should I ask if I’m going to be fired, I’ve been too pushy at work, and more

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

1. My employee won’t follow one particular instruction

I have an employee who doesn’t have any performance issues. However, there is one very specific bit of instruction I have given to her and the rest of my team several times in several ways, but she’s still not following those instructions. I’ve tried reminding in team meetings, explaining why it’s important to do, doing it myself and then telling her how I did it, sending an email with specifics (“you must do this once each week without reminders from me”), yet it’s still not getting done.

My problem is how to move forward. It seems a bit hyperfocused of me to obsess over this one bit of instruction that isn’t being followed when every other area of her job performance is fine. So I don’t think it’s necessary to move to a documented or written warning. But I can’t let this continue, as it’s a broader problem to me at this point — disrespect. What should I do? It would seem to come out of nowhere to pull her aside to say, “Why aren’t you updating that information as I’ve asked of you several times?” Her response would be, “I have all of this other stuff I’m doing and doing well and you’re worried about this?”

No, that’s exactly what you should do. If you can’t rely on her to do what you’re asking, that’s a problem, and it’s something you should address. And this might just reflect the limitations of a short letter, but when I look at the list of what you’ve done (mentioning it in team meetings, explaining it’s important, reminding her via email, etc.), what I don’t see on the list is clearly telling her that it’s a problem that it’s not happening. That’s the missing piece here. No more team reminders; clearly, your message is getting lost that way. Instead, sit down with her and say, “We’ve talked several times about the importance of doing X. You haven’t been doing it. What’s going on?”

This is an accountability/reliability issue, and the way you reinforce accountability on your staff is by pointing it out when commitments aren’t kept. “You agreed to do X; it hasn’t happened; how come?” is a normal and necessary conversation for a manager to have, even if the rest of someone’s performance is good.

2. Should I ask if I’m going to be fired?

I’m currently in a temp job where I don’t perform as well as my coworkers (I was told when starting that performance numbers were very important). After wondering and worrying over when I was going to get fired for a few months, I finally just emailed my manager, acknowledged that I wasn’t performing as well as my coworkers, and asked if I should I assume that I would be fired soon. She said not to assume anything at this point.

It’s been a few weeks, and I’m still stressing out about when I’m going to get fired. (Two of my coworkers were fired yesterday. Though not for performance reasons, the firings certainly added to my stress.) Would it be bad to ask if I am probably going to be fired soon again? The not knowing is very demoralizing, and I’d rather just know than have to wonder. But I’m not sure if “reminding” them about it will make them more likely to fire me.

Stop asking. It’s not that you’d be reminding them to fire you — if they want to fire you, that’s not something they’re going to forget. It’s that it’s a bit unprofessional and incredibly high-maintenance to be asking that all the time (and potentially does makes it more likely that they’ll get fed up and fire you if you’re already borderline). However, you can certainly ask for feedback on how you’re doing, and for advice on where you can improve — which is more likely to get you useful information than a “am I going to be fired?” conversation (unless that conversation ends in “yes”).

That said, if you’re aware that you’re not doing well in this job, it makes sense to be actively searching for something else. Even if they never fire you, being in a job where you’re struggling isn’t a good situation to be in.

3. I’ve been too pushy at work

I feel I’ve been a bit too bossy at work lately. Two people have just started in a program that until now had been woefully understaffed. These people will be senior to me once they get their bearings, but in a different program (no direct reporting). I was hoping that they would be able to provide some direction regarding projects we will be working on directly together — projects that they will have the lead on but that I need to make some decisions for now. I am in dire need of answers/direction and trying to be helpful, but I realize I’ve been probably hoping for too much too fast, and my frustration is is coming off as being pushy. I realize I probably need to step back and let them do their thing.

Given my interest in fostering a postive long-term working relationship, I’m a bit unsure how to approach this. I haven’t acted totally overboard on anything yet, just probably unpleasant to work with (despite lots of smiles) and perhaps came off like I’m trying to tell them how to do their job. (And while I can come off as agressive and too direct, I’d like to learn to be much more diplomatic.) Am I overthinking it? Or is this appology-worthy? How would I frame a truthful aknowledgement that I may have overstepped, and I’m happy to follow their lead?

I’d really appreciate your feedback – I learn so much from how you phrase your responses, and has been extremely helpful in a transition from an academic setting where I was quite comfortable speaking my mind to a non-academic one, where I feel I’ve got a bit of re-learning about culture to do.

It’s hard to say whether it makes sense to apologize without knowing more about the situation, but if you do decide to, I’d say something like this: “Hey, I’m sorry if I came across as overly pushy about XYZ earlier. Honestly, I’ve been so excited that we have people in your roles now that think I ended up being a little pushy, but I didn’t intend to. I’m looking forward to working with you on this stuff once you have your bearings, and until then, just let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you.”

4. How to pass along a resume to someone at my new job

I have a relatively (one-month) new job on the editorial side of a magazine – I love the magazine and I love the job. A colleague-turned-friend at my old gig (who loves the magazine equally) is applying for a recently vacated position on the art direction side of the magazine. It’s the natural progression of her current career trajectory, I believe she would be a great addition to the team, I know she loves the publication, and she is a fantastic person to work with, so I have no problem feeling confident in recommending her for the job.

The problem is how to go about it. As a relatively low-placed person on the editorial team, I have little opportunity (so far) to interact with the art team. I’ve exchanged maybe five words with the art director, who my friend would be reporting to should she be hired, so I don’t really have the chance to casually mention it over lunch. I want to help push my friend’s application to top of the pile – even just to help give her the chance to be interviewed, as I’m sure there will be a lot of applicants for the job – but I don’t know how to go about making my recommendation because of (1) my low-on-the-totem-pole status (having said that, it’s a small team of 10-15) and (2) my lack of interaction with the person I should be dropping her name to.

Email the resume to the art director with a note that says, “I’m not sure where you are in the hiring process for the XYZ position, but I wanted to pass along Lucinda Montblanc’s resume because I think she might be a strong candidate. Lucinda and I worked together at Teapots Inc., and she was great to work with — incredibly talented, ___, and ___. (Fill in with specifics about why she’d be good.) If you’re interested in her, I’d be glad to tell you more about what I saw of her work.”

5. What kind of jobs would be okay with me being short-term?

I’ve been laid off for 10 months. I have a bachelors in Computer Information Systems from 3 years ago, but (of course) not that many years of actual experience. I’m still learning new things and looking for work. However, my nest egg that I’ve been living off is drying up. I project that by the end August at the latest, I’ll have no money left. I’ve had interviews, but none that panned out.

To help my finances, I’m thinking of finding a job to get me by until I can land something in software development. I should have done this WAY before now, but I don’t know how I’d handle having a job while actively looking for another. Until I ran across your blog, I didn’t even ponder the logistics and problems that can occur there.

I want to know: are there any general types of jobs out there that would be OK with me having them while seeking something else? Jobs that aren’t in the the fast food/restaurant industry*? I know as a hiring manager, you’d probably balk at a question like this. Jobs typically want candidates that won’t jump. However, I’m thinking you probably know of some non-sketchy industries where they’re aware you’re not in this for the long haul. I don’t like the idea of faking enthusiasm to get into a position, then jumping to something “real” at the first opportunity. It makes me feel dishonest.

*It’s not a pride thing; I lost a lot of weight over the past few months and know a food service job would eventually have me putting it back on.

Typically most professional jobs, other than temping, do want you to stay for a solid amount of time (although there are exceptions to that, like short-term contract positions). But retail, call center work, and yes, food service are all places with a lot of turnover and where it’s often totally fine to go in without the intention of staying for years.

(And I know you said no food service because you don’t want to regain weight — but I wouldn’t be sure that would happen; typically when you work around specific types of food, you get sick of it quickly.)

{ 160 comments… read them below }

  1. Sara M*

    Something of a side note on #5–I think it’s smart to recognize a food service job can mean added weight. In the short term, they often give you major discounts and free food and stuff, and the novelty is very tempting. So while Alison says “you might not gain the weight”–she’s right that you might not, but I think your intuition is right that you might well have trouble. I know I would. I would totally eat all the easily-available stuff and not get sick of it until like 12 months in.

    But things like call centers and general retail are still possible. I’d definitely look at temp agencies, who might even find you temp to perm work in your field.

    1. Jim*

      Plus, a benefit at many restaurants is that you get a discount there or even a free meal on each shift, so it’s hard to pass up. After a few years, you may get tired of the food to the point where it isn’t special anymore, but you’ll still eat it. OP, trust your instincts on this one.

      1. TheSnarkyB*

        This person sounds like they’re hard up for cash and it gets really hard to pass up the cheap or often free meal when you know it’s the financially sound decision. And in my experience, I’ve never gotten sick of the food fast enough to save my waistline. In fast food, that might be more likely, but in restaurants, if you’re not a picky water and they have specials…OP trust your newly smaller gut on this one :) and congratulations! I’m trying to minimize my gut now and it’s seriously hard.

    2. Tris Prior*

      Yeah, even if you DO get sick of it, it’s going to be hard to turn down free or very discounted food when you’ve been out of work for a long time and are running out of savings. (I don’t work in food service but had this problem at my job for a long time – could not resist the free food people would bring in because I’d had a tough time buying food for a while.)

