I have an awful summer intern, and I can’t fire him

A reader writes:

I’m reaching out to request advice on an intern problem. As background, I’m a young-looking woman with a professional degree who works in the charitable arm of a prestigious, for-profit teapot firm. I have three interns this summer, one of whom is in a professional degree program, and the others are still in undergrad. I’ve worked with many interns in the past, and I like to think that I do a good job exposing them to the professional world and helping them to build important skills and connections. I’m still in contact with all of my past interns.

Two of my interns are wonderful – thoughtful, considerate, hard-working and a good cultural fit. They’re using their time here to network as much as they can and be as helpful as possible, and to advance the goals of our department. My third is the problem. He’s honestly awful, in any way that you can imagine. He was late three times in four days. His work product is consistently awful, and I have to ask him to make revisions, sometimes 3 or 4 times on the same document, because he rushes through things and never proofreads. He has a strange and difficult personality, and he keeps mansplaining, interrupting, and talking over me. (As an example, he said, out loud, that my program is not as “important” as other, fee-generating firm initiatives so no one prioritizes our work, and I also caught him mansplaining how one of our partner programs, a program that I interned for and work closely with now, works … completely incorrectly. He didn’t even understand the population that program serves. I corrected him.) He’s also gross, quite frankly – he smells bad and his hair always looks unwashed and not combed. He also chewed with his mouth open during a lunch meeting that we attended yesterday, which was pretty embarrassing, although, in my opinion, I think it reflected poorly on him and not us as a firm.

I caught him on several different occasions giving instructions and work to my other undergrad intern, which he has been told not to do. Repeatedly. I have encouraged my professional school intern to involve Good Intern in her work, which he enjoys and is helpful to her. (She also dislikes working with Bad Intern, because he’s rude and mansplain-y to her, too. She has two MA degrees and is obtaining another. He’s not smarter or more well-versed on any topic than she is.) He seems to believe that because he has been here for an additional week, and because he is older, he is the other student’s boss. Every time I catch this, I intervene and put a stop to it, and remind him that he is not to do this. He isn’t getting the message, even though I’m incredibly firm when correcting him, as other coworkers have confirmed.

I have worked with Good Intern, and he will not take any instructions from Bad Intern. He’s honestly doing a great job.

Bad Intern just really sucks. He’s a family friend to a high-ranking person at my firm, which is the only reason he’s here, and why I can’t shitcan him like I really want to. When he interrupts me, I keep talking, louder, until I finish my thought. I keep reinforcing my preferred mode of communication (IM vs. him coming to my office), and making it clear that he needs to engage me and be more diligent at his work. When he starts mansplaining me, I cut him off with “actually, no” and then correct him. I don’t save his ego by doing this privately. I also have decided not to bring him to important lunch meetings any longer, because of his bad table manners.

My question is this: how do I deal with this tool for the next month? I’m going to keep correcting him when he mansplains me, and keep calling out his bad work product, but what else can I do? I don’t want this jerk to impact the internship experience of my other two interns, quite frankly, and I’m really, really buried at work … so this is making me insane.

First, good for you for holding firm with him and refusing to let him interrupt you, cutting him off when he’s condescendingly explaining things to people who know more than him, calling him out on overstepping boundaries, and refusing to accept poor work. So often in this situation — both with interns and with people perceived to be protected by a higher-up — managers just kind of throw up their hands and stop pushing back, because it feels like the path of least resistance. You’re doing everything right here.

Second, are you absolutely sure that you can’t fire him? People often assume that “family friend of a higher-up” means someone is untouchable, but that’s not always the case. In fact, it’s possible that the high-ranking person he’s connected to would be mortified to know that someone she referred is behaving this way, or pissed off that he’s squandering the opportunity, or that she just isn’t someone who would have a problem with you deciding to fire him. (Really, most people would be okay with you firing this guy, despite him being a family friend. People who would protect this kind of dude in the face of this behavior are more the exception than the rule.)

So unless you already know for sure that it’s fruitless to try, go talk to her. Say, “I know this is awkward because he’s a family friend, but he’s on really thin ice — his work is bad, he won’t take feedback, he’s been rude to me and others, and I’m at the end of my rope. If he weren’t connected to you, I’d be considering firing him, but I wanted to touch base with you first.”

That might solve it for you, but if it doesn’t, then I would (a) dramatically limit what work you give him, so that you minimize the amount of time you have to spend on corrections, and (b) find ways to limit his impact on your other interns, which might mean keeping him off group projects, ensuring that they get plenty of time away from him, and ensuring that they see that they’re getting rewards and recognition that he doesn’t get (because it would suck if they felt they were all being treated the same despite his bad behavior).

I’d also consider having a conversation with him where you tell him that you have serious concerns about his performance and his approach to the internship and let him know that he’s killing his chances of getting a decent reference from you and doing serious harm to his reputation with other colleagues there.

Beyond that, I’d say you should take some satisfaction in continuing to be an awesome manager who calls out this kind of crap when it happens, and knowing that by doing so you’re being an excellent role model for your other interns.

But really, talk to the VIP in your organization who he’s connected to. You might be surprised.

Read updates to this letter here, here, and here.

{ 577 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Y’all, the debate about mansplaining has taken over the comments entirely and is really derailing from useful advice to the letter-writer.

    As of the time I’m posting this (2:08 p.m. EDT), I’m not allowing further comments on that topic, and any further that are posted will be deleted. Please limit your comments to the non-mansplaining parts of the letter, to minimize the amount of deleting I have to do…

  2. ZSD*

    Good job being firm with this guy. I agree that you should talk to the VIP who knows him, but I’d suggest changing Alison’s last sentence to, “I’m considering firing him, but since he’s connected to you, I wanted to touch base with you first.”

    1. Artemesia*

      This. And be very clear that you have gone above and beyond to teach him but that he is repeatedly inappropriate and resists direction. Mention that he also embarrassed the organization at (name of event) with atrocious table manners and inappropriate behavior. It is quite possible that the VIP will not want this person reflecting badly on her and will be supportive of dismissing him.

      1. E*

        Would it help at all to document the inappropriate behavior that keeps repeating, especially him trying to assign tasks to the other intern, and have him sign that he acknowledges that the issue has been discussed and he understands what he is being told not to do? At least you’d have the warning of sorts in writing.

      2. Julia*

        Are you sure you should mention the manners? Depending on the relationship to the VIP, they might feel as if OP was blaming their sister/brother/cousin for not raising Intern correctly.

      1. Alanna*

        It was actually very low-key. It was in one of our remote offices, and the brother was slacking off in a role we didn’t really need anyway. So I eliminated the whole position when I was there on a site visit and we gave him severance. And then realized afterward…crap, this was Joaquin’s brother I just let go. So I wrote this very carefully worded email to Joaquin, explaining I’d just realized Wakeen was his brother. And Joaquin wrote back and said, basically, no big deal because work is work.

    1. Mickey Q*

      I once told the bosses daughter that if she wasn’t the bosses daughter I would fire her and told her why. She came back a week later and thanked me for telling her that and she acted much better after that.

      1. anonderella*

        haha really? was she a movie character?
        but seriously, that’s awesome and good on her. It’s great to be able to grow through humbleness and respect.

      2. snuck*

        This is sort of what I was coming to say.

        I think the OP should sit down with the Bad Intern and actually have the conversation. Explain what he’s doing wrong and why it’s a problem. He’s an intern, new to the world. If this hasn’t been done he might just think it’s a personality clash. You can put in place all the other stuff and say something along the lines of “When we’re all back on an even keel I will assign you more interesting work, but right now I have all this filing/website link reviewing to be done and frankly I think it’s best you work on a single person project while we see how the rest of this plays out.”

