I didn’t check references on a new hire and he’s struggling — should I check them now?

A reader writes:

I currently work on a very small team and we hired someone that is fairly “green” to the industry. During the interview process, he talked the talk about what he wanted to learn and could bring to the table. Both my teammate and I stressed during the interview process that training would take a lot of time and effort. We work in a niche field dealing with heavy data.

Fast forward two months later, I feel that our new hire is on his way to being a bad hire.

There isn’t efficient on-the-job training provided by our current employer, so I’ve had to come up with training plans, provide resources and 1:1 training as well as handle my duties for clients in our book of business.

When the newbie started, it took only a few weeks to notice that there was a lack of professionalism on his part. He can take on an argumentative tone when he doesn’t understand something or will question why a task has to be done a certain way in the same tone. This was brought up to him during our 1:1. He owned it, stated that he would work on it and gave a reason why he does that.

We are also noticing that his work is sloppy, he forgets to work on items that have deadlines and is more concerned about socializing than doing actual work. He has a habit of asking questions that he can research the answers for and should know by now, but yet he continues to fall back on bad work habits. I, along with another team member have had several coaching talks with him and the behavior continues.

I inquired with my teammate about whether they checked his references. The only reference they spoke to was his friend, who referred him to the role. Would it be a good idea to do another reference check and reach out to companies (internships) he worked for to see what they have to say about his work style?

He’s fresh to the corporate world and when I had a chat about his behavior, I inquired if this was his first real job. He said he’s had office experience before, but I’ve been told that he worked for his dad. I want to give him a chance, however he really needs to step it up.

No, don’t do that. References are for before you’ve hired someone, when you don’t have first-hand experience with their work, so that you can get the perspective of someone who does. But you now know what his work is like. Checking references won’t change anything about that.

I suspect you might be thinking that if his references are good, you’d be willing to invest more time in coaching him. And if they’re bad, you might feel confirmed in your instinct that he’s the wrong hire. But the time for reference-checking has passed (and believe me, it’s going to look really weird to him if he learns you’re checking his references two months into the job — and there’s a good chance that his references will tell him, since they’re probably more loyal to him than to you).

What you have is an employee who isn’t performing at the level you need. Give him direct feedback, let him know what needs to change, give him a timeline for showing the improvement you need, and be clear about the consequences if you don’t see that (presumably letting him go). In other words, this stage is about managing, not reference-checking.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 176 comments… read them below }

  1. Katie the Fed*

    It seems like you guys had different expectations of this job. He told you he wanted to learn, you expected him to be more of a self-starter. If training isn’t something you can provide, bringing on someone who is expecting it to be a learning experience may have been a problem.

    Either way, he’s yours now so you have to deal with him. Reference checks won’t help you, especially if he doesn’t have a lot of work experience.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      Good point – although I think the fact that he socializes too much and can be argumentative still might mean he was a bad hire. But I do agree that they had different expectations regarding the actual work.

    2. Dan*

      “Training” can be a very ambiguous concept. I joke that my job hired me to do something that I had no idea how to do, and they knew it. In reality, they hired me because I could “figure it out.” I do some R&D stuff where there just isn’t any training.

  2. Spooky*

    Honestly, I feel bad for this employee. The OP knew he didn’t have much experience, knew it was a niche field, and knew that training would take a lot of time and effort. Two months in isn’t that long to still be training someone, particularly when you consider those three factors. I understand that having to spend so much time training is taking OP’s time away from her/his work, but honestly, that’s a big part of managing.

    I feel like there’s a new trend in the workplace where new employees get very little training, and are expected to learn on the job. That’s really not fair to them – nobody is born knowing how to do a job, and in previous generations, training was an accepted norm (or so I’m told.)

    It seems like most of this employee’s problems are just professionalism issues that will eventually go away as he learns how to behave in office culture. If OP didn’t want to deal with that, they should have hired someone with more experience. Otherwise, well, that’s the price you pay for getting cheaper, entry-level people.

    Regardless, I think something that might help OP is to start making some training documents/manuals now. Since they don’t exist in the company (the letter says there’s no efficient training provided by employer) and OP is already training someone in them anyway, I think it might be a smart move to go ahead and write up a formal training guide. The guide can also contain a section on proper office behavior along with the duties of the job. Then I’d give a written copy to the employee, and save the file to make the next employee training a little easier. I think you might be surprised how much of a difference having a written guide makes–not only are recent grads more used to having written directions (like rubrics in school,) but it allows them to look up answers without fear of looking foolish. If he wants to succeed (which it sounds like he does, since he’s owning his mistakes,) I think there’s a good chance he’d study it and work from it.

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      I agree about the training thing–it’s one of the reasons some employers say they have trouble finding qualified employees, because they don’t want to take the time to train people. But for his bad attitude and lack of professionalism, if he’s already been talked to about it and hasn’t changed, that’s an entirely different issue.

      1. Spooky*

        You know, a year ago, I would have agreed with you. But after living living and working with people who are a few years younger than me and new to the workforce, I’m not so sure. I asked one of them why she seemed (to me) to be so argumentative, and she was surprised. She replied, “because in college, we always had to defend our answers.” To her, it’s less about being argumentative and more about explaining your thought process. Is it what I would have thought? No. But that doesn’t mean it’s not valid, and it does kind of make sense – when all you know is school, you sometimes fall back on the way you acted in school.

        And a few of these people (one in particular) have the socializing issue, too. In her case, she was thinking about work like her internship. The problem with that is that a college student doing a part-time internship is going to be looked at with a much lower standard of professionalism than a real employee. If nobody’s really explained that the standards are now higher, I guess it might be hard for some people to figure that out. Either way, I feel like two months isn’t enough time to teach someone not only how to do a job, but how to act professionally. I could be wrong, it just feels fast to me.

          1. Kita*

            That defend-your-answer style has actually been really helpful for me in my current job.

            Coworker: “Where did you get this number, mine’s different.”
            Me: “Spreadsheet X, Cell A29 plus A30 because…”

            Boss: “Why did you start submitting the reports earlier? I’m getting feedback about tight deadlines.”
            Me: “According to document ABC, they’re due on the 2nd. That’s a change from last year when they were due on the 5th.”

        1. Green*

          While I’m sure sometimes it can stem from being new to the workforce, it’s hard to pin these this on youth or even inexperience when manager spoken to him about it. As long as manager laid out expectations and was clear (no “compliment sandwich” nonsense) that the person wasn’t meeting them, the employee has plenty of information to make better decisions.

          (Also, don’t love it when someone asks “is this your first real job?” in a work setting. Manager has his resume and needs to be straightforward about expectations at this point.)

          1. More Cake Please*

            Yes, I hate that question. All jobs are “real” jobs. The expectations differ, but they all count.

            1. Colorado*

              I agree. My first “real job” was at 12 when I afterschool babysat my neighbor’s kiddo until she got home from work, for $1 an hour. I had to be present at the bus stop, responsible for her snack and entertainment, and reliable every afternoon from 3:00 to 5:00. If I didn’t do those things, my job would go to the next pre-teen in the neighborhood. Ahhhhh, the 80’s. How I miss those days!

            2. Kita*

              Agreed. Manager asked me if it was my first real job and I was just like… well… kinda? Previous jobs were either volunteer gigs (AmeriCorp) or part-time… but they were all professional, post-college jobs.

          2. Artemesia*

            In this case that actually applies — if his only previous ‘jobs’ are as intern or working for daddy then yeah, it is his first ‘real’ job.

            1. Green*

              How do you know what his dad expected of him or what his responsibilities were? (OP doesn’t because she didn’t check references, lol!) And even if it IS his first “real job”, it’s still condescending to ask, especially when it shouldn’t impact OP’s response: lay out expectations for performance and behavior and consequences, point out when OP isn’t meeting them, and apply those consequences.

            2. kara*

              Oh BS. I worked for my family business for 7 years. I guaran-damn-tee you that it was a “real” job. I was expected to be there on time, take care of business, earn my paycheck, and be professional in front of clients and employees.

              The whole concept that a family business isn’t a “real job” is so much horse hockey.

          3. OP Here*

            “Also, don’t love it when someone asks “is this your first real job?” in a work setting. Manager has his resume and needs to be straightforward about expectations at this point.”

            We reviewed his resume and it’s all internships, so I just inquired again and that’s when he mentioned the office job, which is not on the resume. That question was asked to get a feel for how he’s presented himself at other gigs.

