can I ask if my coworker will be fired, whether to give a struggling employee more time, and more

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

1. Should I give this struggling employee more time?

I’ve been a director of a nonprofit publishing program for 6 months. I have had an employee for 3 months and I feel like she’s getting nowhere. My CEO and COO have both assured me I’m not doing anything wrong and that I’ve gone above and beyond with my attempts to train this person. We are a small department doing a lot of big work, and this person seemed ideal during her interview. She’s very intellectual, that is for certain, but I think it comes down to the fact that she’s a smooth talker, because I now find her saying things that contradict what she led me to believe during her interview regarding her editorial skills. In short, I’m having to go back over most of her edits, she lies to my face about checking certain things, and today she was grumbling/growling and making angry noises at her desk, which is just across the hall from mine and in direct eyesight, because she couldn’t find an easy way to format a challenging reference, even after I printed out the page of the style manual that spells it out!

I don’t have the time or patience to be going back over her work or tackling the 10-minute jobs I’ve assigned to her that somehow stay piled up on her desk for weeks at a time. I’m supposed to be using my time as a director to move things forward. She’s upset 2 of our volunteers who now think their time isn’t worthwhile to me because of her blunders, and despite talking calmly but firmly about the performance issues, I still feel like I can’t trust her to help me move my department forward. I want to show my bosses that I can do a good job with my department since I’m still newish in my role, but I feel like maybe I’m somehow an inadequate manager if I can’t get this one employee to perform. What am I doing wrong? Do I give her more time or give her the boot? This isn’t an entry-level position and the person is expected to have a certain level of skill, which I think she lacks but is good at pretending to possess.

Your success as a manager doesn’t rest on whether or not you help everyone on your team be a high performer; some of that — a substantial piece of that — is up to them. What does define your success is whether you set clear expectations, let people know when they’re falling short, and — if the issues are serious ones, as they are here — give the a specific timeline to improve, and then replace them if they’re still not hitting the bar you need. And those are your next steps here: Have a direct conversation with her to let her know that you need to her to do X, Y, and Z in order to keep her job, and that you’re giving her X weeks to show significant and sustained improvement or you will have to let her go. And then follow through. (The lying, though, is a deal-breaker and not something where you should be giving her another chance. If that’s really happening, cut your losses now.)

2. Can I ask if a coworker will be fired?

I have a coworker, let’s call her Sue, who is painful to deal with. The feeling is shared by generally everyone in our office. We’ve been working together for the last 4 years, but a change within the last year means we work much more closely. In addition to personality issues, she is often tardy to meetings/work, misses deadlines, is unhygienic, etc. We understand that Sue’s reviews have been much less than stellar as well (she told us, although I’m not sure if she is on a formal PIP). While I enjoy the work and most of the people I work with, she is a substantial drag overall. My boss had previously telegraphed to me (not to the group) when I began working with her that Sue would be let go, but nothing ever came of it. I’m not sure if I’m considered a “superstar” or not, but I am generally in the “exceeds expectations” group, and I would be very surprised if our supervisor would rather retain Sue than me. Even if any action was a year away, I’d be OK with that; I just don’t want it to be a forever situation.

While I have not yet gotten to the point of an active job search, it is certainly something that encourages me to return calls from recruiters. I’ve made some very veiled attempts to communicate with our supervisor on the matter, but I’m not sure if I’m getting through. Is there an appropriate, and perhaps blunter way to bring this up? If it makes a difference, I wouldn’t want to make an ultimatum without another accepted offer (which I wouldn’t accept if I was considering staying), so I’m in a catch 22.

Saying “it’s her or me” is a risky move — because even if you’re clearly more valuable, managers don’t usually want to make personnel decisions that way (and are often constrained by company policies that wouldn’t let them even if they wanted to). However, you can certainly talk to your boss about the problems that Sue is causing and the fact that it’s causing you to be increasingly dissatisfied at work, when you otherwise like your job and coworkers. And given the fact that your manager has confided in your about Sue previously, you can use language like, “We talked about this a while back, but the problems have continued. Are you able to share anything with me about whether these issues are likely to be resolved in the near future, or how I can minimize the problems with her going forward?”

3. Could I get a job with the company that fired me seven years ago?

Is there any chance that someone could be successful in landing a job at a company that terminated their employment previously? I received a job right out of college at a great company as part of a program for recent grads. I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. And I’m kicking myself over it because it was really an amazing opportunity. Ultimately, I was let go because I failed an exam the company administered by three questions. But I believe they also realized that I wasn’t interested in the field, and at the time I really wasn’t.

Fast forward 7 years…after life’s twists and turns, I find myself working in a very similar field I was in as a college grad–but I love it and I’m excelling at it this time around. It’s crazy to me because I never thought I could enjoy working in this capacity, but I do. I recently thought about that position I had before, and how I wish I’d stuck with it. That made me think of the company, and I decided to look up career opportunities there. I saw a position that interested me, but I’m nervous about applying because of my past with them. I’ve grown up a lot professionally and personally since then. Their HR files may reflect the 21-year-old that didn’t know what she had, though. Perhaps I should seek opportunities elsewhere, but my quandary made me wonder: is it possible to be rehired at a company you were fired from before?

If the only reason you were fired was because you failed the exam and they were otherwise happy with your work, then sure, there’s no harm in trying again. But if they had other complaints about your work (and “I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have” might or might not point in that direction), then they’re unlikely to want to invite you back in. One first step might be reconnecting with your manager from that time, if she’s still there, and updating her on where you’ve ended up and how things are different for you now, and mentioning that you’d love to throw your hat back in the ring at some point.

4. What can I ask an interviewer who isn’t a specialist in the work?

I am a current job seeker in an industry that is growing rapidly, and many employers are hiring for specialists like me. However, my initial interviews are with recruiters who are not familiar with technical language, making it increasingly hard to ask job-specific questions. I have always been taught not to ask about salary on the first interview, but my first interview is typically with a person who really can only answer questions about salary and benefits. Should I just ask about these things in the first interview to get it out the way?

No, because too many employers consider it a mortal sin to do that in early interviews. Instead, ask broad questions about the work and the culture that they should be prepared to answer. For instance: What are the key qualities that the hiring manager is seeking in the role? What are the key things you need this person to accomplish in the first six months? What’s the workplace culture like? What’s your timeline for next steps and the hiring process as a whole?

5. Telling a new boss that I need a couple of hours a month for a health issue

I started a new job in June. I suffer from chronic pain and manage it with oral meds and periodic injections. In order to refill one of my meds, I must physically go to my doctor’s office to pick up the scrip and take it to the pharmacy each month. Since the doctor’s office hours begin after my work day begins and end before mine end, this means I’ll need to either arrive a couple hours late to work or leave work a couple hours early once a month. How would you recommend bringing this up with/telling my boss?

No need to get into the details. I’d just say, “I have a medical appointment once a month that requires either leaving a couple of hours early or coming in a couple of hours late. I have flexibility about whether it’s morning or afternoon and what specific day it is. Is there any special way you’d like me to handle this?”

{ 171 comments… read them below }

  1. Abhorsen327*

    I’m sure this is a pretty minor typo, but I think the exam that OP#3 took was more than 3 questions long, they just missed the “pass” mark by three questions.

    1. Catherine*

      #1. When I was a new supervisor, I made the mistake of hiring a smooth talker not once, but twice! Turns out they were both pretty smooth about talking their way out of doing their jobs, and when they did work, the quality was lacking. Anyway, once the second one moved on, I became hawkish about making sure candidates actually had the technical knowledge the job required. When you interview again (and I think you’ll be doing it soon), I highly recommend using some skill-based exercises. Give them a short piece of writing to edit, have them craft a couple of sentences, ask them to put together a reference in the format from your style manual. The best thing you can do for yourself as a manager, and your organization, is to make sure your prospective employees can back up their talk with the know-how to get the job done!

      1. The Other Dawn*

        Yes on the skill-based exercise! At my former job we always got people who seemed to know their stuff, but couldn’t string two sentences together. When it was my turn to hire someone for the admin assistant role, I gave each applicant a fake memo to type up. Boy, that made a difference!

        1. Puddin*

          A woman who stated she was ‘well versed’ in Excel got hired into a dept a job ago. What she meant was, ‘I know how to do this one task from my last job in Excel fairly well.’ When asked to create a new SS for anything she was just boggled and frustrated. I truly think she thought she knew what she was doing.

          It seems that people don’t know what they don’t know. This seems to happen A LOT with software – even common ones like Office. The skills test was implemented after that and we were able to weed out a few candidates with just a 15 minute sit down at the computer with a team member.

          1. The IT Manager*

            It’s science! Dunning–Kruger effect – a cognitive bias manifesting in unskilled individuals suffering from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude

            1. Puddin*

              So the opposite of the ‘impostor syndrome’ :)

              Thanks for adding this tidbit, I love learning about why people think they way they do.

            2. Windchime*

              Wow, this is interesting. We had a guy interview with us who actually made it through the phone screen with our supervisor (who is extremely technical)–in fact, he sailed through with flying colors because he was such a good talker. But after asking him only a couple of simple technical questions, it was clear that his self-assessment of his skill level with SQL (a huge component of the job) was barely entry-level, if that.

              The questions we asked were the equivalent of the poster above who gave candidates a simple memo to type up. It doesn’t take much to sort the wheat from the chaff in an interview, at least initially.

              1. Mephyle*

                In some cases, but in the particular case of software, it could be that they’re intelligent but unexperienced. If you’ve only seen people use a program for a, b, c and d in your previous job and school work, you may not know that it can also do e, f, … z, A, B, C, D, E, … Z; in other words, you don’t even know that tasks e to z, not to mention A to Z, exist because you’ve never been exposed to them – they’ve never come up in your previous sphere.

                1. Laura*

                  This! Word, Excel, and other large pieces of software have so many features, it’s easy to know a large number and think you’ve “mastered” it, not realizing that you’ve been exposed to maybe 25% of what it can do…if that.

          2. Dan*

            Self assessments of software and programming skills are just dumb. As you note, people don’t know what they don’t know. You’re far, far better off asking about specific technical tasks in software (i.e., tell me about your experience with X function) then asking someone “on a scale of 1-5, rate your Excel knowledge.” I use Excel every day and have no idea how to answer that.

            Heck, I’d postulate that the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.

            1. esra*

              Right? I hate those. I’m a designer who can do light programming, but on a scale of 1-5, it would depend on the environment whether my css skills are a 2 or a 4.