        If there isn’t an immediate pickup in behaviours then go to the higher up. But give him a chance, a big, hard, you are on the line and demoted… conversation. Pushing back in corridors and when he’s talking to others isn’t the same as sitting him down in a conference room one to one (or have another with you) and explain fully and completely the behaviours you want and how you will know you are seeing them.

    2. Connie-Lynne*

      I fired the CTO’s son once. The CTO held it against me, but nobody else did. CTO was let go three months later.

  3. Katie F*

    I really wouldn’t be surprised if you find that the higher-up who referred him as a favor to their own personal friend is on-board with firing him. Nobody wants to be the person who referred an utter trash fire of a person. No one wants that to be a reputation they get. You may find firing him much, much easier than you had assumed.

    It’s also entirely possible he’s been referred to past internships that failed, and this is kind of a last shot, his family has been calling in favors for a while, etc. The higher-up who referred him needs and deserves to know what’s going on, I think.

    I also want to reiterate Allison’s admiration of your firmness and directness about his problems so far. It is ALWAYS good for overall morale when employees/interns are able to see a terrible employee actually recognized as terrible by management. While HE may be bad for your other interns’ morale, your reaction to it will help balance that out. They’ll work harder for you, knowing that you reward them for their hard work and don’t reward him for his.

    I’d cut him out of every conceivable project, give him the busywork that means nothing, in order to cause less inconvenience to yourself, if you can’t fire him. If you’re forced to keep him on, let him twiddle his thumbs for a month while the rest of you get the job done.

    1. Katie F*

      Sorry, that sentence in the third paragraph is meant to end “and don’t reward him for his attitude.”

    2. Stephanie*

      Yeah, my organization tends not to fire unless it’s some thing egregious. It’s such a morale killer.

      1. Katie F*

        I understand from the company’s point of view – they want to make sure they don’t face possible lawsuits unless absolutely necessary. But it really does destroy employee morale to see terrible employees’ bad behavior ignored or essentially rewarded by having management placate them or allow them to bully everyone else.

        I would have been thrilled to have a manager as forthright about these kinds as issues as the LW is.

        1. hayling*

          Agree with Katie F 100% – it’s much worse for morale to keep someone who should be fired. It’s usually a relief.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            I’m pretty sure Stephanie meant that it’s a morale killer to keep people who should be fired – i.e., she agrees with you! (Correct me if I’m wrong, Stephanie!)

        2. Mike C.*

          I just don’t understand this “afraid of lawsuit” thing. It seems like a much larger boogeyman than it really is.

          1. Stephanie*

            Yeah, especially at a company like this, which sounds like some MegaCorp large enough to have its own charitable arm. MegaCorp has lawyers upon lawyers. Lawsuit will be thrown out if it has no merit.

          2. Megs*

            I would suspect that it only takes being burned once or twice by a litigious former employee for businesses to get gun-shy. It doesn’t matter if the employee has absolutely zero grounds to sue (and generally they don’t), but even defending against a frivolous lawsuit takes time and money.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              Yep, this right here. I worked for an organization that got sued on a claim that was completely outrageous and easily disproven, but it took a year to get it thrown out by the courts (pretty much the second it made it to the top of the judge’s docket, it was dismissed) and a lot of time/money was spent during that time. I’m sure that it cost more than settlement would have.

              1. Mike C.*

                I’ll bet it was much, much cheaper than having your best employees leave due to poor morale.

                1. Katie F*

                  The problem is probably the ways we have of analyzing/measuring “cost” – like, the company can look at that lawsuit and say, “We spent $13,500 in legal fees just to fire Danny!”… but it’s much harder to measure something as nebulous as “profits excellent employees might have brought in if Danny hadn’t run them off and we end up stuck with Danny and low-morale employees who don’t work hard because they don’t see the point anymore”.

                2. NotAnotherManager!*

                  Well, in this circumstance, not really. It was a relatively unskilled positions for which it’s easy to hire and that requires little ramp-up time to become productive. The best employees only tend to stay for a few years (max) anyway because they outgrow the job and there is only room to promote when there is a vacancy. Maybe that’s an unusual circumstance, but a lot of people were surprised that they organization didn’t settle because of the lesser costs of alternatives. (I think they didn’t want to do anything to indicate the claim had merit, personally, but I don’t know that for a fact.)

                3. Rat Racer*

                  I dunno. I’ve left lots of jobs for lots of reasons, but never because management refused to fire a crappy employee. Maybe I’ve never had a co-worker as bad as the OP’s intern, but I can’t see myself leaving an interesting, well-paying job with sane hours and sane management just because my manager couldn’t summon the political capital to fire a low performer.

                  But I hear this all the time: if you let low performers stay, your high performers will leave. Has anyone on these boards left a job because their manager wouldn’t fire low performers? Was it specifically because of management’s lack of political willpower, or because it was symptomatic of a larger cultural malady in the company?

                4. neverjaunty*

                  We’ve seen TONS of letters and comments from people who left jobs because the company refused to fire someone they should have.

                5. Liana*

                  @ Rat Racer: refusal to fire/train a low performer was a big part of the reason I left my previous job. He was a nice guy, but I was sick of having to pick up his slack, so I left. It definitely happens.

                6. Kyrielle*

                  RR – I haven’t been in that position, but from comments and letters here, people do – and I can see why. First, there’s the feeling of not being recognized sufficiently when a screw-up ends up with basically the same things you do; secondly, one screw-up on a team, especially a small team, makes extra work for everyone else, picking up their slack and/or cleaning up their messes.

                  I’d get /really/ tired of working hard to cover for someone else’s slacking if I then saw them keep their job and get paid for, basically, making my job harder. (I was pretty darned tired of it with one coworker who did just that, except I could see that they were not getting away with it, and I had hopes that either they’d shape up or be gone – that is, that the extra effort required to clean up their messes had a limited duration. Also, my boss at the time was pretty good about giving praise where it was due and otherwise making it clear that he recognized our efforts.)

                7. Rat Racer*


                  I’m sure you’re right, since I’m an intermittent reader and poster to this site. But while I can recall lots of dialogue around whether it truly is impossible to fire someone from public employers (gov’t, universities in particular) I can’t remember anyone saying that they left a job because their boss wouldn’t fire their co-worker. Unless it was cited as an example of a larger pattern of managerial incompetence. Maybe those two things (ability to fire for incompetence vs. ability to manage effectively) are inextricable. That’s why I’m asking.

                8. Rat Racer*

                  …and that was meant for NeverJaunty. Sorry. Can’t keep straight now that we’ve exhausted the indentations for replies!

                9. Mike C.*

                  @Rat Racer – What about leaving a job because of a terrible manager?

                  @Katie F – I agree it’s not easy, but I think it should be considered. Maybe it’s a persona bias because this relates to what I do for a living, but it just kills me that the alternative simply isn’t considered or even guessed at. Every action and every inaction has risk, cost and opportunity to it. Too many forget this when deciding on the option of “doing nothing”.

                10. Megs*

                  @Rat Racer: Before going back to school, I worked in an office where I periodically had to interact with one of those “been here a million years and yet super-incompetent” employees. I’ll admit that I developed strategies for working around her, but it was a small enough part of my job that I wouldn’t have left over it.

