my new employee wanted to quit and now wants to stay

This was originally published on December 22, 2011.

A reader writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{ 89 comments… read them below }

  1. the gold digger*

    I cannot imagine ever feeling entitled enough to a job to complain and ask about quitting after just three weeks!

    Wait. Unless I had something better lined up. Only then.

    1. sunny-dee*

      I could see it, if it were truly a bad fit for some reason — e.g., the job were misrepresented, the culture was too hectic or too slow, or something else happened that indicated a red flag.

    2. Erik*

      There are legitimate reasons for doing this:
      1) Job was a “bait and switch” – been there, done that
      2) The job sounded great on paper, but not in person
      3) They may be coming from a completely different environment and/or industry and are having trouble adjusting to the new environment. For example, you’re coming from large MegaCorp and going to a startup, or perhaps going from retail to medical devices.
      4) Poor culture fit
      5) The job expectations weren’t clearly communicated or there were other misunderstandings.

      I’m glad that the person spoke up about her issues instead of holding them inside, as that would only get worse over time and not help anyone.

      1. totallyagree*

        You nailed it. This is exactly what just happened to me. I left a cushy program manager position for a project management position because I wanted to be more involved and not seeing everything from a high ladder. The company I went to completely misrepresented the position and outlook for the company. Bait and switch. The first day I was essentially told that the company is in trouble if they don’t deliver x by x date. no training plan, no upstart plan, nothing. Why is there no lemon law for jobs? The program manager who I report to came from a different type of project management background (very hands off) than I did. I saw the issues the first day coming from a BA and PM / PMM background. It’s been crazy ever since. He doesn’t know how to train either. I ask him 1 question and he goes on a tangent of xyz on the current state of the project that he managed till then. Blames everyone else. Anyway, I wanted to quite within the first day. Now on the culture fit, let me put it to you like this, I’m one of two women who work for the entire branch. The men come from a very patriarchal culture. I’ve worked for teams of entire East Indians and it wasn’t this bad. This new company literally the men saying they won’t be told what to do by a woman. I was hired in from someone who thought it made sense to diversify the team. The team didn’t want it. So I have that also to deal with. I think I was set up to fail and I’m trying to figure out the best way to move on. Asking to be let go with severance without it being a firing (because I believe I’ve done well despite all the issues). Not sure if that’s possible. I hate not being proud of where and for who I work. I’ve always taken pride in my work and supporting, making my managers look good. I’ve no incentive to doing that here. Especially since my manager only becomes a bully when I do my job well, it makes him look bad for not doing what I’m doing the whole time before I came on board. So he puts the brakes on any kind of improvements even if the team is amicable to it. And when he does let it happen, he takes the credit. So any improvements, I’m not even going to get the credit for. Ok enough ranting. Thanks for pointing out that companies can be very deceptive just to bring in fresh talent.

    3. LuminescentFish*

      Me either! It’s a good way to get yourself shuffled out of a job, especially if you were premature in sharing those worries in such a serious way.

      Totally off topic – gold digger, I clicked through to your blog the other day, after you mentioned an anecdote you wrote about related to a discussion here. I *love* your writing, it’s so lively and funny and clear. I’m reading back through a lot of the archives now, and just wanted to say thanks for sharing :)

  2. sunny-dee*

    One thing that leaps out at me is that *everything* that the employee is concerned about is directly opposed to what you are attempting to do:

    1. Lack of training
    2. Not understanding why a particular task or assignment is being made

    The OP says that she is focusing on creating tons of training materials, so my first question would be, is the employee aware of that? Has she gone through any training yet and, if not, is she aware of her future training schedule?

    For the second, my guess is that there is some kind of miscommunication or variance between what is being said in the emails that describe tasks and what is being said when a task is assigned. The employee probably isn’t connecting Email Task A to Spoken Task B, and the relationship is clear to you. That could be confusing, because you are writing that Task A is important and then giving her Task B, so Task B seems like unimportant busy work because she can’t see how it fits with A.

    The third problem — feeling like you’re talking over her head — would probably disappear if 1 and 2 were resolved.

    It is very possible that that is the conversation she had with the OP’s manager and that’s why she is okay now.

    1. sunny-dee*

      BTW, OP, in my opinion, none of the “grievances” you listed were unreasonable. If she truly feels that she hasn’t been adequately trained and doesn’t see the purpose in the work she is being assigned, that is an issue. It’s good she brought it up early, either so that her understanding can be corrected or so that her work / training can be properly adjusted.

      1. Anonsie*

        Yeah I don’t get the feeling the employee is being unreasonable at all. The LW is upset that someone she hired is concerned about the training she’s getting because it disrespects the time she’s put into writing emails and making documents? And goes on to say the employee should be thanking her for providing training at all? I feel like I can already see the whole problem here.

