me (and would be a factor if she ever wanted to move to a management role). I’d wonder if she understood that we were running a business and not a social club.

      3. Dan*

        That’s a bit much. Really? You expect me to spill my guts about everything I might know? Even my dad doesn’t have that kind of access to the recesses of my dementia.

        Seriously though, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that people hold their best interests and the health of their relationships above the interests of the company.

        If OP#4 blabs to the boss, the flaky coworker will probably find out and that relationship will be ruined, and being labeled as a tattle-tale won’t help her get along with her other coworkers either. Why would she put herself in that position willingly?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Not everything you might know, no. But big, serious things? Yes. (And I’d put someone planning not to return from a vacation with no notice to the company in that category, if indeed the OP knows the coworker enough to know that she was serious.)

  20. some1*

    For #4, I would not say anything to your manager. Even if you believe your co-worker has every intention of not returning

    A) telling your manager won’t help, since the manager will likely confront her and your co-worker will be forced to lie to keep her job for the time being and say she’s coming back and not return anyway, or change her mind about not returning from vacation and you are left with a co-worker who no longer trusts you and will be much less likely to help/cover for you if you need it

    B) she could very well change her mind. I’ve had a handful of co-workers over the years who told me on the DL that they weren’t planning to return from maternity leave, leave of absences or disability leave and they all ended up coming back anyway because they couldn’t afford not to.

    My advice to you is to go back to your co-worker and try to discourage her from pulling this without getting your manager involved. Remind her that you will be swamped during your busiest season if she just stops showing up.

  21. Jen*

    For #3, I also work in communications now with a focus on writing. I previously worked in journalism and while the two fields are similar, there was a period of transition where I had to get used to writing for a different industry. I took a number of PRSA webinars on PR writing that my job paid for and they were so valuable. Specifically there was one woman, Ann Wylie, who was really great at writing instruction. I’d recommend signing up for a few of her webinars on the national PRSA page and you can just book a conference room and have all of the staff watch from a projector or something. Or if you have a lot of budget, I think she does in person trainings.

    (I swear I do not know Ann Wylie at all but she was really great at writing tips and I follow her on twitter so her name is top of mind).

  22. ChristineSW*

    An interesting set of questions today! I haven’t read all of the comments yet, so apologies if some of my comments/questions were already addressed.

    #1 – This is definitely a case where speaking with your supervisor is a wise idea, especially since you have a trainee with you. One thing I’m learning here is that if it affects your ability to perform your job effectively, then 1) speak with the person in question first and 2) if that doesn’t help, speak with your supervisor. #1 didn’t work in your case. Remember to frame it in how it affects your work, rather than merely saying, “She argues with the customers!”

    #2 – Why were you using a personal laptop to begin with? I don’t mean that accusingly…was the company not able to provide you with one?

    #3 – In hiring your writers, did you ask for writing samples? This is something I often see asked for in announcements for any jobs that involve any significant writing. It’s probably a lot of work for hiring managers to read all of these samples, but for specialized writing jobs, it’s a way to gauge writing skills beyond the cover letter.

    1. fposte*

      Additionally, interview-level candidates should be asked to perform a writing task right there and then, so you know what they can produce in limited time and without any outside support.

      1. fposte*

        And apparently I completely missed the fact that the team will be expanding. OP, I would really push to be a part of the hiring decision on the new hires and include writing samples and tasks as part of the process.

        1. Kay*

          Thanks for the advice! Unfortunately they plan to create a team by moving people around internally. Even though I already know the skill levels of the employees involved, I am still going to suggest a writing test and samples, as I would for external hires.

          1. A. D. Kay*

            I wholeheartedly endorse having people submit a writing test and samples. That was the way my team managed to avoid having sales and tech people reassigned as technical editors. Testing and samples can provide concrete evidence to managers, who often don’t understand that writing and editing have very specific skill sets.

  23. OP #4*

    OP #4, here. I did go to the manager abut my concerns. My role is one in which I must supervise daily operations and client contact, and if my co-worker did not return, business would certainly suffer. Part of the complication is that my leave is about 4 weeks: holiday time + honeymoon time. Co-worker took off weeks 1 and 2, and did not intend to return for weeks 3 and 4, when I’d still be out. Would that be fair to her sub who thought she was only covering weeks 1 and 2? (I’m sorry I didn’t make my letter more clear.)