                  That said, I can easily imagine having to work more closely with someone like that could create an environment so awful that I’d want to leave. I think it really depends a lot on the specifics. Also, it’s not just about “low performers,” like any workplace should just cull the bottom 10% and eventually end up with all performers. I think where you see poor moral is with those people who are so terrible they make everyone else’s job harder.

                11. Rat Racer*

                  @ Mike C. Terrible manager absolutely! And you could make the case that a manager who won’t fire bad employees is – by default – a terrible manager.

                  I’m not totally convinced that I would leave I job I otherwise loved because I had an incompetent colleague who management wouldn’t fire.

                  I did, however, quit the diving team in college because my coach refused to say anything to this one monstrous d-bag on the men’s team, who smacked me so hard on the butt with a shammy (rubber swim towel) that he drew blood. Does that count?

                12. Train*

                  Rat Racer, while I haven’t left a job solely because management kept on incompetent employees, it’s certainly been a factor in my decision to leave more than one job. At my current job I can’t move on to higher-level duties because the person who is supposed to be taking over some of my lower-level duties is incompetent at them. (She’s not anywhere in my chain of command so there’s only so much I can do. If I ran the place she wouldn’t work here, or at least not on these tasks.) Management keeps telling me to pass more work on to her, but doesn’t listen to my (well-documented) concerns about her frequent failings and doesn’t offer any solutions beyond my continuing to micromanage her, which doesn’t exactly free up much time for the higher responsibilities I’m seeking.

                  Has it influenced my job satisfaction? Absolutely, and it’s one of the strong factors leading me to consider a job search in the near future.

                13. neverjaunty*

                  @RatRacer, I think what you’re thinking of is a situation where an incompetent co-worker is just there being incompetent, and somebody who is in no real way impacted by this incompetence quits out of moral disapproval that an incompetent person is retained by the company.

                  That probably would be pretty unusual. But as a practical matter, having an incompetent person on a team does impact everyone else, in small ways ranging from morale (“why am I criticized for one small mistake when the boss doesn’t care about Fergus’ daily screw-ups?”) to workload to dragging everyone else down. When you can’t get a project done because Fergus never gets you his portion on time and when he does it’s a mess, or when you end up spending hours of extra time fixing his mistakes while he goes home at 5, then yes, people are going to quit if management won’t tell Fergus to shape up or ship out.

                14. designbot*

                  @RatRacer In my experience “refuses to fire a crappy employee” doesn’t seem to go hand in hand with “an interesting, well-paying job with sane hours and sane management.” Refusal to fire the crappy ones tends to pile work on everyone else (goodbye sane hours!) and result in a lot of misdirection at best, or inappropriate promotions and reviews at worst. The last job I left was largely due to this, and at the time I left management was taking the whole team down over their refusal to fire one person–budgets were being examined, everyone was questioned on why they worked the hours they did, how project staffing worked, etc. all because the boss was lying to cover up the fact that this person tanked the budget of every project they touched. None of it felt remotely sane.

                15. Jaune Deprez*

                  I haven’t left a job because of an incompetent coworker, but I left one job because of a congenitally nasty and obstructive coworker. This was in academia, and Nasty Coworker worked for the department chair and the department administrator. As far as anyone could tell, she spent her days shopping online and vigorously conducting vendettas against anyone who had presumed at any point to expect her to do her job.

                  This is a minor example, but I remember that I once needed to schedule the department chair to give a lecture. I sent Nasty Coworker a pleasant email saying, “Of course Busy Chair is very busy, so I’m offering her first pick of all our available dates! Which of the 17 dates below would be convenient for her?” All I got back was her responses in the body of my email:

                  1. (Date) – No
                  2. (Date) – No
                  3. (Date) – No
                  4. (Date) – No
                  5. (Date) – No
                  6. (Date) – No
                  7. (Date) – No
                  8. (Date) – No
                  9. (Date) – No
                  10. (Date) – No
                  11. (Date) – No
                  12. (Date) – No
                  13. (Date) – No
                  14. (Date) – No
                  15. (Date) – No
                  16. (Date) – No
                  17. (Date) – No

                  I then sent a separate email directly to the chair, and she replied, “Oh, put me down for anything except Date 3.”

                  This horrid woman was cosseted by management (themselves fairly horrible in other ways), and I eventually decided that if that was what they rewarded and valued, they certainly didn’t deserve me.

              2. Fafaflunkie*

                Couldn’t your organization at least have done a Title 11 claim on the frivolous plaintiff? Make that person and his/her counsel liable for wasting the court’s time, your organization’s time and all legal fees incurred? Every lawyer must do some sort of due diligence to assure a case has merit, even in ‘murica. Sure, all you’d get from the suing ex-employee would be the pot he had to piss in, but that lawyer being disbarred and suing the pants off of him would have been sweet justice.

            2. Windchime*

              It seems like it would take more money (and more often) to replace the good employees who leave because they see terrible employees being kept on way past their expiration date. That is an almost certain cost, as opposed to the boogeyman (as Mike C puts it) of a possible lawsuit.

          3. Katie F*

            Seriously. Plus, it ends up costing the company money anyway to pay the salary, benefits if they’re included, etc for an employee who is only dragging everyone down and leading to lost productivity and workplace conflict.

            I’ll never get it.

            My own example of that kind of thing was in local government, which is really its own special hell when it comes to bad employees ever seeing any level of discipline, but I see it so often in private business and I don’t understand the fear, really.

            1. Cochrane*

              The fear is more on a personal career level. If something you said or did as a manager winds up in court as “plaintiff exhibit a”, I wouldn’t count on having much of a future at that company, regardless of whether you were in the right.

          4. neverjaunty*

            It’s much easier to say ‘lawsuit bad’ than ‘we’re too chickenshit to have a tough conversation with Fergus’ or ‘we don’t actually care that Jane sexually harasses people’. Or, for that matter, ‘our HR and disciplinary process is a hot mess, and if we did get sued by Fergus we’d have no meaningful way to demonstrate that he was fired for cause’.

            1. myswtghst*

              Yes to all of this. It gives people an easy out instead of dealing with a difficult situation.

          5. EAB*

            It’s often not up to the manager to make the decision.

            My boss has an employee who very much needs to be fired but has made it clear that there would be legal action. We’ve spent months begging Legal and HR to let us terminate, and they have told us that we do not (yet) have solid enough documentation and are not allowed to fire the person.

            Legal’s worries might be overblown, but we’re still obligated to abide by them. All we can do is document everything and work toward the day when we will have an airtight case for firing-for-cause. That’s ultimately going to take more than a year, during which time it looks to our other employees like we’re just letting the situation drag on. The only thing we can do is to ask them to submit their complaints in writing “for documentation purposes”, and hope they get the hint about why we’re documenting.

            1. Mephyle*

              Is hinting really the only thing you can do? Can you not say “There is a process currently underway to deal with this. [We have to respect confidentiality, so] we can’t tell you any more, but please submit any complaints you might have; they will help contribute to the process.”

        3. sunny-dee*

          This, so much.

          I have told this before, but I knew I needed to leave dysfunctional #OldJob when my bonus was cut because another writer hadn’t completed critical work — and I had been telling his manager and mine for months that he was behind schedule. According to #OldManager, simply asking him to hit a deadline (and going to his manager when he was behind) was so demoralizing that he couldn’t be expected to work, but since it was my responsibility for the work to be done, obviously, I had to be punished.