        1. Ethyl*

          Yes, definitely. I get the feeling that the LW hasn’t really explained any of this properly and is yet feeling “disrespected” because the new employee doesn’t just blindly trust that there is some kind of plan in place.

          I think fundamentally this is a bad fit, but not maybe for the reasons LW thinks?

    2. LD*

      Another thing to consider it that the employee’s idea of “training” may be very different from what the manager thinks. It can be semantics but perhaps when the manager tells the employee how to do a task, the manager considers that “training” but the employee doesn’t see it that way; it’s just “how to do this” not “job training.” The manager describing plans for how to help the employee get skilled in the job and a discussion about what “training” looks like for the job might help. Some people think training is more formal than what the manager may be doing with the employee. (I am aware of a situation in which the employee told their manager’s boss, “No, I never get any feedback,” in a situation where the manager had performance discussions every other week. The manager had never used the word “feedback” about those discussions and the employee wasn’t able to translate that “Let’s talk about your performance the past two weeks and I can give you ideas for improvement” equals “feedback.” ) It could be just misunderstanding about expectations for how to learn the job. Just having an appropriate, calm, focused discussion about, “here is the plan and expectations for getting you skilled in the job” vs. “I’m doing what needs to be done but haven’t shared the plan.” And maybe that’s not the intention, but in the absence of communication, people assume the most negative interpretation of the circumstances. OP, have the conversation and see if you can help the employee understand your plan as well as the flexibility and uncertainty in the role/industry. And be open to hearing what the employee has to say. I’d love to hear the results of that conversation!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This is really good stuff. If someone handed me a training manual and said “here, read this”, I would not consider myself in a formal training program. I would consider it as “I am reading a manual to figure out what my job is”.

  3. Tinker*

    It seems kind of odd to frame asking about quitting a job as stemming from feeling entitled to having a job, given that the usual result of quitting a job is to not have at least that job.

  4. Jules*

    idk… if you are in a junior position this would make sense. But if have them do analytics and project mgmt, I am assuming that it’s not.

    My role right now is analytics and system project manager and I hardly talk to my project sponsor unless there is something I need to know or for our regular update. And I am new. But that also means I am humble enough to admit that I don’t know and ask everyone… I mean everyone, from admins to the top on how to function in a new environment.

    But again it could be their background experience too. If you pick a candidate from big companies, chances are they started out with very structured environment. Smaller companies employees know that they need to know how to wear all kinds of hats. Big companies have SOPs and smaller ones and slowly putting structure into place as they grow.

    I started out in a smaller company and when I moved to a big company the fit was not good and I left. I like putting structures into place and I find routinal stuff to be boring. Now I know better. I actually make sure if I interview with bigger company that they are aware of my preference of project base work.

    Consider this. Maybe what this person need is someone to train them to operate in a flexible growing environment vs structure. I was very luck. My boss and my boss’s boss mentored me though everything. I learned not only what is best practice but also how to put it in place. How to look at a big picture and how every project contribute to building the big picture.

    1. steve G - OP*

      This was my question. I remember alot of backlash in the comments about how I worded it and that I must be a pain to work with. Kind of true, but at the same time, that doesn’t mean there weren’t issues.

      Story ends that employee left 8 months later. All of the comments people made last time and so far today are kind of true, or partially true, or part of the problem, but the larger problem is one I’ve had with a couple of other employees since – alot of employees are comfortable doing process work – take information from here, combine it with data from there, do a report, enter it into a system,email it out type work.

      We need people who do that but more importantly take the lead on new work, issues, problems, customers….things that aren’t going to be straighforward or easy or solved without talking to a bunch of people or making a difficult decision or two. That’s where it got mucky for this hire and some of the previous ones that didn’t last. It has been difficult finding people like this, and alot of people say they are but they are not and they hit a wall…..but we eventually found someone good. And she was doing real work the 1st day without being told how to do every little step and she naturally knew how to handle all of the “politics” for a lack of better word of asking for and getting information/help/training without coming across in a negative or needy way.

      1. sunny-dee*

        I will say this, if this requires a lot of ad hoc decision making, your feedback on those decisions is crucial to employees feeling that that can succeed in that position.

        My manager has absolutely no guidance for me in my new position — no goals, no metrics, no priorities, no milestones. I am supposed to identify “something” that needs to be done, and then the means of doing it. However — while he’s a very nice guy — he is also extremely critical of everything that I do. Extremely. He says, “I think you need to talk to somebody to do X.” (Where he doesn’t know who “somebody” is.) So, I’ll make a list of stakeholders and then contact them and have long discussions to get their feedback and problems. And then Manager comes in and starts complaining that I spoke to Jane because Jane isn’t in that department and why didn’t I check the org chart? Now, Jane works closely with that department and has a tremendous amount of respect within that department, so Jane is a good person to talk to. But he keeps bringing up — in private, on the phone, in meetings in front of other people — that he doesn’t get why I spoke to Jane and I should just check the org chart more. And multiply this by everything — he doesn’t like the order of slides in presentations; he’s worried about my tone so he wants to review every email, document, blog post, or other communication that I make, etc.