            1. Green*

              It doesn’t matter how he’s presented himself at other gigs. Or if he’s had a dozen jobs or one job or no jobs. He’s not meeting your expectations here, and that’s what you need to be focusing on, not his job history.

              1. Green*

                And actually I think that’s related to how you presented the question. You are very focused on this person’s past experience (dad as manager, mostly internships, “first real job”, millennial, checking references two months in). That ship has sailed. You’ve got that person here and now and need to set expectations the same way you’d do for any employee with this job title, without reference to his prior jobs or internships or managers.

          4. JB (not in Houston)*

            Yes, that’s what I was thinking. I expect that kind of thing from someone who has never had a professional job before. But here, it was pointed out. If my manager told me, “you need to work on X,” I’d find a way to work on it. I would get on the internet and start finding resources. When my manager tells me to do something, I don’t take that as optional.

        2. Ad Astra*

          Not to turn this into a Millenials vs. Gen X-ers thing, but… a large number of people who are in their 20’s and early 30’s now grew up in households where parents asked frequently asked children for their opinions. My parents would ask me what I wanted for dinner, what I thought of the new babysitter, what we should name the new cat, which clothes I wanted to wear, etc. A lot of Gen X-ers, and even more Baby Boomers, were raised in households where they were expected to shut up and listen to the grown-ups.

          So, while the real factor is upbringing, you might notice age as kind of a secondary factor in these relationships. It took me a while in the working world to realize that my unsolicited opinions came off as more argumentative than insightful.

          1. brighidg*

            Yeah, I wonder if this is a generational thing combined with a lack-of-training thing. If he doesn’t know why he’s doing something or why it should be done a certain way (due to no experience and little training) then there are going to be questions.

            And frankly, I think it’s understandable (and should be encouraged) to challenge a process if it doesn’t make sense.

          2. Anonsie*

            Yeah, I had some degree of this in my first job-job in college. As much as I hate to play up the generational thing (because I think the generalizations are often bunk), it did happen pretty clearly there. The two bosses I had were my dad’s age and early on I saw them frequently just bristle when we were going over something, and it took until one of them actually yelled (literally) at me for “talking back” that I figured out what was going on.

            They would say “Do X in X way” and I would sometimes ask something like “I’ve seen Soandso do it Y way, does it vary or is there something else to it?” They took this as me being argumentative and challenging their instructions when I was just trying to get more information to make sure I understood. When the one finally snapped, he told me on no uncertain terms that I was to just nod and say ok when given an instruction. Any response that wasn’t along those lines was considered massively disrespectful.

            Since then I’d guess I’ve had at least one person with similar expectations everywhere I’ve ever worked.

            1. Donna*

              Ooh, I had something similar happen. A higher up called me (normally she would have called my boss, but since boss was out of town I was the fallback) for a marketing materially she wanted created in the next day or two. Viewing myself as the marketing person in the conversation, I pushed back on some of her ideas–who’s our targeted audience here, what about your event was meaningful to them? All so that I could create a successful piece. We worked through the questions, created a piece we were both happy with, and I thought we were done.

              Then the boss comes back and tells me the higher up was really unhappy with my approach. Next time it happens, my instructions are to say, “Yes ma’am, it’ll get done right away.”

            2. _ism_*

              This thread is very insightful for me for an unrelated situation, where I’ve been called argumentative by at least one co-worker/manager. I’m younger than every other person in this office by 30 years!

          3. JB (not in Houston)*

            Maybe, but I’m a Gen X-er, and my parents asked me and my siblings for our opinions, and that was true of a lot of my friends, too.

          4. Melissa*

            I’m a Millennial and my mom never asked for my opinion on any of these things. There’s a lot of evidence that this is much more class-driven than generational. I grew up in a working-class household, which are more likely to be authoritarian (“my house, my rules”). It’s middle- and upper-middle-class parents who are more likely to ask their kids’ opinions and give them choice. So maybe there’s been some generational change amongst middle-class and upper-middle-class parents.

            1. Anonsie*

              Oh yeah, my family was like this as well. However I do still do more of the pushing back that people associate with my generation anyway, but in a different way than the people I know who grew up upper-class do.

            2. Myrin*

              Well, I’m from a working-class family as well (as are most people around here) and I absolutely did get voice my opinion on all these things (as did most of the other children in my class/group of friends). I really feel this is something that can’t be generalised at all and that there are various factors that contribute to each individual family handling things a certain way.

        3. Artemesia*

          I agree two months is quick to decide but it is high time that the standards were made clear and that it is also clear that if he doesn’t meet them he will be let go. At the same time, think clearly about what he needs to learn so he can be properly trained and held accountable.

          If in another month after a very clear conversation and focused training, he is still sloppy and unprofessional then let him go.

        4. OP Here*

          I had another chat and I did stress that this role was not an internship, it’s a job and there are responsibilities to be fulfilled. We were very upfront during the interview because we knew how much work would be involved due to the lack of proper training.

          1. Green*

            “This isn’t an internship, it’s a job.”??? That’s a really condescending way to have that “chat” and pretty unprofessional for a manager.

          2. Sunny*

            Attitude and communication patterns aren’t something that can be changed immediately even if you point out what is correct. I would keep a log of good and bad examples of his behavior and share it with him once a month. If the bad start decreasing and the good start increasing, it might decrease your frustration when you see it as an overall process rather than a string of mistakes. It will also help him to get feedback.

          3. Melissa*

            Internships require work and responsibilities to be fulfilled, too, and jobs also require training and guidance from managers. If my manager said this to me I would be very confused about what she meant – it’s a statement that conveys no information.

    2. fposte*

      I think it’s a mixture. Not being able to prioritize deadline work, even after you’ve been coached on it, is a problem beyond what I’d expect even for an entry level hire; in general, being unable to sustain any change after you’re coached on it is an indication that that behavior is what the employer is going to get.

    3. Ad Astra*

      I agree that many businesses (especially in certain industries) are spending way too little time and money on training, instead expecting to pay entry-level wages to someone who was born knowing how to do that particular job. That matches my experiences, anyway.

      I’m a huge proponent of written guides, cheat sheets, and checklists. It takes a long time for a new task to become automatic, but providing references can speed up that process. (Also very helpful for tasks that only have to be done monthly/quarterly/annually, where it’s much harder to remember a process.)

      1. The Strand*

        Yes, yes, yes. Job aids are not just “cheat sheets”, they are there to help newer employees get up to speed and make better decisions, and help existing employees adapt faster to new expectations. If you don’t have extensive training available, you can still make job aids available to this new employee. In a niche field, 2 months is nothing.

        1. OP Here*

          Yup, and that’s what I have been doing, even spending some of my weekends putting together job aids so that I can jump on client work during the week. He admitted that one aid he didn’t read all the way through and because of that, one of his tasks had to be revised.

      2. Snowglobe*

        While I like the idea of job aids, OP states that the new employee asks questions about things that he could research, so it sounds like there is information available to the employee that he is not using.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Depends. Define “could research”. I had one supervisor – at a job I’d been at a long time and was experienced at – get annoyed because I could have googled something.

          I had. He found it on google; I didn’t. I lacked the context to even perform the right search.

          If you don’t know where to look for the new information, or what to look for, then it may be available and yet not available *to you*.

          And having been at a job long enough to become very experienced at it, I know from the other end that it is easy to forget how much you know that is *subtext*, you don’t even ever think of it consciously. It’s not like you say out loud – unless you’re being VERY conscientious in trying to track down what you know and share it – “oh, for all questions related to white chocolate hardening in the four-inch molds, those are steel molds and I need to refer to the steel-case-molds book on file in the corporate library, but I also need to cross reference chocolate-in-steel.com because the molds book assumes you’re casting with dark chocolate only, it’s no use for the white chocolate process by itself, but I need the numbers from it to get the white-chocolate numbers.”

          At worst you just say “here, let’s look that up”. Maybe you say, “Okay, for that we need to look at the book related to the steel molds, and then cross-reference this web page to get the white chocolate times.” But only if you’re *really* working hard to unpack knowledge do you get to the subtext that drove you there…and you probably had to trip over it several times in the course of your job before you learned it by rote.

          1. lmgtfy*

            Could research – please don’t call me and ask me what time it is in [place]. Google will tell you faster than it takes to pick up your phone.

          2. LQ*

            I try to understand this but I get very frustrated when I pull up google and type in the exact question they asked me to get the answer. “How do I find my IP address?” (Go ahead and try that and tell me they couldn’t have done it.)