            2. louise*

              So true! I know just enough about Excel to know that my knowledge barely scratches the surface. I don’t even know how to explain to google what I need to find a tutorial to explain how to do it. My boss referred to me as an Excel whiz yesterday and I asked why he thought that. His response? “You can change the colors and everything!”

              0.0 oy vey.

            3. Mabel*

              When I moved from one software training job to another, they asked me to assess my level of experience with various applications. I got the job, and when I started sitting in on classes, I realized that “advanced” topics at the previous company were more like “intermediate” at the new place. I had a lot of catching up to do before I started teaching classes! I don’t know if anyone else realized my initial assessment was a bit “off.”

          3. Rebecca*

            One of the smart things my manager did was develop an Excel spreadsheet with various tasks, like using the sum function to total a column of numbers, change formatting, rename a tab, etc., all simple things that someone who had basic knowledge should know how to do. Once an interviewee stated “I’m a whiz at Excel” but couldn’t enter the =sum function to total the column of numbers, let alone do most of the other tasks.

            Real tests with real software can really weed out the people who puff up their experience.

          4. Steve G*

            I remember when my coworker tested an applicant’s excel…it was an easy sheet to do, but it wasn’t a regular test, you had to finish step 1 to get to 2, to get to 10. And if you didn’t get to 10 we couldn’t really hire you. It was easy stuff for analysts, vlookups, pivot tables, maybe a sumif at the end….these were mentioned as required in the listing and the pre-screen……………….and a guy was doing the test and got stumped on vlookup, step 1. He obviously had no clue how to do it. He spent 15 minutes trying to learn how to do it and opened the internet to look it up. My coworker gave him a hint and he said in a round-about-way she was wrong. It was painful but hilarious to watch.

          5. Cassie*

            A skills assessment for, say, writing or formatting may be more limited (either you can do it or you can’t) but I think there can be a little more leeway when it comes to Excel, Word, etc. If there’s some functionality I need to add to a spreadsheet, I can google it and figure it out. Whereas there are some people that can’t even do that – how do you test that skill? Let the person have access to the internet during the test?

        2. TotesMaGoats*

          I had to do a on the spot writing sample on my last job interview (for my current position). I had a prompt and about 20 minutes. My boss talked about it for a long time that I was the only person who thought to go out to the internet and pull the company logo to make faux letterhead. But they got to see what kind of writer I was early on. It’s a great tool.

        1. Fact & Fiction*

          Skill-based exercises are an awesome way to weed out people who can actually edit/write from those who cannot. I would suggest giving them something as a pre-screen before you even interview them, and then give them something short when they come in to interview just to make sure they are actually the ones doing the work.

          I just passed two rounds of copyediting and proofreading (along with other basic skills) screening tests and am getting ready to interview for an editor position with an educational book publisher I really hope to land. I was extremely impressed with their screening process. It shows me what skills they’re looking for, and the fact they are taking such steps to screen their applicants bumps them up an extra notch in my book.

          Pun kinda sorta intended. ;)

          1. C Average*

            How did you find and pursue this type of job?

            My current role is a subject matter expert/html copywriter at a large company. I really enjoy the copy-editing aspect of the job. (I’m the de facto proofreader for my team because I’m really good at it.) I’ve often wondered if I’d enjoy doing something like this full-time. I’d love to know a bit about how one breaks into that industry.

            1. Fact & Fiction*

              I came to this area in a roundabout way (even though it was something I was always interested in — life just took a weird path to get here). I’ve always been a great writer and editor of my own work, and used those skills in the legal field for over a decade. A few years ago, I sold a three-book fiction series to a large publisher, which gave me the courage to quit the corporate grind when some personal issues cropped up. In the years since, I’ve done a ton of freelance writing and editing (mostly in the SEO and online content realm). Two years ago, I got a position with an online marketing company that has a contract with a major provider of news and legal services. I write and edit legal blog articles based on news stories. Unfortunately, as much as I enjoy the actual work, I really want a full-time job with benefits like actual paid vacation. =)

              So since March, I’ve been scouring searching on phrases like writer, editor, content, communications marketing etc. keeping an eye out for any positions that seem to fit the criteria of what I’m looking for. This particular position is like a needle in the haystack because my area is NOT New York so there aren’t many jobs like this in my city. I would recommend keeping your eye out just in general, even if you’re not actively looking, and networking with anyone in the field.

              It’s a pretty competitive field, so I’m excited to have gotten even this far in the recruiting process for this company. They provide printing and publishing services for a lot of educational book companies and other publishers.

              1. C Average*

                Interesting and cool! Thanks for the info, and congratulations.

                There’s a fairly close to complete novel living in my head and needing to get on the page. I would so love to pick your brain about how you managed to fit your own creative writing around a job that involves writing. I sometimes feel like I leave all my creativity at the office.

                I don’t want to hijack this comment thread, but I would really love to pick your brain in the open thread tomorrow, if you’d be willing to talk further about your creative process.

      2. Pat*

        There’s an informal test used for hiring folks who are meant to be writing code called the Fizz Buzz test. As presented at , the challenge is as follows:

        “Write a program that prints the numbers from 1 to 100. But for multiples of three print “Fizz” instead of the number and for the multiples of five print “Buzz”. For numbers which are multiples of both three and five print “FizzBuzz”.”

        It’s incredibly easy for anyone who actually knows how to program. But it defeats an astonishing number of people who can talk about programming as if they know. I guess the point is, a skill test doesn’t have to show if someone’s going to be a superstar to be useful – just weed out those who’ll be a black hole of effort and time.

      3. Liane*

        When between permanent jobs, I used to score essays for a great company in the educational testing field. In addition to proof of at least a BA/BS, first-time applicants–they hired on a per-project basis–were given a prompt (topic) and had to write an essay as part of the application process.

  2. Kate*

    For #1… I’ve always found that one of the hardest adjustments to make as a manager is trying to balance both the needs of my organization (strategic goals, budgets, and the general need to move my department forward) with the needs of my employees (who have their own goals, challenges, and desire to grow).

    It’s a symbiotic relationship- one can’t take take precedence over the other, because an organization can’t survive without its employees, but the employees need the organization as well.

    If you don’t currently have the time or patience to be dealing with her, you may need to make some. She won’t be your last difficult employee, and there are costs to the rest of your team if you “give her the boot” without having adequately prepared the groundwork beforehand- I don’t mean via PIPs, etc. I mean via rebalancing workload for the rest of the team, ensuring that your team has the human resource capacity and financial capacity to handle a round of hiring to replace her, etc.

    As difficult as this employee may seem to be, you may want to do a gut-check and make sure that your passion and desire for driving your department forward don’t mean that your employees get left behind.

    1. Kate*

      Lest I sound like I am letting off the hook, I’m not!

      Like Wakeen’s Teapots said below, you need to build a good team. Maybe that includes her on it, maybe it doesn’t.

      I would suggest:

      1) Do the gut-check. You’re part of the team too.
      2) If you really think the team would be better off without her, then start laying the groundwork. Make sure your team can handle an increased workload, make sure you have a plan to hire and train-up a replacement in fairly short order, start prepping a PIP, etc.
      3) Give her the boot.

    2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      (We were posting at the same time. I obviously take longer to write. :))

      I appreciate your point of view but I have a quite different way of looking at it. This:

      She won’t be your last difficult employee, and there are costs to the rest of your team if you “give her the boot” without having adequately prepared the groundwork beforehand- I don’t mean via PIPs, etc. I mean via rebalancing workload for the rest of the team, ensuring that your team has the human resource capacity and financial capacity to handle a round of hiring to replace her, etc.

      while I understand why you take that approach, I won’t do it.

      I would do it for a substandard employee, in the “half a loaf is better than none” fashion. If an employee’s main flaw was that she could produce only half the work her position needed her to produce, it makes sense to put effort into trying to bring her up . She’s contributing something and if she’s not sucking more time in than work she is giving back, the team is at least getting something for her.

      Regarding needing to work with difficult employees: I refuse.

      I am not a difficult person. There is not a single difficult person in my entire division. We all have our flaws. We occasionally have minor personality conflicts, but, we’re not difficult (and I’m talking there’s 100 of us).

      I let somebody go from my direct report team this last year and it about killed me. She had gotten out of control difficult. Even though I warned and counseled, she not only didn’t take my warnings on board, she escalated, culminating in one big splat event that she was shocked to be terminated for.

      I had no plan to replace her as I walked into or out of her termination. It’s been a rough recovery and while the lack has hurt a number of us, it hurts me the most because she was my right hand. I moved somebody into her spot the next day but it will take him several years to get up to her level of contribution.

      So, yes, you and I do do things differently. I can’t say it is wrong for someone to want to do good prep before a term but, for me, the cost of letting a problem employee linger around is greater than anything that comes next after they are termed.

      1. Kate*

        I think some of the difference might (might!) be attributable to a different employment market.

        In our case, we have a very difficult time finding people (six months to a year isn’t unheard of) and a ton of bureaucracy involved in either hiring or firing someone (again, six months to a year isn’t unheard of).

        If #1’s office is indeed juggling a lot of big work, and she doesn’t have the time and patience to handle this one employee, is she going to be able to navigate up to a year of having an understaffed team with the same number of demands as before, plus however much time it takes to get a new person up to snuff?

        Now, obviously, if the position isn’t so technical that it would be difficult to staff, and the employment is such that you can fill a position, temp or permanent, within a fairly short time, then the calculus might be different.

        But if #1 is going to have to go through the process of a PIP, etc. (usually a few months anyways?) and a firing, seems as though she might as well be doing the prep work at the same time.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*


          That’s a big difference.

          While I do need two signoffs, I can term somebody the same day. We never wait more than two to three days from the time the final decision has been made.

          Replacing people, some people are very very hard to replace, but I can get bodies pretty quickly and have enough players that I can move people around to fill gaps.

          A contributing factor: we do a lot of maternity leaves, so we’re adept at moving around to fill gaps (I have 3 on maternity atm) and our business is somewhat seasonal. The business is year round but there are two busy season periods where people move temporarily anyway.

          That is very interesting.

        2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          I can’t stop being fascinated by this.

          Do you see what each one of us are doing? We’re fitting our management strategy to the unchangeable circumstances/cards we are dealt in our line of work.

          In my case, flexibility and movement are paramount. There’s so much flow in our flow that I cannot do difficult people. People need to be able to move around and everybody has to work together, not in a kumbaya kinda way but in a business necessity kind of way. I had to develop to be able to get rid of problem people quickly because, frankly, they gum up the works. This was not something easy for me and took me many years to get to the point of being able to move as quickly as necessary.

