update: my struggling new employee thinks her pushiness is “enthusiasm”

Remember the letter-writer last month whose struggling new employee was insisting that her problematic pushiness was simply enthusiasm? Here’s the update.

I had planned to have the discussion you suggested with my employee on her one day in the office last week, but had a sinus infection and was running a low fever so thought I would wait until I felt better.

I sat down with her that morning and went over a couple of upcoming projects. One was to draft a short email to a group of people requesting some information for a new project. When I read it I realized that the email described the end result of project as something I’d said specifically we would NOT do and had explained why we were not doing it. I asked her to revise the email because it wasn’t what I’d said. She argued with me that it was what I’d said, she’d simply phrased it differently. I told her it wasn’t and needed to be revised.

She shut the door to my office and continued to try to argue. I asked her to please just go do what I asked. Twice. I’m a small person. She’s bigger than I am and was standing between me and the door. I finally walked around the other side of my desk, went to the door, opened it and asked her to please go do what I’d asked. She stood there so I asked again and she finally left. Her behavior made me very uncomfortable. That afternoon she sent me an email apologizing for her behavior. I’d had to leave for a meeting so told her we’d address the issue when she was back in the office, but that her behavior had been inappropriate.

She was only working one day a week for several weeks in order to prepare for a professional exam so it was a few days before she was back in the office. I thought about it a lot and came to the decision to terminate her because I felt her behavior would be a continuing problem.

After she left I went through her email to see if there was anything I needed to follow up on and that confirmed that I’d made the correct decision. She was there two days short of 90 days and tried to start some projects that interested her instead of things we were asking her to work on. She didn’t get far with her projects because she hadn’t built up the knowledge, credibility or resources to implement them. It’s a pretty specialized job so requires a lot of background information to get up to speed.

If I hadn’t let her spend a day with the person who had the job last so she’d know what was involved, I might feel she didn’t know what all it entailed. However, we gave her a very clear idea of what she’d be doing from the mundane to the exciting. I think she may have been interested in the recognition the job could bring without having to do the work required.

{ 116 comments… read them below }

  1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    The next step is reflecting on the hiring process: What went wrong that you didn’t catch this before she was hired?

    I had a disastrous hire once (disastrous in a very different way), and while it was traumatic and disruptive to the team and the project she was working on, in the end it helped us to think differently about how we recruited, evaluated, and selected new staff.

    1. OP*

      I actually had seen the pushy tendency before I hired her and almost pulled back. However, I had someone we work quite closely with interview her also and he convinced me it was just excitement. As I began to work with her I realized it went beyond pushy and had the potential to be really disruptive.

      Lesson learned. From now on I listen to my own instincts.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        One time, I had someone who wouldn’t take direction in a sit down. I said “you need to take direction”. She explained, “well, you see, I’m an alpha female.”

        It was everything I could do not to burst out laughing.

        Years since she’s gone and we still use that phrase, frequently, as a joke. “Hmmm, I would have done what you asked but, you see, I’m an alpha female.”

        1. Katie the Fed*


          I have no idea what I’d even say.

          “We’ve identified the problem. Now let’s work on a solution” perhaps?

        2. OP*

          I’ll bet you really had a hard time not laughing! This person used a phrase with me one day that I think we’ll use around here for some time.

        3. PucksMuse*

          Argh, I really hate when anyone identifies themselves as an “Alpha” anything. They’re basically giving themselves permission to behave like an abusive ass, while somehow classifying themselves as being better/stronger than the people around them.

          What they’re actually saying is, ‘I’m an overgrown, badly socialized toddler who never learned boundaries.”

        4. Kelly O*

          I dislike “alpha” anything almost as much as I cringe internally when I hear someone refer to him/her self as a “visionary leader.”

          See also: Hands-Off Manager, and/or those who claim to not believe in micro-managing.

      2. hayling*

        I had the same experience once – I let someone else convince me that a candidate wasn’t disorganized even though I had a nagging feeling about it. She ended up being totally scattered. Listen to your gut!

        1. Artemesia*

          Every person who presented problems once hired had given us ample warning during the interview process; sometimes you are willing to live with the problems for the benefits, but if there is a serious red flag — it isn’t going away.