      1. Tina*

        Sick of the food or not, the other issue is whether she’d have time or opportunity to eat anything else anyway. My husband is a restaurant manager, works anywhere from 8 to 12 hour days, and if he didn’t eat the food they serve, he wouldn’t eat at all. He still hardly eats even then cause there’s no time. I think it’s worse because he’s a manager, but from what he’s described, it’s similar for their other staff as well, just not as bad. If OP wants to eat at all, they may not have a choice. (I don’t know if all staff do it or just managers, but he also had to sign a waiver related to meal breaks when accepting the job.)

      2. anon for just this one*

        Yes. If you’ve been at all short on food or struggling to buy what you want, free food is SO tempting. I went through a period of eating tons of chocolate and stuff at work just because I needed the free calories so the stuff at home would stretch farther.

        1. GrumpyBoss*

          My office offers free chips, candy, and soda. Things I don’t normally eat. But hey, FREE!

          10lbs later, I have to will myself not to walk by the breakroom when I’m hungry.

    3. Celeste*

      It’s a solid instinct. Many places let leftover cooked food go home with employees rather than into the trash. My niece gained a lot of weight taking home free pizzas that had the wrong ingredients or were a little overcooked. When you’re working a low-wage kitchen job, the leftovers really can start looking like a benefit.

            1. Penny*

              I love me some LJS chicken and hush puppies too! And don’t forget the crispies!

              I actually lost weight working at an ice cream shop one year in college, but we didn’t get free ice cream. Oddly that was my thinnest ever.

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        Back in the dark ages when I was in college, I worked at a local fast food restaurant during the summers. They would send leftovers to a local soup kitchen. I know some big chains like Panera have jumped on this trend, but wish we would see more of it. Sure, often times it is toxic grease. But it beats going hungry.

        1. TheSnarkyB*

          I’ve seen a lot of restaurants doing this and also donating their used grease, but there are a lot of restrictions on what you can give. Many restaurants don’t reliably have enough leftover to warrant the truck stopping by every night, but also it’s a food safety and quality issue. Believe it or not, a lot of times the waitstaff is eating things the homeless organizations wouldn’t take. (ie plates that were served to the table, but were never touched and were sent back, are supposed to be thrown out, etc.)

    4. The Other Dawn*

      I would also say that not only is the food tempting because it’s discounted/free/looks yummy, but if the OP ends up in a job she’s unhappy with, she may decide to start eating just for that little pick-me-up. And having the food right there will make it so much easier to regain the weight if that’s the case. I speak from experience.

      1. MandyBabs*

        I worked at Starbucks for a spell. It was a good blend of food service and retail – hours weren’t bad (but depending how many you need). I’d also advise going for a Starbucks that is more suburban or at an office park than say the ones in a major location where everyone wants to hang out i.e. open till midnight. I did the former Starbucks and they closed at 9 PM.

        I was also on Weight Watchers (well still am – Lifestyle Choice!) and didn’t gain weight. Helps it’s mostly snack food, but since Starbucks can have low fat stuff too (and on WW lists) it was not a problem to follow through when on breaks I made low calorie drinks.

        1. GrumpyBoss*

          Standing also helped too, I bet!

          A sedentary, office job has always been my #1 impediment to my ideal weight.

        2. C Average*

          Starbucks was my pay-the-rent job, too. I actually really enjoyed working there. The benefits are good and include medical, even for part-timers. The atmosphere is high-energy, so the time goes by quickly. You get a pound of coffee a week (no calories in coffee!). You only get a half-hour lunch break and two ten-minute breaks for a full shift, so there’s not really much time to do a lot of caloric damage. And during the average shift, you’re on your feet and moving the whole time.

          Another advantage to working there, if you’re in an urban area, is that if you need more hours than you’re getting, you can often pick up shifts at other locations.

          1. LBK*

            Count me in as another person in favor of working at Starbucks based on my experience with them. Fast-paced environment, not too much custodial/physical work, and a huge emphasis on customer satisfaction. I loved that I wasn’t expected to sit there and argue with a customer over a $3 coffee – I was authorized even as a non-manager to just comp it for them or give them a free drink coupon. That was a huge relief after working for a company where we were expected to actively try to prevent people from returning anything.

            Also one of the best companies in terms of benefits for part-timers – I believe the 401(k) is open to everyone and health benefits kick in at 20 hours/week, which is a lot lower than the usual 30 hours/week.

            The only thing that sucked was the early hours (I did not enjoy waking up at 4:30AM for opening shifts) but on the flipside, that did help me save money because I wasn’t going out at night as much.

            1. LBK*

              Oh, and they also have relatively lax availability requirements. IIIRC as long as you had a minimum of 16 hours total available throughout the week, it didn’t matter when they were. Much easier than a lot of places that require a certain amount of opening/closing/weekend shift availability.

            2. Cat*

              Didn’t they just announce they’ll be doing some kind of tuition reimbursement too? Or am I mixing that up with someone else.

              1. fposte*

                It’s not a general reimbursement policy for any institution–they’re doing a deal with ASU’s online program. I think the mechanisms aren’t entirely clear yet as to whether students still have costs to cover.

                1. LBK*

                  It’s actually all broken down on their website – juniors and seniors get about 40% of their costs covered up front, and then the remaining 60% is reimbursed after the fact. For freshmen and sophomores it’s about a 20% upfront scholarship, the other 80% is up to the student to cover (with no reimbursement). It’s mainly intended to help people who dropped out finish their degrees. So even if it’s not as amazing as “free college for all employees” it’s still a pretty fantastic benefit that you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere, especially in a part-time service industry role.

        3. Chinook*

          My back up job plan is working at Tim Hortons (think Dunkin Donuts with more food choices and highly additive coffee). We got free coffee and half price food (which made it insanely cheap) and, as long as I was aware of what I chose, I could eat quite healthy as there was always soup and sandwiches available to fill up on before having a donut or cookie. Plus, because this was a job where I was active all day (on my feet, moving and lifting items), I did need to have food in order to work well.

          A coffee shop job does work well for short term jobs because they always seem to be hiring, the food isn’t as high caloric and you don’t come home feeling greasy (I just smelled like sour milk instead).

          1. Julie*

            I had never heard of Tim Horton’s before (I believe it’s a Canadian company), but there’s one in Union Square in NYC, and wow – their doughnuts are really good! I’m a big Dunkin’ Donuts coffee fan, but I have to say – the Tim Horton’s coffee was really good, too. (I assume “highly additive coffee” in your post was supposed to be “highly addictive coffee” :) )

    5. T*

      Sorry if I’m repeating what someone else has already says, but I have some thoughts (based on my present experience) concerning the whole temp thing. If there are staffing agencies that lean toward your professional areas, try them first. No agency in my area places staff for my field, so I’m working through a general staffing agency. It has not provided much in the way of work (working half time for three months and full time for one month in the past nine months). Even though I’m going through an agency, I still have to compete with other applicants, and in many instances I stand no chance of getting an assignment. I’ve had some interviews that went well, but they wanted temp to hire, which means the fact that I’d still be looking for work in my field (and it’s obvious when they see my resume, and also because I let them know so that if they do hire me, they know what they’re getting). That’s my long-winded way of saying that you stand a better chance of getting temp-to-hire jobs that you are genuinely interested in accepting as permanent roles, which would be more true in your own field, hence the initial suggestion. Good luck!

    6. KrisL*

      As far as getting sick of the food goes, I worked at a fast food place for about a year and a half back in the late 80’s, and I still avoid hamburgers. I don’t have any gross stories or anything, I just got really, really sick of them. But it did take me a while to get sick of them.

  2. MentalEngineer*

    #5 – As I think I’ve done before in response to similar questions, I will add that there are a number of different contract jobs that you can do remotely. There’s a lot more out there than just call center work (which has produced a few horror letters to AaM). I’ve had one position where I tested search engine responses, and another producing closed captioning for video. You get the standard contractor drawbacks (no benefits, no withholding), but the target hourly pay is $10-$12 if you’re any good, and you’re already paying for all the expenses. I definitely net more than I would working in fast food, and I don’t have to put up with the exploitation either.

    1. MentalEngineer*

      I should add that I’ve also worked in a call center and found it surprisingly pleasant. Like, to the point that I’d be happy going back there if I don’t get an academic position pleasant.

      1. Sara M*

        I have also liked call centers.

        You definitely want inbound, not outbound (i.e. don’t get into telemarketing which is miserable, but something like phone customer service can be pretty decent.)

        1. Sara M*

          In fact, if I were you, I’d look for computer tech support (or DSL tech support, or any sort of technical repair thing, where any experience at all is a plus when hiring you).

          1. straws*

            +1 I’ve known many developers who started their careers working in tech support & moved up from there.

            1. GrumpyBoss*

              I find that the best developers have come from tech support. Exposure to end users helps build an empathy and understanding of how less technical people than you will respond to difficulties with the user experience.

          2. Celeste*

            Yes, exactly. Customer service is going to be a valuable skill in any permanent job you are looking for.

      2. FiveNine*

        Call centers also tend to have slightly better pay than many service jobs — and often have overtime available almost every day if you want extra money — as well as some benefits. And this sounds silly, but I did appreciate having a system in place where you could ask for time off way ahead of time and schedule for it.