          In your case, you had to develop to wring the last drop of good out of difficult people because of your set of circumstances.

          It’s just, very interesting.

          1. Kate*

            On a more humourous note, I just stopped by the office of a good friend from our HR department. In exchange for bringing back lunch, she told me exactly what it would take to get fired in 24-48 hours in our office.

            Contrary to my previous belief, it is possible, just highly unlikely. The employee would have to be caught by multiple witnesses in the boss’ office, snorting cocaine off a dead body.

            In that case, the employee could sent home immediately, with pay, and if everyone were sufficiently motivated (that’s where the boss’ office comes in), the employee could theoretically be out the door in 24-48 hours. The employee would have the right to appeal that decision, so you might want to take an additional 24 hours or so to get statements from witnesses and confirm that yes, it was actually cocaine, and yes, the person was actually dead, but it could theoretically be 24-48 hours.

            I think we can safely call that “wring[ing] the last drop of good out of difficult people” ;)

            1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

              That’s hysterical.

              I wonder if I could have adapted to that environment. I’m picturing me clutching every single piece of work on my desk. I’m already notorious for being a work clutcher… I’m betting I wouldn’t have been able to make it in management.

              Fortunately, I do not have to find out. :)

              1. Kate*

                It’s funny, I’m not sure I could make it in an at-will workplace. Different strokes for different folks?

                In my job, I know that unless I do something horribly, horribly illegal, I’m not going to get fired. As a result, I find that I’m more likely to take risks and be innovative rather than constantly being afraid that one wrong move can see me walking out the door with my stuff in a box. I suspect that most of my employees would say something similar.

                I would say that it puts a lot more onus on me as a manager to hire good people right off the bat. Since we don’t have the luxury of getting rid of the bad ones easily, we want to make sure we don’t get stuck with bad ones for years (upon years) on end.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  At-will environments don’t mean that you’ll get fired because of one wrong move. They mean you could in theory, sure, but in practice that’s not typical. There are plenty of U.S. workplaces and jobs that do indeed encourage risk taking and innovation and don’t penalize occasional mistakes made in pursuit of innovation, and where people are absolutely confident they won’t get fired for that. It’s just about culture and knowing your workplace.

                2. Puddin*

                  I work at a very large company with international employees. Our HQ is in Europe as are many of our suppliers. I think that some of the difficulties we experience in trying to act like ‘one company’ is because of the differences between the contract employees overseas and the At Will employees in the U.S. I could not say HOW it effects it, this is just a hunch I have.

                  This discussion just solidified that hunch.

                3. Jen RO*

                  I also enjoyed this exchange! My company (and country) are similar to Kate’s, but a lot of Wakeen said is also very helpful. I am not a manager, but there is a person on my team who fits Wakeen’s definition of difficult. She does good work, mostly, but sometimes she creates unnecessary work for everyone else and she has an attitude problem to go with it. I am not in a position to do something about, but another coworker is about to be promoted to management and she often asks for my opinion/advice on workplace issues. (I am happy to channel Alison as often as possible!)

                4. Koko*

                  My employer is definitely one that is slow to hire and slow to fire. In fact, we’re often slow to hire BECAUSE we’re slow to fire. Managers know that a bad hiring choice may haunt them for 6-12 months or more. Generally a termination only comes after a failed PIP; formal PIPs are only drafted and begun during the annual review period, and depending on seniority can last 3-6 months…so if you’re 6 months out from a review and you have a senior employee struggling, you’re 12 months out from their potential last day. The only time you’re fired faster is when it’s unrelated to job performance and more along the lines of you consciously violated a law or company conduct policy.

                  That said, because we do such careful hiring, we rarely need to fire. A lot of people have been with the company for 5, 10, 15+ years. Innovation is definitely encouraged, and a lot of people who have been around a long time are in positions they essentially created for themselves because they saw an unmet need and voluntarily stepped up to meet it, and ended up doing so great at it that they were given a new title to reflect the job they’d created. In 2 years I’ve only seen 2 people fired out of the 150 or so who work at our office. One for basically mentally checking out, failing to do most of her work and missing deadlines on the rest, for the last 2 years she was there (that one took forever, but was easy in the sense that we were able to just eliminate her position once she was gone because clearly we didn’t need a person in that position and nobody had to absorb her work because she hadn’t been doing any) and one for sexual harassing multiple coworkers (that one took just over a week from the reports being filed).

            2. GrumpyBoss*

              I worked at that company once. It was a nightmare. I had an employee doing something unethical (and possibly even illegal, depending on which lawyer I asked). It still took 6 weeks of fact checking before we could terminate him.

            3. Mike C.*

              Yeah, but what if you brought enough cocaine for everybody? Surely that’s got to buy you a few extra days.

                1. Liane*

                  We also need “ROFL” and “WTH” buttons.
                  Probably a few others.
                  It might help Alison when it comes time to do the Worst Manager of the Year roundups.

            4. Meg Murry*

              Yes, I worked for a public school system once that was known for just moving people around instead of actually dealing with them. The worst was my husbands boss – he was officially the director of technology support services, but he honestly didn’t know how to do the most basic things on a computer, like send email. He was appointed to the position after computers somehow started falling under the same category as maintaining equipment like overhead projectors. There were also people who were moved around for other things that would get you fired at any other job, like spending hours a day looking at porn (and leaving it up on computers in a SCHOOL, where children could get to it) or just straight up not knowing how to do your job or not doing it.
              We used to joke that the ONLY way to get fired from this system would be something involving severe child abuse on school property, and even then the person would probably only be put on administrative leave and it would take an actual conviction and jail time to be fired.

            5. De Minimis*

              I work a federal job and even we are not that bureaucratic when it comes to firing—and we do have a union here too. It is probably somewhat tough to fire someone here if they are significantly underperforming but are not otherwise violating any rules, I’m not privy to the personnel decisions so I don’t know what goes into it. But I’ve been here just under 2 years now and I’ve seen at least 4-5 terminations happen–for things like poor attendance, erratic behavior, and in the case of one doctor, a significant lapse in judgment that could have caused a major liability issue. For the doctor it actually was a 24-48 hour firing situation.

              Now what I think does sometimes happen here is that the firing is challenged after the fact and there is fallout as a result…I know of one person who got another job here due to a legal settlement after being terminated, and I’ve also seen us having to do some kind of payout as part of a settlement, but we don’t seem to have any more roadblocks to firing than most other large employers.

              I worked for the Post Office for a few years and they seemed to have a lot more bureaucracy when it came to firing, there were different levels of discipline, and I think you had to get to a couple of suspensions before you could be fired. But it sounded like in really severe situations people could be fired quickly, like in cases of theft.

              1. De Minimis*

                Forgot to mention, what I’ve also seen the union do here is negotiate with management to allow the employee to do early retirement in lieu of termination if they have enough years to where they can do that.

          2. C Average*

            This difference you’ve highlighted is really interesting to me.

            My company has a variation on the kind of business needs you describe. One of the benefits my company offers is paid sabbaticals of six weeks at the 10-year mark and every five years thereafter. Thus, just at the time when people have accumulated a lot of experience and become indispensable to the business, we boot them out the door for six weeks and turn off their email! This benefit really drives flexibility and agility in our work force. We HAVE to have a contingency plan. My first sabbatical is still more than two years away, but I’m already starting to cross-train colleagues and think about bench strength on my team. It’s an ingrained part of how tenured employees behave here.

            There are lots of positive downstream effects of this aspect of our culture. Maternity leaves and medical leaves generally go smoothly. People generally take their vacations. There are a few people who have truly unique skill sets, but they’re encouraged to cross-train their teammates, and it’s held against them if they refuse. Bench strength is critical to our operations.

            1. Koko*

              Is the sabbatical like clockwork? My company also offers 6-week sabbaticals after 5 years of service; unpaid, but your benefits continue uninterrupted and your job is waiting for you when you return. Because it’s unpaid, only a few people take them, enough that it’s not unheard of, but a lot of eligible people don’t, and a lot of the people who do take it, don’t take it at exactly the 5-year mark.

              1. C Average*

                Pretty much, yeah. You have to take your sabbatical in your year of eligibility. It’s up to you to work with your manager and team to pick the best timing. Often, people on sabbatical tack on PTO and are gone for two months. You can postpone your sabbatical up to a year, but you have to have a signoff from your VP to do so. We’re big enough that you have to be a pretty big dog to have any kind of day-to-day access to a VP. It’s highly unusual for someone to postpone a sabbatical, and nearly unheard of for someone to not take one.

                1. Fact & Fiction*

                  I could SO get behind taking a paid six-week sabbatical! I am completely envious of that particular facet.

                2. Libby*

                  Not to go too far out on a tangent, but I’m curious about these sabbaticals. Are you supposed to be learning or doing something to get better at your job, or is it more like vacation? And is there a requirement that you’ll return to your job for a specified period after the sabbatical?

                3. C Average*

                  @Libby: There are no strings attached to the sabbatical whatsoever. You’re supposed to completely disconnect from work and return refreshed and recharged. People I’ve known have taken cross-country road trips, backpacked Europe, learned to surf, taken classes, had staycations, and everything in between.

                  I personally plan to use a big chunk of my sabbatical spending time with my father, who isn’t getting any younger, gathering an oral history. (He had an unbelievably Dickensian childhood and I want to write about it someday. Plus he’s just a wonderful storyteller once you get him going. It’s the getting him going that’s tough.)

                  To the best of my knowledge, you could resign the day you return with no repercussions. I can’t imagine this happens much, though. We’re considered a pretty highly desirable employer, and people who stick around for ten years aren’t likely to take off right after their sabbatical.

            2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

              That is so interesting.

              You know what, I don’t know if this is chicken or egg, but here’s another thing about our culture:

              We work hard but pretty much nobody other than me (because I’m insane) works over forty hours a week. People who go on vacation do not check their email, unless they are senior senior management. Mid level managers might check their email once or twice during a vacation week but we shoosh them right off and tell them to go away and get a tan, we’ll handle it.

              We’re just, modular, I guess. It’s not that we’re not scrambling when we’ve got a couple people out a time but we’re just used to it. (Mind, we aren’t overstaffed. July was *painful* between vacations and people out for tradeshows but we made it through.)

              It’s all sort of the same thing and it never occurred to me.

              (No sabbaticals, sorry. Maybe I can revisit that when we are closer to the size of your place of business. :) )

        3. Anonymous*

          Here ‘a the problem kicking the can down the road. If you fired someone and had a replacement in a year then a year from now things are starting to improve. If you don’t, a year from now you’re in the exact same situation as you started with barely performing employee eating up your time to fix their mistakes and all their coworkers and volunteers disgruntled and possibly moving on because they can’t put up with underperforming employee any longer. Once you give them a reasonable time frame to improve and they don’t, stop expecting things to get better.