        2. Anonsie*

          I remember this came up on another post recently (though I don’t remember why), but people also have different standards for when you’re supposed to ask versus look something up. Even if I can find something out on my own, if I know someone will have the answer for me off the top of their head and I also know finding it is going to waste a chunk of my time, I’ll often ask. A lot of folks in that thread would do the same, but a number of other people were more of the thought that if you can find it out yourself you probably should.

          1. MK*

            This is something that varies from office to office and depends on who you ask. If you are asking a coworker, it may be ok. I am a director and I have had entry-level employees come ask me stuff because my office is conveniently close to them and they figure I’ll know the answer “off the top of my head”. While doing their own research may “waste a chunk of their time”, I would rather they waste their time than mine- it’s cheaper and what they are working on is a lot less critical than what I am working on. Every interruption lowers my productivity and it takes a little while to refocus. About the time I am focused again, here comes another question. I’ve had to start telling the new people that I am not the one to come to with questions. It feels rude but I have learned by being too accommodating in the past that they will NEVER learn to research the answers themselves as long as they get a faster answer from someone else.

            1. Today's Satan*

              My mom asked me maybe a dozen times to show her how to restore her calendar view in Thunderbird, each time promising me that she’d remember how to do it next time. On the 13th time, I refused to show her anything but the “Help” button. She found out how to do it on her own and has retained the information because it wasn’t spoon-fed to her. I also now answer a lot of her questions (about tech stuff and life-in-general stuff) with, “I don’t know. What did Google have to say?” to remind her to quit treating me like a walking encyclopedia. (Psst, Mom, the internet is more than just Facebook and email.) :-)

            2. Anonsie*

              Yeah I was assuming peer-level there.

              And not talking up behind people and making them drop everything to answer my question, but sending them an email when it’s not urgent and then moving on to something else in the meantime.

        3. Biff*

          Just because I can google a process doesn’t mean I get the answer my boss wants me to get. There are many ways to skin the cat, and usually a manager has one particular way they like it served up. Just sayin’

    4. TootsNYC*

      Oh, I don’t know.

      He’s still asking the same questions.
      He asks other people for answers he could look up.

      He gets argumentative when he’s corrected.
      He argues about why processes should happen a certain way even though he’s worked there only 2 months and has zero experience from outside. (Suggesting new ways, challenging the status quo–those are the behaviors of someone who wants to learn. But it’s best not to come across as though you are disagreeing for the sake of it.)
      He’s sloppy.
      He doesn’t stick to priorities
      And these things have been mentioned to him in “several” coaching talks.
      Yet they persist.

      That’s not the activity of someone who *wants* to learn. Especially not the bolded part.

      I agree that the OP can’t really complain about having to invent training situations; that’s something the department simply needs, and it should be a time investment that will be useful with the hire after this guy.

      1. LawBee*

        In my world, we have a thing about the word “several”. It’s all context. If I ate 5 M&Ms in a day, that’s not “several”. If I got 5 speeding tickets in a day, that’s definitely “several”.

        I’m still on the employee’s side in this. It sounds like he was hired into an impossible situation, and now everyone is struggling and frustrated.

      2. Marcela*

        Yeah, I had one coworker/apprentice like this. The bolded parts where very annoying, and at the end, they were the signal that she didn’t want to do what we were doing. Of course, for her it was a great jump indeed, from medical physics to software development for scientists. But she told us she wanted to do it and it was willing to learn. I did almost the exact same thing more than 15 years ago, so I knew it wasn’t easy. But again and again, you could see she wasn’t paying any attention, wasn’t willing to listen, and didn’t care. The biggest manifestation was that she could not remember anything we told her, so she asked the same questions over and over again, even after being told that -in our particular area- Google and StackOverflow had all the answers (and we are not talking about high concepts… many times we would ask simple things, almost verbatim from the question we would ask to a person “how to do X in python?”). We suffered 3 months and my boss decided to let her go after she made two scenes, only to me, complaining that she could not concentrate because I was glaring at her.

        1. OP Here*

          “The biggest manifestation was that she could not remember anything we told her, so she asked the same questions over and over again.” This is what we have discovered as well.

          1. Jessa*

            At this point the employee needs to bring some kind of note taking apparatus into the picture (whether pen and paper, computer, tablet, whatever,) and be made to take their own notes on these things.

            At which point you respond “You asked that last time, you took notes on it, go read your notes. If you keep coming to me with things you were told to take notes on, x consequence will happen.” They need to start making their OWN cheat sheets and be told that the learning process includes them not asking the same questions over and over.

            Because the only way they’re going to learn this stuff is in their own system. Sometimes other people’s systems just don’t do it. And I say this as the employee who continually put together my own note sheets and who in just about every job I ever had, was then asked to copy them for everyone else.

      3. Biff*

        I agree he sounds like a problem, but to frame it from the direction of someone who has probably appeared the same way at times:

        He’s still asking the same questions. — is that because he’s consistently getting different answers to what he perceives are the same questions? Compounding that, has he been scolded for doing a process several different times, and is now constantly afraid he’s done it wrong?

        He asks other people for answers he could look up. — Straight up this sounds like his training didn’t give him enough context to know: how to look up the answer, and how to evaluate the answer he’s found.

        He gets argumentative when he’s corrected. — is he getting corrected all the time? This relates to #1 and #2 — it sounds like he’s asking questions, doing things as described and then being scolded. It’s the classic “shock the dog” routine.

        He argues about why processes should happen a certain way even though he’s worked there only 2 months and has zero experience from outside. (Suggesting new ways, challenging the status quo–those are the behaviors of someone who wants to learn. But it’s best not to come across as though you are disagreeing for the sake of it.) — Do the processes just not make sense at all to someone from outside the business? Most people are intrinsically aware of processes that are remarkably inefficient. New people, IME, are especially quick to realize when a computer program/interface has serious pitfalls. I’ve also seen that the people doing the daily work have keen observations on what is a time waster. He may just be presenting it poorly.

        He’s sloppy. — It sounds like he doesn’t know how not to be.

        He doesn’t stick to priorities. Well, if he’s not trained how is he supposed to know what they are. At my job where I was this employee, I was told things were a priority. So I’d start on Priority A, then I’d be told B was the priority and I’d switch to B. Then C was the priority. I’d switch over to that. then I’d get yelled at for having not finished A.

        I’m not saying this IS what is going on. But the letter writer seems a little defensive and is absolutely honest about not training the guy.

        1. OP Here*

          No, I’m being totally honest and not defensive at all. We were actually wondering if we were being too hard, but it’s a behavioral/work habit issue. And we are training him, his training has not ceased. It can’t cease because he still doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

      4. AnotherFed*

        To me, any of that might have been coachable (probably not all in the same person, though), but the fact that he has been coached/given feedback on at least some of these issues and still isn’t changing them seems to indicate the real problem – that you can’t coach him into being the kind of employee you need. If he can’t be coached into what the role requires, time to let him go and find someone who either already is what’s needed or can be trained.

        And next time, check references before you make a job offer. It’s worth the extra time to dodge bullets like this!

    5. Melissa*

      I was thinking the same thing. And honestly, the argumentative tone and extra socializing might be symptoms of the problem. The argumentativeness might be a byproduct of frustration that he’s expected to know so much so quickly, and the socializing might be an attempt to distract or might be starting out as a way to marshal support (but trails off into non-work-related stuff).

      I mean, sure they’re still bad practices that need to be corrected, but I still have sympathy for him.

  3. moss*

    I’m not sure you can train his bad attitude & slacking away. He needs to fix that for sure. That has nothing to do with his experience.

    1. jmkenrick*

      I couldn’t disagree more. Sometimes it seems like there is a narrative that things like work ethic and attitude are fundamental attributes and not learned traits, but for many people, these are not fixed points.

      Take the bad attitude: how is that manifesting itself? Seeming defensive? Excessive questioning? Taking an argumentative tone?

      He could be defensive because he hasn’t had a lot of practice taking criticism (for many people, that’s not an easy thing to learn). It’s not unlikely he doesn’t realize how he’s coming across. OP mentions that he’s new to the corporate world, and the way people communicate disappointment, frustration and criticism in an office setting is often very different from how people communicate those things within social groups or academic settings. It’s entirely possible that with some time and coaching, those problems could be addressed.

      Have you never been sulky or defensive when your resources where low and people were criticizing you? It’s not necessarily an acceptable response, but it’s a pretty human one.

      As for slacking – come on, everyone has had their slacker moments. That doesn’t render them beyond redemption. Nor do we necessarily have enough information to know exactly what’s going on. Maybe he doesn’t realize how behind on the curve he is, and when he sees his other coworkers socializing he doesn’t have the self-awareness to realize he hasn’t reached a level where he can relax like that.