      3. Contessa*

        I liked the work I did in the call center, but I was on the team that mainly answered emails (we were on the (inbound) phones for 2-3 mornings a week, and the rest of the time was email). I wouldn’t mind going back if it weren’t for some of the other people with whom I worked, who were loud and distracting.

    2. VictoriaHR*

      Agreed. Software development is huge right now and there’s a lot of start-up tech companies that might be willing to let a person work remotely. LinkedIn has a good job search feature, try searching for “software development virtual” or “software development remote” and see what pops up.

    3. Fabulously Anonymous*

      “and another producing closed captioning for video”
      Just want to mention that this is different than real time closed captioning, which requires a different skill set. Sometimes job ads can be confusing when you’re unfamiliar with the terminology.

  3. Artemesia*

    for OP1 — the very idea that telling a subordinate who is ignoring a repeated requirement directly that this is a problem and suggesting that they will smart back with ‘I am doing all this great stuff and you are worried about this?’ suggests a real need to reflect on what it means to be a manager. THIS is the JOB. Being timid about making requirements clear and following up when they are not done may be damaging your authority and leadership in lots of other ways too. This one is easy. A clear insubordination or failure to take direction; if this one seems hard, then look around for more subtle failures to provide needed direction.

    1. Rat Racer*

      I totally agree with Alison and Artemesia – but I can’t help wondering: have you asked your direct report why she has had so much trouble following your direction? Is it possible that she lacks some basic skill that prevents her from following through and she is embarrassed to admit it?

      The reason I ask is that it strikes me as a little weird that an employee who is in all other cases a strong performer and whose attitude overall is positive would intentionally self-sabotage this way. Most good employees know that the most important way to guarantee your success in your job is to be in alignment with your manager. And if your manager tells you to hop on one foot 3 times before you send an email, you do it. You can ask why, you can even grouse to your friends about stupid hopping rules, but you hop all the same.

      1. Jessa*

        Exactly. I agree with Alison though that it’s possible that the employee is just not reading “team email do this,” as they must personally, specifically, do this all the time or else. I really wonder if this will actually go much farther than “employee you personally have to do x please.” If the employee is generally a good one, I can only agree that it’s a misunderstanding of the instructions OR they don’t know how/have trouble doing it.

        1. Ann Furthermore*

          I agree. It’s better to address issues directly with the person having them, rather than telling the whole team in general that something has to be done.

          The other problem with just telling the whole team this has to be done is that it makes others wonder if they’re doing/not doing something that’s causing a problem. In a staff meeting the other day, my boss made a point to tell everyone that even though we’re all busy and wrapped up in a big project, it is still critical for us to respond to emails from other internal customers. Even if it’s just to say something like, “I can’t work on this right now, but I will get to it next week,” we still need to respond so people don’t think they’re being ignored.

          So that made me wonder if my boss was talking about me. I always try do that as a rule, but it’s possible that I missed something in the sea of emails in my Inbox. I asked another co-worker about it, and she said it was probably directed at another person on our team who isn’t always responsive.

          1. Julie*

            When I was on the receiving end of this (in a large meeting where we were all told to do X, but it only applied to some of the people there), I always thought the manager was lazy for not speaking directly with the people who needed to change what they were doing instead of wasting time telling everyone to do something that didn’t apply to everyone.

            But when I became a manager, I definitely had the impulse to do this because it meant avoiding a possibly uncomfortable conversation with the person who wasn’t doing what needed to be done. However, I have learned from AAM that it just isn’t the way to go. People end up not knowing that the message is directed at them, so nothing changes. I finally had to tell myself that a potentially uncomfortable conversation was part of my job and that I had to do it whether I liked it or not.

            I should add that it’s really important to be clear on what you want as an outcome, decide what you want to say, and then say it. I had a conversation with a team member once when I wasn’t completely convinced the issue was something I should raise with him, and the conversation went badly, and the person was, understandably, confused.

        2. Lindsay the Temp*

          OOooo! My supervisor does this ALL.THE.TIME, and it drives me bonkers! We get department wide emails addressing a “department wide issue” almost weekly, or a discussion in our weekly meeting and EVERYONE but the one person they usually apply to knows EXACTLY who is the issue…Even better, these issues are brought to light because the person who is usually the issue leaves an anonymous note on our supervisor’s desk about said issues… :/

      2. FiveNine*

        I don’t know. I read it more as it’s something … tedious or menial yet still needs to be done by everyone. I say this because the OP is almost embarrassed to have a conversation about this one thing (insert example — not letting your dirty dish sit in the sink, attaching a cover sheet to the TPS report before it goes out now) when the employee is great at everything substantive about the job.

        1. Elysian*

          That’s how I was reading it. As I was reading this, I was thinking “Man, my boss could have written this letter about my and X task!” X is a menial task that everyone in the office has to do, and is supposed to do every day so we don’t fall behind on it. I hate doing X (this is exacerbated by the fact that the computer program that handles X is horrible and old and doesn’t work like its supposed to) and so I usually do X once a week instead of every day. I just don’t want to deal with that finicky software every day, so I save up all my X tasks and “batch” them. I shouldn’t. I’ve been told in group emails to do it every day. But I don’t fall behind (which is the reason for doing it every day) and my system just works better for me.

          I don’t want to question the OP too deeply, but is the task an important one? Ask the employee why she isn’t doing it as instructed. Is there anything you could do that would make it easier for her to complete it as you prefer? If it’s mission critical that it is completed as you ask, then let her know that. If its not, consider whether maybe the employee needs some slack.

        2. Betsy*

          Yeah, I have definitely been in this place, and my mind jumped immediately to tasks like, “Log hours spent and remaining on our task board,” “Fill out time sheet at the end of every business day,” or “mail me a status report every Wednesday by 3.”

          1. AB Normal*

            But the tasks you listed (log hours, mail status report) can be SUPER important for running a business well.

            I’d have no trouble telling an employee who repeated failed to follow an instruction that he/she better shape up, or the consequences would be A, B, C, with C meaning termination. I don’t care how well you are performing other parts of your job; if something is important enough to require multiple reminders, it’s important enough to have serious consequences if not done.

            And if the employee is not doing something because he/she doesn’t know how to, it’s his/her responsibility to speak up and ask for help. A subordinate doesn’t get to ignore an instruction from his manager because he don’t know how to do something / think it’s important. If the problem is lack of training, communicate that to your manager so the issue can be addressed.

            As a manager I’d be discussing this on 1-on-1s and being very clear about the expectations and consequences in case the rule continue to be ignored.

            1. fposte*

              They could be super-important, but they might not be. We have a redundant reporting requirement like that, and that would be the thing my manager would be calling me on (if it weren’t for the fact that he’s way behind too).

              1. Christine*

                Ditto. We have a redundant reporting requirement that also doesn’t cleanly apply to our department (there are things specific to the nature of our work that make it less relevant), but our response rate is reported publicly and it looks bad if it’s not 100%. We’ve argued ourselves blue in the face to get out of it or revise it to fit our work and got nowhere. My new-to-management manager thinks it’s extremely important to do, but if I have too much on my plate, and I have to choose between redundant reporting and taking care of a customer, I’m going to take care of the customer.

                (I realized this week that I need her to give me direction on what is NOT important, not just what is…I’m getting a lot of reminders on what is important and what my response times need to be, but it’s utterly impossible to get it all done, so I’m being left to prioritize on my own.)

                1. Us, Too*

                  This reminds me of my own situation that I alluded to in previous comments. I had staff members say almost this exact thing: helping a client is more important than doing this small task. I realized that part of the problem was that they didn’t understand the priorities or didn’t agree with my prioritization.

                  I had to make absolutely clear to everyone what the priorities were and that failure to respect them was going to reflect on job performance.

                  When management does a poor job of prioritizing work (e.g. “everything” is #1 priority), it’s not shocking when team members are forced to create their own priority list – and that may not coincide with what the manager wants.

                2. Elysian*

                  Us, Too – That was very well said. I think a lot of managers do just as you say “Everything is my #1 priority!” That’s just impractical and unrealistic. If (for example) redundant time-keeping systems are more important to the manager than taking client calls, they have to make that clear. If they’re not, you might have to give a little more leeway. You can’t expect everyone to do everything at once. (Not suggesting that’s what the OP is doing, but its a possibility.) There’s only so much time in the day. Unless the employee is slacking off, they have to lose time in one place in order to spend it in another.

            2. FiveNine*

              Oh yeah, I totally agree with you and AAM that this needs to be addressed quite directly with the employee. I just wasn’t sure that, from the letter, there’s really much to explore regarding *why* the employee isn’t, can’t, or won’t do this thing. It might not be a mystery at all why.

          2. Judy*

            If this is a all team task like a weekly report or hours logging, why not use the computer calendar to your advantage?

            Send out a recurring meeting at 3-3:15 on Friday that says “Fill out weekly report” to your entire team. Click the button for notify, so it will popup every Friday.

            Or set up a recurring email to remind.

            But I prefer the calendar entry, because if I’m taking a vacation day, I make sure to clear my calendar, so I’d remember to do it Thursday afternoon.

            1. Contessa*

              I do this with the Tasks function in Outlook. Every morning I check which reports are due that day, and I can also see what is due the rest of the week (and the month, etc.). I set them to recur every 30 or 90 days depending on the requirements, and then as I do each one I just delete that one entry and it repopulates 30 or 90 days later.