          1. Kate*

            I don’t disagree. But as managers, we need to realize that there are consequences for the rest of your team whether the person stays (bad morale) or leaves (bad morale, burnout, etc.)

            My suggestion isn’t to pretend nothing is happening, but rather, make sure that you (royal you) have thought throught he consequences for the *rest* of the team. Presumably they are currently decent to high performers and you want to keep them that way!

            1. Anon*

              Before my first termination, I felt that way. I worried about the impact to everyone else and wavered on a decision for months. By the time I finally made it happen, everyone was exhausted from carrying the extra workload. I was emotionally drained. The tension lifted immediately and the team has performed better ever since. My team was more intuitive, understanding and resilient than I had given them credit for. :)

              1. Kate*

                The attitude around our workplace has generally been that if you have afford to live without someone for six months to a year, and your team can make do, then they didn’t need to have that position around anyways, and it can be cut from the budget.

                Maybe my team can pull together and make it for three months without a replacement. Maybe even for six months. But anyone who has spent time around our workplace knows that once one person goes, that likely means an increased workload for everybody- permanently.

                Once that attitude gets around (and it does), then I’m not just trying to replace one problem employee, I am trying to replace two or three good employees that have elected to leave because of the newly increased workload.

                CAVEAT: That doesn’t mean I should put up with a problem employee indefinitely! It does mean that I can either find the “time and patience” now to try and work with this employee as best as I can, or I find the “time and patience” later, when I’m trying to explain to my team why they are once again trying to do more with less.

                In my mind, if it’s going to take me a while to fire person A and hire person B, then I should be looking ahead and trying to rejig my team’s workload in preparation for person A’s firing, trying to find cash in my budget for a temp to help out, etc. and save a lot of grief later on.

                1. Windchime*

                  This is the exact situation at my workplace. We had a person who had been here for close to 20 years. She worked independently in the past, and was transferred to the team I’m on when it formed a couple of years ago. She was unable to successfully transition. She made tons of mistakes, outright lied to the boss when he would ask the status of a project, and would sometimes just sit for hours, staring at an empty screen. The boss didn’t want to fire her because we were going through layoffs at the time, which meant that her position wouldn’t be replaced.

                  Recently this person made a huge mistake, costing us several days’ time to fix. I think she saw the handwriting on the wall and she resigned. It was a relief to the rest of us and we will actually be coming out ahead, because now we won’t be spending hours fixing this person’s mistakes or re-checking her work. My boss is wanting to fill the position with a slightly different skill-set, and he is having to fight with HR to justify it.

      2. KellyK*

        This makes a lot of sense. I like the distinction you make between “substandard” and “difficult.” There’s definitely a big difference between not pulling your weight and actively making the work environment worse. I think you’re more likely to lose other good team members, and lose them more quickly, if you keep people who actively make their job harder and their work environment unpleasant. (There is a point when “substandard” reaches this level—if you or someone else is spending more time correcting or coaching the employee than you would to just do the work yourself, you have nothing to lose by letting them go.)

        1. Koko*

          It’s strange to me when I observe people who really resist being given more work. I hate when an overly labor-intensive task is dropped on me unexpectedly and on short/last-minute notice because it throws off the way I’ve scheduled my time in the immediate future. But if you give me enough advance notice, you can give me the most labor- and time-intensive task in the world and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest because I’ll make sure to organize my work so that I have the time available for it when it’s needed, whether it’s getting started on it early or getting other things done early to make room for it in the future or coming in early so I don’t have to stay late, etc. I’m always surprised when someone will, in a planning meeting for something months in the future, object to something because it’s going to create too much work. To me, nothing is too much work when you have months’ advance notice.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      one of the hardest adjustments to make as a manager is trying to balance both the needs of my organization (strategic goals, budgets, and the general need to move my department forward) with the needs of my employees (who have their own goals, challenges, and desire to grow). It’s a symbiotic relationship- one can’t take take precedence over the other

      I’m going to strongly disagree. The needs of an employee don’t take precedence when the person isn’t meeting a high bar or when what you need done is different from what their strengths are or when the organization’s needs to mesh well with the employee’s needs. You should care about the needs of the employees, of course — not only because it’s kind, but because it’s part of your long-term capacity building: It will build a stronger team (and better people will want to work for you), which will help you get better results. But it’s a means to that end (better results over the long-term), not the end in itself.

    4. Mints*

      I just wanted to chime in that I also enjoyed this thread. And it’s nice to remember that functional workplaces do, in fact, exist and are not unicorns

  3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*


    Alison is more generous than I am, probably because I am older and grumpier.

    Here are the elements I see:

    1) she doesn’t have the skill set that she presented herself as having
    2) she’s slow
    3) she has a disagreeable attitude
    4) she lies to you

    1 & 2 can be remediated. 3 &4 can’t. AND 1 & 2 can’t be remediated when you have someone with 3 &4.

    If 3 & 4 were clear within her first month, I would have fired her then.

    My objection to people lying isn’t a moral one. My objection is that it makes everything else in the workplace undoable if you can’t trust the word of the person you are working with. The time suck is huge and yawning.

    BTW, being a good manager is about building a good team. The sooner you turn out somebody who is clearly not going to work, the faster you are able to give a job opportunity to somebody who will work. That’s good for you, the company, and that good hire who is out there right now waiting to find the right place to work. You sound like a good person to work for. Go find her.

    1. Number One*

      Hi there. And the original poster for number one and I tend to agree with your line of thinking. However, it took me quite a while to be able to find this person to bring in house and we are such a small staff with the specialized focus that I cannot easily replace this one individual. I feel like my only course of action is to work with her until we are able to see a marked improvement or find somebody else, but I do not really think I have it in me to be without at least somebody. The lying really really upsets me. It is especially bothersome when you know that it is over something so small and avoidable. I just feel like I was really taken for a ride during the interview because I was not given true information. Right now my department consists of just me, this person, and one other part-time person who just started. I think the general model and culture of our organization is such that if you know you are not contributing in a really big wavy then you have no business being here. But at the same time I also know I’m going to struggle finding a new person.

      Such a catch-22.

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        Did you call her out on her lying? If so, what did she say? I see two types of liars in the workplace. Those who lie because they are afraid of what will happen if they tell the truth and/or didn’t think they’d be found out; and those who lie because they are pathological and can’t help it.

        It’s hard to trust either, but the former is someone you can tolerate while looking for a replacement.

        1. Number One*

          So, it’s kind of hard to call her out on her specific lies because the worst one was regarding formatting for references. What I did was go back over them and point out exactly what was wrong and sat her down to discuss the errors, as this is a pretty big red flag for anyone who says they know this style manual. She kept making excuses and I repeatedly said “that’s why we are having this conversation now, so you. An do better next time.” I at no point ever said “that’s okay” because I don’t want to give the impression that it’s okay to lie to me. So while I never said “I know you lied to my face,” I did point out that I know she lied because if she had done the thing she told me she did then we wouldn’t have been talking about dozens of mistakes. I can feel it coming again so how would you suggest I handle the next lie?

          1. GrumpyBoss*

            It may be good to be very blunt and firm (which it sounds like you were). “Per this style manual, which we use here, it must be formatted this way. There are no exceptions – this is a requirement of the job” I wouldn’t leave the door open to her excuses. People like this love to justify their behavior, but this isn’t a two way dialogue. You’ve made the requirements and your expectations clear. You could follow up and ask if she needs to review the manual (which may sound snarky). She won’t be the last person you have working for you who embellished their skills a little in an interview – I promise you that. What is important is that she has clear cut expectations and her skills must rise to the occasion.

            1. fposte*

              And if she fails, that might be a really good moment for the calm non-rhetorical inquiry of “Why did you do that after I told you not to?”

      2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        What if she quit with no notice tomorrow? What would you do?

        I mean that sincerely. Take time to consider that she’s evaporated the face of the earth, what would your next steps be.

        You think you have no option but to put up with that. If that final option was removed, what problem solving would you be able to accomplish.

        You can’t let the healthy operation of your organization hang on one underperforming employee. Facing the worst can bring out your best.

        (sorry for the “too clever” close there but once that popped in my head, I had to type it out.)

        1. neverjaunty*

          Yes, so much this.

          If the answer is “the entire organization would collapse”, then the problem isn’t the one employee. Unless you have a tiny company and we’re talking about the CEO, no company should rely on one employee always being there. What if Bob Indispensable got hit by a bus? Or went on the lam from federal drug charges? Or simply found a better job elsewhere and left immediately?

          “I can’t fire them because I would have to replace them and that’s hard” is not a reason. It’s an indicator of a bigger problem.

        2. Ethyl*

          Totally agree. I feel like people put up with a lot of crap both at work and in their personal lives because they feel like there is no other choice. Something that was really helpful to me when I was upset over such a situation was someone saying to me — hey, actually, there IS a choice here, although it may not be one you would ever take. Something about realizing that there actually are options (even though the “choice” may be “leave your job with nothing else lined up and live with mom”) makes me feel not only more empowered but more able to find the good in what I “have” to do. Don’t know if that will work for everybody but it has helped me out a lot :)

        3. Number One*

          This is a sad thought, but I would probably get over her quitting with great speed. In all honesty things would likely not be that different for me. I would still be the one making sure the thing I’ve asked her to do get done efficiently and correctly. However, I’d be in a real pickle because my department is only 3 people, including myself, and the learning curve of having to train a new employee isn’t going to help, either. Not to mention all the outrageous applications that I would no doubt have to sift through with tears in my eyes. I guess we’re back to that catch-22 again! I think in honesty I know what needs to happen, but I keep thinking maybe I will give it one more week and see an improvement. AAAH!

          Has anyone had any experience with searching for a candidate in the background while simultaneously attempting to rehabilitate the incumbent? I have been kicking this idea around today but wonder if it would only backfire.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The first thing you need to do — as in Friday when you get to work — is talk to your manager and say that you’ve determined you’re going to need to let the employee go, and ask for your manager’s advice. There may be hoops that your organization requires you to jump through in this process; if so, you want to learn about them now and not a month from now. Also, this is the type of thing your manager should be in the loop on. So have that conversation and talk over with her the best way to proceed, and your nervousness about having the vacancy.

      3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        One more thing to say:

        New hires often don’t work out.