      3. amp2140*

        There’s also different types of pushy. I’d describe myself as pushy, but my boss loves that. He wants someone who he can throw into a crappy situation with a customer and I can hold my own. He’s the same way. He also knows that I’ll push twice, maybe three times, and if he really tells me to drop something I will (he’s ADD to the max, so circling us back to things is the norm).

        We once interviewed a candidate together, and she was super obnoxious. I asked her about very specific excel questions, and she responded “I don’t understand why people ask questions like that. It isn’t like it’s difficult. Just look it up online and do it.” Little did she know that her potential new boss was computer illiterate. For the two pushier people on staff to say you’re too much… you’re too much.

      4. OriginalEmma*

        To ensure your gut feeling is accurate, what questions or interview exercises could you use to validate future candidates?

        1. TAD*

          You know, what I forgot to do was ask her to give me an example of a setback/disappoint and how she reacted to it. I like to try to find out how people handle challenges that come up.

          I may ask them to provide me something they’ve written that believe they wrote extremely well. That way I could get an idea of what THEY think is good. I could tell this person thought her writing was great, but other people we dealt with did not.

      5. Angora998*

        Agree . . . follow your instincts when you’re on the fence during the hiring process

  2. Thomas W*

    I have a natural desire to give people the benefit of the doubt. After reading the original post, I figured some thoughtful feedback would clear it all up. But sometimes people just won’t change. Sounds like the right decision was made. Agree w/ Victoria Nonprofit’s advice!

    1. OP*

      That’s what I was planning to do. I had the feeling that it probably wouldn’t work, but wanted to try.

  3. LBK*

    When I read the part about her shutting the door and then effectively trapping you in your office, all I could think was “Well, that escalated quickly.” Definitely didn’t get those kinds of crazy signs from the first letter, but after this one I 100% agree with terminating her.

    1. fposte*

      I’ve heard of non-crazy people making that mistake too, though not as aggressively, so I’ll take this moment to say: don’t ever close the door of somebody else’s office without their permission.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        Or if you do, sit down and continue the discussion. I can’t believe she stood in front of the door, essentially blocking the exit! Eesh!

        1. LBK*

          Yeah, if the conversation was starting to get a little heated I can understand the employee shutting the door so it didn’t disturb people nearby. But then standing in front of it? Uhh…weird.

          1. fposte*

            Even in that case, you say, “Is it okay if I close the door?” You do not take it upon yourself to assume it’s okay with the office holder to have her door closed.

            1. Laura*

              This depends on office culture, I think – I would totally take it for granted that you do that based on my current office, so I have learned something today. (But not and stand in the way, yikes.)

              It’s pretty routine for someone to walk over and gently close a door if it’s gotten too loud, or for someone in a meeting to stand up and snag the door closed likewise.

              Then again…I just realized I never do that with one person, and I think it’s because they have the only office without a window into the hallway. (Fishbowls are us!) It doesn’t feel like it creates an inappropriate isolation if people can still see in, I guess.

              I meet their eyes when I do it, personally, and if they signaled me not to I wouldn’t, but usually I just get a rueful smile or no acknowledgement.

              I get the impression from this and some other things here that I should watch being overly cavalier/casual/presumptive if I ever do take a job elsewhere. Then again, I already knew we had a fairly casual office – just didn’t realize this was a symptom of it until now.

              1. Colette*

                Yeah, closing someone’s door is very much the norm in my office, too – but on the way to sitting down at their desk, not in an attempt to intimidate.

                1. Jamie*

                  It’s rare for me, but coming in and closing my only means one thing…you are about to tell me something I really don’t want to know.

                  Not about me, but about someone else which is going to make more work for me.

                  It’s never close my door – yay, kitten party! It’s always that someone did something horrible and for whatever reason I have to be involved.

                  It would never occur to me to be intimidated, though – that’s would all depend on tone.

                2. OP*

                  Oh yeah, I’ll push the door to if I think we’re going to disturb other people, If I need to say something confidential, if we’ve got a conference call on the speaker phone, etc. I just don’t close it to argue with a person over a routine matter.