            2. Us, Too*

              I did all this and it didn’t really increase the likelihood someone did the task. In my case, people weren’t forgetting to do the task – they just hated doing it and were procrastinating or skipping it.

              All that finally worked was directly relating failure to do the task with a direct negative consequence: a crappy review, no raise, reduced bonus, or firing.

              I do agree, though, that using technology to ensure folks know what deadlines are is a great idea! I do this, still, today.

          3. Us, Too*

            This is what occurred to me as I read OP’s note. And I had this problem with a team I managed before. I needed the team to do about 15 minutes of horribly boring, but HIGHLY visible by exec staff, stuff every week before Friday at 5 pm. Literally at 5:01 pm a bunch of VP’s would start looking at this information and pointing out which teams didn’t make this deadline, etc. I spent HOURS chasing people down and nagging them for the first month or so. I did all the things OP did and the compliance rate went from maybe 50% to 60%. It really was tedious stuff.

            The only thing that finally worked was to tell folks in their 1:1’s that starting immediately, if this task wasn’t done on time, I was going to ding them on their annual review. There was a lot of anger about this because this represented such a small thing, but I just repeated my explanation of why this task was important even if it was boring and menial. And, if it was such a small thing, it should be no big deal to actually do it. Regardless, failure to do it would mean you are going to be seeing the consequences of that in a review. And, possibly, be fired.

          4. Ed*

            We have to turn in weekly time sheets with detailed tasks which ticks everyone off because we’re salaried. It’s supposedly to track time spent on capitol projects but if that is the case, we should be able to be very vague about non-project work. Anyway, a handful of people on my team simply don’t do it. As a result, we are constantly getting team reminders. But we all know who doesn’t do them (and even openly joke about it).

            My manager struggles with the same concept as OP – she doesn’t want to discipline otherwise good workers for something not performance-related. Unless there is an current issue, we typically are let go an hour or so early on Fridays. I dropped the hint to my manager that on Fridays at 4:00 (with no advance warning) she should say “everyone that has submitted their time sheet can take off”. If they’re not doing a task that isn’t technically part of their performance, why not take away a perk that isn’t technically an official benefit? I’ll bet that would be the last week she wouldn’t have every time sheet. But I got the feeling she felt like the director (who usually initiates the early dismissal) would override her and let everyone leave.

        3. VictoriaHR*

          I’m thinking maybe something like logging time every day or punching in and out even though a person is salaried – the person might not see a reason to do it and so lets it slip, even if management has said it’s important. Definitely needs to be remedied.

          1. Chinook*

            “I’m thinking maybe something like logging time every day or punching in and out even though a person is salaried – the person might not see a reason to do it”

            The irony is that, even if you are salaried, knowing how much time you are spending on a task or with a client is highky relevant from a business perspective because it allows managers to fight with TPTB for more manpower, more leniant deadlines, etc. When I was a receptionist, none of the partners believed I was that busy (because it was always dead when they walked by) until I started logging, on a tick sheet, how many calls I was taking, how many couriers and visitors came in, etc. It was a pain in the butt but those stats actually convinced them to put an extra body at the front desk during the busy season.

            1. Ed*

              A receptionist at a previous job was asked to start keeping a detailed log of her tasks and she purposely gave them a very sparse report. Her new manager worked at a different site and honestly had no idea what her job entailed. She partly gave him an incomplete list out of some twisted concept of “the principle of it” and she also thought they would use the list to outsource her job (which I can confirm was never even discussed). Anyway, they eventually decided to eliminate her job because she apparently did so little. She thought she was sticking it to the man but she actually eliminated her own job.

              It was only after she was gone that complaints started rolling in from other departments. “Who is going to this weekly task now that you so unwisely let her go?” “How could you not know how critical her position was at our site?” It turned out her department task list was on the short side but she also did random things for every other department (which slowly happened over time because her load was so incredibly light). Her manager caught a lot of grief but he pushed back since these other managers never had the right to assign work to his staff.

        4. Jamie*

          That’s my gut feeling on it too – if she didn’t say weekly I’d think it was something like exempt employees clocking in (that’s certainly an issue.)

          I get the same feeling, that the OP is almost embarrassed because maybe it’s trivial, but the fact that the employee is ignoring it isn’t trivial – that’s the big deal.

          A big part of the non-IT part of my job is auditing people for what they are and aren’t doing and addressing it. Ask why it’s not being done and stop talking. It’s hard, but if you stop talking and wait out the uncomfortable silence you’ll get some answers.

          1. OP 1*

            The issue involves a news producer not keeping an area on her show’s website fresh. She is responsible for her on-air content AND her online content. It takes 2 minutes to update as it’s only a headline and not an entire post.

            1. Jamie*

              Interesting, and certainly an important task.

              Has she ever done it? I know people who think FTPing a page update should require a degree in sorcery. I’m sure you’ve checked to make sure this isn’t a training issue.

              (Which wouldn’t let her off the hook, btw, because she should have spoken up and said she’d be happy to once someone shows her how.)

              But I have people who let this type of things slide and then I resent having to check up on them – but I do and when it’s not done call them in. If I don’t have X every Friday a certain department head knows he will get an email asking him to come to my office – no matter how busy he is it’s non-negotiable and the sole purpose of the meeting is to ask why.

              I have had 3 such meetings – I don’t need them anymore since apparently it’s more pleasant to do something you don’t love then to meet with me. Kind of insulting when I think about it :) but that’s okay.

            2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

              Heh, keeping website content fresh falls under my umbrella also, as well as reporting of same and it is one the areas that can be challenging to get compliance.

              Okay, you know how Alison gives these awesomely worded things you can say to other people? Here are some direct quotes of mine, use at your own risk, not AAM certified.

              Situation: direct report team member, pitching a passive aggressive fit about something I had assigned her to do and just not doing it for an extended period of time.

              After she wiggled and argued during a one on one with me (me in ive-had-enough-mode), I interrupted her and said “Listen, this thing must be done and it must be done by XX time every week. Either you do it or I have to do it. I choose you. Get it done.”

              Which, ended that conversation.

              Situation: rolling one of my favorite direct reports into a new set of responsibilities. One minor detail is a simple, no more than five minute task, that must be emailed to me and a couple others, every Monday morning.

              First Monday (this past), I was smart enough to have my eye on my email box looking for the report to come through. (My normal mo is to forget entirely to check up on things, sometimes to the point of then being pissed off that something has gone weeks without being done.) I wanted to make sure this guy got launched as well as possible, so I’ve made an effort to start this off with good habits.

              Anyway, by 11:30 the report still hadn’t come. I went over to his desk and said solemly:

              “You have failed at your first responsibility in XYZ position”

              And just stood there until he figured out what I was talking about. At which point, we both laughed, because of course I was joking………., but was I really?

              Point was made, I had my report and he told me that he scheduled an outlook reminder so he would do it every Monday by 9 am without fail.

      3. College Career Counselor*

        One possible hypothesis is that she may find this particular task particularly odious (whether or not others would view it that way). Consequently, she avoids it until directly prompted. Once she does it, is it done properly/well?

        Another possibility is that she doesn’t know why she needs to do it, so she blows it off. Just yesterday, I had a conversation with a colleague about a student in an off-campus internship (university-funded) program that we administer. Her supervisor discovered that she was not doing some of the tasks required of the position, so he inquired about it. Was she aware of the task, did she know how, were there technical problems, etc.?

        Turns out, she was fully aware and capable–she didn’t understand why she had to do them, so…..she just didn’t. Unfortunately, this has not been fully resolved by “it’s part of your job and I’m your supervisor,” so we’ll be having a little chat with the intern as well.

        1. Celeste*

          I agree with this, that it’s worth having a one on one talk to get to the bottom of it. The team broadcast hasn’t worked, so it’s time to confront. Try to step away from your script of what you think she will say, and make it clear that as great as she is at the rest of the job, she is failing at one part of it and you want that corrected pronto.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          We have a high level guy in my department with ~30 years experience who chooses not to do things required for his job. Like with your intern, this also has “not been fully resolved by ‘it’s part of your job. . .'” He is fully aware of WHY this has to be done, too. I am not his supervisor, but his supervisor has had one on one chats, and has done just about everything short of firing him. (I wouldn’t know if he has a pip or not).

          These types of problems are so irritating, and are a problem for morale. When others see that guy do this with no consequences, they all realize that the bar for firing is pretty high and people start getting away with long lunches, spending all day talking, etc. (Yes, we’re dysfunctional).

          1. Us, Too*

            ITA about morale. In my situation in which the task wasn’t being done, about half the team wasn’t doing it. When I would do 1:1 conversations to correct this, several people would say “But, Wakeen doesn’t do this, either”. Then I’d have to say that we are not talking about Wakeen’s job performance right now, blah blah blah.

            It was like pulling teeth to get everyone to do this. And I did have to actually ding some folks on their reviews for this ridiculously simple thing that they didn’t do. Fortunately, I didn’t have to fire someone for this, but I did have to give some serious private thought as to whether I was willing to do so. (I concluded yes)

            1. AnotherAlison*

              I’m getting annoyed just reading these comments! Re: dinging people on reviews. Oh, they might not get a good rating, but I know our department had uniform raises, so the rating was irrelevant. Our performance management system may have a few gaping holes. . .