        If you are going to be hyper-critical, you need to give clear and explicit instructions with clearly defined goals. If you do not have clear and explicit instructions, SOPs, and goals, then you need to back off the criticism.

        BTW, I am not saying that you do this. I am bringing it up because you mention that it is a problem to get people to work in the chaotic environment you have. If the environment is chaotic, a manager has to able to give more latitude to people, or they’ll constantly feel like they’re overwhelmed or failing.

        1. steve G - OP*

          You are correct in the way things work up to the “Jane” part. We are not that critical! My frustrations come from employees who simply avoid problems or difficult work, but if they are really trying to solve them, then ever how they do that, IDC.

        2. Vicki*

          sunny-dee: “My manager has absolutely no guidance for me in my new position — no goals, no metrics, no priorities, no milestones. I am supposed to identify “something” that needs to be done, and then the means of doing it. ”

          I had a manager like that two jobs ago. I was hit hard in my first review because I didn’t read his mind, then told we needed to have regular one-on-one meetings with me keeping a spreadsheet of what I was doing… and still NO goals, no priorities, nothing from him to me. But, if I identified something that needed to be done that didn’t match his opinions, he pushed back. (He also missed at least 3 out of every 4 meetings).

          The worst was when he was contacted as a reference for a job search later (I got caught in a layoff) and told the interviewer that I “needed direction”.

          1. BCranston*

            OMG are you me? I had the exact same problem with my loser ex boss too. And when I tried to pout structure into place to give me something to grasp onto, some sort of guidepost, he didn’t think it was necessary. We are talking basic stuff like a weekly check in to understand his issues and priorities and ask questions that I had. Or what the promotion line was and how to move forward, etc. Nope, instead he kept me off guard, in the dark, separated from other teams so I couldn’t ask others for help to learn the ropes.

            I am job hunting now, but I think I have enough references built up that he would not be contacted because I know he would give me the same needs guidance ranking.

      2. Josh S*

        One thing to focus on as your branch continues to grow or you need to replace people who have moved on–
        Take time to really think about and identify the concrete traits that differentiate PeopleWhoThrive from PeopleWhoQuit at this position.

        Then, think about what you can ask people in the interview process that gives you information about EXAMPLES of how they’ve done such things before, rather than just “can you do this sort of thing? yes/no”. Or better yet, set up a mock exercise that requires directions from A, data sourced from B, a resource or two at C, put it all together in a report and email it.

        The end result should be that your hiring gets a lot tighter and you find more people who fit with the challenging role that you live with!

  5. LCL*

    I dunno, Alison is the expert but I think this employee could be trouble. In my group, people that keep saying training is lacking are spending their time on other things.

    From bitter experience, I have found that people that complain about a lack of training want the material presented verbally to them one on one. That is the way they best retain information. It is not enough to point them to the material and ask them to come see you after they have read it. It is worthwhile to show them where the information is found, by physically taking the book and pointing out some things, or talk them through finding the electronic material on the company network.

    1. sunny-dee*

      I’ve been reading some of the comments on the original post, and I am leaning more toward the OP’s communication style being the problem. “Training” to a bad employee means “hold my hand and think for me.” “Training” to another employee could mean more like “please clearly tell me what the process is or the expecations are.” In this case, it seems like the employee wasn’t getting the direction she needed in what to do. (I haven’t read all the old comments, though — I could be wrong.)

      1. steve G - OP*

        I do expect new people to read things and look at manuals and spreadsheets to learn the job. It’s not that I want people to read SOPs, but more the equivalent of…..if we were stockbrokers for example, then I’d ask them to read part of the Series 63 training guide – that type thing. Otherwise when we get to the verbal part of the training it’s just me talking. A conversation or better yet a trainee with a list of questions is the format I want for certain parts of training.

        1. Maggie*

          Yes but they don’t know what they don’t know. If you want them to hit the ground running, then “you” need to have better hiring practices. Because that’s what this sounds like: a bad hire. Your expectations can be totally legit. The only way someone will pick up on that nuance is if they have previously been in an environment where they thrived in spite of that nuance. I’m glad your new person worked out but I would definitely consider more intensive recruitment strategies next time.

        2. LBK*

          But people learn in dramatically different ways. If the bulk of the beginning of your training program is having someone read through all the manuals and SOPs, that’s just not going to work for some people. I would find that pretty useless – I’m an extremely fast learner, but only when I get to watch someone doing something, ask questions, jot down notes about stuff I know I’ll forget and then try it out myself. I have really low retention when I’m just reading about something in the abstract, especially if I don’t understand why it’s done that way or how my activity fits into the bigger picture.