                3. C Average*

                  I don’t have an office, but I’ve definitely closed others’ office doors. It’s almost always because I want to talk about something confidential (not hot-gossip confidential, but NDA confidential) that I know the person whose office I’m visiting has been cleared to know about. Usually in these cases they already know what I’m there to talk about!

                  I think I usually say “mind if I close this?” as I’m closing the door, but going forward I’m DEFINITELY going to!

                4. Cat*

                  I’m another one in an office culture where it’s super common to walk in and close the door (anytime you might be making a phone call or plan on having a semi-sensitive discussion about client information or anything like that). Or if you’re telling people you are (a) quitting; or (b) pregnant. Somehow you can always tell when someone is closing the door for one of those reasons.

              2. stiveee*

                Yeah, I’ve done it a few times, but only if I’m going to discuss something semi-personal. A couples examples are when my grandpa died and I unexpectedly had to take some vacation time, or when I had some health stuff come up and needed to plan a hospital stay. Hopefully he didn’t feel threatened. :)

            2. Mallory*

              A current coworker of mine used to come into other people’s office and shut their doors without asking. When she would do that in my office, I would get up, and without breaking the conversation we were holding, re-open the door and go sit back down. She eventually stopped doing that, but man, she was pretty dense about it.

            3. Katie the Fed*

              I always ask with my boss. “Do you mind if I close this?”

              That’s my signal we’re about to talk personnel issues or I’ve got some juicy rumors for him. Usually the latter so he doesn’t mind.

          2. OP*

            Yes, it was very strange. One of my other employees sits near my office and said she couldn’t really hear what I was saying because I asked her if I’d been loud.

      2. Observer*

        It’s not just that she closed the door, or even the timing of closing the door. It’s that she closed he door to argue, refused to leave when told to, placed herself in an intimidating position which also seemed to block access to the door, and continued to refuse to leave until it looked like security might be called.

    2. OP*

      I didn’t get those signs either. If I had, I definitely wouldn’t have been alone in my office with her. What we were talking about was a relatively small task simply because I felt bad and didn’t want to get involved in complicated projects that day. It freaked me out a bit when she got so angry about it.

  4. OhNo*

    Just for my own clarification, was the conversation about the email before or after the discussion about her pushiness? Or did the conversation about pushiness never happen because of the email issue?

    I just wonder if she might have been aggravated because of a difficult discussion, which led to the anger about the relatively tiny issue of the email, or if she was really that… unhinged… about a tiny little correction all on its own.

    1. OP*

      The conversation about the email was before the conversation about pushiness. I had decided to put off the pushiness conversation because I felt awful that day. After the discussion about the email went the direction it did, the pushiness conversation never occurred.

      1. OhNo*

        Yikes! That employee clearly had no idea how to receive criticisms and correction, in addition to the pushiness. Who knows what other problems you avoided by getting rid of her now?

    1. OP*

      I think she probably had an idea it was coming because I’d asked her to bring the portable printer she had at home back. She handled it well and tried to engage in a conversation about all the reasons. I answered a couple of questions, but didn’t go into extensive detail. I had someone else in the room when we had the conversation though.

        1. OP*

          Thanks. The person who was sitting in with me said it was done as well as it could be, which made me feel better. Me being me I think of all the things I could have done differently, but I think I just hired a person who wasn’t a good fit and am not sure anything I did differently would’ve made a difference.

  5. Vicki*

    OP – I’m with you up until this sentence: “If I hadn’t let her spend a day with the person who had the job last so she’d know what was involved, I might feel she didn’t know what all it entailed. However, we gave her a very clear idea of what she’d be doing from the mundane to the exciting.”

    One day with the person who had the job before is not nearly enough to know what is involved and what the job entails. 90 days is barely enough.

    1. fposte*

      I think it’s enough for what the OP is saying, though; the issue isn’t that the employee failed to understand Process #3924, it’s that the employee acted as if her work was Senior Teapot Creative when it was Teapot Support Tech. The application process and a day of training are enough to make it clear that you’re not Senior Teapot Creative.

      1. Jamie*

        I agree. It’s enough to understand the broad scope of the job and where it sits in the hierarchy.