      The sloppiness could be because he’s not familiar with the standards of his new work. He might be emphasizing a fast response time over better honed deliverables. We really don’t have enough information to know and OP doesn’t mention that they’ve discussed it with him.

      I’m not saying you can’t hold people to high standards – you absolutely can. But I just can’t agree with the idea that you can dismiss someone entirely because of perceived bad attitude and slacking.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        “Maybe he doesn’t realize how behind on the curve he is, and when he sees his other coworkers socializing he doesn’t have the self-awareness to realize he hasn’t reached a level where he can relax like that.”
        This occurred to me too and especially if his only office experience is working for his dad. That may have been the norm there

      2. Ad Astra*

        Yes to all of this. Even though this employee’s behavior is unacceptable, I can’t help but relate to almost all of the behaviors the OP lists. Unless there’s a bigger issue that isn’t apparent from the letter, I’d say this kid could absolutely change his ways and become a great employee.

        1. Green*

          I can relate to the thoughts behind the behaviors that may be in my internal monologue, but I cannot at all relate to expressing them. There are a few things that are physiological that are harder to control (facial expressions, hands, annoying breathing, eyes welling up), but what you say and how you say it is not that hard to keep in check. As long as OP is being clear about what expectations are, what isn’t acceptable, and what the potential consequences are (and addresses it on the spot after the initial discussion, like Allison usually recommends), then that’s all the “training” the person should need.

          1. LawBee*

            but how many of us have that control at age 21? or age 25? or 30? I wish we all did, especially the atty I worked with who was known for throwing chairs when he was frustrated, but it’s definitely something that can be learned.

            And for the record, I have a good friend who was constantly written up in her job for being condescending to clients. In her mind, she was being very patient and explaining things clearly. To her clients (and to me, when she gave me an example), she was treating them like they were children. It took a while for her to get how her tone was coming across.

            1. Green*

              I’m 30. With a few exceptions, I have managed to suitably control the things that come out of my mouth, and I use up all my patience at work so the “GAHHHH” comes out elsewhere sometimes. The things I say are not always Allison’s suggested language, but most of my colleagues would say I’m helpful, pleasant, patient and tactful and I AM NOT AT ALL THOSE THINGS. Or, to the extent that “being” those things is just pretending to be them for enough of the time, I guess I am those things at work.

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                Yes, I had that kind of control in my early twenties, too. I didn’t always say things perfectly polished–I still don’t. And I know sometimes my face gives away what I’m thinking. But certainly I knew when not to open my mouth.

              2. Myrin*

                Yeah, I’ve managed to control that kind of thing when I was a young teenager. I certainly matured and learned a lot over the years but I had this down very early and it’s not that hard, really.

            2. Jessa*

              In the case of your friend this is where a recording device will help. Tape the conversation and have them listen to themselves. People very rarely hear their own tone correctly. It’s why people think they sound weird when you record them. What you hear in your head is not necessarily what the world hears.

            3. JB (not in Houston)*

              But after the first, or certainly after the second write up, she should have looked into figuring that out. There are plenty of helpful sources on the internet for checking how you come across to others.

      3. Justin*

        The one thing that stands out to me is that he’s both sloppy and misses deadlines….to me that says he hasn’t been properly trained and proper expectations haven’t been set.

        With some jobs it’s “get it done right away, even if it’s not perfect” and with others the finished product has to be perfect (or close to perfect), and the deadline is a little more flexible to make that happen.

        1. Ad Astra*

          When someone’s new to your company/office, it really helps to explain why deadlines are what they are and what happens if they’re missed. For example, if you miss your nightly deadline at the newspaper, it delays printing, which upsets the carriers and makes your papers show up late, which then upsets your customers. OR, if your paper is printed off site, missing your deadline means your printer charges you a big fat late fee, and you could still have the same issues with your carriers.

          It’s ok if your office’s deadlines are absolute, and it’s ok if your office treats deadlines more like goals — but a new person will do better knowing which approach your company takes and what’s at stake.

          1. jmkenrick*

            That’s such a good point. Even within an office, there can be distinctions.

            I had an internal facing role where we had deadlines for certain deliverables (aka, if you want X, you have to ask 4 weeks in advance). Some of those were for time management purposes – that is to say, it’s *possible* to expedite X and have it ready in 1 week, but only as a one-off. It’s not scalable to have everyone make that request. Therefore, the policy. But if people were a little late with their request, three weeks instead of four, we could often still swing it.

            On the other hand, there were some deliverables that were simply not possible to expedite. We need you to request Y 5 weeks in advance, and if you have an extra special case that really needs to go quicker and you only request it with 4 weeks in advance…well, you’re still going to get it 5 weeks from now because there is literally no way at this time to make that process move any faster.

            Context for those sorts of deadlines can be really important.

            1. LATechWriter*

              What?! A deadline is a deadline. I shouldn’t have to provide context to an employee. Just get it done on time. End of story. Did this employee not have to turn in assignments on time in school? Did he not have to suffer the consequences if he failed to meet a due date? I don’t get why the OP should be expected to make all sorts of allowances for this employee who is sloppy, argumentative, isn’t taking the position seriously, and values socializing more than meeting deadlines. There are plenty of other people out there that need a job and have those skills right from go.

              1. brighidg*

                And like I used to say, if I wanted a job where there would be unreasonable demands given without context by some power-tripping tyrant, I would have joined the military. Probably would have been paid better to.

                1. AnotherFed*

                  Not cool. Perhaps you meant to say you would have emigrated to a nation where you have no civil rights or voting privileges.

              2. jmkenrick*


                Well, in my experience, the sort of ‘due dates’ you get in school and deadlines in the work place can differ hugely. Many projects are postponed or moved around because of the sheer amount of moving parts. It’s really doesn’t translate directly from schoolwork. (Does much of life?) I have found context invaluable in understanding how to best collaborate with others. Your industry could be different, of course.

                Also, I don’t think anyone here is advocating making allowances. Rather, what people are suggesting is that because OP is new to training and there is no formalized training program, there’s a lot of opportunities for misunderstandings….especially given that it sounds like the employee was upfront in the interview process about how much they needed to learn, and OP’s company didn’t do their due diligence in checking to make sure the role was a good fit.

                1. LATechWriter*

                  Agreed, I work in an industry where there is a ton riding on a deadline. Money, jobs, even people’s health and safety, they can all depend on us making that deadline. I just haven’t ever had a boss tell me that there’s a good reason behind doing the work. I honestly feel stunned that not everyone’s workplace is like this. Not the things at stake per se, but the importance of hitting dates. Oh well. I guess I’m just a “power-tripping tyrant.”

              3. Kyrielle*

                Depends on how they were communicated. My jobs have had moving deadlines all the time!

                Day 1: We want X by day 30.
                Day 13: We need Y by day 35.
                My reply: “I can’t do that and get X done by day 30.”
                Their reply: “Never mind X, Y by 35 is more important.”

                But there were all sorts of times where I’d be working on PQR and be told to immediately switch to Z, it was clear from context that Z had priority. Had I been wrong about the context, I might have refocused when I shouldn’t – and missed a deadline. (Of course, if I asked about every context switch, I’d have drive my boss around the bend. But early on, employees don’t necessarily have the context and may misunderstand what’s critical, what’s similar priority, and what’s clearly lower priority.)

                I’m not saying the employee is not at fault, or doesn’t have to fix things. I don’t have enough context to know. I’m saying it’s *possible* – and there are steps that can be taken to help a good but confused employee fix those things, turning them into a good employee. If those don’t work, then yeah, get the next guy – but letting this one go and hiring another costs time and money, which you might not need to spend.

              4. Jessa*

                The other issue is the competing deadline scenario mentioned somewhere above this. Do A, no now do B, but you have to do A.

                A deadline may not be a deadline. A is due in 5 weeks. B is very important do it first, but that may snaffle A. OMG C needs to be done now.

                Now if the employee is really new and doesn’t know that A is very important, B is legally required and C is being pushed by the person with the most power of all in the company, how do they determine which thing they should do or which person to ask, because asking the wrong one (if you ask the person who wants A, despite B and C being higher priority) you’re going to get jammed up.

                So not only does the employee need to learn the company’s hierarchy, but they also need to learn that they really, really need to shove A over to someone else so that it gets done, while still caring for B and C.