        After you have hired **for awhile** , you get better at hiring and more of your hires work out.

        It’s not shocking at all that you were mislead in the interview, nor shocking that after a long period of time the person you finally hired has personality problems + lack of skill sets. It just happens. (You’ll probably get better for screening both of those things over time but still, 20 years from now, you’ll be having that happen to you.)

        Hiring a new person isn’t, oh thank god they start on Monday, that’s all taken care of.

        Hiring a new person is: okay, starting on Monday. What are my expectations, what’s my training plan, and what are the touchpoints where I evaluate whether this person is going to make it or not.

        Seriously, seriously, seriously.

        1. Mimmy*

          I don’t have any aspirations to be a manager, but if I were, you and Alison would be the first people I turn to. Such great advice!

      4. XVolunteer*

        You mentioned that you have volunteers who are upset. I’ve been one of those. :-) A scholarly journal that I used to copyedit as a volunteer started paying someone to do the copyediting (more accurately, one of the editors started assigning it to his staff, so those people are essentially being paid to do what I was doing for free). Some of them are fine, but others are… not.

        It would go a long way with me if the editors would quit paying one of these people for her bad editing and offer to hire me as a freelance copyeditor for a few months until they can hire someone else. If you do end up firing this person, could you do something like that?

      5. Ask a Manager* Post author

        You’re being held hostage to a bad employee out of fear. As Wakeen says, what would you do if she quit tomorrow? You’d find a way to move forward.

        You say that you work in a culture where if you’re not performing at a high level, you don’t belong there. By keeping this person on staff, you yourself are not performing at a high level as a manager. This is going to reflect on you. You need to address it. It can really harm your own reputation if you don’t.

        You mentioned that you’re a new manager. You should be able to be talking to your boss for support in managing the situation and getting her out of there. (That’s true even if you weren’t a new manager, but it’s especially true since you are.)

        1. Fact & Fiction*

          I’m also confused as to how OP can be held hostage over an editorial position. There are a TON of editors and writers out there looking for work. I can see being worried about finding a fully qualified editor who will be a good fit, but I would never in a million years allow someone who not only doesn’t already have the skills they need as an editor, but who actually bald-faced lied about their qualifications to hold me hostage. Especially not at the detriment to the company and work we’re producing.

          In other words, I wholeheartedly agree with setting up a clear plan for the employee improving, and if they don’t, making it clear what steps will be taken next–and actually taking them if the person doesn’t get their skills where they need to be.

            1. Number One*

              Yes, there are tons of editors out there, but it was my experience while hiring for this poorly performing employee that there are a lot of editors who don’t have the skills I’m looking for, or aren’t in an appropriate salary range. We require candidates to state a preferred salary range, and many of them are specifying that they want to be paid more than me. I also won’t look at an application if the person has not taken the time to investigate who I am (“Dear Sir or Madame” is a major turnoff for me, and I get SO many of these). The position was initially advertised on CSE, ASAE’s job board, LinkedIn, and word of mouth. And this was the best I got! So I am very hesitant to go through that again knowing that it’s not just my time, but the time of all the other individuals who are part of our interviewing and onboarding process. I guess for the future I need to be skilled in spotting lies. The measures of knowledge like a common editing test or writing test will definitely help, but how do you spot when someone is just talking very smoothly on their feet and getting the better of you?

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Ah, okay. So I think your hiring process might need some tweaking. First, you should recruit more widely than that; that’s very narrow advertising. Don’t use one of the huge job boards, but do a little more than what you’ve been doing. You should also send the posting out to your own network and ask your colleagues to do the same; that will often turn up better candidates.

                Then … stop asking people to state a salary range, and list the salary range in the ad. That way people who won’t take that range won’t apply. By asking them to list it up-front before they’ve even learned about the job, you’re putting them at an unfair disadvantage and driving away top-tier candidates who are turned off by that.

                Also, “dear sir or madam” or “dear hiring manager” is fine. You should not be rejecting people over that.

                Ask your manager for advice on the hiring process too if you’re new to it.

              2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

                Lookit, you’re new to this. If you are going to be in management in your career, you are going to be in this situation many times over. Many. Times. Over. It would have been nice if you’d gotten lucky with a good hire your first time out. What you got instead is a common experience that you can now learn from.

                Hiring: everything Alison said. If you are Google and you are paying $80,000 to start, you can have all of the silly criteria you want, including telling people to write their resume in peanut butter on a slice of whole wheat bread. Those of us who aren’t Google can’t afford to eliminate any potential candidates on criteria drawn up on a whim. After you have done 5 or 10 successful hires for the same type of position you can start to find common criteria between your successful candidates that allows you to prescreen for that. Until then, evaluate resumes based on the common factors: education & experience, and of course points for a great cover letter.

                Here’s another thing: when you put the salary range in the ad, you are STILL going to get people who want 30% more than you make . This just happens and while it can be wearing, it just, happens.

                So buck up :), be nice to these candidates, nice, nice, nice (you don’t want to lose the right candidate because you’re feeling bitched out about the 10 before her), and plow through.

                What you will learn from doing this better this time around will last you the lifetime of your career.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yes yes yes to all this. Also, I keep thinking about this:

                  “I also won’t look at an application if the person has not taken the time to investigate who I am”

                  If you’re saying that AND complaining that it’s too hard to find people to do the job, THAT IS YOUR ANSWER RIGHT THERE.

                  “I also won’t look at an application if the person has not taken the time to investigate who I am” is the sort of crazy hiring requirement that will cut out more than half your applicants. If you’re not having trouble finding great people to hire, then great, I suppose you can have crazy requirements. But you’re not firing a horrible performer because you’re afraid you won’t be able to replace her. Why on earth would you reject applicants for something so trivial? Your answer is right there.

              3. Mike B.*

                In my experience (I’m an AMA copyeditor), a good editor who doesn’t have experience with a particular style can pick it up really quickly on the fly. A bad editor won’t be able to apply it properly, experience or not.

                And +1 to all the comments directly below mine.

          1. fposte*

            And this taints *all* of their work in that kind of position, since the job is to debug, and her debugging isn’t trustworthy enough to be independent. So at this point somebody has to shadow all her work anyway. So it’s not like going without her is going to eat up that much more of the office’s time.

            And I’m all in favor of allowing an employee to improve, but this one doesn’t seem to be interested in improving. I would therefore assume she’s not going to, and this is the employee she’s always going to be for you. If you knew that for sure, would you replace her? Because I think it’s pretty clear.

      6. neverjaunty*

        OP #1 – May I also be blunt? Your problem is not that you are trapped. Your problem is that you are managing poorly.

        By that, I don’t mean that if only you did things right your employee would be OK; I mean that as a manager, part of your job is to fire bad employees and replace them with good ones, and to make sure your team is doing well. And you are not doing that, apparently because that would be publicly admitting that you got taken for a ride by an unskilled liar, and you are afraid that would reflect poorly on you.

        Here is what really reflects poorly on you as a manager: retaining an employee who can’t do her job, lets ten-minute tasks ‘pile up for weeks’, creates lots of extra time-suck work for you and other employees because of her conduct, and drags your department down.

        You know you have to give her the boot (as you asked in your original letter). Your energy would be most productively directed towards planning to quickly hire her replacement – possibly getting a temp in the meantime. It does you no good to frantically bail water because you’re embarrassed to admit there’s a hole in the boat that needs fixing.

        1. GrumpyBoss*

          I agree so much.

          As managers, these are easy calls. They aren’t performing. Nothing else matters. Eventually you’ll run into managing people who do excellent work, but have other bad traits and then the decision to keep or remove is a little more dicey. None of that ambiguity is here. She doesn’t perform, and you can’t allow that to impact you as a manager!

          1. fposte*

            And I’d give a bigger chance if I thought the employee was genuinely struggling, in the sense that she was fighting to achieve what she was supposed to achieve. The OP’s words don’t suggest that the employee is trying at all, though–she’s failing, she’s complaining, and she’s pushing back. That’s why I have no expectation that this person will change–she’s pretty openly not trying to.

            1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

              I’m a sucker for genuinely struggling. I’ll go probably too far for someone with a good attitude who is genuinely struggling.

              We strive to have only high performers on board but there’s always a few ways that we can retrain or repurpose someone who is trying her best but (can’t keep up with volume, can’t handle a high level of details, can’t switch gears fast enough).

              The only thing I have to watch out for is scooting payroll costs up too much with that, example, hiring somebody to do X job and finally settling them in Y job successfully, only Y job should pay less. Generally I think it’s good karma but there’s a few traps in there for me that I need to be mindful of. (I know, I could lower their salary but there’s not enough money in this world to get me to sit across someone and take $5 or $8 grand a year away from them. We’d have to be desperate.)

    2. manager anonymous*

      Okay… perhaps you don’t remember me but to recap. A year and 1/2 with the employee who did not meet the expectations of the position. Who lied. Union grievances. The employee had a high opinion of her competency despite copious documentation otherwise.
      So my two cents…
      Its been three months. Document, communicate and if there is no improvement, do everyone a solid and terminate.
      As for my own management assessment…post separation of said employee…
      I received an outstanding review and performance based raise.
      I received thank you’s and relief from each direct report after she was gone.

      The director of the division took me aside at a national conference (ran into in a hallway) and stated how she appreciated how I handled the situation. (I knew she was aware of the situation…I didn’t know that HR had been reporting in “step by step)”

      1. Mike B.*

        I don’t remember that story–if you’re still listening in, would you mind contacting Alison to see if she’d make this a formal follow-up? I’d be interested in hearing more.

  4. UK Anon*

    #3 – I just wanted to say good luck! I think that if you were only 21 at the time, and you will be able to show that you’ve since developed, grown into the career and love what you do, this would fall under one of those reasons where having worked there will be an advantage and you may genuinely be one of the better candidates (unless, of course, you were fired for really awful performance among other things – but even then, if it was skill based performance, not personal traits, and you’ve since picked up those skills, it may still be worth applying)

    1. The Maple Teacup*

      I say there is hope for the OP.

      At Old Job, a coworker was fired for physically and verbally threatening a client. (The client made sexually inappropriate comments about his wife. And was also intoxicated.)

      A year and a half later the company hired him back again for the same position. Then a few months later he was promoted to team leader.

      It’s a strange world

    2. OP #3*

      Thanks so much, UK Anon!

      The reason I was let go was due to my exam score. They wanted all employees at that particular location to be well-versed on our client’s industry. But my manager could also tell I wasn’t enthusiastic about what I was doing. I pretty much just went through the motions, did just enough to say I did my work, etc. Now I enjoy going above and beyond and challenging myself. My employers since then have raved about my performance.