    2. OP*

      I didn’t mean that I expected her to be fully trained in that one day. I let her spend a day with the person who had the job before she did to make sure it was a job she was interested in before she even took it. That person gave her a full day’s overview of what we do.

      I would never expect someone to be fully trained within 90 days, especially in this job. This job requires a person to acquire a lot of background knowledge, which requires a lot of reading and asking questions for clarification. However, any time I asked what questions she had about all of the background information she said she didn’t have any. Well, she didn’t have any questions except about how much interaction she would have with the major players in our industry. I’m really thinking now that she probably didn’t read much of what I gave her because she wanted to do only what she was interested in.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Well, she didn’t have any questions except about how much interaction she would have with the major players in our industry.

        This right here tells me she was only interested in the job as a stepping stone. The word that popped into my head is “climber.”

        1. OP*

          Yes, I believe she saw the position as a stepping stone. A lot of people don’t understand that a job can lead to really great future jobs provided you put in the work to develop yourself in the job you have. That’s how you get the job you want.

    3. J-nonymous*

      Also – I think it’s worth noting that the employee wasn’t terminated because she failed to perform the job adequately. She was terminated because she repeatedly failed to accept and incorporate feedback into her performance.

  6. Steve G*

    What type of job was this? I’d love to know so we can get an idea of what projects she was trying to start as opposed to what she was trying to do.

    1. OP*

      Our industry is actually nonprofit. She was trying to start some volunteer projects she’d heard about in her studies instead of the projects we are focusing on at the moment.

      1. Anna*

        Is she fairly young? I only ask because I work in what is considered public sector and I have learned how to approach new projects and ideas with my boss. For one, I know I need to be accomplishing the actual projects I was hired to do. For two, I know how to phrase it. “Is this something that fits in with our goals right now” or “I would like to X. Does that make sense with what we’re doing”.

        1. OP*

          This particular person is in her mid 30’s and has had jobs before.

          Yes, it’s all about how and when you approach people with your own ideas. I think a month into a job is a bit too soon to go off starting your own projects, especially when you haven’t learned everything about the current priorities. She’d sent me and one other person a list of suggested projects. We’d told her which projects had been considered but rejected in in the past and which projects we were considering for the future but weren’t going to pursue at the moment due to limited resources. I actually spent a lot of time explaining why we’d made the decisions we’d made about projects we’re pursuing and projects we aren’t.

          1. MissDisplaced*

            I think you made the right decision OP. Personally, I don’t this was a “bad” person, it sounds like she wanted to take charge and do some things. Unfortunately, they just weren’t the right things! And even worse, she didn’t listen, OR maybe she thought the job was about something else entirely.

            Chalk it up to a bad fit.

  7. Jeanne*

    I feel like we’re missing some things in this story but often more details will identify you. However, if you didn’t believe you could continue to work with her then you did the right thing.

  8. Rachel - HR*

    The only suggestion I would have for this situation (in hindsight) is that from your letter it appears you were continually asking politely for her to do what you asked. I would suggest in the future being a little more firm with a “This is not up for discussion. I have told you what I need you to do.” But, hopefully you never get put in this position again. I think the decision to term was a good one.

    1. Taz*

      My boss, when he received pushback from a few of my coworkers about a particular new task he assigned, put it this way to the group: When I said we needed each of you to do X once a week, that wasn’t a request. It’s a new requirement from on high. Now John, Jane, and Jenny, can you tell me why you haven’t been doing it?

    2. Cheesecake*

      The management approach “this is not for discussion” has actually brought a lot of money to consultancy firms, because right now a lot of companies are trying to reverse the consequences of “do not question my actions”. I believe everything must be up to discussion. Obviously not the discussion OP had, but it is important to ask “why are we doing this?” instead of doing things over and over again without thinking. We had billion cases of employees doing some time consuming reports “because my manager said i have to prepare it for Mary Smith” while Mary Smith has left the company 3 years ago.

      1. Rayner*

        Unfortunately, not everything should be up for discussion. Sometimes, bosses and managers simply have to give out assignments and expect them to be done.

        Questioning things is good but insisting that everything and anything be open for debate is simply a bad management practise.