              5. Melissa*

                Uhh even when I taught undergrads I explained to them why my deadlines were set the way they did (to give me time to get them feedback, because different parts of the same project fed together, so they could get their grades on time, whatever). You don’t have to provide context to an employee, but if you do it you might get an employee who trusts you a lot more and works a lot harder to meet those deadlines.

        2. OP Here*

          He has deadlines. They are given on tasks and set up in Outlook as reminders. Everything has been laid out to what the expectations of the given role.

      4. TootsNYC*

        I agree with this–I think you -can- coach people out of these patterns.

        I’ve had to say to people who work for me, “Please don’t waste your time and energy getting defensive when I bring you negative feedback or a criticism. For several reasons. First, because it makes me not trust you–I worry that you’re so busy defending yourself, you’re not -hearing- what I’ve said. Second, it prevent you from learning and growing. Third, it wastes time, yours and mine.”
        I’ve had to also explain how my negative-feedback process goes and provide reassurance. “I’m telling you because I want you to know, so you can be better. I’m not mad at you, you’re not going to be fired, I’m not sitting there thinking, ‘What a horrible person.’ There’s not a mistake you can make that I haven’t made before. I’m telling you because there are solid reasons why I want you to do this.”

        It helps that I go warn people about possible problems when they haven’t even done anything wrong. (Usually I’m the one who almost did it wrong but caught myself, or I -did- do it wrong. Or sometimes it’s their colleague’s mistake, but I see it as something anyone could do, so I alert the entire team. I use “us” a lot.)

        I’ve had it work, the “telling people that their reaction to negative feedback is counterproductive.”

        1. LawBee*

          “There’s not a mistake you can make that I haven’t made before.”


          (I am perhaps over-relating to the employee in this post.)

        2. afiendishthingy*

          I love that phrasing, kind of wish I’d had some of it when I had to write up an employee the other day. She gets defensive when corrected, which is a habit I still have to fight in myself, and also a lot of the stuff I’m correcting is mistakes I made when I first started in this field. Next time.

      5. Today's Satan*

        “As for slacking — come on, everyone has had their slacker moments.”

        Not within the first two months of my hire at a new job. Hell no! I am Johnny-on-the-spot, please-sir-can-I-have-some-more. I want to make damn sure I make a great first impression. Catch me in a year or two, and then — and *only* then — will I have my “slacker moments”. But first few weeks on the job? Absolutely not.

  4. fposte*

    And this is yet another reason why you do want to check references as part of the hiring process. It sounds like you were part of the hiring committee, OP, if you sat in on interviews; that should give you enough authority that you can ask who’s doing the reference checks or volunteer to be the one to do them.

  5. the_scientist*

    So you warned him that training would take a lot of time and effort, which means that you presumably understood that anyone new to this role would require a fair bit of training……..but you don’t have efficient on-the-job training? This seems…..odd to me. I uess I can see how this would happen- I also work with big datasets and we don’t get any formal training on the content of those datasets, but there is mentorship and guidance available when you start working with them, and it’s understood that mistakes are inevitable while still learning, so a senior person is reviewing any final products. Unprofessional behaviour on his part is a problem, of course, but I’m with Katie the Fed- it seems like there’s been some miscommunication about the expectations around training.

  6. qtipqueen*

    I guess I don’t get the urge to call references now. What would that information help with? If they all say, oh yes, he was great, will that change anything? Or if they say, yeah, he was sure bad, what then?

    Either way, that does nothing now.

    1. MsM*

      +1. Besides, maybe he was great in his last role(s), but he might not have needed the kind of training to get up to speed on those that he has here – and even if you’d done the due diligence, you might not have known to ask or gotten the kind of feedback you needed. I think you need to just chalk this up as “lessons learned,” be clear about the expectations and consequences like Alison says, and look for prior experience with future hires.

    2. Hotstreak*

      Agreed. Read the Yelp reviews BEFORE your food arrives at the table… The reference ship has sailed.

    3. Melissa*

      Plus aren’t most people supplying references that will be positive or so neutral (yes, worked from date x to date y) that there isn’t much point checking them?

  7. Shannon*

    I have to join the rest who feel bad for the new employee. He was upfront about the fact that he needed training, but, you seem resentful of the fact that he needs training, that there isn’t a training system in place and that training takes time.

    Now, he’s in an environment where people resent him for issues he was honest about and are having buyer’s remorse. What do you hope to gain by checking his references at this point? Justification to fire him?

    As for the questions, just say, “Have you checked the (insert reference material here)?” or “I think that’s covered in (reference material).”

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      “As for the questions, just say, “Have you checked the (insert reference material here)?” or “I think that’s covered in (reference material).””

      I have several coworkers, some of which have been there way longer than me, that i have to use this method with, this one is hard to break… But generally agree with others to give this guy a chance and talk to him/put together a gameplan

    2. OP Here*

      No, no resentment. It’s the basics. If you can’t get a hold of basics after 2 months there is an issue that needs to be resolved. We have been very flexible and I’ve asked in 1:1s and training sessions about how he feels about the workload, if he feels overwhelmed and to communicate if he ever needs to push back.

      1. Soharaz*

        I mean this is my two cents, but after 2 months at my current job (marketing) I was only just starting to get a handle on what my company actually did and how all their products and services fit together. I still needed training and guidance on what was expected out of my role in a strategic sense (rather than just the day-to-day).

      2. Honeybee*

        I agree with Soharaz, actually…two months is a very short amount of time. I guess it depends on the job, too, but 2 months doesn’t seem like enough time for him to be working smoothly without guidance or training – especially if he didn’t get efficient training in the beginning.

  8. Jubilance*

    I don’t understand the desire to check references now – how is that going to help the situation?

    You mention that your on-the-job training is lengthy and not efficient, and he doesn’t have much experience…are your expectations too high? Is 2 months enough time for him to truly know the things you’re expecting him to know? Or is this more about his argumentative tone while receiving feedback and asking questions?

    1. some1*

      “I don’t understand the desire to check references now – how is that going to help the situation?”

      I agree. If he doesn’t have good references, all you are getting is a reinforcement of your opinion, which you don’t need to take action.

    2. Sunshine Brite*

      I don’t understand what it would help either. Best I could hypothesize would be asking what they noticed about his learning style and management techniques that they found worked.

    3. Ad Astra*

      My guess is basically Allison’s suggestion that the OP is hoping a reference check will either reassure her that this is a good hire or confirm her suspicion that it’s a bad hire.

      1. Anonsie*

        That’s what I’m guessing. They’re looking to see if this is an overall pattern or not, but that ship has sailed IMO.

      2. OP Here*

        The reason why I asked because of an old article Alison posted about references, but I misread it. Her post was about reaching out to secondary references other than primary ones. Unfortunately, I was left out of the reference checking process with this hire.

  9. Coppertina*

    I’m a bit puzzled by the reporting relationship here. OP never clearly states that she’s this guy’s direct manager, refers to “our new hire”, mentions that different people have had coaching conversations and has to ask a teammate whether references were checked. I wonder if there aren’t multiple people management best practices not being followed by this team.

    1. OP Here*

      Hello –

      Yes, it does sound puzzling but I am his direct manager. Our company has a reference checking company to check references, however, my boss who is remote, was familiar with the person that referred our “newbie” who is also in our industry.

      There is a lot of politics and bureaucracy that I won’t even get into… so I never got to speak to any “references” when the decision was made.

      1. LawBee*

        If you’re his direct manager, then why are other people giving him feedback? Are you sure what he’s being told is consistent?

        1. OP Here*

          Because his role is split between two of us. He works with all of our accounts. And my team mate and I are close and we meet for weeklies to catch up.

  10. Ad Astra*

    Two things that caught my eye:

    I stressed during the interview process that training would take a lot of time and effort. We work in a niche field dealing with heavy data.


    There isn’t efficient on-the-job training provided by our current employer, so I’ve had to come up with training plans, provide resources and 1:1 training as well as handle my duties for clients in our book of business.

    The new employee may be feeling just as frustrated as the OP if he feels like his training is insufficient. Maybe I’m projecting, but I received a lot of feedback early in my career that was basically “We need you to do better.” And I’d say, “OK, what are some strategies to help me improve?” And they’d say, “Have you tried just doing a better job? That should suffice.”

    It sounds to me like the OP’s expectations may not have been realistic. If you know a hire is going to take a lot of training, and you also know that the employer doesn’t provide efficient on-the-job training, then it makes sense that you’ll be working very closely with this person to get him up to speed.

    Two months is rarely enough time to decide whether someone is a good or bad hire, and in this case it sounds like the problems OP is having with the new hire are typical of people who are new to the workplace.