              (I found out Friday that I got a new job I interviewed for in a different division, but my boss’s boss is putting up hurdles to my transfer. Really want to get away from this dysfunction.)

          2. OhNo*

            It’s interesting that you mention this, since we have something similar going on where I work. There’s one dinky little task that we are all supposed to do every week – but there’s one guy who has been here forever who pushes it off, doesn’t do it, and complains constantly about the supposed reasoning behind it.

            Though it hasn’t progressed to the point of PIP/firing (and I very much doubt it ever will), it is obvious that other people see him getting away with not doing it and so push it off themselves. Then we all get treated to pointed reminders from the boss, yet another conversation about why it is important… it is so annoying!

        3. Canadamber*

          Could it have something to do with the fact that she’s still in school? A lot of students don’t do school tasks that they don’t view as directly important – and they might not realize that this attitude can’t carry out into the work world. If a small assignment doesn’t affect their grade too much if not done, then that’s okay, but real world work is all assigned for a reason.

      4. LBK*

        I used to have issues remembering to do a certain task that had to be done after we received a certain report but before 11AM every morning. Inevitably when I received the report, I would be in the middle of doing something else and by the time I finished that, I would forget that the report had come in, and suddenly it would be 11:15 and I’d have to go to my manager and get him to fix it on the backend.

        It wasn’t that I hated doing the task, it was just an item with minimal impact to the rest of my day (it wasn’t like it was necessary to do the rest of my work for the day, it just fed into another report elsewhere in the company). It also had awkward time constraints, and it didn’t take very long to do so if I forgot, it’s not like I suddenly found myself with an extra hour of time that would make it obvious I needed to do it.

        What eventually worked was putting a sticky note on my monitor AND putting a reminder in my email calendar around the time we usually got the report every day, and then repeatedly snoozing the reminder until I actually finished the task. Maybe OP just needs to get a system like that in place with the employee, because even a great employee can easily forget a menial task that doesn’t otherwise impact their productivity for the day.

        1. Mike C.*

          Yeah, I keep thinking this is more of a process issue rather than an employee issue. After all, everything else with the employee is just fine.

          1. LBK*

            Yep. And to tack on to that, when my manager questioned me about it, I did get defensive because it was such a small, easy task that I was incredibly frustrated that I just couldn’t seem to remember to do it. So I’d say if the OP gets a bad reaction it’s probably the employee manifesting their own frustration that while being an otherwise great worker they can’t seem to get this one aspect down.

        2. Artemesia*

          when I have tasks like this I set my phone alarm. it is easy when you get busy to miss mini deadlines like this.

      5. Mike*

        > And if your manager tells you to hop on one foot 3 times before you send an email, you do it. You can ask why, you can even grouse to your friends about stupid hopping rules, but you hop all the same.

        I certainly would not. I’m not an unthinking automaton that blindly follows orders. I’d leave before following such an asinine rule.

        1. Chinook*

          But hopping 3 times before sending an email may not be an asinine rule but a result of a weird computer/facilities glitch that means the DSL line gets loose half the time and the best way to jiggle it back is to hop up and down (whereas a full jump would dislodge it completely).

          While odds are that is not the case, my point is that, to an employee may seem asinine may actually serve a purpose and explaining that purpose may not always be possible (due to time/confedentiality/some other unknown reason). I know it sucks to treat adults like children, but sometimes we have to accept that when a boss asks you to do something that has no negative impact/doesn’t break a law, “because I said so” is enough of an explanation. After all, a good boss should be able to see the bigger picture and, while it would be great if they could expalin to you your part in it, at some point you have to just trust that they know something you don’t and they have their reasons for asking you to do something.

          1. Rule-breaker*

            I’m with Mike on this one, at least partly – there are some rules in my workplace that I’m not keen on and haven’t been explained to me, and I’m pretty they exist for my detriment. Example – I am salaried, yet we track our time. Boss wants it done in his system ONLY and does not want me to keep my own records of our time worked. I find this rule sketchy, and I think he does this so that I’ll be ignorant of how much time I’m actually working (or so I can’t compare my time with other employees). Either way, I don’t follow this rule.

            1. Jamie*

              I see a lot of value in salaried people tracking time, and it was a huge pita when we instituted it but it’s been a real eye opener and we’ve used it.

              During busy times when there is a ton of OT for exempt people it’s easy to just chalk that up…but having the stats of production managers putting in 12 hour days and Saturdays for 6 weeks gives a concrete case for some comp time where they don’t need to burn PTO. Just one example.

              Or if you have a certain department continuously putting in too much time and they are managing effectively, you use this to make the case for additional staff.

              It’s also a safety thing – if there is a fire or other emergency I can pull up who is in the building.

              And yes, it’s been used to see patterns where there are problematic attendance issues. Not common, but if someone is always in late and leaving early with 2 hour lunches on days the boss is out of town that can be seen as a pattern and not addressing it on gut feeling.

              But it’s worked for people in terms of comp time, acknowledgement of going above and beyond, and additional staffing far more than I’ve seen it used to micromanage time.

              With your boss I find the not wanting you to keep your own records very odd. How could one keep you from knowing when you come in and when you leave? That’s disturbing to me.

              1. Rule-breaker*

                Yeah, I have no problem tracking the time. It’s somewhat more detailed than just when we come in and leave – we also track the amount of time spent on certain tasks. The part I dislike is that I’m not supposed to track it on my own, and only use Boss’s computer software. I keep a separate excel sheet for my own records, and our staff has been cautioned not to do that several times. It’s weird, and I question why that would be the rule. So I don’t follow that rule. I want to know how much time I’m working and I don’t think that’s so odd.

                1. Anne*

                  I’ve had several experiences in my current job where seemingly bizarre instructions and rules were mistranslations over time of perfectly sensible rules, with the origins mostly lost by the people training and managing others.

                  From that experience I’m inclined to wonder if there was some issue in the past with people tracking only in excel or a notebook or whatever and not in the software, so ‘you need to use the software and not a notebook because then I have to enter it all into the system’ has mutated over time to ‘you need to use the system and not keep your own notes’.

              2. LD*

                Jamie, Can I come work for your organization???
                I must say that it sounds like your managers are focusing on the right things! I always enjoy your perspective and appreciate your comments.

  4. Kate*

    Number one really makes me wonder…. what is your relationship with like with your employee? What is it like with other employees?

    Do you think that they would feel comfortable telling if they thought there was a major flaw/glitch in what you are proposing? For instance, if you work in a technical field, would the request cause a glitch in the code but your staff member wouldn’t feel comfortable telling that you directly?

    I really think that if your employee is doing great in all other aspects of her work but continuing to avoid implementing this one thing, you may want to look at other elements that could be influencing her choice.

  5. Amy*

    #5, hosting is a great way to work in the restaurant industry without being around food – many hosts never even see the inside of the kitchen! Plus, hosting often requires less training than waitstaff (you just have to learn their table layout and general seating practices/protocol), plus there is usually high-turnover so it doesn’t reflect poorly on you if you leave after a few months. Working at a restaurant chain will offer more dependable hours (usually you leave as soon as the kitchen has closed), working at a smaller, family-owned restaurant will generally have a more positive, personal environment but you may never know exactly when you’ll be leaving because hosts often help the waitstaff with their sidework or bus tables when the kitchen closes)

  6. Jennifer M.*

    OP #1 – I have a question. Has this employee had any behavior to date that would make you think that her response would be so petulant (and really, even if it is, so what? a job requirement is a job requirement)? Or is that just conjecture on your part?

    Sometimes people just don’t get how important something is for you. I work for a government contractor and we even though we don’t do total time accounting, we have to have time sheets. I have to constantly remind people that they need to fill theirs out no later than the next morning because a government auditor can do a timesheet check with no prior warning. They just show up and walk up to an employee and ask to see the timesheet. It has happened to us in the past. We have official policies, reminders at staff meetings, automated emails saying if your electronic time sheet hasn’t been updated in X days (with a cc to your timesheet approver). But you better believe that if I do a spot check, at least 50% don’t have up to date timesheets.

  7. Dutch Thunder*

    OP #1, the fact that you expect a response along the lines of “I have all of this other stuff I’m doing and doing well and you’re worried about this?” makes me think her not carrying out this one task isn’t your only problem. That’s not a normal, respectful response to feedback/direction from ones manager. Are you sure there isn’t more going on with this employee?

  8. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

    I am only going to remind somebody so many times before I assign the job to somebody else. I value the preservation of my own stress levels highly.

    Lemee tell you something from years of experience, if you do a one on one and the answer you get back to “why this isn’t being done” is that employee doesn’t think it is important, and if you know for positive you have made clear multi times that this thing must be done, I don’t care how good employee is at other things, you’re on a bad road.

    I believe 100% in explaining why. I don’t believe I have to defend why. Just do it.

    1. straws*

      “I believe 100% in explaining why. I don’t believe I have to defend why.”

      This is a really good & important distinction. I’ve had a few situations over the years where after explaining why, the other party started trying to debate me into taking it back. Feedback is always welcome, either for clarification or to point something out that I maybe hadn’t considered, but it’s a waste of everyone’s time to have to defend every reason for every task. I also tend to be less open to considering constructive feedback from someone when they follow it up by not allowing the conversations to end until I agree with them.