        1. Cheesecake*

          I didn’t mean debates or brainstorming about a task of keeping meeting minutes. (and obviously assuming that employees are reasonable and not trying to change the world being 2 weeks in the job because they are “enthusiastic”)

          One sentence of why this needs to be done is enough. “This is what has to be done, and that is why we have to do it”. Quite firm but leaves a window for questions. It is not by any chance “what do you think about doing that tomorrow?”

          1. Anna*

            I firmly believe that if you want your employees to invest in a new process, you must give them the reasoning behind the process. That doesn’t mean it’s open to long discussion, but it does indicate you think they’re intelligent people who will understand why things might need to be done a certain way. That’s how I work. You want to get me to resent and push off a process? Tell me I have to do it just because.

      2. LBK*

        There’s a difference between “Do what I say without questioning it” and “I’ve listened to your concerns, but we’re still doing what I asked originally.” Something being up for discussion doesn’t mean that after the discussion, the request will always change. It also doesn’t mean that the employee can continue to discuss it ad infinitum until the manager changes their mind while refusing to do it the way the manager asked.

        In the OP’s case, it really doesn’t sound like this was something debatable. The manager had made it clear there was a certain, the employee questioned the reason, the manager made a call that the reason was acceptable and the original request would remain. The discussion does not continue past that point.

        1. Cheesecake*

          I don’t disagree with OP at all, i disagree with Rachel – HR. OP did everything right and i don’t think she must use this strategy “This is not up for discussion. I have told you what I need you to do.” with her other subordinates. This particular employee was out of line because of her obnoxious behavior and not because OP gave her wrong instructions.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            As I read it, Rachel was suggesting the OP use that in a situation where the employee is continuing to refuse to take direction after multiple explanations — not from the start.

            1. Cheesecake*

              Ok, i get it now. Still, for me if an employee reaches the stage where i have to say “Do what you were told to be doing” out loud, it is a beginning of an end for that particular employee.

      3. Lamb*

        It sounds to me like a big part of the issue with those “Mary Smith Reports” was not that the workers didn’t question having to do them, but that their managers didn’t know or didn’t pass on that Mary had left and they didn’t need to do the reports anymore. After a certain amount of time, who’s going to ask their boss “I’ve been doing these Mary Smith reports for two years now, do we really have to keep doing them?”

  9. Katie the Fed*

    GOod on you, OP. Coming from an organization where it’s Really Quite Difficult to fire people I’m a little jealous actually.

    You gave her chances to correct her behavior. She chose not to take them. Pretty cut and dry. I hope you find someone else who is a better fit.

    1. Observer*

      Yes, but even in government, there is generally a probationary period. It’s a good thing she pulled this one day before the probationary period was up, so that they would not have to go through the whole process.

  10. Not So NewReader*

    Well, OP, your intuition is working well. You sent in a question here because you felt you had an extraordinary situation and you did.

    You know I have said to a boss “But didn’t you say yesterday…?” Or “I thought you wanted A not B?”. But I only say it once. I figure once is asking for clarity, more than that is pushing. Especially if I have done that recently, which I usually cannot remember doing. I am sure a boss remembers how many times she is asked about the same thing. It’s just not good.
    I have also been in situations where the boss said “Do X.” Which would have been fine, except new information just came in. Direct speaking seems to work well, “Did you know [new information] has been added into the mix?”

    There are ways of reacting that move the conversation along.

    This person had no clue.

    1. TAD*

      I’ve said stuff like that too. Also, if somebody asks me to redo something because it isn’t what they said I may say, “Oh, I thought you said X, not Y. Got it now and will revise it.”

    2. soitgoes*

      Honestly, part of the basic “office work” skill set is learning to keep your mouth shut when your boss forgets her initial instructions to you and blames you for the “mistakes” in the final product. I’m not saying that the OP did that in this instance, but it’s just weird for a new employee to be so married to the content of an email memo. Who cares if it has to be rewritten? It’ll take two minutes. It’s not her Finnegan’s Wake.