      2. Anon for this*

        Apparently at my company, they managed to get rid of a guy who was really terrible by getting someone to come in, analyse their department and give the expert opinion that they didn’t need someone in that role. So sorry, terrible dude! Guess we have no choice but to lay you off!

        The result is that they (think they) can never hire anyone in that role again, since they justified the lay-off by saying they didn’t need it! And guess what? We need someone in the role.

    3. LW*

      Thank you! I have been giving him busywork, for the most part. I’ve sent him on boring errands that I would normally send a courier on (like delivering packages/picking up files a few blocks away).

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        I was coming here to suggest exactly this: Simple tasks he can’t mess up. Or if he does, you can send him to do them again.

      2. E*

        Also, since he is clearly mistaken on how your program works, perhaps he should spend a week or two researching and documenting how it really works?

          1. A Non*

            Be prepared for him to come back with a pile of bullcrap about how it should work, and “helpful” ideas about how to improve things, rather than understanding of how it does work. But it should keep him out of your hair for a while.

            1. Chinook*

              “Be prepared for him to come back with a pile of bullcrap about how it should work, and “helpful” ideas about how to improve things, rather than understanding of how it does work”

              At which point, LW should feel free to put it in the Circular Filing Cabinet. Depending on his attitude, she may or may not do this while he is in the room.

              1. Fafaflunkie*

                But in my country, we’re not allowed to file things in the Circular Filing Cabinet anymore. We must resort to the Blue Filing Cabinet, to protect the environment. But I guess it serves the same purpose. :D

      3. TootsNYC*

        Or, since he’s online all the time anyway, just leave him there. Ignore him. Have meeting w/ the other interns in your office without him.

        Of course if he wanders over to see what’s going on, you’ll want something you can have him do. Preferrably something on the computer, so he can get sucked into ESPN.

    4. themmases*

      I 100% agree. I have gotten jobs through connections before and so have my friends… IME the normal response is to want to start accomplishing things on your own and proving that you deserve to be there.

      That is true on the referrer side too. Once very early in my career, someoned who worked closely with my mom offered me a part-time research assistant job just because she mentioned at a party that I was job searching. Seriously, people just love my mom that much. The day before I started she called me and told me “I work with these people and You Will Not Embarrass Me.” Pretty sure she would have been fine with it if they had to fire me.

      I would not be surprised if it was fine to fire this guy. He’s an intern, which could certainly be the result of a personal favor, but he’s not exactly sitting in a corner office wearing a “My Dad’s the Boss” personalized tiara. Just because an entry level job is a result of a favor doesn’t mean the VIP meant to set you up for life.

      1. Alli525*

        he’s not exactly sitting in a corner office wearing a “My Dad’s the Boss” personalized tiara

        I’m really glad I didn’t have a mouthful when I read that… I love it so much.

      2. Joseph*

        “I would not be surprised if it was fine to fire this guy. He’s an intern, which could certainly be the result of a personal favor, but he’s not exactly sitting in a corner office wearing a “My Dad’s the Boss” personalized tiara. Just because an entry level job is a result of a favor doesn’t mean the VIP meant to set you up for life.”

        Exactly. The VIP pulling some strings to get your resume noticed in the first place is not the VIP promising to defend a horrible employee forever. Particularly since the VIP likely has no clue this is going on – after all, he only knows Bad Intern as his best friend’s son who had great grades or the guy he met through his softball team or whatever, not through anything work related.

      3. Chinook*

        “just because she mentioned at a party that I was job searching. Seriously, people just love my mom that much. The day before I started she called me and told me “I work with these people and You Will Not Embarrass Me.” Pretty sure she would have been fine with it if they had to fire me.”

        This is how I got a great job at a local newspaper – the editor mentioned they were looking to hire and my mom mentioned I was looking. I got an interview and then the job. My mom was/is one of their regular advertisers but I am positive that, if they fired me for any reason, she would have not had any issues with it whatsoever.

        Then again, this is the same woman who, as chair of the local school board, had her youngest daughter suspended for coming to school drunk. She not only was fine with it but told the first year teacher that, if her daughter had been given special treatment, she would have had huge issues with it as her boss.

    5. ThursdaysGeek*

      There are some people who would be quite happy twiddling their thumbs, especially if they are being paid. That’s never seemed to me to be a good solution for a bad worker.

      1. Katie F*

        To be honest, that advice isn’t really advice meant to make the INTERN’S life harder, but to make the LW’s life easier. If she takes away everything he can screw up and leaves him twiddling his thumbs, at least the work can get done with the good employees, and likely faster and with less effort than if they have to constantly correct the Bad Intern’s work and redo it.

        If she can’t fire him, it’s the next best solution, in my opinion.

        1. themmases*

          I agree. Coaching and correcting this guy is a time investment on the OP’s part. In a longer-term situation this would be mutually beneficial because the OP would get a more competent employee over time. In the context of a temporary job or an internship, it’s basically a favor.

          In fact it’s exactly the benefit an internship is supposed to provide, and this guy has shown that he doesn’t appreciate it and can’t or won’t use it. The OP would fire him and totally cut off the benefits of the internship if they could. The next best thing is to stop depending on him for meaningful work.

          Besides even if he is lazy that is a punishment! He’s just starting out in his career but is disinvited from meetings, isn’t networking or finding an alternate reference besides the OP, can’t say he worked on any particular project, etc.

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            Oh, I’m sure he’ll be quite willing to say that he worked on all sorts of projects. I hope the places he applies to actually call references. Since he does have an end date, then yes, it is easier on the LW. But it will be harder on the interns who are working, who see someone who is on ESPN all day and still getting paid. It sounds like the LW is also addressing that with the other interns, and if she can’t get rid of him, she’s doing the next best thing.

            But I know places (like where my spouse works), where people who mess up are moved to a side track where they can’t do any damage. They could fire people, but usually don’t. That’s so demoralizing to people who do work. They continue to be paid and “work” on projects that don’t matter and have no deliverables. Wally-type people don’t object to this at all.

      2. Serin*

        It would be horrific, except that with an intern there’s already a predefined exit date.

  4. TotesMaGoats*

    Is he doing this internship out of a school program or as a part of something your company offers? If it’s through his school then talk to them! Especially, if he is getting college credit for it. Otherwise, keep being awesome.

  5. Dennis*

    First…the term mansplaining is sexist. Second…you need to make every effort to dump this guy.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I put this down below, but I’m putting it up here so people see it before commenting further:

      Mansplaining is a term coined to describe a specific type of sexism. It refers specifically to a man explaining to a woman something the woman knows better than he does. It’s no more sexist than the term “sexism” itself is.

      I’m going to ask that we move on from this now, since it’s derailing from the post.

      (Posted at 11:43 a.m. EDT, despite the timestamp — which I note so that it’s clear that the other comments in this thread didn’t flagrantly ignore this request.)

      1. Mazzy*

        I think it is very unfortunate with all of the gender discussions that occur here that you’d both support the idea that this word is OK, and support the idea that that is one of the main issues going on here. Why can’t we just have a clueless or rude or narcissistic coworker? Also, it is very naive of all of the comments to pretend that the word doesn’t get used to shut down discussion, and also quite hypocritical on a blog where so much gender discussions occur to completely scoff at the idea that something might be, take a deep breath, disrespectful towards a man. This is really doing the blog’s credibility no favors.

        1. Myrin*

          Neither the LW nor Alison said anything about this guy being condescending towards women in particular being “one of the main issues going on here”. It’s just one data point regarding issues that make him a pain to work with.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          What Myrin said, and the term describes a specific sexist behavior. It’s been discussed thoroughly below, and it’s taking over the thread and derailing from the letter.