        3. Anonsie*

          “Otherwise when we get to the verbal part of the training it’s just me talking. A conversation or better yet a trainee with a list of questions is the format I want for certain parts of training.”

          A word of caution on this one, because that jumped out to me. I know a group of trainers who always say this– you go into the training and they start off saying “we’re gonna have a conversation, because otherwise it’s just me talking!” and without fail you will hear people grumbling later about those being sparse on the actual information. We’ll all always come back from one and say the same thing: “No, please, just talk. Just tell me the things you want me to know.” These folks also tend to do the “what do YOU think the best thing is?” deal, so the feeling of being really un-guided is prevalent if you hit one of them for a training you need.

          Wanting someone to review documents as the base is perfectly reasonable (and a good idea), and wanting someone to develop their own processes isn’t unusual either. But everyone will still need some way to check that they’re on track, and without that you’re going to get anxious people, which it sounds like you are. Part of that is hiring, but even a very well fit hire needs some sort of check. And if you tell them to figure it out and then frown at the results frequently, it’s going to end up like Vicki and sunny-dee’s stuff above.

  6. TP*

    I agree that 3 weeks is way too early to conclude anything about a new job and especially start complaining, but as someone who recently took a gig thinking I was hired to fulfill a role at a certain level only to have that not be the case, I wonder if it’s possible there was some misrepresentation as Alison questioned. I think when you use words like “start-up” to describe a work culture, people interpret that in different ways. The place I’m at likened itself to a start-up during the interview process. To me, that meant a creative and collaborative culture where people were encouraged to take initiative, lead and try new ideas. But I think to them it is a way of masking disorganization and dysfunction in the department. It’s also far too common for a job to not pan out the way both parties had intended. You both go into it with one idea, but at times, the day-to-day realities may dictate another. I think this tends to happen with newly created roles, which it sounds like this may be.

    1. steve G - OP*

      Oh – wow – no I never even thought a start-up could be anything but stress and putting out fires, pretending you are bigger than you are (which involves little white lies that add to the stress), etc.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        I agree, Steve. I worked at a start-up for a long time and it’s definitely stressful, busy, chaotic at times, and I spent lots of time figuring out how things should work, writing procedures, etc. A start-up needs people who understand that and can deal with it, people that can take initiative and figure things out on their own; it’s not for the faint of heart.

        *sigh* I miss working in a start-up…

    2. LBK*

      To me, that meant a creative and collaborative culture where people were encouraged to take initiative, lead and try new ideas.

      Yeah, that’s exactly what I think of when I think start-up. I don’t think of “We don’t really know how to do everything so just figure it out.”

  7. Puddleduck O'Leary*

    I’m currently in the position of the “high-maintenance whiner,” and I would hesitate before calling her entitled. She may have left a decent job, only to discover she made a bad career move or relocated to somewhere that doesn’t fit her. Also, from my own experience, I tend to side with the whiner on the side of training–in my experience in the nonprofit world, I have literally never been decently trained, and I don’t know if this is any better in the corporate sector. New employees require time from their manager, and the more time the manager invests, the quicker the new employee is able to be self-sufficient. Yes, the employee needs to take initiative and be self-directed and all that, but I think too often managers throw new employees in with no guidance and expect the work to get done and get done perfectly.

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      I don’t think I’d use the term “entitled”. Buyer’s remorse, maybe. Impatient? Probably. Emotional? Certainly.

      The thing that bothered me the most was the 3 weeks thing. Maybe you start having some doubts then, but to voice them with the concern that you made a mistake is just impulsive, IMHO. Approach the manager and try to close the gaps. Wanting to quit is perfectly fine. If you wanted to run back to a previous job because this one wasn’t what you thought, i think it’s best to just do it rather than talk about it. Backing a manager into a corner with threats of quitting after 3 weeks is just a sign of someone who may be a lot of trouble. 6 months is a different story. But 3 weeks isn’t enough time for the employee to determine if the issues are an exception or a norm. It also isn’t enough time for a manager to decide what kind of employee you are.

      1. Windchime*

        I don’t see asking a question about whether or not I’m a fit and should I quit to be the same thing as “backing a manager into a corner with threats to quit”. I would really be disappointed if I quit my job to move to another one and found that there was no training, no direction, and that simply asking about it would be perceived as a threat or would permanently brand me as a needy whiner.

        1. GrumpyBoss*

          Where do I fit? – you are right.
          I’m not fitting I here and am thinking about quitting – backing into a corner.

          Just going by the OP, it doesn’t seem like she was asking where she fit as much as saying she was thinking about quiting.

  8. Annika*

    It’s strange to me that Allison is so gentle on the employee when this is a perfect piece to the “Should I accept a counter-offer?” question. Threatening to quit is dropping a bomb and once you do that, I don’t think you can go back. Especially, when you’ve been there three weeks.