      1. OP*

        I definitely didn’t forget my original instructions because there wasn’t enough time to. Her email said that we were going to do something I’d made a specific point of saying we were NOT going to do. I’d explained why we weren’t going to do it. I didn’t think it was anything big , other than the fact the information needed to be correct.

        1. soitgoes*

          I didn’t say you made a mistake, just that she thought you did and that she should have just made the edits.

      2. Cheesecake*

        +1000, even if boss really forgot/made a mistake you don’t blame or point it out like that. You can’t blame anyone actually, because this can happen to you tomorrow; we are all humans.

        1. allreb*

          My approach when that happens is usually, “Okay, thanks for the clarification – I thought that when we’d discussed it yesterday, you said X. Has something changed, or did I just seriously misremember that?”

          Responses from my boss vary from “Oh drat, I goofed, you’re right,” to “yep, Y has changed, so we have to account for it, sorry I didn’t fill you in,” to “Yep, you totally misremembered.” Regardless of response, bringing it up in a discussable manner is pretty important – if it was a miscommunication we can iron out why it happened and get on the same page; if I was out of the loop on a change when I should have known, I can make sure I’m caught up and request to be included in the future; or if one us screwed up, well… at least we have confirmation of what happened and we’re synched up on whatever the correct outcome should be.

        2. Anna*

          Exactly. What difference does it make if the OP had said X and forgotten she said X when she meant Y. It still needs to be changed.

  11. Letters to Paystubs*

    I’ve heard about sticking to your guns, but I think my eyes bugged out when I read how aggressive she became. OP, I can’t believe she had the nerve (confidence?) to push back at you like that. To clarify, were you her direct manager?

  12. soitgoes*

    This sounds like someone who has issues interacting with and understanding other people. She has no filter. She succeeded in the structured, pedantic world of academia, but she has trouble figuring out how to take the right kinds of initiative without instruction.

    I don’t want to go much further than that, but it sounds like there’s a fundamental problem there that’s never been addressed. All I’ll say is that there’s a certain type of person that the public perceives as always being like Spencer Reid, but in reality they’re not adorable and quirky. It becomes an issue of accommodating a disability vs. the need to have a work environment that doesn’t make the other employees uncomfortable.

      1. soitgoes*

        I’m trying to follow the general internet rule of not armchair-diagnosing a stranger so I was being vague, but the OP’s description of the employee checks off quite a few boxes for a particular condition, at least in the way that I understand it. I’ve worked with someone who had been officially diagnosed, and I had to endure a lot of the same behavior and disruptions that the OP described. Not letting other people speak, asking for more advanced work and then coming up with reasons for why the whole project should be scrapped, an inability to focus and follow directions.

        I’m not saying this is definitely the case, just raising it as a possibility because it sounds very similar to my own experiences.

        1. HRNewbie*

          I get what you are saying but I disagree with the Spencer Reid analogy for this particular person the OP is discussing.

          To me, the OP is describing a younger member of staff with a clear attitude problem. Her approach to work is bullish and she does not take criticism well. The way I read the behaviour is a choice – she chose to close the door, stand in front of it and argue; she also chose to completely disregard instructions on multiple occasions.

          Also, what you are describing is a disruptive colleague and not a general representation of people on the spectrum.

            1. HRNewbie*

              What soitgoes is getting at is that people on the Aspergers/Autism spectrum (like Spencer Reid – maybe) are ” not adorable and quirky” and it actually sounds like she is saying they are a pain by the examples of behaviour she gives. I see what she is saying, maybe a better example of a media figure would have been Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory.

              Like I said above, I didn’t see anything in the OP’s letters about any form of ‘disability’ or accommodation – I just read what described a difficult, abrasive and then aggressive employee.

              1. HRNewbie*

                Sorry should have added this:
                *I see what she is saying, but in the case of people genuinely on that spectrum, it is down to all to shift usual approaches slightly and exercise patience. A mental disability should be treated the same as a physical one and reasonable accommodation should be made for that employee.