    1. Spooky*

      “We need you to do better.” And I’d say, “OK, what are some strategies to help me improve?” And they’d say, “Have you tried just doing a better job? That should suffice.”

      +1! This so much!

      1. Ad Astra*

        In this case, I was copy editing (which I had experience in) and designing (which I had never done before) on a tight deadline every night, so I really could have used some pointers about shortcuts, time management, templates, etc. There was a lot of knowledge to impart, but all I got out of anyone was “Make fewer mistakes and don’t blow deadline.” Gee, thanks.

    2. YandO*

      the hire was basically promised training and then it turned out that the mentioned training is “work in progress” and he is the first one to receive it.

  11. Suzanne*

    So the “new kid on the block” admitted he had little experience & would need training and the OP admits that she really has no adequate training available, and then wonders why the new kid isn’t achieving at the level expected? Was telepathy included in the job description? Maybe the kid is tired of being corrected about stuff that wouldn’t have needed corrected if somebody had bothered to explain how it’s supposed to be done in the first place and that’s why he gets a little cranky from time to time.
    Training on the job seems so critical to me and yet is sooooooo neglected. I don’t get it. You either spend the money up front or spend it cleaning up the mess. In my youth, employers looked for people who were trainable; now, it seems, they look for that one in a million perfect employee who will just absorb everything and complain when 99% of their hires don’t meet that bar.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, wait, I don’t think that’s fair. The OP says that she has “come up with training plans, provide resources and 1:1 training as well as handle my duties for clients in our book of business.”

      1. the_scientist*

        the OP says she “had to” come up with training plans etc. I know I’m parsing OP’s language choice here, but to me “had to” reads as “this is such an imposition” which is the part that has me scratching my head. OP knew the employee was going to need a lot of training. The employee admitted they needed training and that they were hoping this would be a learning experience for them. The OP knew the org had limited training resources. I guess my questions are, who did OP *think* was going to be training this new employee? Did they think these resources were going to appear out of thin air? How long did OP really expect this training to take? Painstaking, indepth training on “heavy data” doesn’t take a few hours or days, it can take weeks or months. OF COURSE it’s going to be a lot of work in addition to OP’s regular duties…..so I’m sensing a disconnect between what the OP initially thought of as “a lot of training” and what the OP is realizing “a lot of training” actually means in practice and is disappointed at the amount of work it actually requires.

        1. Sadsack*

          It seems like a big issue to OP is that the employee hasn’t improved much with the training he’s received so far and comes off as resistant to instruction, having an attitude when asking questions.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Yes and I feel this is due to the fact his only office experience is working for his dad and interning. In my limited experience working at a place with interns, they didn’t always have a lot to do and seemed to just hang out and talk sometimes and go outside for smoke breaks, so if that’s the environment he came from, yeah he needs an additional kind of training on office professionalism or at least what that means at op’s company

        2. jmkenrick*

          Hm. I read the “had to” as more of a commentary on how the org should be better prepared for training, but it’s not, so OP had to step up to the plate. Kind of as though OP is explaining that she’s taking charge of this and may not be an expert in how this stuff is handled, not that she was criticizing the new employee for needing training at all.

        3. fposte*

          But there’s an earlier part of the “had to” sentence, and that’s the fact that her employer doesn’t have training in place. It was because of the employer, not the employee.

          I think you’re right, though, that the OP is getting into a negative spiral with this guy and needs to pull herself out of it to make sure the coaching is fair and effective.

          1. OP Here*

            Yup, my main boss could not find a company training guide so I’ve had to teach him from the ground up. And we haven’t even begun with the deeper technical stuff yet.

          2. afiendishthingy*

            “I think you’re right, though, that the OP is getting into a negative spiral with this guy and needs to pull herself out of it to make sure the coaching is fair and effective.”

            Oof. I need to learn to do that. I’m new to managing and I think I do give my staff benefit of the doubt early on – they’re all in roles classified as part-time temporary – but if I start losing respect for someone as an employee I find it really hard to pull out of that spiral.

        4. Ad Astra*

          It sounds like the training is a legitimate imposition because the OP has to take care of a full-time workload in addition to training the new hire, which means working more hours or neglecting certain tasks (or likely a little of both).

          My interpretation is that the OP either underestimated the time it takes to train someone in this job, or she thought she had more assistance/resources to train this employee than she really had. To me, “had to” indicates that this isn’t going the way OP planned, and that might or might not be the OP’s fault.

        5. Anonsie*

          I think a part of our perspective on this is probably coming from being in a field where a huge amount of training is often needed for every new job but, at least in my experience, it always seems to be rather sparse.

      2. Suzanne*

        True, but I was under the impression that the OP had something to do with the hiring process & says it’s a very small team & that there is very little corporate training material available,which she must have known. I don’t doubt she’s frustrated, but sense she’s mainly frustrated because the new kid isn’t grasping the material as quickly as she would like while she admits it’s very complicated work. Perhaps she needs to look at her training methods. I’m sure she’s frustrated trying to train & do her job as well, but I don’t think this is all on the new kid.
        This touched a nerve with me having spent time at a couple of jobs at which training was nearly non-existent. One notable job involved crazy complex telecom databases that even the trainers didn’t seem to get. After a short training period (maybe 10 days) we newbies were let loose on the job only to be told frequently by more seasoned employees that we were given incorrect processes by the training staff & that we were doing it all wrong. There was a training document that we were to follow, but it omitted many items because, we were told, including everything would make it too long. Ask two people how to do something & you were likely to get 3 different answers. So, we guessed a lot and redid things a lot. And crankiness abounded all around.
        I think what this boils down to is a quote from Cool Hand Luke-“What we have here is failure to communicate!”

      3. OP Here*

        Yes, Alison, I’ve had to do it because most people in our company don’t really understand our side of the industry. We are like the nerds of the ad industry. Also when I first joined, I noticed that there was a severe lack of training on the company’s part, so I’ve put in a lot of effort to put resources together and split my schedule to train. The only way he can learn is if he’s working on actual accounts.

  12. YandO*

    Current situation: provide all feedback in written form with easily identifiable actionable suggestions. Schedule weekly touch base meetings where you go over the things that have improved and things that have not. Make sure to discuss issues of attitude in a specific way “improve attitude” vs “take some time to think before responding to criticism”

    Future: do better job hiring people. Check references. Learn about their background. Give tasks. Provide better salary/title to attract non-entry level candidates.

  13. grasshopper*

    The point of a reference is to try to understand someone who is unknown to you. You have two months of working with him to know him and see what his work is like firsthand. Checking his references now won’t change his current behaviour. As Alison says, you need to manage and improve his current job performance.

  14. Ihmmy*

    Have you guys figured out how best he learns yet? If he only retains things that he reads, and all the instructions are being given verbally (or vice versa) it won’t stick very well. Hopefully he’d be aware enough to know how best he learns but sometimes it has to be done through trial and error too. I tend to be written word, so I write out procedures and instructions. I know not everyone is like that, so if possible I go through it once for them on my computer while verbally explaining, then have them go through it with me there to help clarify/watch button clicking, then leave them with written notes. When I’m able to put that all together of course, that’s not always the case.

    1. Chalupa Batman*

      This could help a lot. I work in higher ed, and from what I’ve seen, institutions are just now starting to 1) acknowledge to students that different learning styles are valid; 2) encourage students to identify their primary learning styles and explore how to use them to learn better; and 3) encourage students to take personal responsibility for seeking out tools/strategies that play to their learning styles. It would be nice for new grads to be exposed to those skills in college and adapt to the training style of the employer, but many haven’t been, so figuring out what he needs to learn better and adapting to him may be the quickest way for OP to get the intended result.

    2. Mephyle*

      It brings to mind a detailed discussion on a closerly related point not long ago.

      People who are reading-oriented are frustrated with those whose first reaction to seeking knowledge is to ask someone else. They are annoyed that the person ‘won’t make the effort’ to look it up.

      People who are social-oriented find it ‘the long way around’ to search for written information and read it when they could just ask someone and (perhaps) get the answer much faster (to their way of thinking).

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yes! This is a huge thing for me and I only really got it after seeing that recent discussion. Mostly because from where I sat, it always just felt like asking me to do the reading for them. If I had the question myself, I’d go look it up, and if somebody else asked me, I’d still be looking it up anyway, so it didn’t feel like a time savings on my end. It only seemed easier if it was something I knew by heart already.