    Other things the employee could have done:

    1. Asked for a progress meeting
    2. Asked for a meeting laying out her concerns
    3. Written a letter outlining concerns
    4. Waited it out
    5. Tried to affirmatively manage up on the most pressing issues (e.g. asking for more specific guidance on serious issues)
    6. Forcefully advocated for new systems that addressed these concerns.

    I just don’t think you “get over” threatening to quit. And if I am threatening to quit this early, one of two things is true

    1. I am someone who displays terribly work inappropriate behavior
    2. I need to leverage that kind of threat to get people to listen to me because I have no trust in the organization or the people that I am working with.

    Either way, I would be concerned. It’s kind of amusing that AAM was so harsh over someone turning up on the wrong day of an interview but would forgive someone basically moving straight to ultimatums on day 1. I would cut my losses and fire tbh.

    1. Annika*

      Also, emailing “everything is fine” to your boss is crazy! I would be asking for a meeting with my boss to explain why my concerns were no longer valid and basically having a wipe the slate clean conversation. This employee is disrespectful. I would LOVE an update btw.

    2. sunny-dee*

      I may have read too much into the letter, but I didn’t see it as a tantrum-type threatening to quit. I saw it as the employee saying that she feels this is a bad fit for these reasons, and asking if she should stay or move on.

      It could be my own slant on it, though.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I agree.
        I may be reading too deep into the letter, but I am guessing there is a communication block between the employee and the LW. The new-hire waited for the LW to be out of the office so she could bring her concerns directly to the LW’s manager because she wasn’t getting what she needed from the LW.

        I’m envisioning the letter the employee would have written:

        “Dear AAM, I just started a new job and my manager keeps giving me documents and emails and thinks that I can learn everything from them. She uses jargon that I don’t understand. She has me do menial tasks and she won’t tell me why they are done. I’ve tried clarifying these issues with her, but she just tells me how things are constantly changing and I need to be flexible. ”

        I actually think the new employee is handling things well by expressing her concerns and trying to work things out with someone who is receptive.

        I would love to know how it all turned out!

        1. Tinker*

          I’m also thinking along similar lines.

          Early on in my career, I didn’t understand that one could quit a job — I mean, I understood that it was technically possible, but I had the notion that it was an irresponsible, weak, bad-Protestant-work-ethic thing to do that would tank your career and mark you as a Special Snowflake Participation Ribbon Entitled Youth.

          Hence, when a week into one particular job the thought entered my mind that “maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all, maybe I should think about quitting” I refused to entertain the thought. The resulting flaming crash and burn, six months later, was… epic.

          I now highly not-recommend the sort of attitude I had previously.

          1. sunny-dee*

            You know, it’s funny, but the first day has set the tone for absolutely everything I’ve done. First day of college, first day on every job, first date with everyone (including my husband)… All of the good things were apparent, and all of the problems ended up being real problems. You do need to let it shake out, but if you’re seeing serious warning signs early on, sometimes it’s best just to move on before the epic fail.

      2. Annika*

        I don’t think it makes a difference tbh. It’s not about the tantrum but the fact that leaving (rather than ALL the other things the employee could have done) was the first option. After three weeks, this is basically still the teething period.

        1. sunny-dee*

          Again, this could be my bias, but everything the OP complained about (both in the letter and in the comments on the original post) kinda correlate to your list of things to try first. What he characterizes as nagging and handholding could very well be asking questions, trying to get progress information or goals, asking about systems and processes…. And the OP blew her off as being “disrespectful” and “insecure.”

          In point of fact, the employee did exactly what you said — went to the boss’s boss, laid out her concerns, got feedback that addressed that, and decided to wait it out. It’s not necessarily unreasonable that she floated the idea of leaving — she may well have been responding to cues from the OP (real or misinterpreted) that they were rethinking her being there.

      3. Windchime*

        I read it this way, too. I thought the employee was wondering about fit. I’m not seeing where the interpretation of “threats” or “needy whiner” is coming in.

      4. Trillian*

        Same here. I read it as someone inexperienced in workforce norms and expressing aloud what usually goes unsaid. I could have done it myself, in my first few years of work – high anxiety, lack of mentoring, bright young nerd cluelessness. I would have no idea of the more appropriate alternatives.

    3. Annika*

      Think of it like a romantic relationship: I’m not getting what I need vs I’m thinking about ending the relationship because I’m not getting what I need.

      I think those are two VERY different statements and, honestly, I think that if you are bringing out the big guns (leaving) this early, just leave. Most people go into new jobs with extreme goodwill and so if it’s this bad after three weeks, I would just change jobs. I wouldn’t bring up quitting and then be persuaded back.

      It also says in the previous post that the LW was out for the day doing some project and the LW quit to her boss. Again, would it kill you to wait until Monday and do this up the chain?