      1. a nony mouse*

        If it was just a problem with his interacting with women, then yes, mansplaining may be an appropriate description, but since he does it to everyone, males included, condescending is a better term.

        1. KR*

          I didn’t gather from the article that he tries to explain things to the other male intern, just the OP (female) and the third intern, who is also female. I did see that he tried to boss the other male intern around, but that’s a separate thing.

          1. Aurion*

            If I’m understanding the genders correctly, (Good( MA Intern is female, Good (Undergrad) Intern is male, OP is female, and Bad (Undergrad) Intern is male.

            I don’t love the term mansplaining, but I think it has a very specific connotation to describe very gendered behaviour. It sounds like Bad Intern bossed Good Intern around and tried to speak for both of them as if he knows all. So my guess is that he has tried to explain things to the male Good Intern just by nature of the “I know more than you, hence why I’m giving you directions” train of thought.

            But even with that, I think mansplaining still applies when Bad Intern is talking to the OP, because he’s completely ignoring OP’s position as his boss as he tries to explain things to her. I assume OP knows the difference between general condescension to all (which sounds like it applies to this intern in spades) and the specific gendered condescension on top of that directed at women. So I think mansplaining still applies for Bad Intern talking to MA Intern or OP, even if he’s being a condescending explaining ass to Good Intern as well.

    2. super anon*

      While I won’t go as far as to say it is sexist, I say that I’ve never particularly liked the term. It’s a word designed to silence men and to shame them for speaking and is incredibly dismissive, and to me, it goes against the message that feminism is supposed to be all about, which is equality. I’ve also seen people use it as a trump card to end arguments when the person on the receiving end hasn’t been mansplaining at all.. so that likely colours it for me too.

      We already have perfectly good words to explain this intern’s behaviour, which would be infuriating and inappropriate coming from either gender. OP is putting so much emphasis on his “mansplaining”, and I suspect that framing his inappropriate behaviour that way is putting her even more at BEC level with him, because of how loaded that term is. Perhaps reframing it in her head as a behaviour problem in general, rather than associating gender with it will help her to be (slightly) less annoyed.

      1. LW*

        I think it *is* gender related, though. I’m his superior, and he feels entitled to talk over me. One of the incidents that I didn’t include in the letter involved me giving a project to both undergrads to work on together, and when I asked them to type the information into Excel, he cut me off, looked at the other intern, and said “we’ll just scan what we’ve done.” As I was speaking.

        1. Francis J. Dillon*

          Yeah, no, you gotta fire him. You’d honestly be doing you org (and, actually him) a disservice. I think you have a big sexist problem, but even if everyone here was all the same gender this insubordination is so, so whack.

          You need to know the company has your back when you make the decision to fire someone.

          Both interns (the man and woman) need to know that you understand he’s behaving badly, and will not let that fly.

          But really, this intern needs a good kick in the pants. You can’t behave that way in the working world. Even if you’re the CEO’s son.

        2. animaniactoo*

          That’s the point when I would have quietly taken him aside and said “Do you understand that I am your boss? You do what I ask you to do. If you think I’ve given a bad instruction, you are welcome to ask me if it can be done another way, or if I have considered X problem or Y solution. And then at the end of the day, you do what I tell you to do. Even if you think I’m wrong. If I tell you to type it, you will type it not scan it. Because that is how I want it done.

          *I* will be the one evaluating you and your work, and submitting your review. Showing such a blatant lack of respect for me and lack of understanding of what each of our roles are here is going to guarantee that you are not going to get a good review. What you do from here on is your choice – but don’t make the mistake of thinking that I’m not in a position of authority over you, that you don’t have to answer to me while you are here, and that this won’t affect you after you leave.” Firmly, calmly, with no apology.

          1. LW*

            I addressed it immediately … but I didn’t quietly take him aside. I’m beyond that point with him. I addressed it right then and there with Good Intern next to him. I interrupted *him* to say that handwritten, scanned pages were not acceptable work product here, and he needed to use Excel so we could use this in the future. That’s when he decided to use Google Docs, which is absolutely forbidden here because of data security issues.

            I love your script, though! I imagine I might be using it in the future. ;)

            1. Sammy*

              I find products designed to ape Office but not be Office awful to work with. Did…did he do that just to spite you?

                1. LW*

                  Which would have been reasonable if you hadn’t undergone extensive info security training. ;)

            2. TootsNYC*

              I do think that script of “Do you understand that I am your boss?” is pretty powerful, and if you haven’t had that conversation, I almost think you owe it to him to do so.

              It’s not about whether the scanned pages are acceptable.

              It’s about “I am your boss, and you do not contradict me.”

        3. super anon*

          I guess what I am trying to get at is that there could be a lot of reasons why he is behaving like this, such as:

          – a total lack of social awareness
          – he is is genuinely sexist and hates listening to women speak
          – he is narcissistic and truly believes he is smarter than everyone regardless of gender
          – he sees your dept as being less than other departments because it is a charity arm
          – he believes he can behave badly and suffer no consequences because of his connection to the VP

          And I could go on. What I am trying to get at is that your response to this inappropriate behaviour would be the same regardless of the gender of or the the intent of the offender. An inappropriate behaviour is happening, and you need it to stop. The way you approach him cutting you off, or telling the other interns what to do, or being wildly out of line would be the same regardless of the place the behaviour is coming from. I think the desire to fixate on gender and mansplaining as the cause doesn’t solve the issue and has the potential to make you less objective when dealing with him in the future.

          I realize it can be difficult to turn off the knee-jerk “of course a man is explaining this to me because I am a woman” response, and it may very well be a valid one. But I think fixating on it will do nothing but make you more frustrated in the long run. Reframing how you look at the issue may save you a lot of frustration over the summer if you truly can’t do anything about him.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’d ask, though, that we trust the OP to have the most accurate read on the situation since she is the one there to see what’s going on.

            1. super anon*

              I agree – I was simply trying to give a way for OP to deal with the inevitable frustration that comes along with this situation if she really, and truly can’t do anything to change it. I find reframing things to be really helpful in helping to cope with a situation that can’t be changed. I’m not trying to imply that she doesn’t have an accurate read on her situation, and I don’t know if there’s a way for me to adequately explain what I am getting at.

              Perhaps someone more eloquent than I can do a better job explaining, as I’ve never been particularly good at discussing complex subjects.

          2. AW*

            You really have no reason to accuse the OP of being “fixated” on gender or of having a “knee-jerk” response.

          3. LW*

            I think it’s a combination of all of the things that you list except the last one – he really thinks that he’s here on merit. The man who referred him is a genuinely nice person and asked us to take Bad Intern on as a favor.

            His behavior is rooted in sexism, to be sure. I appreciate the advice, but it’s hard not to see him as a sexist when he only does this to women.

            It’s completely bizarre to me that I get more respect from our CEO than my own intern.

        4. TootsNYC*

          me giving a project to both undergrads to work on together, and when I asked them to type the information into Excel, he cut me off, looked at the other intern, and said “we’ll just scan what we’ve done.” As I was speaking.

          Tell this specific story to the VIP when you talk with them. This is a very specific behavior.

      2. super anon*

        I want to add that I can also see this becoming wildly off-topic and a bit of a pile-on to the OP who made this comment… I’m going to try my best not to get too off-topic to any replies I get here, and I’m not going to get into a debate on the term itself, but instead stick to discussions around my last paragraph.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          I suspect that framing his inappropriate behaviour that way is putting her even more at BEC level with him, because of how loaded that term is. Perhaps reframing it in her head as a behaviour problem in general, rather than associating gender with it will help her to be (slightly) less annoyed.