    2. AnonAnalyst*

      Yes, this so much. I managed someone like this, and it was exhausting.

      I actually inherited this employee from another manager that was let go, and it quickly became clear that what had happened previously was that the employee had refused to do various tasks so instead of addressing the performance issue, the manager just started doing them. This in turn led the employee to believe that she should just refuse to do whatever tasks she didn’t want and someone else would pick up the slack. When I tried to reassign the tasks to her, there were constant arguments and push back, and she basically just refused to do them. Eventually I had to fire her – while she was really good at a lot of the job, the bottom line was that I needed someone in the role who would do all of the things I needed that person to accomplish.

      It doesn’t sound like the OP’s employee is there yet, but I would really caution her about continuing to complete this task for the employee lest she accidentally reinforce the perception that, if the employee doesn’t do it, it doesn’t matter because someone else will take care of it.

      There are a couple of tasks I’m assigned as part of my current job that I think are silly/unnecessary. I understand the rationale behind the tasks, and I have a good relationship with leadership here, so I’ve had the opportunity to provide my thoughts about them. In the end, they disagree with me and wants those things done, so I do them. It’s part of the job that they pay me to do, and even though they think I’m awesome at what constitutes the bulk of my job, I’m fairly sure that if I just ignored instructions and didn’t do those things that they’d eventually fire me even though it’s a tiny part of my workload.

      tl;dr: OP – it absolutely is a performance issue if she’s ignoring explicit instructions. If you haven’t already, please clearly tell her that it’s a problem that she’s not doing this and that it needs to happen going forward, and if it’s still not getting done, approach it as you would any other performance issue.

    3. GrumpyBoss*


      There have been so many times I have not wanted to believe this. I always rationalize it to myself as, “but he/she is just a ROCK STAR in every other area!”. And ultimately, what Wakeen says is 100% accurate.

      If the employee is the strong performer you think they are, after you sit them down and make it very clear that doing this one thing is very much a part of their job, and if they aren’t completing it, they are not meeting the expectations of the job, then you will see results. If they continue down the same path, they aren’t a strong performer. They are a free radical that will destroy others in their path.

    4. Jamie*

      I love your last sentence. I’ve never put it into words but that’s exactly my feelings on it.

      Someone needs to stitch this on a sampler.

  9. EAA*

    #2 – You say performance numbers are important for your job. While you may feel/know you are not as good as the other workers that does not mean you are not doing the job well enough. If your quota is ten widgets an hour and you meet that while Wakeen does 12 an hour does not mean you’re going to be fired. Instead of worrying all the time about being fired start working on ways to improve.

    1. Artemesia*

      THIS. I can’t imagine anything much more unprofessional than constantly fussing with management about ‘are you going to fire me’. It reminds me of people who constantly ask their SO if s/he is going ‘to dump me.’ This kind of insecurity is more difficult to be around than minor productivity problems. If you aren’t that good, then get better. If you can’t get better, keep doing your best while you look for a different job.

  10. Julia*

    #5- There are many summer camps and enrichment programs right now that are temporary by nature. Most have already hired but it may be worth looking into a technology/computers role for a summer program.

    1. H. Rawr*

      Along these lines, in our area, a lot of hardware type stores have signs up advertising for seasonal summer help, and on the flip side I know a lot of people who have done retail (mostly mall stores or big box stores) for the holiday season.

  11. Sunflower*

    #5- Going with Allison, I would not throw out food service. When I was unemployed and job searching, it was actually the best job to have. I made WAY more money than I would have temping or doing retail and the schedule is so flexible it gave me plenty of time to job search and interview.

    As far as gaining weight, depending on what you’re doing in food service, you don’t really have time to eat. If you’re serving or hosting in a restaurant, unless you’re day shift, you barely have time to eat. Eating dinner at work=scarfing down a piece of chicken, standing up over a trashcan. I’ve gone home starving many nights because I haven’t had time to eat. The restaurants I worked at only gave small discounts- like 25-30% so most people brought their own food anyway.

    This is just my experience but I’ve gained more weight working a desk job than in food service. It’s soooo easy to keep nibbling on things all day when you’re bored and sitting down all day.

    If you really feel strongly about this than I would never encourage you to get a job in food service but I think it’s worth looking at from all the angles

    1. LBK*


      I gained weight when I started a desk job because I wasn’t running around a store all day keeping me active, and I also was sitting in one place so I could just surround myself with snacks to eat all day long.

      Also, when I did work in food service, I worked in a place with a very limited menu, not a full restaurant. It only took a month for me to get sick of the food, even though it was free. Maybe find something like that, rather than a restaurant with a lot of options where you might find yourself being able to put more variety in your discounted/free meals?

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Me too, when I worked at the cafe in CA. I was running all day. The food was better than average so I could make healthy meals (salads, sandwiches with lots of veggies, soup) and I didn’t eat that much, because we had to pay 55% of the cost of our meals.

        Man I was skinny back then. I need to try to eat like that again, and move someplace where I don’t need a car.

  12. fposte*

    On # 2–I understand how hard it is to feel anxious about the future, but being repeatedly asked this question would make me as the manager feel like I’m being asked to take some responsibility for managing this anxiety on an ongoing basis. That’s not the manager’s job but the employee’s job, and it’s really not one that you want to outsource anyway. I also think that this might be a really good opportunity for you to try to find some peace with some pretty common uncertainties–it’s pretty rare that somebody actually has 100% certainty that their job isn’t going away.

    And don’t let your anxiety lie to you–unless the place is a hellhole, it really isn’t better to know for sure you’re going to be losing your job in two weeks than to have a job for another couple of months.

  13. AnotherAlison*

    #2 It’s that it’s a bit unprofessional and incredibly high-maintenance to be asking that all the time (and potentially does makes it more likely that they’ll get fed up and fire you if you’re already borderline).

    Oh dear God. This. Asking if she was going to be fired absolutely would be enough to sway me into not keeping a temp who was not performing well. It is a huge pet peeve of mine. I had a best friend growing up who constantly asked if I was mad at her if I was just being quiet. I always thought, well, I wasn’t mad, but now I am because apparently my mood has to be constantly adjusted to make you feel secure.

    Like Alison said, ask how you can improve. That would be so much better received.

    1. Monodon monoceros*

      I have 2 friends like this now- always emailing me asking why I never email them. Honestly it makes me email them less. Might be kind of jerky of me, but there it is.

    2. Kai*

      Yep. We had a temp who was always asking about her future in the company, and I mean, she asked EVERYONE, from the other low-level employees to the ED. It was never-ending. Her work was pretty good, but that really turned us off to her as a permanent staff member. Luckily she found another position pretty quickly.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        Something similar happened to me too. I had a temp working for me years ago, and he was consumed with being hired on full time. He spent all his time trying to finagle his way into positions all over the company, and talked about it constantly. At one point I think he even approached the CEO.

        The fact that he was unfocused on what he’d been hired to do, and therefore didn’t do that great a job when he actually was working, meant that I called the temp agency and cut him loose, and had them send me someone else.

      2. Lizzy*

        That must be annoying, but I have temped enough to know the frustration of having your status with a company be indefinite. I temped for a bank last year for what was suppose a 6-week assignment but turned into 6 months. I never assumed I was going to receive permanent employment, but they never could give me an exact timetable every time I asked how much longer I was needed for. Then they acted surprised after I confessed to being fed up and asked to leave. Granted, the temp in your story really shot herself in the foot, but I can understand the anxiety.

  14. GigglyPuff*

    At the dog kennel where I worked, there was definitely turnover, but also people in it for the long haul, and my manager was great about letting me come back and work whenever I was between school or jobs. And I know one of the staff members worked there during college getting a computer degree, and ended up getting hired as their IT person for a multi-location dog kennel. So maybe smaller companies, might have need of your computer skills, which will help with experience, while also doing other things to earn money.

  15. Sunflower*

    #2 reminds me of that quote ‘Worrying is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere’.

    I don’t want this to sound harsh but stop wasting your time being so scared about getting fired. It’s incredibly unproductive and there are way better things to be spending your time on(like looking for a new job in case you are fired). You’ve already acknowledged the job isn’t really working t and you seem more worried about the idea of being fired than losing the actual job. Instead of worrying about being fired, continue asking your boss for feedback and ideas of how you can improve. Also take some time to see why this job isn’t working out and apply that to your job search so your next job is a bit better of a fit

    1. LBK*

      That is an amazing quote. I think I need to tattoo it on my arm so I can look at it every day as a reminder.

    2. Jennifer*

      Just assume you’re going to be fired (you just don’t know when and they probably wouldn’t tell you before it happened anyway) and start planning your life accordingly. Save your money while you still have it, bookmark the unemployment web sites (if you end up being eligible for it), look for other jobs.

    3. Prickly Pear*

      This. I worried myself sick over the idea of being fired from my job, finally flipped a switch into “why so much anxiety over this job/look for solutions” and turned my attitude around. Knowing that I was actively trying to get a better situation has made me a sharper employee now- so that my skills will be 100% for my new employer, and to show my current employer that I will serve until the end.

  16. Robin*

    #3: A little self-awareness will go a long way here, I think. Just by acknowledging and explaining your actions, I think all but the most petty person would forgive you for a little over-enthusiasm. Maybe try to take the time now to sit down with each of them in a more one-on-one, informal setting (maybe lunch?) and get the know them and develop a rapport. You’ll be fine.