      This board is generally VERY pro-employee but I’m honestly in shock that people truly believe that offering to quit less than a month into a job is “good communication” and “letting the manager know their concerns”.

      I wonder if some of this plays into private sector vs non profit sector norms as the crying question did. The (young female) employee basically did the emotional equivalent of crying and received comfort in response. She didn’t offer a productive solution. She was ultimately passive in her fate. She bypassed the (female?) LW for a (male?) boss. I wonder if the employee has learnt how to use supplicatory behaviors to get attention, rather than learning to respond assertively and professionally. It’s funny – people think that showing emotion is always sticking it to patriarchy, as if patriarchy hasn’t encouraged this behavior in women for thousands of years!

    4. GrumpyBoss*

      After many years of management, if someone threatens to quit on me now, I don’t even respond anymore. There are so many more productive ways, as you outlined, to make your case without resulting to threats.

      I inherited someone a couple years ago who I knew was a bit of a drama queen from when my peer managed him. The “I quit” was his favorite tool (he was also a manager and ironically, “I’ll fire you” was one of his favorite manager tools). He had been passed from manager to manager for 15 years at this company and had pretty consistently behaved that way. The very first day he made the threat to quit because something wasn’t going his way, I responded, “I’m really sorry to hear your resignation. Let me loop in HR so they can discuss your separation”. Blood drained from his face and you have never seen someone backpedal so fast! HR slapped me in the wrist for my approach on this but it was worth it. He never pulled that card on me again.

    5. Koko*

      Alison typically doesn’t discuss what other characters in the letter should have done in a situation and just focuses on what the LW can do. If the new employee had written in, I bet Alison would have told her she’s jumping the gun and should have a conversation with her manager using less dramatic language before deciding to move on from the job. But telling the LW what her employee should have done differently doesn’t really help the LW, even if it might validate her. LW needs advice for what she should do now.

  9. Tiff*

    The swiftness of her complaints leads me to one of two conclusions:

    1. She really is difficult.
    2. The job really has been bad for her. Specifically, she views your management style very negatively.

    Personally, I’m leaning towards the first conclusion. Unless something truly unprofessional happened in those 3 weeks, she has no reason to be that critical of the work and her role.

    1. Mike C.*

      So how long should someone wait before they raise their hand and say, “I need some help”?

      1. Tiff*

        You can signal that you need help at any time. But talking about quitting in the first 3 weeks (without a totally inappropriate violation of some sort on the manager’s part) IS high maintenance. It lets me know that this particular employee skips past more reasonable options (like, you know…asking for help) and straight to Level 10 Do I Need To Quit?

        If an employee asked me that in the first 3 weeks my answer would be yes.

    2. sunny-dee*

      My bias is for #2. I can tell you now, I would have a terrible time working for the OP, based on their letter. The communication is both vague and defensive, and I’d be second-guessing everything I did.

  10. A*

    As someone who is unemployed, would like to give this whiny, entitled doofus a beat-down.

    1. Mike C.*

      Which one is the “whiny, entitled doofus” and why do you feel that way about them?

        1. Tinker*

          I agree — this notion of being “disrespected” because an employee is apparently failing to click with the training program and has effectively said so, or because they are entertaining the notion of quitting (which is pretty much THE thing they are legitimately entitled to do) strikes me as entitled as all hell.

          1. steve G - OP*

            At the time I guess I was upset and taken aback because I had gone to bad to get as much possible for the new hire and fought my coworkers to not dump the parts of their jobs they didn’t like into the new position…..and those were not easy fights… in my head at least I had done the new hire a couple of favors and saw this as not appreciating those “favors.”

            Now with retrospect I an seeing that while those were favors to the new hire (heck, their jobs could have easily included some more painful work and the pay could have been worse), this wasn’t a tit-for-tat, where I can get someone more $ so expect them to be happy with everything else moving forward.

            1. Ethyl*

              Well and also — did the new hire KNOW you did that for them? Because they can’t read your mind.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Well, I would describe the OP that way, but I have a feeling A means the employee.

    2. JustMe*

      I assume most unemployed people feel the way you do. That’s until you get a job working for a witch, and you end up in the ER with stress induced issues…only then you will realize being unemployed wasn’t that bad after all. Just saying!

    3. LBK*

      The point of getting a job should never be to just get *any* job, unless you’re at risk of not paying your bills and you have no choice. You don’t just want to get a paycheck, you want a place that’s going to be good for you and for your career.

  11. LBK*

    Having worked in a position where you’re expected to learn about 95% of the job as you do it, I can completely see the employee’s position. If she’s being thrown into tasks without getting background on their purpose or being pushed to do things she doesn’t feel comfortable doing yet, she’s completely justified. It also sounds to me like the OP hasn’t made the training plan clear to the employee yet, which is concerning – she’s been there for three weeks! If your training plan hasn’t started yet, what has she been doing all that time?