          Okay, let’s focus on your last paragraph then, and the way you’ve managed to smoothly imply that the LW is not being rational here and is reacting emotionally to the use of a word that is, frankly, pretty damn accurate to describe what’s going on both in the letter and in her comments. “Even more” at BEC level with him?

      3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        When men routinely talk over women, equality means those men have got to shut up sometimes. If that’s silencing and shaming, well, that’s how it shakes out.

        1. Katie F*

          I read the results of a study once that found overwhelmingly that when men speak nearly all of the time, the men in a meeting will read that as “normal” and “Default”, but when women speak approximately 30% of the time, men tend to read it as women “taking over” the meeting.

          This is definitely one long-term hurdle in the workplace we need to get over.

          “Mansplaining” IS gendered, but that is because the men who do it invariably are very gendered with it. It’s a very particular type of interruption/talking over/pretending the woman they are speaking to knows nothing. It’s a very real problem, and I think every woman here has probably dealt with it both professionals and personally more times than she can count.

          1. Myrin*

            A big YES to your last paragraph. And also – and I bet many women will have the same experience – I can actually tell if a guy is being condescending to me just because or if he’s mansplaining to me – I don’t just go around and call every patronising guy I encounter a mansplainer; while both are terribly annoying and frustrating and I don’t necessarily react differently to them, they do feel different.

            1. BarefootLibrarian*

              I agree a 101%. I don’t know many women in my profession who haven’t encountered this phenomenon at least once or twice and I work in a largely female dominated profession. There is a big difference between simply being generally condescending and “mansplaining” in a sexist manner. It’s a pretty obvious difference too. I think we have to take the OP at her word here that she knows the difference.

      4. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

        It isn’t condescending though. A superior can be condescending. You can be right and condescending. This is an inferior acting like he knows everything and ignoring both his boss and someone with objectively more knowledge than he has. Condescending is about tone, this guy has a complete mind-set problem.

      5. Sue Wilson*

        It’s a word designed to silence men and to shame them for speaking and is incredibly dismissive
        If men are participating more than equality would permit, then yes they do have to be told to shut up. If they’re shamed by not being empathetic enough to know or acknowledge when they’re being sexist, then so be it. Yes, feminism is about equality, which includes pointing out when men specifically reject that equality when communicating information.

      6. TootsNYC*

        I see the LW has responded, but I just wanted to say–I thought we were supposed to give LWs the benefit of the doubt, and not pick their letters apart.
        If she chose that term, used it twice in fact, then it’s probably a pretty accurate reflection of what she thinks is going on.

        1. The Strand*

          I’m really glad you brought that up. It seems that lately, the “nitpicking” has been growing.

    3. ORLY NOW*

      As a woman, I agree. I know using catty to describe a woman is looked down up at this site. Mansplaining its the male equivalent.
      It’s dismissive and intended to shut men up and “put them in their place”, which is stupid. The guy was being condescending, call it what it is instead of trying to look cool by using trendy words and show how “bad ass” (oh the lulz) you are for not taking crap from a man.

      1. Myrin*

        Are you seriously talking about men being “put in their place”? Because the place men as a group inhabit in our society is, sadly, still way above a woman’s place. What on earth even. I feel like I just fell into some kind of parallel universe where women are the more powerful and privileged group.

      2. BB8*

        Women in the workplace are described as much worse that “catty” to put them in their place. How many words can you think of that degrade men in the workplace?

      3. LW*

        It’s actually *not* equivalent. My intern is acting like he thinks he knows better than I do because he’s male and I’m female.

      4. Kate*

        It is absolutely not intended to “shut men up” or “put them in their place”. It refers to men who communicate in a condescending or patronizing manner particularly when speaking to women. I work with mostly men who often explain things to me in a courteous and professional manner, and thus are not mansplaining. While the term is certainly gendered, and that may be reason enough not to use it, claiming it is meant to silence men is a very twisted interpretation of what it actually means.

      5. TootsNYC*

        Well, I think “catty” exists. And I think that it’s done mostly by women (but not only; and I’ve heard the term used to describe what a man has done). It’s not done by ALL women, and often the term is used to shame or silence women who have legitimate criticisms.

        And “mansplaining” exists, and it’s done mostly by men (though women do it–ever seen some woman try to explain to a dad how to diaper?). It’s not done by ALL men, not at all, and yes, I do think it gets used to shame or silence men who have legitimate contributions to the conversation.

        But it’s real.

    4. Artemesia*

      Yeah but it is such a real phenomenon. In a world where misogyny drives so much of our politics and women deal with this phenomenon so much in the workplace, it is such a useful concept.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Mansplaining is a term coined to describe a specific type of sexism. It refers specifically to a man explaining to a woman something the woman knows better than he does. It’s no more sexist than the term “sexism” itself is. I’m going to ask that we move on from this now, since it’s derailing from the post.

      1. Sophistry?*

        A philosophical problem might arise by equating innate sexism between the two terms (“mansplaining” & “sexism”.) I think most who would exercise honest reflection MIGHT disagree, and you could run the risk of losing potential readers if things are not allowed to be questioned and discussed when (certain members find it) necessary. If a letter-writer does not wish for their concerns to be derailed, then (any letter-writer,) don’t repeatedly use statements/terms that might spark another discussion. Her use of the term could very well be applicable to this intern; I’ve seen such types countless times.

        ORLY NOW’s intuitive (not necessarily accurate, but intuitive) observations about the letter-writer’s inclinations to repeat the term certainly don’t seem baseless. I’ve observed such behavior countless times.

        1. Sophistry?*

          For the record, my concerns really aren’t all that philosophical. I’d like to continue to see you maintain a very wide spectrum of readers; this site is a goldmine, and reader-retention plays a huge role in continuing such development.

        2. CA Admin*

          This is Alison’s site. She gets to set the rules. If this is where she decides to put boundaries, we need to respect it. Not debate whether her rules are the right ones. This is not public property. Nor a democracy.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I hear and appreciate the concern, and it’s fine to do some exploring of that sort of thing — but there’s a point where it starts to take over the thread in a way that derails from the letter itself. It’s a judgment call where that point is, but that’s the point where I tend to step in and ask people to move on.

      1. AnonAcademic*

        I did this to my husband once (over something silly) and we refer to it as the time I womansplained mansplaining to him.

    6. Grey*

      If I’ve learned anything from the working women here, it’s to take them at their word when they say something is sexist or offensive. For example, it never would have occurred to me that “working girl” was in any way sexist or offensive. But since it seems to be a phrase that women don’t like, I’ll respect the opinion and not use it. For good measure, I’ve also taken the term “boss lady” out of my of vocabulary even though, to me, it’s no different than “boss man”.

      My point is that consideration should go both ways. I also find “mansplaining” a bit sexist and it’s a bit condescending to hear the opposite gender dismiss that opinion with, “Oh, it is not”. It’s one thing to explain why you disagree. It’s another to flat out tell us we’re wrong.

      1. Grey*

        This was written before I refreshed the page and saw Alison’s comment above. My apologies.