      2. LawBee*

        I guess what I don’t understand is why the OP (and team) hired this guy to begin with? It sounds like the position required a lot of knowledge from the beginning, and no one who is “fairly green” to the industry would be able to perform at a high level for quite some time. Regardless, the OP’s got him now, and I think it would be in everyone’s best interests to reevaluate how the OP is going to manage him.

        Someone upstream mentioned the confusion over who Todd reports to. That could be a HUGE part of this – having one boss instead of a whole team yammering at him may be a big step in helping him organize himself.

        He was hired for a reason, despite his lack of experience in this demanding field. Remember that reason, and help him develop it. And . . . maybe the OP needs to hire more people? It sounds like the OP is slammed, which would absolutely make training feel like an imposition. (which again begs the question of why hire Todd to begin with . . . )

        And for the commenters separating the bad attitude etc from the work – don’t underestimate the impact frustration has on all aspects of work. The worker (can we call him Todd? I’m calling him Todd) is new to a high-demanding job, he’s in over his head, he’s not only learning his work but also how to operate in a professional environment for the firtst time, and he’s probably seriously stressed. That’s going to spill over into everything. Yeah, he’s going to be snappish and argumentative, because in his mind, he’s trying his best and the feedback he’s getting isn’t helpful.

        1. LawBee*

          whoops, replied to the wrong comment.

          This reply would be ME: learner by experience. MY SECRETARY: learner by committee

          VERY hard to reconcile those, but she’s not going to change, so there you have it.

    3. OP Here*

      The first time I confronted his behavior in a 1:1 he did say he gets that way because he just wants an answer. Meaning he just wants something quick and not having to understand the logic or reasoning behind it.

      1. HRChick*

        I don’t know if this will help, but I used to get into issues with an old boss because I was trying to explain more than he was able to process all at once. He wanted me to tell him the bare bones of what needed to be done where and how and leave out the context until he had gotten a handle on that information.

        If I overloaded him, he would hold up a hand and we’d sit in his office until he’d digested that and then let me continue some more lol. But, sounds like new guy hasn’t gotten control over how much he can absorb at one time.

  15. Chriama*

    I’m not really sure how your position is related to the new hire’s, OP. It sounds like you’re responsible for training and giving feedback, but were only marginally involved in the hiring process. Do you have supervisory authority here, or are you a team lead (manage workload but not really performance)? It could be that you’re between a rock and hard place if you have to train this guy but don’t have authority to put him on a PIP or anything. I understand the desire to check his references if it gives you data to go back to your bosses and ask them to do something about this guy, but at this point it doesn’t really matter. He’s working for you now, and you have examples of his problematic behaviour right in front of your face. Use that information to point out the pattern of behaviour to the employee. If he’s really unwilling (or unable!) to change, bring that up to the bosses.

    One thing to note is that if this guy is a new hire, it could be that you need to make sure your discussions with him are very explicit. There are a lot of professional norms he might not have internalized yet – ‘arguing’ might be about explaining why he thought something was right, not defending it; ‘unable to prioritize’ could be because he’s overwhelmed with work or just doesn’t know how good is good enough; etc.
    It could be he’s just a bad employee, but when someone’s new to the workforce I think it’s important to remember that there are truths we take for granted that only come with experience, and maturity is often a function of time.

  16. HRChick*

    My last job, I worked at a satellite office with two managers. They sent me to a far away state for a week for my on the job training. First three days was me sitting while people discussed what it was they were supposed to be teaching me. (as in “does she need to do this? I don’t know…”). Last two days were actual how-tos with no context.

    When I returned, my managers decided I needed to hit the ground running. That there was no excuse why I shouldn’t know everything (even though I had explained that my training was very bad). Even worse, a lot of what I was taught was on a by-manager’s preference basis and the main office’s managers wanted things a lot differently than my manager. They would yell at me for missing deadlines/reports that I had NO idea what they were talking about because it hadn’t been part of my training. I would ask for more information and be told “We paid for you to go to Other State for a week. Why don’t you know this?”. It took me a long time to get a handle on things and I consider myself pretty smart.

    But, the resentment I felt towards my managers and that job never went away because of the way they had treated my transition. I stayed 3 years and became very proficient. I even wrote an extremely detailed desk manual so when I inevitably left, I would not put someone else in the same position I had been thrust into.

    Your employee may be feeling resentment and frustration and it’s coming through in his tone. The question to ask is “is he not performing because of a lack of knowledge or a lack of ability?” If it’s the first, management and your company need to take responsibility for it. If it’s the latter, get him on a PIP.

    1. Ad Astra*

      This sounds like a truly horrible experience. Did you ever have a chance to pass on this feedback in an exit interview?

      1. HRChick*

        I discussed it with HR before I left, but I can’t imagine they did anything since I’d fixed it with my training manual. But I did express that the way I was treated turned the job from a long term career to a filler position until I found something else. But this job was overall horrible about how they treated people. Their favorite expression was “That’s just how she/he/I is/am!” to excuse bad and unprofessional behavior.

  17. B*

    Wow, I have to agree with everyone else regarding feeling bad for the employee. Imagine how this employee feels when he knows he needs training and all he hears is negative feedback and not any actual training. Maybe he forgot where something was and when he asks, because he doesn’t want to make something up, you are projecting your own annoyances. Better he ask than make a big mistake.

    I also caught the point where you did not learn he worked for his dad during the interview. How was that missed if you had his resume and talked him through his experience. It sounds like you both did a very bad job of interviewing and are now placing the blame on him.

  18. Macedon*

    I have to ask, OP: did you at any point during the interviewing or offer stage inform the candidate that your organisation had no quality training programme for this role? Because it reads as if you mentioned a steep learning curve, but not that you would essentially test-try a training regime on an industry-ignorant worker, who might not have taken the job on these terms.

      1. Macedon*

        I’m afraid I’m still a little unclear on whether he knew it wasn’t a matter of the department conducting training independent of the company, but of no one in this company (including the department) having ever provided training for his role. There is a huge difference.

        I’ll be honest and say that in both the original letter and in your replies here, you sound fairly frustrated and impatient with him. This may be justified – you’ve repeatedly mentioned that his weak progress is coupled with an attitude you find counter-productive – but it weighs on your ability to provide him with further fair training. If you decide to continue with training him, it might be wise to take a few steps back and let your team mate oversee his advance for two weeks or so.

  19. Kyrielle*

    I will add that both the position I left and the one I am in now have substantial ramp-up times. Not big data, but software engineering in specialty fields with an extensive code base – so you learn the domain, the structure of the code, etc. The expected ramp-up time at my old company, and the stated one at this company, was a *year* before they were really up to speed. Two months sounds amazingly fast to me.

  20. OP Here*

    Hello All –

    Thanks for the replies! Alison when I first wrote you I was typing from my phone and there was a lot more to the story.

    Some of the commenters have stated their POV on our expectations, but I will add that in the interview process were very clear that since most of the candidates coming in would be entry-level, there would be a lot of on going training in regards to reading materials and 1:1 visual training. I also stated that we would have to train him because there really wasn’t any mandatory training in relation to the role provided by the company. This guy is a millennial, and I just think no one has ever schooled him on how things run in the corporate world. I rather not say what type of work we do but involves a lot of puzzle solving, math and keeping up with constant requests on a daily basis.

    I’ve been with my current employer less than a year and when I joined, I along with another new team member discovered that the legacy team member (who later left our team) had no idea what he was doing because he never had sufficient training. This lead to a lot of stress on the team for all involved. After that fiasco, it was decided that anyone new that joined the team would have to have thorough training, but also be able to pick up the basics after about a month or so.

    I’ve been in my industry for a long time, and it will usually take about a month to get the hang of the basics. This is the area that became an issue – the basics. We never expected him to be 100% right off the bat, but if he can at least get to 70% or try that’s okay. There is so much to learn with what we do and we can never expect anyone to know it all after 2 months. It’s impossible! He has a habit of getting to a certain point and stopping because he just wants a quick answer right away and not understand why a task or process has to be done a certain way.

    In the end, we had another 1:1 to discuss specific behaviors and I laid out the areas for improvement. I let him know that I thought he was capable but we need to see the effort put forth in the work. He was frustrated but when given examples of proof to explain the concerns, he really had nothing to say but give more excuses for why something wasn’t done or why he didn’t want to do a particular task.

    1. jmkenrick*

      Thanks for sharing more info!

      That (along with some of the hoop-jumping that prevented you from being able to do a proper reference check at your company) sounds so frustrating. Hopefully you’ll be able to see improvements on the part of the employee, and if not, be able to transition him out and find someone who is a better fit.

      Good luck!