  12. Mephyle*

    My reading is that this happened because the new employee didn’t recognize that OP’s “explanations of the start-up nature of the business, formal trainings, SOPs, and detailed emails on tasks” were actually her training. She thought they were just some random stuff OP was going on about. Honestly, I can see how this could happen – I’ve committed versions of cluelessness of this type all my life, in both personal and professional matters.
    Maybe in the employee’s talk with OP’s boss, the boss laid it all out to her and explicitly pointed out to her that her training doesn’t necessarily come with a headline “This is Your Training” on it, and the light bulb went on.
    Were this the case, the boss and/or new employee should have also debriefed OP.
    I wonder what happened afterwards?

  13. Vicki*

    Dear OP –
    One thing struck me from your letter that I hope you’ve learned in the 3 years since… Respect must be earned. It cannot be assumed because you are the manager and it cannot be earned in 3 weeks. Thus, if the employee complained about what, to her, were real issues (important enough to consider quitting!), you were not being “disrespected”.

    1. LCL*

      I look at respect in the exact opposite way. When a new person comes in, I respect them and their position. Everyone is entitled to respect to start with. If the person behaves in a way that is flaky or flat out mean, they lose respect points.

      1. steve G - OP*

        I was thinking of “respect” not so much in terms of the grandiose meaning of the word, but more along the simple lines of: say thank you when someone holds the door for you, give up your seat for a pregnant lady on the train…..or don’t say things certain ways at work especially if you are new.

  14. Anonaconda*

    I don’t understand “asking if you should quit.” Raising concerns about your job performance? Sure. But saying, “Do you think I should quit?” It sounds like fishing for reassurance. Either quit or don’t, but don’t try to push that decision onto your boss.

  15. A nony cat*

    A few thoughts: First, this really could just be new-job stress. It’s not exactly uncommon for new employees to feel overwhelmed, like they don’t know what they are doing, and that the job didn’t turn out exactly as they imagined. It’s a bit unusual to actual say you are thinking about quitting, but it’s not that uncommon to think it. Especially after three weeks, by which time the employee probably has a number of things to do and is getting involved in projects, but still hasn’t been there very long to really get the hang of things with confidence. So, I don’t think the employee feeling stressed should be that big of a concern. But I think the way she handled it , openly saying they want to quit, is a big concern.

    Second thought re the training: what can seem like plenty of training to someone who has been there a long time may not seem like a lot of training to someone who just arrived. The letter doesn’t mention if the employee is new to the workforce, but the lack of training that office jobs provided came as a real surprised to me. In my past service jobs, there was no “just figuring things out” you were told exactly what to do in all cases, or you needed a manager. In one food-service job I even had a week long period at a lower wage in which I just shadowed someone to learn what to do. So even if the employee is being trained, it might not have met her expectations based on past trainings.

    Finally, I once worked in a “start-up-like/entrepreneurial environment” omg that is the most misleading statement ever made. I thought it meant that there would be a lot of opportunity to take initiative and get involved in new projects. In reality, it meant that just because I filled out a form correctly one day, filling the form out the same way the next day might be wrong. I wonder if the OP used that sort of coded language when explaining to the employee.

    All that said, I do really think that the way the employee acted is concerning, and therefore agree with most of Alison’s advice; but I think the OP also needs to take a hard look at how that behaved, because this situation isn’t black and white.

  16. Chinook*

    I want to talk about the lack of industry standards. I currently work in a heavily regulated industry and my company is one of the oldest and it still shocks me the lack of official Standard Operating Procedures that are in place. It is not that the standards don’t excist, they just haven’t been written down. Part of it is the fact that every asset is slighlty different in important ways, part of it is the science is always evolving and part of it is no one wanted to share with competitors. Luckily, that is changing (and the people I work with are heading some of these changes because they see the purpose) and the goal is for us to have standards that are higher than most critics’ expectations (the rest just want us shut down).

    That being said, having my boss tell me that there are no official standards but I was free to make my own and run them by her hlped me make sense of the chaos. Ironically, it has also made me a subject matter expert in of these areas because I was the first to write down and categorize wHat we were doing in a way that was auditable. Remind her that she can create standards where none seem to exist and that she can/should run them by you to see if they make sense.

    1. steve G - OP*

      you probably know how training can be hard then, if it’s a regulated industry you have a bunch of professional manuals or tariffs or whatever they are called in your industry….and part of your training is undertanding those. And yes, I get the thing about the SOP. The problem with SOPs though it that I started writing some, and I have 40 different SOPs in various stages and they would all need to be getting changed every few months – better to just pay more and hire better people that can work without them!

  17. AGirlCalledFriday*

    I’ve worked for several startups. In each, it was a combination of “take the lead and figure things out as you go!” and “this is a horrible, disorganized mess!” In each job I had coworkers who could clearly not handle the stress.