    I based my decision on a few factors, including the fact that this same co-worker disappeared this summer without notice. She returned from a weekend-turned-week in Disney World, and she was surprised to learn she had lost an additional role while she was gone without approval. I was short-staffed without notice in this case, and I just couldn’t risk that as our season begins.

    Thanks for your response, AAM. I appreciate the comments from everyone, too.

    1. BCW*

      If she disappeared without notice over the summer, then the manager has put themselves in this position to begin with by not firing her the first time. However, I’m just wondering where your line is for when you will tell someone else’s business. Some examples people brought up: interviewing, FMLA, pregnancy. I get that it would impact your job, and that is your concern. But maybe you should have clarified and then tried to convince co-worker to talk to management first, before just telling their information. I assume she (wrongly) trusted you enough to confide in you, and you threw that away.

    2. Wren*

      If I previously had any reservations about telling, learning that she’s pulled this before tips me in favour of telling. I do agree that something is wrong in management if this coworker in any way feels like she can get away with this a second time. Then again, if she’s thinking of quitting, rather than simply extending her vacation, I guess she doesn’t care.

    1. KitKat*

      How is this not their problem? This coworker sits behind them and, from what it sounds like, is very distracting. How are they supposed to “do their job” if they can’t concentrate? No workplace should have that kind of method of dealing with a problem coworker.

      Beyond that, this is just poor advice to anyone. If there’s a problem, deal with it. We’re people, not drones.

  24. OP 1*

    Hey all! This is OP 1, about to head to work. I will definitely find a time to talk to my boss about it and frame it in the way Alison suggested as well as how it affects my training. I’m also disheartened to read many stories of bad/rude representatives! Even when patients themselves are rude to me I just brush it off and am extra nice back. This way people usually apologize at the end or calm down and even if they don’t, who cares? I guess I can’t understand why people would be rude to people who may be sick or injured. Anyways, I’ll update on how it goes today later. Thanks for the advice!

  25. Anonymous*

    #2: I would lean towards the explanations offered here, but because your management is being evasive, please consider another two possibilities that are very common in IT.

    Possibility 1: They won’t give you back your hard drive and personal files because your computer was full of viruses. Problems like this are extremely common, and it is far more efficient to just discard everything other than the business-urgent items than for the IT guy to sift through your personal files to try to salvage “safe” ones for you. The reason they won’t give you back the hard drive to deal with yourself is because they know you will immediately get the virus back on your computer by copying all your files, thus jeopardizing their business interests.

    Possibility 2: You have some work-inappropriate files on your computer. Your IT guy and/or boss won’t give them back to you because of liability concerns, legal concerns, or practical concerns. Your boss is thus embarrassed to bring this up, but also unwilling to fix the problem. It is possible to have work-inappropriate files on your computer even if you have never downloaded anything like that personally. There are some viruses that will convert your computer into, for example, a porn server without your knowledge. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for these types of virus-created porn servers to be the horrifically illegal types. This would also explain the sudden reduction in your hours.

      1. Anonymous*

        Because the IT person:
        (1) Decided it wasn’t worth her time – frankly more likely if she’s been asked to move a co-worker’s pron collection than the co-worker’s family photo album
        (2) Found them offensive and refuses to deal with them further
        (3) Suspects or knows they are illegal (this can range from the super-common pirated movie, to the virus-induced child porn server).
        (4) Suspects or knows some of the files have viruses, which may damage the business’s interests
        (5) Stumbled across embarrassing information about the co-worker – like home-made porn.

        It’s not like the OP is paying the co-worker to do this, she’s asking for it as a favor, through her boss. She’s not obligated to get the service on her personal files. I’m merely raising the possibility that there are very good reasons that they won’t give the OP back her hard drive to do with as she wishes, and are reluctant to spell out the reason why (and, effectively, pushing the OP out of the company by dramatically reducing work hours).

      2. Woodward*

        My guess is the liability concerns. If it’s child-related porn hidden on the computer and the company gives it back to the employee, it could seem like they are sanctioning and agreeing with it. If it ever became a legal matter, they need to stay 100% away from anything like that.