      1. OP Here*

        Yes he’s still here, but still making errors after our talk. It’s been 3.5 months but we have goal plan set up for areas he needs to improve. We can’t let him handle client stuff on his own if he keeps making careless errors.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Based on everything you’ve said here, I’m skeptical that he’s right for the role. Have you figured out how much more time you’re willing to give him?

          1. OP Here*

            He was given a written warning document today to lay out the issues we would like for him to work on. I’m giving him 2 weeks to make adjustments, and if he does not deliver, he will put on a PIP.

            I’ll also add, that during our talk, I stated that if he found the role boring that it’s okay. A lot of people get into the industry and realize it’s not for them, however he needs to work on his awareness, work habits and be mindful of others if he wants to continue on our team.

              1. Me too*

                I’m going to be the voice of opposition to most of the commenters, obviously:

                Sometimes it becomes obvious that the person hired was just not the right person for the job. It happens.

                Use the PIP process, of course, but I’m all for letting them go quickly, and starting a re-hiring process ASAP. Seems less painful and damaging in the long run for both the employer and the employee.

                (You’ve freed them to hopefully find somewhere else that ‘fits’ better. And also potentially find yourselves a better fit too.) It seems callous, but it is reality.

                Someone who just can’t hack doing the job after a reasonable period of time, just poisons the work environment for everyone long term.

                And, aren’t those tough kinds of decisions the kind good managers are supposed to be making?

      1. OP Here*

        I was adding that as a response to another poster’s comment about Gen X and Millennials.

        1. Green*

          Yes, but let’s please not attribute things to people being “Millennials.” That is really, really obnoxious to anyone in the Millennial range who doesn’t do those things. You have an individual that you are dealing with not a “Millennial.”

          1. OP Here*

            I don’t care that he is. That’s not the point and it wasn’t my point in the beginning, my focus is on having him change his behavior and work patterns so that he grow.

            1. Alyssa*

              If it’s not the point and you don’t care, why state it? Doing so just reinforces unhelpful stereotypes.

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                Because people brought it up as possibly explaining his behavior (and not just in a “millennials are awful” kind of way).

            1. Honeybee*

              I’m a Millennial and it does bother me. It’s an incorrect assumption (I was, indeed, taught how to behave in the “corporate world”) and it also assumes that “corporate world” is a monolith when different companies and offices vary widely in what they find acceptable. Not only that, but following this blog long enough has shown me that bad office behavior comes from people from all ages.

    2. Sunny*

      My first job out of college, I was hired to train people as the company switched to a paperless system. I was very bad at it at first because I was training people how I would want to be trained, instead of how they wanted to learn.

      I created very detailed, step-by-step guides, but the people I was training hated reading (especially dense 30-40 step processes), so they’d do the first ten steps correctly and then stop reading and try to remember the rest, which usually was not correct. So instead, I created more ‘top level’ guides that incorporated color and process flow design shapes to remind people what the main steps were with a tip about the hardest things to remember about each step beneath. I created resource binders for each of them so that they could keep all the material organized and once again made it more colorful and easy to follow. By creating subheadings in tasks, I could have 4-5 eight steps tasks instead of 1 forty step task which people found less daunting. For one decision point in the process that people was doing incorrectly, I created a little strip that people could tape to the bottom of their monitors so that they would have a constant reminder. I redesigned some of our internal forms so that the form’s flow would match the software’s flow better.

      Now, I would also have everyone get Evernote accounts and share with them resource notebooks because they have amazing search capabilities in that program and it’s really easy to add content in a manner that looks good.

      Design and form does matter when it comes to learning, and it effects some people a lot, even if you think ‘well, it’s their job, they should learn it no more what form it comes in.’ I’m not saying you’re doing a bad job of training, but it might be worth sitting down and having a lesson of what training he’s finding is working for him and what he really doesn’t like using. Training is time consuming, and it sucks when companies don’t recognize that you need time cleared in your workload to take it on.

    3. Sunshine Brite*

      Just another thought. If it’s that intricate, this might not really be an entry level position except for rockstars. I know my current position seemed easy in the job description, verbal discussions upfront. We (a cohort type hiring bunch) were put through 4 months of training, followed by 3 weeks shadows, 3 weeks being shadowed and then we were given our first cases. Almost 6 months in and none of us really felt all that confident in what we were doing, made a ton of mistakes, etc. But eventually it clicked for me around the 9 month mark. I’ve been there about 18 months now and my cases get increasingly complex with more moving parts. No one meets more than the expiration deadlines because my area remains totally understaffed even with increased hiring because of retention difficulties related to the workloads and wealth of information you’re required to handle. There are supposed to be other deadlines for data entry, planning, etc. that are impossible.

      The behavior is a different story. I know one of my coworkers still doesn’t get it and is struggling in this position. She didn’t have as close of management oversight during probation as she should have or I don’t think she would’ve made it through unless she worked out some sort of ADA accommodation for her brain injury which I don’t think she’s done. She doesn’t even know what questions to ask sometimes. I’ve been there before and realized later how horrible a fit that internship had been even though I wanted it to work because I thought corporate was the way I needed to go. I eventually became really defensive trying to pretend I knew what I was doing. The project they had me working on wasn’t clear at all to me and I kind of resigned myself to not understanding eventually. Their internship program had grown way too fast too soon and didn’t have the structure it needed to hold the 10x more interns that they’d hired since the previous year’s round.

      1. OP Here*

        To your first point, that was discussed between my team mate and I. We were thinking that if we lose him, we may have to get someone who has had at least 1 to 2 years experience in our industry and comfortable with doing the basics.

        It’s hard for a lot of “green” candidates to get into our field, but it’s an industry that where the type of degree doesn’t really matter. We hired him because he was eager to get experience and seemed like a decent fit. I was and still am eager to teach/train what we do, but having a hard time getting him to do the actual work properly.

        Our team is severely understaffed as well.

    4. Mae North*

      I apologize if I’m just repeating things others have said, but there are three points that jump out at me here: you picked up the job quickly despite no training, you’ve been in your industry for many years, new guy has zero industry experience.

      Together, these thing make me wonder if you and your team-mate are judging his expected level of progress by how long it took the two of you to pick up the role with previous experience elsewhere, rather than a reasonable timeframe for someone starting from scratch. I’ve seen posters on here comment many times that it’s taken them 3, 6, 12 months + to settle into a new role – even those with previous experience in that role elsewhere – and I’ve seen the same things with my current and former coworkers.

  21. Laura*

    Sounds like the guy may leave of his own volition. He doesn’t know how to do his job, he’s criticised by management, and is struggling with basics such as prioritising. If I were in that situation I’d be job searching madly.

  22. RAM*

    Just have to post to comment on the fact that you said that he asks why processes have to be done a certain way as if it is a bad thing (because he’s only been there 2 months).. I find that people asking these types of questions is fantastic, and can be turned into a great learning opportunity.

    Ask him what other ways he thinks would be better.. and then think of reasons why it wouldn’t work (not sure what kind of work it is you do, but responses could range from: “the law forbids us to do it in that way”, “that way doesn’t make sense because xyz”, “that is very time consuming but you could certainly take a look when you’ve got free time”, “that makes sense but Person XYZ from department abc really likes it like this..”… whatever it is. If there’s no real reason, let him know that as well.

    It’s a learning opportunity for both of you (yes, you too – you’re looking at something you’ve used for a long time from a brand new perspective), a way to make him feel like you do value him and his opinions.. and because he’s brought it up, you can be sure he’s paying attention to your answer and will probably remember it. If there is no real reason you can’t do it the way he’s suggesting, then let him know his way is perfectly valid as well, but you want to keep doing it your way for consistency (or let him do it his way, if there’s no issue)

    1. Mel in HR*

      Absolutely! It could be that his brain- being new and fresh to the field- has an entirely different way of looking at things. By explaining like this, he can learn the reasonings. Alternatively, it could be possible that he has a more efficient way of doing things too.

    2. BRR*

      One of the greatest traits of my last boss was she would always be able to answer my process questions with “it won’t work because A,B, and C,” “that’s a great idea let’s do it,” or “that might work let’s explore this further.”

  23. Mel in HR*

    Two months in isn’t very long to be picking up specialized skills. I think this is a perfect situation for the Goal Setting Theory. Does this employee know what your expectations are for him? Are they achievable goals with very clear definitions? There’s no assuming on this. With no real experience, the employee needs to be properly managed to ensure they can have the best opportunity to succeed. It could be that it won’t work out, but I would give them a fair chance before writing them off.

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