      2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Here’s the thing, though. It’s referring to a sexist phenomenon that we experience and that you, as a dude, do not. There are a ton of comments in this post breaking down the concept of ‘mansplaining’ and how it is a very, very gendered thing. Saying “oh, well, that’s kind of sexist” is completely missing the point of the term, because you’re basically complaining that calling out sexism is sexist.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Sadly, that’s an idea that’s out there in our public discourse right now. Point out something -ist, and hear back “You’re the REAL -ist here!” I think it started as a rhetorical device for some pundits who didn’t necessarily really believe it, but they convinced a lot of people for real.

        2. Jaguar*

          (Some) men totally talk s*** to other men. My overwhelming response to the idea of “mansplaining” is that it’s not a thing only women encounter. If I think about the people that try to talk down women or try to assert their hierarchy over women, they do it to other men as well. When the debate flares up here (or elsewhere) over the term, none of the explanations offered don’t also apply to cases where men (and women!) do it to other men. Is it less of an issue for men (according to women)?

          1. ElCee*

            Well yes, there are absolutely men who talk with false confidence and knowledge to women specifically because they are women, whether they’re aware they’re doing it or not (and many times the mansplainer is not aware that he is mansplaining). Talking shit and mansplaining are different not in their content but in the biases behind them and, indeed, their audience. Which is women. So yes. It’s less of an issue for men. Hope this helps.

            1. Jaguar*

              It doesn’t.

              I used “talking shit” as a way of getting away from the term that already has gender built into it. If you define mansplanning as a thing “a specific thing that happens across genders only in the instance of men doing it to women,” that’s completely circular to the argument of it not being a gendered term at best (and an outright admission that it’s a sexist term). I disagree strongly with the idea that people act this way to different genders for completely different reasons.

              We’ve gotten to the point that we acknowledge that each gender can sexually assault, sexually abuse, discriminate against each other, etc., even if they happen disproportionately to women. Why is this thing something only men do only to women?

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                As I said above, this has begun to derail from the letter and I’ve asked that discussion of this point move on as this is not what the letter is primarily about.

              2. Kelly L.*

                Of course it’s a gendered term. It is about a way that (some) men treat women. It is specifically about that particular type of situation. It’s not sexist; it describes a form of sexism.

                The term does not have to encompass every type of assholery to be a useful one. There are all kinds of ways to be an asshole. Mansplaining is one of them. It’s a subset. Does the existence of the word “rectangle” mean it’s not still useful to have the word “square”?

              3. Kyrielle*

                But we’re not claiming that. Being a condescending ass is something anyone can do to anyone.

                But “mansplaining” describes a specific phenomenon in which men do it to women and *those men do it only to women, because they are women*. Do we sometimes probably think it’s mansplaining when we have only brief exposure, and really, it’s a clueless jerk? Probably. But in other cases you have longer exposure and can observe that this behavior only occurs from that man *to women* – to a man in a similar position, he gives the appropriate respect and listening. (The male Good Intern in this case isn’t a “man in a similar position” in that he is not in authority – but the LW used the term “mansplaining” and I assume that men in authority roles haven’t been observed to get this treatment, which I think I also saw confirmed in another comment by LW somewhere in here.)

                Not all men do this. Maybe not most. You have men who are appropriately respectful regardless of the gender of the person they talk to, men who are not again regardless of gender, and the ones who treat men and women differently, generally being highly condescending to women, to the point of ignoring their authority and knowledge. That last one is the arena in which mansplaining exists. And yes, you also have women who are appropriate/inappropriate in their respect for people. If there are any in the third category, I wouldn’t expect it to be because they think they’re superior because of their gender, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find they’d internalized some of the same sexism that drives the dynamic under discussion here.

                And yes, it is a gendered term. But not a sexist term. It is necessarily gendered because it is _describing a gendered imbalance in an interaction/type of interaction_. It’s describing a type of sexism which, yes, is of course gendered.

                If men who treat women with vastly less respect than they do men of similar knowledge/background don’t want to be called out on that fact, they should not do it. But it is the fact that they _are_ doing it that is being called out by the term.

                1. Kyrielle*

                  Argh, sorry Alison! I should have left this alone, and I didn’t see your re-iteration until my comment went through. My apologies. :(

        3. Mazzy*

          No it’s not. It’s saying that if a man does it to a man, there is no word for it. If he does it to a woman, suddenly it’s sexism. In other words, men have to have different types of conversations with women to avoid their discourse being labelled mansplaining, according to your logic.

          1. Myrin*

            Of course there is a word for a man behaving condescendingly towards another man: it’s called being condescending or patronising. It isn’t “suddenly […] sexism” if he’s doing it to a woman – it is a form of sexist behaviour if he is being condescending because the other person is a woman and he believes himself to be more knowledgeable because he is a man; it’s not sexism if he’s being condescending to everyone, men and women included. And obviously there is no word that spefically names man-on-man condescension because such a thing doesn’t exist. No man will be patronising towards another man because the other person is a man (because they’re on evil footing here). Surely that is not a difficult concept?

            1. Myrin*

              Oh my, they’re on equal footing, not an evil one. I mean, they might be, but that’s not what I wanted to say.

  6. Stephanie*

    If you can’t discipline or fire him, I agree you should have a come-to-Jesus talk with him. At the very least, take some solace in the fact that he’ll be gone in a month or so.

    1. AnotherHRPro*

      I agree that if the OP hasn’t done this already, she needs to have an in depth performance conversation. I’m not sure it will do any good, but by doing so you give Bad Intern a chance at learning from this.

      1. Mabel*

        I was thinking this, too. It shouldn’t have to be the OPs job to tell an intern to have good hygiene and not chew with his mouth open, but how many times have we heard about this sort of behavior on AAM? So maybe someone does need to tell him these basic things. It’s an internship after all – where clueless folks are supposed to learn how to comport themselves in a professional setting (among many other things). By now, though, it might be impossible because he has so thoroughly annoyed the OP. If I were her, I’d have a hard time giving this kind of guidance to someone like this doofus.

    2. OhNo*

      It wouldn’t be a bad thing to have a performance chat with all of the interns, honestly. Let the good ones know that they are doing well, and that they are handling the bad coworker the way they should be, let them know what your reference will say, and maybe point out that this experience will be good for those “tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a coworker” interview questions.

      For the bad intern, just let him have it. He may not listen this time, but if he’s got any kind of sense he’ll eventually notice a pattern in the feedback he’s getting – but someone has to be the first, so that might as well be the OP.

      1. Pineapple Incident*

        Late to the party, but this is a really good point. Being sure to formally affirm the good interns can’t hurt here, especially since LW was concerned with ruining their summer interning experience.

    3. Jaune Deprez*

      I have previously achieved good results by sitting a pain-in-the-ass trainee down and going over a copy of his evaluation form with him. “These are the areas in which I’ll be formally evaluating you next month, and these are the ratings that I’d be giving you if I were completing this form today. How do YOU think you’re doing in terms of accepting direction, communicating professionally, and contributing to the work of the multidisciplinary team? Because I think you’re failing to meet our standard.” He was defensive and aggrieved during the meeting and spectacularly sulky for the rest of the week, but after that he pulled himself together and gave a much improved performance for the rest of his term. I’m not sure if the LW’s intern has that much insight and humility, but it might be worth a try.

  7. AdAgencyChick*

    The one thing I would add is: OP didn’t mention whether in addition to telling Bad Intern, “don’t do this,” she has also told Good Interns to say no if he gives them things to do. If not, I would do this.

    1. Christopher Tracy*

      This. The interns should definitely know they can say no to this jerk and should keep telling the OP when he tries it.

      Dude is a mess.

    2. Kyrielle*

      I think she did, based on this: “I have worked with Good Intern, and he will not take any instructions from Bad Intern.”