        1. Jamie*

          If they found something like that I’m sure the OP would know because they’d have reported it to remove their own liability since it was in their chain of custody.

          I wouldn’t be able to report that fast enough.

          And the other concerns, viruses, etc. – they should tell her that and still give it back with the stipulation nothing gets moved to the new (work provided) laptop. Her personal stuff is her problem – she can either dispose, or find a tech to clean it, etc…but keeping it to protect the network is silly.

          If that was the case she could easily infect the new one visiting the same sites that got the old one infected. That’s a clear case of needed user education.

          My guess would be they didn’t mark the hard drive and haven’t gotten around to finding hers to give it back or it was inadvertently tossed.

          Or the OP was asking for her personal files to be restored and it went into the “I’ll get around to it when I have a free second because this is so not my freaking job queue” and they haven’t had a free second.

          My queue for that stuff is always empty because I tell people up front what I am and am not going to do.

    1. Anonymous*

      #3, IT’s SOP is to dispose of old equipment and they did so without realizing that is was not theirs to dispose of.

  26. Anonymous*

    #1 Do you have a general outline of how your company’s CS department wants you to interact with clients? Including a script for FAQs or even when someone has to stop a conversation with a client because you can’t offer them more information or help? I’m not saying your coworker isn’t a problem, but this may be more management’s fault then your coworker’s if there isn’t clear expectations of what needs to be done and how it needs to be done. It does seem like your coworker has so many personal problems it’s majorly intruding on their work, and your manager needs to know that too, even if that person “needs” the job (and your coworker should have NEVER told you that either it’s just making you part of their problems.)

  27. Anonymous*

    While I greatly admire AAM, I can’t help but wonder at the folks who write in here with “is it legal” questions. There’s this thing called Google, where you can find your state’s labor laws and answer your own question. [Now: officially a member of my Dad’s “Look it up yourself” team]

    1. Anonymous*

      Many labor laws are not exactly written for laymen. Most have exceptions that are bizarre or obtuse. Some are laws on the books, but utterly unenforceable and thus practically useless.

      1. Anonymous*

        Anon 1 here: I found this simply searching for “labor law California at worksite unpaid”. ( Picked up the phone and they seemed quite helpful. As someone who works for the government, I have to tell you most of us answer our phones on the first ring, will give it our all to get you the info you need, and no matter how surly you are, will respond with steady cheerfulness. (I was once called a smart alec. She said I am smart! Winning!)

        1. Gee Whiz*

          As a fellow government employee, I have to ask which specific agency you work for. Around my neck of the woods, government employees are infamous for being unresponsive. I wish more of my colleagues shared your positive outlook and desire to help others.

          In response to your initial comment, though, it’s worth noting that other people might have similar questions. So it’s nice to find the answers here translated in accessible terms. You know, as opposed to having a whole drove of callers bombarding those incredibly helpful government employees. Efficiency!

          1. Anonymous*

            Maybe it is our California sunshine…today, like every other day, it is 65 and sunny, no wind. This is actually Very Bad For Everyone, since we grow everyone’s food, and next summer there will be no water to do that. Oh and I work in education.

      2. Observer*

        As it happens, though, the DOL site actually has a lot of information about federal law that is quite accessible to the intelligent layman. I’ve used it more than once, and pointed others to it.

  28. Working Girl*

    #2 never use your own equipment – the boss should supply you with the tools required to do your job – if you do use your own equipment, keep it so – never give your boss anything with your personal data on it or to your bosses tech guy. There are lots of tech persons out there privately or take it to a reputable computer shop. I would call the tech guy direct or even better go and see him to get back your laptop and all related files, etc.. If the boss has it, go and see the boss and take your laptop back with the files, etc.. The longer they have this information, the longer someone can read, modify and/or delete it.

  29. Danielle Larkin*

    Thank you so much for your answer, it was prompt, short, and sweet. I am now taking legal action and have since been making sure to document all “evidence”, and/or supporting documents/proof of what is going on. I really appreciate your help and will recomend your site to others with similar situations.

  30. Danielle Larkin*

    Thank you so much for your answer, it was prompt, short, and sweet. I am now taking legal action and have since been making sure to document all “evidence”, and/or supporting documents/proof of what is going on. I really appreciate your help and will recommend your site to others with similar situations.

Comments are closed.