                1. Observer*

                  Yeah, but that’s not really relevant here. Most of the reasons for that have already been mentioned. I’ll just point out that from what was described here, the issue was not a matter of lack of patience or changing approaches. It would have been one thing, possibly, if she had just not responded well. But, the minute it went to trying to intimidate her supervisor, that all went out the window. It’s not anyone’s responsibility in a normal workplace to tailor (non-abusive) approaches to keep someone from going off the deep end. If she went so far over a simple email, I shudder to think of what she might do on a more important issue.

                2. HRNewbie*

                  @Observer if you scroll up and read the original comment from soitgoes and then my further comments you will see that what I have been saying is that I do not think it is relevant in this case.

                  To address your ‘in a normal workplace’ comment, I would expect that if somebody were to be on the Asperger/Autism spectrum (and it be made known, completely different if people do not know) their team to be understanding and compassionate and to make reasonable adjustments. Also, those on that spectrum also stand to be a huge asset to any company in the right environment due to the way that their thought processes and personalities work. Also, when I said it was down to all – I meant all, employee included.

                3. Observer*

                  @HRNewbi, for some reason I can’t reply directly.

                  I realize that it was not your opinion. I was responding to it as the explanation of what SoItGoes’ comment.

                  Of course, compassion is always the way to go. And, I agree that trying to accommodate people who function in non-typical ways can pay big dividends. But the implication of this branch of the discussion was that THIS kind of behavior might be due to ASD or the like and therefore perhaps should be accommodated. But in a “normal” workplace, ie one that is not specially designed for people with significant mental / emotional / cognitive disabilities, compassion and accommodation stop well short of figuring out how to keep an employee from this level of extreme misbehavior, when it comes in response to reasonable behavior on the part of the supervisor.

                4. HRNewbie*

                  @Observer Hi, I am having the same problem. Ahhh that makes more sense now :)

                  Extreme behaviour is a complete no-no and it would be unreasonable to ask staff to deal with it. The behaviour described by the OP is definitely not to be accommodated disorder or no disorder, what is described by the OP is a decision to purposefully disregard direct instructions, not do the work set but use company resources for personal passions and then when challenged to:
                  A) Argue
                  B) Challenge her Line Manager
                  C) An attempt to intimidate her Line Manager when the conversation didn’t go her way
                  All are completely out of line and the OP was right to not tolerate it.

                5. aebhel*


                  I didn’t read HRNewbie’s comment like that at all. She (?) said–and I agree–that there’s nothing about this letter to suggest unequivocally that the person in question is autistic. Moreover, she was replying to soitgoes not-particularly-subtle implication that autistic people, far from being ‘quirky’ and ‘charming’, are actually impossible jerks to work with–all based on one obnoxious coworker.

                  Plenty of autistic people can get along just fine in the workplace with reasonable accommodations. IF the coworker here is autistic, then that’s secondary to the problem that she’s unprofessional, rude, and refuses to take feedback. That’s not autism. That’s just being a jerk.

                6. Observer*

                  @aebhel, as noted, I can’t reply directly, but I just wanted to point you to my response to HRnewbie.

                  I happen to agree with you 100%.

                  And, yes, the implication that people on the ASD spectrum can be “expected” to be extremely difficult to deal with is not correct or fair. I’m really wondering what triggered that. Most of the behavior described is not something that sounds terribly like ASD in reasonably highly functioning people on that spectrum. If I were into remote armchair diagnostics AND I believed that all outlandish behavior is tied to a “disorder” I would have made some other guesses.

                  But, it’s really irrelevant. And, imo, it’s actually counter productive. I’ll leave that alone, though, because I don’t want to divert the thread any further.

        2. Kayza*

          It doesn’t really make much of a difference, though. For one thing, the person in question was either never diagnosed, or never brought up the diagnosis and asked for accommodation.

          And, to be honest, I’m not sure how much the company needs to accommodate. Accommodation doesn’t need to go so far as to allow a person to not fulfill the essential duties of the job, or create safety issues. And, this person was doing both, with little indication of what kind of realistic accommodation would help. After all, requiring the supervisor to become the equivalent of her therapist hardly counts as “reasonable accommodation”. Neither does “let her do what she wants, and everyone else picks up the slack.”

        3. Bea W*

          Armchair diagnosing is still armchair diagnosing even when written vaguely. It’s also iffy to generalize based on personal experience with one co-worker and a fictional character on TV.