    I totally get the kind of person the OP is looking for, but what I’m not seeing is any sensitivity or strategy for dealing with people involved in the work. It’s important to be communicative with all employees – disclosure of tasks and overall mission, and ability to discuss and empathize regarding how stressful a job can be when you have no clue what’s going on and things change constantly. I’m not seeing any of this in the OP’s letter.

    The second thing is your management style. I might get flailed for this, but in my experience the startup managers who try to behave as traditional managers tend to not do so well. The most successful managers I had were people who weren’t caught up with notions of being respected. A manager who tried to manage too much often wasn’t willing to listen to the employees, or got frustrated when employees looked to them to have answers, as would be the case in a traditional company. Managers who did well were very upfront that it was a team effort and that they needed assistance from every person on that team. Managers who did well threw a TON of respect the way of the employee and were very welcoming of new ideas.

    Even the most successful people at these startups were frustrated and confused at times. It was the attitude of management and peers that really made these people stay, learn the ropes, and then lead themselves. They were not people who were able to hit the ground running.

    1. steve G - OP*

      There is also the problem of bandwidth, the incidence I wrote in about didn’t happen in a vacuum and I had alot of other things going on besides dealing with it – you are hiring someone because there is way too much work and it is has been for months (how long it takes to get a new job approved, posted, etc.) and you are doing a million things for months on end, lots of OT, you have big fish to fry, you just can’t take more problems onto your plate, unless you want to be a “master of none”… when someone has a problem that seems petty it’s hard to know how to react.

      Not being defensive like others have hinted, but trying to explain that at that point I was basically having a brainfreeze/stress attack because this new hire giving me yet another problem was just too much.

  18. Noelle*

    I quit a job after 4 weeks once. I fortunately had arranged to return to my old job before I quit, but I was so miserable I probably would have quit soon even if I didn’t have anything lined up. They completely lied to me during the interview process about what I’d be doing, and I was expected to work 12-14 hours a day, every day, plus answer emails all night (and I’d get in trouble if I didn’t answer them immediately). I wasn’t getting out of work until 8 at night so I had no time for friends and family. So work was hell, and I was ALWAYS THERE. Sometimes when it’s a bad fit (or a horrible job) it’s best to just get out early.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I agree and have done that myself except it was 6 weeks and they were doing illegal/abusive stuff. I just couldn’t be a party to that so I got out after 6 weeks and I’m not sorry I did. I don’t bother to put it on my resume of course. There are just some jobs you have to leave.

      1. Noelle*

        Yeah, I also left it off my resume. It was a terrible place and I was not the only person to quit. In fact, the week I left they lost two other employees.

  19. Student*

    This sounds like a communication failure all around. She wants things that are entirely reasonable. You want to provide exactly those things, and are making appropriate plans. There is no real substantive difference between what you want and what she wants!

    You need to start talking to her more, and expecting her to follow you on blind faith less. Let her know what the grand plans are when they involve her. You need to not assume questions are a challenge to your authority, unless there is a lot more going on than you are really explaining here.

    She needs to ask you more questions, or perhaps ask more direct, targeted questions and less total questions so that she understands what is going on. She needs to not bottle up 75 issues until she explodes with them all at once – she should be focusing on one or two major concerns at a time, and addressing things as they come up.

    All that said, is there anyone else who could help mentor and train her? It might give you someone else’s perspective on whether she is a problem specifically, or whether the two of you just have very different work styles.

  20. Kate*

    I don’t want to judge your or employee work, but if you are not a professional trainer, maybe trainings which you write isn’t effective. I think you should to talk with her and other employees and confront all opinions. I had suchlike problem with trainings and I have changed it for proffesional e-learning system Meminder. I don’t say it is solution of your problem, but sometimes we should listen employees, even these emotional :)

  21. VaguriesOfFate*

    I found this thread and the comments quite interesting, but I notice that no one has addressed what would be one of my main concerns in how the entire situation played out. There are many possible interpretations of her comments to OP, and which is correct is impossible to determine without her input, so I won’t address those.

    If I were OP, my most significant point of concern would be her approaching his boss while he was out of town and his boss handling the situation (for better or for worse) without speaking to him about what was going on or arranging for the 3 of them to talk about it together.

    The way that OPs’ boss chose to handle this would automatically diminish any credibility or authority that OP had and create a precedent that if you don’t like OP or something he’s done, just go over his head. If she was there for 8 months, that attitude may well have been passed on to other employees that report to OP, and if it has not yet, then OP is lucky that she was not around long enough for it to spread.

    I have had discussions with my manager and we have a clear understanding that if one of my staff approaches him for any reason regarding myself or my directives, that he will not deal with it without discussion and input from me, and preferably having all of us talk. If he allowed employees to go over my head to him in anything but exceptional circumstances, he would expect me to give notice PDQ.

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