      Though I wouldn’t be working in the same office, or state for that matter, I’d love another chance to prove myself. I hate that I have this little blemish on my career record, even though it hasn’t stopped me from advancing :-)

      1. Mike B.*

        I’d say that it’s highly unlikely anyone will remember you there after many years. It’s certainly worth a try–unless the company has a firm “not eligible for rehire” in your file and policies that won’t let them budge from that, most hiring managers would probably be far less interested in your false start than in your subsequent years of excellent performance. (Speaking of the hiring manager, I’d advise trying to contact her directly rather than going through the advertised process. If you have a red flag in your history, it’s better to start by piquing the interest of someone who can really evaluate the strength of your resume for what it is.)

  5. Chloe*

    #2, I totally sympathise, having been in this position. It drove me crazy that my colleague just didn’t do the work, or did it wrong all the time, and I was constantly covering for her. I wanted to have an “it’s her or me” conversation with my manager but in the end didn’t, and luckily she has recently resigned. It’s so much better without her, even though now I’m doing all of her work instead of just half of it.

    For what it’s worth, with the benefit of hindsight I agree it would have been too dramatic to make that ultimatum, but I just want to say I fully understand the way you feel.

    1. A Dispatcher*

      I understand too. I actually did make a similar ultimatum once (I was 21 and in my first full time job at the time and had much to learn!) I didn’t want my colleague to be fired or anything but we both worked on the same account and I asked (okay, pretty much demanded) for one of us to be moved to a different account, I didn’t care who. I had a lot of problems with the job already and working with him was the last straw. When that request was ignored, along with his many mistakes and lack of productivity I took it as a sign it was time to move on. I had the luxury of being able to easily do so by going back to school, but looking back on it I can’t believe how brazen I was to my boss over the whole thing.

    2. Betsy*

      I navigated similar conversations with my boss a few times at a previous job. I never actually said “It’s her or me,” but I said things like, “You know there’s a problem with Jane. This situation is placing a serious mental and emotional strain on the team, and eventually, if it doesn’t let up, we’re going to burn out and either check out or move on. And I will be one of those who will move on.”

      End result? I kept being assured “something is being done” and “things are in motion” for over a year. Finally, I took another job and gave notice. I got a lot of “is there anything at all we can do to keep you” questions, to which I said “No” and thought “There is nothing you can do today. There is a lot you could have done 6 months ago.”

      One thing about this kind of situation, though, is that it doesn’t end up being only about the problem employee, it becomes about the manager and the company, too. I don’t want to work for someone (whether direct supervisor or company) who cannot deal with problem employees effectively, because even if the single problem goes away, others will surely come up, and your boss is showing you how similar situations will be handled in the future, too.

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        I think this is fair, it does ultimately come back to the manager. I wouldn’t have responded well to your wording that you may move on, because it is still an ultimatum. But as a manager who has gone through this, I would have better set expectations. A manager should never discuss with other team members the disciplinary actions or coaching discussions taken on one of their peers. But they should be able to establish to their team that the behavior won’t be tolerated and is being addressed. If the manager doesn’t feel there is a problem, then it’s on him/her to be candid with the team and let them know that.

        1. LBK*

          I think it depends on the relationship with the manager – I’ve had employees where I would’ve been fine with them laying it out like that. Maybe not a blunt ultimatum of “If you don’t fire Jane in the next 2 weeks I’m quitting,” but I would be okay with something like “Having to work with Jane is making it really hard to continue to do my job, to the point that if I had an option to go elsewhere I would consider it.”

          This would have to be a star player whose opinion I generally took seriously and who I could trust to present something only if it were based on business needs, not on personally disliking Jane.

          1. Kassy*

            +1 to this.

            If given a blunt ultimatum such as that, I probably would have let go of both Sue and OP and been done with it. However, I would want to know if your work environment was so affected that you were seriously thinking of moving on. But it would definitely need to be approached from the point of “this is the action I may be taking” rather than “this is what I expect you to do.”

        2. LQ*

          Why are people so up in arms against ultimatums? Assuming the person is willing to go through with it it is really just a direct statement which we continually advocate for around here.

          What is it about an ultimatum that makes people go for the thing that hurts everyone out of spite when it is in fact just a direct statement of need.

          X is negatively impacting my work environment. If this negative work environment continues I will no longer perform at my best or I will leave.

          What is it that makes an honest and direct statement make you make a bad decision?

          1. Colette*

            The problem with ultimatums is that they’re a form of manipulation – you’re trying to force someone take action they wouldn’t otherwise take, and people (understandably) resent that.

            1. GrumpyBoss*

              Had a reply typed up and deleted it when I saw this. Spot on.

              Work environments are a series of relationships. People who are happy at work tend to cite their relationship with their boss, peers, etc. Would you want to have a relationship with someone who uses threats and ultimatums to get their way?

            2. LQ*

              But when a supervisor says, perform at this level or there is no longer a place for you here that is an ultimatum. (Which I would say is often really needed.)

              This is saying one ultimatum (from the employer) is ok and one (from the employee) is not.

              Yes I understand they are a series of relationships, but I would say ultimatums are one of the least manipulative things people can do (assuming they follow through of course) because they are always a I’ve made a decision, now you get to make a decision.

              Why would you want to be in a relationship with someone who is passive aggressive and doesn’t directly come out and say what they want? Isn’t that something that we say we need more of?

              1. Colette*

                The different relationship makes a difference. The supervisor’s role is to set expectations and assign tasks – doing so is not an ultimatum, even if there is a “I need you to do this or you’ll be fired” component, because it’s not manipulative.

                The converse situation – where the employee is trying to get the supervisor to do something without having the authority to do so – is manipulative, which is why it’s not OK.

                If the employee were to say something like “I’m really frustrated because X, Y, and Z”, that’s not an ultimatum, and the supervisor can then do her job and think “hmm, X, Y, and Z are all because of Jane” and decide what action to take.

                Yes, people should ask for what they want – but the difference is whether it’s something that they would be reasonably be expected to get. It’s not reasonable for me to expect my manager to fire my coworker. It is reasonable for my manager to expect me to do my job, which consists of tasks A, B, and C.

                Another piece is whether the consequences match the required action. It would be weird for my manager to say “if you wear red again, I’ll fire you”, but not weird for her to attach the same consequences to yelling at a customer or missing a week of work without notice.

              2. LBK*

                But when a supervisor says, perform at this level or there is no longer a place for you here that is an ultimatum. (Which I would say is often really needed.)

                This is saying one ultimatum (from the employer) is ok and one (from the employee) is not.

                But the employer has the authority to set an expectation and fire an employee who doesn’t meet it. The balance of power isn’t in the employee’s favor – the most they can do is quit if the expectation isn’t met, and that’s almost always going to have more impact on the employee than the employer.

                This is one area where the relationship analogy works well – do you want to date someone who says “You have to choose between dating me and being friends with Bob”? Even if Bob does suck and your SO is awesome, you’re probably not going to feel great about your SO forcing your hand like that. That’s blatantly manipulative; this person is using your relationship and their knowledge of how much you value that relationship to make you do something you wouldn’t do otherwise. That’s pretty much the definition of manipulation.

                1. LQ*

                  I don’t understand this. In a relationship things are much more equal. (Or should be.) My partner doesn’t have the right to say “behave in this way or I’ll leave you” unless I do. But everyone here seems to clearly say from what I’m reading that the employer has the right to say “behave in this way or I’ll fire you” but the employee doesn’t. To me this seems more like Jack and Jill are in a relationship and Jill is friends with Bob and Bob says, dump Jack or we are done being friends. (No one is saying that the employee shouldn’t leave if they don’t like it, but is saying that they shouldn’t really voice that, don’t complain, just leave. Or do complain but hide how serious it is.)

                  And I definitely don’t think it is reasonable for the employer to fire someone else because someone gets in a tizzy, but why isn’t it reasonable to be direct? Why is this the case where directness is discouraged?

                2. Mike B.*

                  LQ, I take it you are very new in the working world. This is the actual dynamic of employment–the manager tells you to do things and (assuming they’re legitimate and legal) you do them. Direction flows the same way that money does: from the top.

                  When you use an ultimatum to try to force your employer’s hand (as opposed to expressing your preferences), it’s an act of insubordination. It might work once, if they desperately need you, but it irrevocably changes the dynamic–it tells them that you’re willing to put a gun to their head and make them do something they would not do otherwise. Very few employees are so valuable that their employers will put up with that.

            3. Ethyl*

              I don’t necessarily think they are, though. There’s a difference between saying “fire Jane in 2 weeks or I quit,” and “this is impacting my work environment to the point that I am considering another offer.” The second is just, as LQ said, a direct statement of your own decision. It’s not a threat, and I feel like it’s clear that AAM was advocating a conversation along the lines of option 2, not option 1.

              1. Colette*

                Agreed, I don’t have a problem with the second one, either – but the original wording in this thread (“You know there’s a problem with Jane. This situation is placing a serious mental and emotional strain on the team, and eventually, if it doesn’t let up, we’re going to burn out and either check out or move on. And I will be one of those who will move on.”) is more contentious to me. There are a few reasons:
                – it’s about a specific person, not her behaviors or their impact
                – it speaks for the entire team, who may not feel the same way
                – it predicts the future behavior of the entire team.

                I’d also say that “checking out” is not something you should mention to your manager – staying engaged or getting out is your responsibility.

              2. LBK*

                I wouldn’t consider option #2 an ultimatum. No decision has been made – you’re saying you’re considering it as a way of showing how serious the situation is. In #1, you have already decided, without allowing for consideration or alternatives on the part of the manager.

                1. GrumpyBoss*

                  The insinuation is there: something needs to change, or else.

                  If she stopped after the “check out or move on”, it wouldn’t be as contentious. But she didn’t, and per her post, it didn’t have the desired effect.

              3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yeah, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for a good employee to say “I want to be honest with you about the fact that the situation with Jane is making my job so difficult that it’s actually prompting me to reconsider my tenure here. I understand you have other factors to consider, but I wanted to make you aware of the severity of the situation and its likely impact where I’m concerned.”

                It’s not “do this or I quit.” It’s “hey, here’s a heads-up about a piece of the situation that you might find useful to be aware of.”

                1. LQ*

                  I feel like these are basically the same thing. One said in a very jerky manner and one said in a direct but polite and respectful manner. They are both a “here’s what is happening”. I feel like it isn’t the thing that is being said, it is the jerk and drama factor of “do this or I quit” that is the problem. Not the directness or honesty of, “Hey this is a thing, this is where I stand on it.”