      2. aebhel*

        I believe that soitgoes is trying to imply-without-saying that the problem employee may have some form of autism spectrum disorder. Which may be true, but is irrelevant, actually. Autistic people often have trouble reading a social situation and may require more explicit direction and structure, but that isn’t really the issue with this employee; the issue is that she was receiving explicit direction but didn’t feel the need to comply with it.

        And honestly, I’m an Aspie, and I wish that people would stop blaming all obnoxious behavior on autism spectrum disorders. There are autistic people who can take explicit instruction well and NT people who can’t.

          1. VintageLydia USA*

            Oh goodness this. I’ve met Aspies who were obnoxious. I’ve met Aspies who were not obnoxious. Furthermore, most of the obnoxious people I’ve met are not anywhere close to being on the Autism spectrum.

  13. robot chick*

    Huh. That’s not a bad point, although it’s really impossible to say here. (Also I’m pretty sure “quirky and adorable” is not necessarily the overwhelming majority of public opinion, even if I’m being optimistic)

    Bottom line is though, you’re right about not armchair diagnosing from afar, and the OP would likely do more harm than good with working under such an assumption, or trying to bring it up – whatever is up with her, she’s an independent, accountable adult, and seeking a diagnose, treatment and/or figuring out what accomodations she needs to ask for, how she can work around issues, or in what circumstances she’d flourish as-is, is entirely up to her.

  14. Bea W*

    Yikes! I agree, the OP made the right decision. Even if the employee had come in completely clueless about what the job entailed or if she had been working only on what she was assigned, it was still the right decision. The whole scene in the office was just not okay.

    I remember the original letter. The original and the follow-up are both way too similar to an experience I had with a young woman who was working with me as a volunteer. She was with us probably 2 years, and it never got better. Actually 2 years was the longest she has held any position paid or unpaid. If she hadn’t had the support of a couple board members (whom the org eventually severed tied with for other reasons), and tied our hands, she would have been let go for cause within 6 months, if that. I’m pretty sure it was closer to 3 or 4 from the time I helped set her up to work and fouling up and behaving so badly that any paying job with reasonable management in place would have fired her on the spot (and I was not shy about telling her exactly that).

    When she finally resigned more than a year later, we spent a lot of time cleaning up her mess. She never finished most of the projects she took on and/or they were done half-arsed by someone who clearly just did not have the right skills. From what we could tell (through IPs and electronic audit trails), her husband who was slightly less awful to be around but at least had some actual skills, was quietly jumping in on occasion and either fixing her mistakes or doing her work while she took the credit.

    I hope this employee is able to learn and readjust her attitude, because it will cripple her ability to go as far as she wants in her career, and I really feel kind of bad for people like her who are clearly intelligent, but totally unable to navigate the adult business world and will continue to end up in the same situations unless they can learn to play well with others or find a career better suited to their personalities and style.

  15. saro*

    I come across this often in my field (International Development) and it drives me crazy. Everyone wants to do the dynamic, interesting project so they can put it on their CV but we were hired to do the boring task that probably has more of an impact than the interesting project.

    I’m going to stop my rant now. Sorry.

    1. C Average*

      YES! My team does a lot of boring but necessary work, and I can so relate to this.

      I recently read a book called The Invisibles that was all about people with low-profile but high-importance jobs. It was fascinating and really helped me understand my own motivations for continuing to do less-than-dynamic work that no one thinks about but lots of people need someone to do. I highly, highly recommend it.

  16. Louise*

    A younger (and recently hired) male co-worker once did something similar – walked into my office, closed the door without asking and sat down to initiate a discussion, which was really his attempt at bullying me. When the conversation got heated, I asked him to leave and he refused. So I got up to leave my own office and he blocked me from getting to the door. I started yelling at him to “get out, now!” which my co-workers in adjacent offices heard. He left after a couple of minutes but it was scary. Turns out he was doing all kinds of shady stuff that soon came to light. He was fired shortly after the incident for a combination of things. Later we learned he went on to other jobs (somehow fooling the people doing the hiring) supervising others and bullied women who reported to him, most of whom quit. Jerk!

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