    1. OP#3*

      Thanks for the comment! Yes, I actually started to do this. I figured afterwards maybe it didn’t come off as bad as I thought, but either way, it will be easier to understand my direct approach if they have some idea who I am (at least, understanding the person has really helped me understand other people’s behaviour in the workplace!). I’ll still work on being less pushy, but still, maybe context will help :)

  17. Anonypants*

    I found myself gaining weight in a lot of service roles, food or otherwise. Because my shifts would restrict when I could eat and how long I had to eat, I would stuff my face with carbs and protein before shifts, stick to food I could easily take to work, again stuffing my face during breaks, and would at times eat meals that could be made quickly. It’s not uncommon for minimum wage workers, especially people with multiple jobs, lots of shifts, or weird hours, to eat wacko diets that aren’t conducive to maintaining a low weight, despite how active they may be at work.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Ayup. I gained a lot of weight while I was working two jobs and one ended half an hour before the other began–while I’m sure there were ways I could have been healthier about it, mostly it came down to “fueling up” as cheaply and as fillingly as possible in the limited time I had. Which meant cheeseburgers way too often.

  18. Scott M*

    #1 – is the op truly treating this as important.. ALL the time? Or does the employee forget to do this task a few times and there are no consequences? I’ve come across something similar. For example, one manager might be ask our team to send a weekly status update, but if we forget to do it for a few weeks, no one mentions it. So the implication is that it really isn’t important. Then after 3 months of spotty weekly updates, we are reminded to send them again. Eventually it tapers off and we are reminded again in 3 months.

    I finally realized that the manager really doesn’t look at the updates every week. He just uses them for performance reviews. So every few months he looks at them all to refresh his memory about what we are doing and realizes he is missing them. But still, without any consequences, the status updates got low priority.

  19. AnonymousDude*

    Hooray! I’m OP5.

    Thanks for answering my question, Alison, and thanks to everyone who commented on it. Yes, I’m 100% sure I’d put weight back on if I got a food service job. Part of the reason I still have weight to lose is that I can’t turn down free food. That was a problem before and after the layoff. So food service (except for maybe hosting) is out.

    However, I never considered call-center jobs (always heard horror stories) or contract work (don’t know the first thing about it). Since nothing else seems to be panning out at the moment, maybe I’ll aim more of my search at them.

    Thanks again, all.

    1. LBK*

      I think the key to call center work is not getting hung up (no pun intended) on bad calls. You’re going to get angry people on the phone, and they’re going to argue with you about stupid stuff. If you’re able to realize that it’s not personal and move on after a bad call without dwelling on the negativity, you’ll be fine.

      Also agreed with whoever commented about saying find an inbound one, not outbound – cold calling is mentally exhausting.

      1. Anonypants*

        For call centers, I wonder if something like retail is likely to have fewer bad calls than something finance or health related. People tend to get really on edge when it comes to things like their bank accounts, health insurance, whether they can get their prescription, etc., than if they’re just trying to order a pair of shoes or something. I’m usually really nice on the phone, even if I’m inquiring about minor bank account issues, or at least I try to be, but when there was an issue paying my taxes I kinda went into bitch mode talking to the bank, because I was terrified if the situation wasn’t fixed right away I’d be thrown in jail.

        1. Jamie*

          Yeah, I would recommend staying away from tech support if angry calls are an issue.

          I apologized about 5 times today on the phone with tech support for our stupid service provider because I heard the tone creeping into my voice and of course my anger isn’t toward the woman on the phone – it’s her employer I want to dice like a scallion – but when it’s day 5 of my calling about the same issue which should have been resolved each time…it’s a lit cigarette oily rag kind of situation.

          I hate when I get edgy with the service reps – because the vast majority of them are very nice, helpful as possible, and really trying to fix things. It’s amazing how they stay so even tempered. I’ve dealt with 2 bad ones out of the hundreds of calls I’ve made in my career. Really good odds.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          For me, it’s all about how long I’m on hold and how easy the automated part of the phone system is. (Your company screwed something up or your product isn’t working correctly) + (answer 10 questions just to get put on hold) + (45 minute wait) = nasty customer

          If I get to talk to the agent right away, I’m usually pretty nice.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            Oh, I’m also crabby if I get transferred 3x.

            O/T, but my husband has been trying to cancel a credit card payment system for over 6 months. Only one person in the company can do it, and she doesn’t answer her phone. She might return the call days later, but when he misses it and calls back 30 seconds later, she still doesn’t answer. It’s maddening.

          2. Mints*

            I get irritated when I call with a detailed explanation of a technical issue and they ignore me. I’m like “Hello my internet is not working. I rebooted the computer and the modem. The modem cords are all plugged in and these lights are solid green XX and the YX lights are flashing green. It’s also not working with the video game console or my cell phone.”

            And they’re like “Okay is it plugged in?”

            It makes me want to rage break the coffee table

            But generally I’ll try to be nice, because the internet gods are fickle and it’s not the call center petson’s fault

            1. Mike C.*

              YES HOLY CRAP THIS!!

              Is there some sort of secret password we can pass along to IT people that says, “No, we actually tried all the normal trouble shooting things including searching on Google so can we skip all the normal crap please”?

              It would help your average call times!

            2. ChiTown Lurker*

              They are required to follow scripts. If the employee deviates from the script, he/she can be terminated. I, too, hate this stuff . Sometimes, I am successful at reaching Level 2/3 support by requesting it initially but most times … Sigh.

    2. CTO*

      One perk of retail is that if you find a FT job, the store may still keep you on as a PT weekend/evening employee. Most stores would be really happy to have an extra trained employee to work those hours. Working two jobs can be tiring, but it would help you catch up faster financially if you can do it for even a little while or even just go back during holidays or big sales.

    3. Mints*

      For call centers, I’ve seen some tech support places that are b2b. So instead of helping consumers with home tech, you could help the other company’s IT person with their server or something (like Jamie said). It’d probably more advanced, and your background could help

    4. Programmer 01*

      Hey #5, I’m sure I’m not telling you anything new, but you might want to make sure you have a small project on the side making use of current software tech — a year gap in any tech position is rough on a tech-oriented resume, especially in fast-moving fields. Depending on what you do or want to specialize in there should be options — in my field I usually send people to weekend Game Jams (the networking is amazing and they’re a lot of fun) and tell them to build little silly stuff in Unity and Twine, because you have an actual little portfolio to show your head is still in the game (this is likely hilarious advice coming from the one industry that still uses C++ on a daily basis).

      I wanted to suggest contracting to larger companies as well, a lot of times they have little holes that need filling (database work, timesheet system upgrades, system transitions in general) that is too much for their on-board IT or Data Management departments, and those can actually turn into steady jobs for fairly basic programming work. I did freelance work for a steel foundry several years ago between jobs, and they still occasionally call me looking to see if I can do “one more thing” (and they pay well).

      1. AnonymousDude*

        Yeah, I know what you mean. I have a profile on GitHub already, but I only have a measly two projects on there. I often made the mistake of programming along with a big tech book and going on to trying to learn the next thing instead of writing projects in what I just learned. I’m trying to slow down in that regard so I can eventually put more things up.

        1. AnonymousDude*

          Also, how do you contract to larger companies for small things like that? Do they have postings? I’ve seen big contract positions (for 6mo to a year) advertised, but never anything for programming grunt work. Do you just call/email and ask?

          1. Programmer 01*

            They don’t usually post on the company site itself but tend to have listings on places like Craigslist, as it’s not long-term employment. Networking’s big, too, it’s worth asking friends or acquaintances. Hobby-wise there are always tons of online games and apps that need the support but can’t pay (much) in real-money dollars, but are still worth doing in terms of experience (if you have favourites, check in with them, and GitHub/Bugzilla tend to be associated with a lot of open projects as well).

            I totally hear you in terms of learning along with the textbook then wanting to move right on! You’ve got this, though, and good luck to you — you sound like you’re on the right track.

    5. Flashback Thursday*

      I was at a call center for a shipping company. Wasn’t bad at all – just made bookings and made unhappy customers happy.

      Definitely better than my stint at the preschool.

  20. Graciosa*

    Regarding #1, there have been a lot of good comments about this one already, however I would frame the OP’s concern about the employee’s probable response a little differently. It seems that the employee has her own opinions about what work is and is not worthy of her attention. When those opinions conflict with her manager’s, she feels perfectly comfortable dismissing the manager’s.

    The manager should be thinking “Would I fire an employee who refused to follow my direction when she didn’t feel like it?” (Yes) instead of “Am I hyperfocused on one little thing when the employee does other things well” which the manager seems to think is open to debate. A documented or written warning may not be the next step, but it should absolutely be a future step (and not the distant future) if the employee’s behavior doesn’t change. Refusal to accept clear direction from a manager is not consistent with continuing employment.

  21. Ann Furthermore*

    #3: I think Alison’s advice here is spot-on. Proactively addressing something is so much better than letting it fester. If the new hires have been thinking you’re being pushy, putting a little context around it will probably help smooth things over, if feathers have indeed become ruffled. This is one of those situations with an almost guaranteed positive outcome. If you have rubbed them the wrong way, they’ll appreciate that you took the time to talk to them. If you haven’t, they’ll still recognize that you’re being considerate and want to build a good working relationship, and help them get up to speed while they’re still learning the ins and outs of their new jobs.