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t want to work for someone (whether direct supervisor or company) who cannot deal with problem employees effectively, because even if the single problem goes away, others will surely come up, and your boss is showing you how similar situations will be handled in the future, too.

        Absolutely. And OP #1, pay attention to this. You do not want to create a reputation for yourself as this kind of manager.

    3. OP #2*

      Hi, I’m the OP for number 2, after reading over comments, I think I should have omitted the word ultimatum entirely. It was there to ensure the reader that I wasn’t going to try to give an old west style ultimatum (at least not without another job lined up, at which point I’d already be leaving anyway), and not because it’s something I’m considering.

      I think any conversation does need to be more assertive than casually complaining about a co-worker, lest I should come off as petty and difficult. My intent would be to clearly link their continued employment with my job satisfaction, (and thus only indirectly to my retention), but it’s a narrow path to walk: if I am too strong in my words I’m giving an ultimatum; too weak, and I’m a ‘complainer’, hence my inaction thus far.

  6. NW Cat Lady*

    #1 – Overall, I agree with Allison’s advice and the insights of previous commenters.

    However, I would also like to point out that grumbling/growling and making angry noises at her desk may just be her way of dealing with frustration. I find myself growling at my computer quite often when I’m frustrated with things that are going on. My co-workers find it amusing (they’ve told me so, and I often hear them laughing at me when I’m doing it). I also do this at home; it’s just a coping mechanism for me.

    (Also, please note that I am not in a customer-facing job, or I would find other ways of dealing with the little frustrations.)

    1. Rayner*

      Growling and grumbling at your desk is fine when it’s low, not often, and people think it’s funny. When you’re over doing it so someone can hear you across the hall, then it’s no longer cute or funny, it’s really annoying and childish.

      1. Sadsack*

        Especially if the person across the hall is your manager. Who wants to hear their employee bitch about work?

    2. Kelly L.*

      Yes, telling off inanimate objects (computers, software, the copier) is SOP around here. At one of my old jobs we used to joke-fire Bill Gates, who obviously did not actually work there, anytime we had a Microsoft problem. And I’m also remembering a comment a while back about how there must be a whole section of hell filled with copiers, from all the times we damn them. :D

    3. Monodon monoceros*

      This one bit stuck out to me, too. I try to contain myself but when formatting word documents sometimes I just can’t help some grumbling (“screw you Word, stop thinking you know what I want!”). Luckily I have an office, but I usually keep the door open so I wonder if my boss can hear me… I think she knows I like my job, I just don’t appreciate Microsoft deciding for me how they want my document to look!

    4. Dulcinea*

      Hahaaha, loudly and vocally “responding” to emails from our administration/opposing counsel with obscenity and sarcasm is kind of a custom at my office. It’s entertaining and helps everyone keep up on the gossip! (We each have our own offices but people keep their doors open). Snapping, “Oh F*** YOU!!” at the caller id (when it’s someone you don’t want to talk to) when the phone rings is also popular.

    5. Number One*

      I’m the one who asked the question, and actually I thought the actual growling I heard was extremely unprofessional. I even tried looking it up on the Internet to see if other people had any experience with employees literally growling. I actually could not find anything so I’m assuming it’s not a very common problem but I really didn’t think it was cute or funny I thought that was just childish and unprofessional.

      I too sometimes say mean things to my computer, like “come on, slow computer. Today please!” But think about it. Would you growl if your boss asked you to do something? Even if the task was challenging and you did not enjoy it what you make loud grumbling right in front of your boss? To me that simply demonstrates that somebody isn’t ready for the level of work that they have signed up for.

      1. Kelly L.*

        No, I wouldn’t growl at the boss. I might grumble at the equipment or software involved in carrying out the request, if it wasn’t working right. And I guess it depends on what you mean by “growl.” I have sometimes literally said “Grrr” as a word (often in place of something ruder) but I wouldn’t actually imitate an animal noise, if the distinction makes any sense.

      2. fposte*

        I guess I don’t see a growling noise as hugely noteworthy in its own right as separate from grumbling. If she’s making it when you give her feedback or instructions, that’s a big problem; if she can’t execute a task without bitching or grumbling about it throughout, that’s worth bringing up in a “you seem constantly frustrated with your work, which suggests a fit problem” kind of way. But I don’t think I’d react differently to a growling noise than a grumbling about all this being stupid. Unless she seemed rabid.

        1. De Minimis*

          Low grumbling or muttering is one thing [I tend to mutter myself if I’m not careful.] What I imagine here is something a lot louder, almost to the point of yelling, just with no words.

          1. Sadsack*

            It sounds like OP gave the employee a task and she grumbled through it, not because of uncooperative equipment, but because she didn’t understand how to complete the task and was trying to figure it out reading the instructions. That’s pretty bad.

            1. fposte*

              Grumbling through it is definitely not good. I was responding because it sounded to me like the OP was particularly freaked out by the growling noise and wondered if that was egregious in a way that grumbling wasn’t, and I’d say no.

              1. Number One*

                I’m the original poster and the growling was a direct response to a task that the employee found to be challenging. I would simply never do that, especially if my boss was watching. Yes, I have told my computer I wish it would hurry it up, but I would never growl or grumble because my boss asked me to do something that was part of my job.

    6. Mimmy*

      That’s a good point. No, it’s not really professional to do it all the time, but it happens. I’m very guilty of it myself. But, again, frequently done, it can get distracting. At a previous job, I shared an office with 3 other people; one woman would mutter and express frustration or even make a mocking “crying baby” sound. She was a very sweet woman, but I was kinda glad when I didn’t have to share space with her when we relocated to a new office.

    7. NK*

      While the occasional growl or other expression of frustration is generally not an issue, if it is constant, it can be. I had a coworker who let out these exasperated sighs all. day. long. Everyday. It seems like a silly thing to pick on, but it genuinely contributed to a negative environment at work for all of us who had to listen to her.

  7. GrumpyBoss*

    #2: do not make the “her or me” ultimatum. I just had the “superstar” of my group pull this. His tantrum was witnessed by me, my boss, and HR. He has gone from being “superstar” to being “that guy on grumpy’s team that has some maturity issues”. He was being considered for a promotion. Now he is being asked to work on his conflict resolution and communication skills. I doubt he has much of a future here at this point. He really overplayed his hand.

    This may sound entirely unfair. But a few things to keep in mind. A manager has a different view of things than you. It’s better to try to present your concerns and understand what your manager’s position is rather than assume that your view is universally held. Also, managers hate being held hostage. And that is what an ultimatum does. I need to be able to make decisions about my team without worrying about how a primadonna is going to respond. And finally, it takes two to tango. I know this is frustrating to accept, especially since the OP feels that everyone hates Sue too. My threat giver would have said the same thing. But what I saw, as a manager, were two people unwilling to work with each other and communicate. That makes it impossible for me to pick one over the other. You will be better served presenting to your boss how you’ve tried to make things work with Sue, and asking for advice on what else to try. If you are actively trying to solve the problem, that will go much farther.

    Good luck, I hope you can find satisfaction at your position again.

    1. Windchime*

      This makes a lot of sense. However, from the employee side it is really, really difficult to work with someone for months or even years who is completely unproductive or difficult to work with. It is hard for employees to understand how this person continues to collect their fat paycheck while the rest of us have to constantly correct and double-check their work (we are on a development team). It’s confusing to know that a person is lying and literally doing NOTHING and is still employed.

      In situations such as this, I can see an employee issuing an ultimatum or just giving up and moving on, because it looks (to us) like management just doesn’t care, or has different standards….some people must work their butts off, but others can just sit around and make huge mistakes, one after the other, with no apparent consequences.

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        And this is one of the most frustrating things in the workplace sometimes – we don’t always get transparency. There may appear to be no consequences, but we aren’t privy to things that happen behind closed doors. We wouldn’t know if a “knock it off” conversation was had, if a PIP was given, or a bad review was received – and if a manager is sharing these things, then the manager is the problem in the environment, not the coworker.

        Here’s how I wrapped up the issue above without violating either party’s privacy. I put them both in the room with HR. I explained that they’ve both come to me and complained about the other. I explained that I’m not here to solve personal differences, just professional ones. I gave the opportunity to put professional grievances out in the open. The coworker who was universally hated brought up a fair point and I mediated it. I gave them a path for conflict resolution and told them to bring me in as needed. I made it clear that when this meeting ends, there needs to be a clean slate.

        What I didn’t tell them is that I’m prepared to fire both of them if this continues. Neither one knows that the other received a written warning (the hated one for his behavior and the ultimatum giver for insubordination and unprofessional behavior towards me). But what I hope this demonstrated was that I’m involved and aware of what is going on (as is HR).

        TL;DR just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences.

        1. Windchime*

          Thanks for your explanation. I know that I don’t always have visibility; however, when it takes years for consequences to occur, it is frustrating. I have a strong work ethic and I will always do my best, but I have been in situations where I start to get really upset that I am working weekends and evenings to get my stuff done, while the other person saunters out at 4 PM every day and has had nothing ready for code release for over a year.

        2. Lauren*

          Grumpy, I find this perspective incredibly interesting and helpful. I am currently in a situation with a colleague who is “universally hated” by the colleagues on our team for various reasons. But it also seems that our management is willing to accept this person’s negative attitude, manipulation, and outright lies (even when provided with direct proof of these lies). I suppose, based on what you’ve described in your example above, that it is quite possible that steps are being taken to correct or address this situation that we are not aware of. But since we are not privy to those steps, it makes maintaining a positive outlook very challenging. In fact, I dread going to work every morning knowing I will have to deal with this person, I feel drained and depressed every evening by the end of the day having had to manage this person’s negativity (or potential outbursts because I just don’t know what the next thing is that will set him off), and I lose sleep at night trying to figure out what I can do to make it work. In this situation, I worry that my manager will see things the way you saw your “superstar” employee (i.e., as part of the communication problem), so I hesitate to tell him that this situation has me seeking other jobs. At the same time, there is a part of me that wonders if I leave because of this, will I get the “I wish you had told me how bad things were…” Right now, I feel like my options are 1.) deal with the lying, manipulation, angry outbursts as if everything is ok, 2.) make an issue and risk being considered part of the problem, or 3.) leave.

          In your situation, was there some other way that your “superstar” (but subsequent ultimatum giver) could have handled this that wouldn’t have you prepared to fire them both? If the superstar had simply left for another role instead of giving the ultimatum would you have felt that ultimately that was the right thing for your team (i.e., lose a superstar to keep someone no one likes working with)? I’m not asking to be snarky, but I’m genuinely wondering what, from a manager’s perspective, would be the next best alternative to the two people simply getting along.

        3. Trillian*

          While the coworkers will not be able to see behind closed doors, they can see the results. If nothing changes, then either nothing is being done, or nothing effectual is being done – no real difference to someone catching the fallout. I’ve learned to set deadlines as to how long I will wait on other people’s actions.

  8. BRR*

    #3 Did you sign a severance agreement or any sort of paperwork upon your termination? I was also fired from my first job and they were kind enough to give me a small severance however there was language in there that basically said I could never work there again (it was slightly ambiguous so that if I somehow became the world’s greatest chocolate teapot maker someone could probably fight it to hire me but it would be a serious hurdle).

    1. OP #3*

      Oh wow, I didn’t even consider that. Since it’s been 7 years, I can’t recall off-hand. But I will contact HR to find out. Thanks for the info!

  9. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #1

    You can give someone all the tools in the world to help them improve, but they have to recognize there’s a problem and be willing to fix it. There’s only so much you can do. Some people are just doing to do whatever it is they want to do. As long as you’ve clearly stated the issues, laid out what needs to be done to fix them and in what timeframe, and then followed through with any consequences, you’ve done all you can do.

  10. ali*

    #5 – I am in this situation as well, needing to take 4 hours off each month for an IV. In my recent jobs, I have made it clear up front during the negotiating process that it is something I need for health reasons and I have never received any pushback on it. I have no problem taking PTO to do it, but every single one of my mangers has been cool with me making up the time instead, so I usually do a combination depending on what my workload looks like. I’ve done it for 5 different jobs now (twice for the same company but under a different manager). Also I brought it up right away with my new manager when he came in because he may not have been aware of the agreement I had with my previous manager. The trick is for you to also be willing to be flexible about it. You also might find as time goes on that you are willing to discuss it in more detail with your manager – as inappropriate as it may sound, my manager and I spent our last 1:1 talking about the differences between the drug I take vs the one he is taking for a different condition. Opening up about it really has made our relationship thrive in this case!

    1. Meg Murry*

      As another possibility, depending on where your doctor’s office is in relation to your office, could you also take an early/late or long lunch? I used to make 1:00 appointments with one of my doctors, which put me out of the office from 12:30-2:00 or so – which meant I actually only had a 1/2 hour of time to make up.
      And once you’ve been there for long enough for FMLA to be applicable (usually 12 months), I would make sure you do the paperwork to have this documented as an ongoing serious medical condition as per FMLA. That way if you get a new boss or the company has some kind of change in policy that doesn’t allow coming in late or leaving early, they still have to allow you to take the time to get your condition treated. FMLA can be taken intermittently, such as exactly the situation you are describing of a few hours a month.

      1. OP 5*

        Unfortunately I work over an hour’s drive from my home and doctors’ offices. Before I moved here/started this job my doctor’s office was in the same neighborhood as my office so I was able to pick up the scrip during lunch or by leaving work 15 minutes early. Alas, the situation has changed so I can’t take care of personal business on the sly anymore. Thanks for the advice!

  11. C Average*

    I sort of feel like #1 and #2 could both be about the same person!

    #1, it sounds like you have a pretty obvious weak link here. Your volunteers and other employees notice how the weak link gets treated, and it affects THEIR morale, too. If I have a colleague who’s inept, defensive, unpleasant, and deliberately deceptive about her skills, that has downstream effects on me, too.

    If we’re collaborating, I have to worry about her effect on our work product. If we’re not collaborating but I’m aware of her deficiencies, I have to worry about how her work product might reflect on our organization. Depending on what kind of person and worker I am, I might either resent the fact that she’s getting equal treatment to me when my work is better, or use her presence as an excuse to lower my own standards. And I’ll wonder why she still has a job when she’s not meeting the expectations of the job. (And yes, I realize these things aren’t my business, but as this blog makes abundantly clear, there’s little about people’s colleagues that they DON’T notice on some level; it’s very difficult not to.)

    Failure to deal with a problem employee by a manager may very well be due to concerns about bandwidth, firing protocol, desire to try to rehabilitate the person, etc., but often these motivations aren’t visible to other employees. It just looks like you’ve got Sue getting away with everything short of murder while you’re trying to do a good job, and that can help push you out the door.

  12. Puddin*

    #1 I might try writing out the competencies that she is expected to use in this role. Then assign a level for each competency – where she should be now, in 6 months, and then rate her competency level – comparing it to the desired state. For example: Consistently uses proper MLA reference and citation styles with little to no direction. Desired Level – Meets. Current Level – Approaches. Desired Level in 6 months – Meets or Exceeds.

    I have seem levels described as
    Learning, Demonstrating, Coaching, and Leading
    Does not meet expectations, Approaches, Meets, Exceeds

    I learned this while in college where we received assessments like this for each assignment rather than grades. It prepped me for receiving feedback at work and knowing how to ask for specific feedback as well.

    It may take some effort to put together, but once the competencies and their levels are determined, they will apply to everyone in that position.

    Just an idea…good luck in figuring out how to best tackle this sticky (and frustrating) situation. Do come back and provide an update! :)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      While I’m totally on board with being clear about the gap between where you need her to be and where you are now, and this is one of a variety of ways to do that, do not wait six months for improvement in this situation or imply to her that she has that much time. Warn her now, give her four weeks to show she can make the changes you need, and then let her go if she doesn’t. The issues here are ones where you should be able to see real improvement immediately. Six months is a fine timeframe when you’re helping a decent employee become better, but not when you’re tackling real performance problems.

      1. Puddin*

        You are totally correct. Performance issues should definitely be addressed much more quickly. I explained myself poorly. What I meant was that after 3 months on the job you may expected to be in “learning mode” for a particular skill, and that is ok. But after 6 months you should no longer be a learner but a demonstrator – regardless of performance issues.

        We are in agreement, I worded the example ineffectively. I guess I am still in ‘learning mode’. :)

      2. Number One*

        We actually are all supposed to be performing at our very best, and we as managers are expected to promptly communicate concerns as well as praises. I do these things. I just don’t see them having the impact I want. Thank you all for your advice. I agree, people don’t want to hear about their mistakes 6 months later.

  13. Red Librarian*

    #2, I can totally sympathize with the bad co-worker. At my last job, my one co-worker was notorious for never being there and when she was there she didn’t really do anything. How she managed to always take so much time off I have no idea, because there’s no way she was accruing enough vacation or sick time, so I suspect my very, very ineffective supervisor just let her get away with it because he didn’t want to have to deal with her tantrums. (Example: One day she got into a very loud verbal argument with a coworker. Next day, Julie came in at 7:30 am. By 9 am she decided she needed to leave because she couldn’t deal with having to see this other co-worker. So she was allowed to just leave. Problem is, that other co-worker wasn’t scheduled to come in until, like, 2pm. Why she needed to leave FIVE HOURS IN ADVANCE is beyond me, but whatever.)

    She took off one day and promised to make up the time on a Saturday — I was the only one in our department who worked on Saturdays and, of course, she didn’t come in. An issue came up that I normally would have asked her about so I saw it as an opportunity and left my supervisor a memo mentioning the issue, how I resolved it, and that I would have asked Julie but she didn’t come in that day. The next time I worked, Julie pulled me aside and said she saw the memo I left in our supervisor’s box and took it out cause otherwise she’d get in trouble.


    Even when I told our supervisor about the memo he didn’t do anything. It got to the point where I was keeping track of how often she was gone and planned on taking it to someone above my boss but when I came in that day I found out she was only going to be working for another week or two and was then being let go for budgetary reasons. Which, fine, she was gone, except it ticked me off because she since I started she was always talking about 1) how much she hated the job and 2) hoped they’d lay her off so she could sit on her ass collecting unemployment.

    1. JoJo*

      Management probably decided that it would be easier to let her go in the next round of cuts instead of firing her and exposing them to a potential lawsuit. Either way, she’s gone and out of your life forever.

  14. Claire*

    Off-topic: Alison, are these popup yahoo ads for FarmVille 2 etc. I keep getting on the site now supposed to be happening? It’s only been the last few days, it’s only on my iPhone as far as I’ve noticed, and it’s really annoying.

  15. Editor*

    No. 1 — Editorial employee who isn’t doing job: If you fire this employee, can any of the volunteers do part or all of her work as temp workers and would they be a source of candidates for the position, or is the work the volunteers do too different from her editorial work?

    I am surprised you are having trouble finding people to do this work — it seems like there are skilled underemployed or unemployed editors in large supply. Also, if there’s some oddity that affects your hiring (from really low wages to geographic isolation), could you use a temp that works virtually for a while to get some of the work done while searching for a warm body to come into the office?

    Please remember that you’re not being mean, you’re just making her live up to her advertising — and if she hasn’t, maybe she needs a time-out in unemployment.

    1. Number One*

      I appreciate this feedback. No, the volunteers are medical practitioners and researchers who contribute to our publications on a volunteer basis (or a publish-or-perish/need-t0-do-this-for-tenure basis). They bring the subject-matter expertise and we bring the editorial expertise (at least we are supposed to!) so not only would it be impossible for them to fill in because of all the other amazing things they do, it would also be inappropriate to ask because that would take them away from their research or patients.

      I have thought about bringing in a temp to help out while embarking on a rehiring journey, but what are the odds that I will find a temp who is familiar with my style manual? What will that look like to my volunteer experts? What will that do to the morale of the new part-time staffer I just hired? What kind of demands is that going to place on my time in terms of hours needed for training while the work just piles up and content is neglected?

      Also I think on the human-to-human level I do feel really bad thinking about someone’s livelihood. What’s this going to look like to her next employer? Is there a kind and gentle way to do it? Do I do it 2 weeks after “the talk” or do I wait for the next big mistake?

      I just have so many, SO MANY, questions.

      1. AB Normal*

        Number One, I’m getting late to the thread, but read everything and there’s just one thing I don’t understand: You keep mentioning you worry you won’t find someone who is familiar with your style manual, will require lots of your time for training, etc. But how is that different than what’s happening now? In your letter you describe having to go through everything she edited, fixing things, checking things she lied about checking herself, etc. Honestly, I think that even someone who has to learn your style manual from scratch would perform better than her, if it’s someone willing to put the effort! It feels to me that you are already having to do or redo her job anyway, so whoever you end up hiring after her, with a well conceived interview / skill evaluation process, will make both your live easier and your volunteers happier. Win-win!

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