    I haven’t had this specific problem, but sometimes I do have a short fuse. This is always a function of my stress level, and happens when project deadlines are looming and decisions have to be made to keep moving forward. I have found that if things get tense, or people get frustrated, that it helps to go back later and smooth things over and explain where I’m coming from: that the project needs to keep progressing, that options have been presented and one has to be chosen in order for that to happen. If we discover issues down the road, they will be handled, and won’t be ignored. And, since my line of work is doing ERP implementations, I also try to address how overwhelmed people can get with so much new information coming at them from so many different directions, and reassure people that things do get easier.

  22. Graciosa*

    Regarding #3, it’s actually a good thing that the OP recognized this and is concerned enough to change the behavior and think about whether some fence mending is in order. It’s much more of a problem when people don’t recognize this and don’t respond to attempts to address the issue. The fact that the OP did this on their own is commendable.

    1. OP#3*

      Thanks – this is actually what I’ve started to do. It seems it may not have come off as bad as I thought and while I’ll still actively try to be less pushy, I figured knowing me personally might help people also understand its not coming from a place of wanting to control them.

  23. C Average*


    Like so many others here, I’m incredibly curious about what this task is. I think in all offices, there’s some amount of what we call bartlebying around here–people letting certain tasks slide because they would prefer not to do them, and there are no obvious consequences to them not being done.

    These tasks are particularly obnoxious if they’re part of some top-down Everyone Must Do This Thing edict that really only makes sense for part of the work force. I remember a few months back, one of our directors (who was brand-new to the organization) became very gung-ho for Trello, a productivity tool. She wanted everyone to record their work in Trello. She had three different teams under her, and for one of them, Trello made good sense, because the team was geographically scattered and needed an asynchronous way to track projects and tasks. For my team, though, the requirement was maddening and nonsensical. We’re a highly collaborative team and we all sit in the same room. It felt like a make-work project, and we all had to be reminded again and again to do it. Eventually, the reminders just . . . went away. No one here is using Trello.

    I’ve been through a lot of these Everyone Is Now Going To ________ cycles, especially with new managers. I’d say it’s a regular enough thing that it could be described as part of the culture here. A new thing will be rolled out with much fanfare, and it will either stick or it will fizzle. It’s usually pretty obvious pretty early how it’s going to go.

    On the relatively rare occasions when a manager decides that something that seems to be fizzling needs to be made to stick, it’s been an uphill battle.

    Reminders are good, especially if they’re somehow system-generated and regularly recurring.

    If pain points can be eliminated, that helps a lot, too. (If the task requires the employee to log in to a certain program they don’t otherwise use that requires a complex password, for example, can the program be brought under the company’s unified login? We’ve done that with some of the programs that weren’t getting as much use as they should have, and we’ve seen a better adoption rate now that people don’t have to memorize yet another password.)

    And if there’s a business reason for the requirement that’s not obvious to the people being asked to perform the task, it might help to explain the why, not just the how. “Please record the temperature in the chocolate teapot room in the spreadsheet at 4 p.m. every day” is fine, but you might get better buy-in with “Our company stands to lose a lot of money if the thermostat in the chocolate teapot room malfunctions and the product melts. To ensure that everything is functioning properly, we need to track the temperature in that room every day at a consistent time. That way, we can flag any irregularities and make sure they’re getting addressed before the end of our workday.”

  24. TotesMaGoats*

    Ok #3, here’s my question. Do you think you are being pushy or has someone told you that you are being pushy? Is it entirely possible that you are overthinking your interactions and you’ve been perfectly acceptable in your requests to these new staff members? Or is it in fact okay to be pushy in that you need this information now and their seniority/newness doesn’t really play into it?

    It’s all well and good if you feel that you are being too pushy. Take that step back but make sure that self-perception and reality match.

    1. OP#3*

      Thanks – this is actually probably a bit of both, good call. I’ve been accused of being too pushy in a previous position (but by someone who I now work with), and really took the comment it to heart and have been actively trying to change. I know I’m direct, and I find it hard to tell when I’ve really come off too strong. It seems in this case though, I might be over reacting – it seems at least one of them didn’t take it wrong.

  25. Labratnomore*

    I love the answer for #1, that is exactly what managers at my place of employment need to read. It is simple and almost seems to the point of common sense, but yet is an area so many managers have a hard time with. There are many times here where one employee is not doing a certain task in the required way. That typically leads to reminders in the team meetings for the next several meetings, then in changing our processes to make it easier to happen or even to replace that task with a different one. They never want to have a direct conversation with the individual that is causing the issue. They think that finding solutions rather than placing blame means that they should not hold people accountable for their actions.

    Please take the time to talk to the individual, I bet everyone else is insulted every time this is brought up in team meetings and they all know who isn’t pulling their weight. It is bad for moral to be treating everyone like they are doing something wrong when it is only the one individual that should be chastised. More importantly they lose respect for management when the same issue is brought up in every meeting when they all know they are not the one causing the issue.

  26. KellyK*

    #1 (Employee won’t follow instruction)

    I agree with Alison and the other commenters that even if it’s a stupid or boring task, you need to make it clear to her, specifically, that she needs to do it when it’s due, without reminders. If it’s necessary, she needs to do it.

    To me, if you’re questioning whether you really want to discipline someone over something this minor, that suggests that the task may not be necessary.

    You might want to ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen if she never does this task/only does it when I remind her?”

    If the answer is “nothing much,” then maybe the task shouldn’t be mandatory. If the answer is “unnecessary work for me/her/someone else” or “potential problems,” then she needs to do it. But if you’re her supervisor, the decision about whether it should be mandatory or not is yours, not hers.

    To give an example, would you fire a salaried employee for not filling out their time sheet daily? Well, that depends. What happens if they fill it out every few days, or only when it’s due to be submitted? That could be anything from “nothing” to “my boss gets upset because he wants hours to be accurate on a daily basis” to “the company risks failing an audit that could result in huge amounts of lost business.”

    Basically, make sure the task actually matters, either to a result you need to accomplish or to somebody higher up in the organization. If it doesn’t matter, adjust your expectations accordingly and let your whole team know. If it does matter, then yes, you really do have to hold her accountable. Letting her know *why* it matters might be part of that conversation.

  27. some1*

    As a general rule, your employer isn’t going to tell you when or if they are going to fire you until you’re being walked out the door.

  28. Advice, did I ruin this opportunity?*

    I don’t know who to ask for advice on what to do about this, but I’m panicking. I had a job interview yesterday and one of my references JUST NOW told me that she’s going on vacation for the next two weeks. I don’t know why she didn’t tell me this when I asked to use her as a reference (a few days ago!). Now my other 2 references should be available, but I’m not sure what to do about that missing reference now. Have I completely blown my chances as this job? I don’t think that I’ll be using that reference again.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hi. You’re welcome to email this to me, but I try to avoid off-topic comments here since the comment section is already so long. (Sorry!)

  29. Lucy VP*


    Depending on where you live you might look into working for a catering company as a server. In my area our local catering companies are desperate for responsible people this time of year, they train you on the job, and most actually pay pretty well.

    It can be really hard work, on your feet for 8hrs + sometimes but the schedules are usually very flexible and primarily nights and weekends which works well for scheduling meetings & interviews.

    Most catering companies hire as needed per event, so although they love to have people stick around there isn’t much need to commit to them long term.

  30. Ruffingit*

    Forgive me if this has already been said, don’t have time at the moment to go through the comments. But…

    #1 says the employee doesn’t have performance issues. Yes, she does. That letter reminds me of the ones where people write in and say “I’m dating this great guy, he’s so wonderful, but he does this one thing…” And the one thing is that he beats her, cheats on her, killed her dog, etc. Seriously, stop excusing these people in dating and employment. In this case, this woman has a major performance issue because she’s ignoring a requirement. Don’t excuse it, handle it for what it is.

  31. Ruffingit*

    #2, I was in a job once where I had the same thing going on. I was doing poorly with the work principally because of the complete lack of training I received. There was just no way to be able to do this job without training and assistance from people in other departments, which I never got no matter how much I asked and was promised it. I spent a few months wondering when the axe was going to fall. It was really, really hard. That kind of anxiety is exhausting and demoralizing.

    Here’s the thing though – asking if you’re going to be fired is just not the way to handle this. Instead, job search hard and save as much as you can so the financial end of things isn’t as bad if you do get fired. I eventually was laid off (not fired, but still) and the small financial cushion I had, plus the relief from the lack of anxiety propelled me on to much, much better things.

    So just stop worrying about being fired and instead prepare to move on on your own terms.

  32. Savvu Working Gal*

    #5. I have a friend who worked at a donut shop when she was in college. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who hates donuts more than she does. I think it has something to do with having to go in at some ridiculously crazy hour and being hung over.

  33. S from CO*

    #5 – I recommend contacting and registering with a couple of temp. staffing agencies (as others have mentioned also). I have worked as a temporary employee in the past with good results. I was very flexible with my schedule and type of work/industry ( I was younger and really needed the money). I had a great time working as a receptionist, secretary and model home agent/rep. And a couple of times during the past 15 years, two temp. jobs became permanent full time jobs!

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