    3. LW*

      Oh I absolutely have! I’ve also told them to let me know if he tries, and not to ask him any questions about processes etc.

    1. The IT Manager*

      Mansplaining is a portmanteau of the words man and explaining, defined as “to explain something to someone, typically a man to woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.”[1][2] Lily Rothman of The Atlantic defines it as “explaining without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer, often done by a man to a woman,”[3] and feminist author and essayist Rebecca Solnit ascribes the phenomenon to a combination of “overconfidence and cluelessness.”[4]

      Through the use of the gender-specific reference to “man” this term has been referred to by some critics as inherently sexist.[5][6][7][8][9]

      From wikipedia

      1. Turanga Leela*

        I have a meta example. Someone on my facebook feed shared a humorous video about mansplaining, and a guy commented, “Yeah well there are also plenty of other instances when men can never get a word in. So this is an asshole thing not a gender thing. It just so happens there are a lot of male assholes in high positions. When that changes I’m sure there will be plenty of women doing it to men. I actually saw one such instance yesterday at my board meeting chaired by a female VP.”

        I was dying to respond, “Thanks for explaining that to us.”

      2. Sydney Bristow*

        As I understand it, people came up with it in response to a Rebecca Solnit article called Men Explain Things to Me. In the article she recounts being at a party and discussing a historical figure she had just written a book about with an older man. The older man kept interrupting her to say that she had to read this excellent important new book on the figure and talking down to her about her comments on the figure. Turned out, she had written the important new book and he had simply read a review of it.

        My rebelling of her story isn’t great. I encourage people to go read it!

      3. Artemesia*

        The classic example I have seen was a very condescending academic saying to a fellow academic when she mentioned an interest in X, ‘oh you really should look at the new work by Y ‘ and yammered on and on explaining this to her. As he yammered on the third person in the conversation did his best to let him know that the woman he was talking to had WRITTEN THAT BOOK. And intern constantly overriding and explaining things to his boss who is a woman is another classic example.

    2. Macedon*

      Men falsely, pointlessly or condescendingly correcting or explaining things to women in such a way that emphasizes the latter’s opinions are worthless in light of their gender.

      1. Edith*

        Bonus points if the man is in a subordinate position, further bonus points if the woman is an authority in the subject. Neither of these things enter the mind of the mainsplainer. Through the haze of entitlement and male privilege they see it as them gracing the target with their clearly superior knowledge.

        1. BRR*

          Perfect score if it’s on a something that a woman likely knows more about such as a woman’s reproductive system or bras and the man isn’t a gynecologist or bra specialist.

          1. Allison*

            Do NOT get me started on the guy I dated last year who kept telling me I was wearing the wrong bra, and went to far as to tell me my “real” size even though the bras I’d been wearing felt fine. At first I smiled and nodded and said I’d look into it, but eventually I had to give him a firm “these are my boobs and I will decide what goes on them” talk.

          2. DeskBird*

            Or sexism. Having men explain sexism to you is the worst. Or why catcalling is a compliment and shouldn’t make me uncomfortable.

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              Or how my one usually-better-than-this male friend decided to explain to me, an abuse survivor, why women (specifically women) stay in abusive relationships with men (specifically men). Soooo much evolutionary psychology, ugh. (As if women are never abusers, and/or men are never abused?? Really?? But no, it’s all about how women are wired to want strong men even when those strong men treat them like shit, totally.)

              1. Is It Performance Art*

                Evopsych explanations drive me up the wall. I have a graduate degree in the biological sciences and have had several men whose last science class was physics for poets “explain” to me that I really didn’t understand science because I’m skeptical of their evopsych explanations. Apparently my concerns about experimental design, statistical significance and p-hacking are a result of my lady-brain’s inability to be logical rather than years of training.

            2. Allison*

              Ohhh boy I’ve had this. A friend once told me that he knew getting catcalled sucked, but if I thought of it as a compliment I’d feel better about it. He really thought he was helping.

            3. Katie F*

              Men explaining what “counts” as sexism to women is one of the stranger conversational topics that come up surprisingly often in the workplace…

              1. nofelix*

                Hate this topic so much. Same with racism etc. People cling hard to imaginary prejudice-free life bubbles and are loath to admit anything but the most severe problems even exist.

    3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      The manifestation of many men’s assumptions that anything they have to say is automatically valuable and of interest to the women they’re speaking to, and they must be better-informed than those women on whatever the subject is.

      The OP actually gave a good example of it right in the letter.

      how one of our partner programs, a program that I interned for and work closely with now, works … completely incorrectly. He didn’t even understand the population that program serves.

    4. Allison*

      It’s a version of condescention, and describes the cultural phenomenon wherein men often explain things to women under the assumption that these women know nothing about the topic. This was coined after Rebecca Sonlit was at dinner with a man who, after she’d said she wrote a book about a topic, acted like that was sooooo cute and then proceeded to talk down to her about a very interesting book he’d read about that very topic, unaware that that book was the one she’d written.

      Another, more recent high-profile example is the time Gail Simone was in line to see the Deadpool movie, and a man she’d never met before came up to her and just started telling her who Deadpool was, under the assumption she didn’t know anything about comics.

      1. Katie F*

        How Gail Simone hasn’t just started lighting these guys on fire is beyond me. She has dealt with an incredible amount of misogyny in her seriously brilliant career.

        1. Sue Wilson*

          Gail said that she hadn’t been offended by the person, and chalked it up to a superfan being superexcited, but the number of women who had similar stories was mind-boggling.

    5. STX*

      It is a portmanteau coined in 2008 based on the writings of author Rebecca Solnit to describe a particular phenomenon she had repeatedly witnessed. In her essay “Men Explain Things to Me,” she describes, as an illustration of the phenomenon, meeting the host of a party and telling him that she was a writer and had just published a book on some obscure subject. He proceeded to relate all he had learned about that obscure subject from reading a NYT Book Review of her own book! Even though, as he was repeatedly informed, he was standing in the presence of the very expert he was citing!

      Solnit identifies mansplaining as a silencing technique used by some men that is intended to reinforce that women never know what they’re talking about, and that women are passive listeners while men are active speakers.

  8. animaniactoo*

    My son worked for my company for awhile. It was his first job, and I knew that he was okay as somebody to train, but that nobody should be expecting him to be an excellent employee off the bat. I knew there was a shot that he’d bring too much attitude/lack of self-motivated effort to the job.

    I made it clear to the person he would be working under that he would need training and it was fine not to hire him and that if he wasn’t working out it was equally fine to fire him. It was okay but problematical, and might have gotten better if he wasn’t laid off during a department restructuring. But that also gave me the opportunity to be clear to him that I know my company and if he’d been a stellar employee, they’d have found a way to shift him to somewhere else in the company.

    So – just a view from being on the other side here.

  9. DeskBird*

    I would really like to see a follow up on this one – however it goes. Mostly I would love to know there is karma in the universe and you get permission to fire this guy – but either way, please let us know how it goes.

    The fact that you are working to defend and protect your good interns goes a long way to making their experience much better for them than it could have been. You sound like an awesome manager!

  10. LW*

    Thank you so much for answering my letter, Alison! I really appreciate the advice and all the comments. It makes me feel good to know that I’m not alone in this.

    1. Me2*

      LW, please give us an update if and when you talk with the high ranking person to whom Bad Intern is related. You sound like an awesome supervisor who is trying to give your interns a successful experience, I’m sure you won’t let Bad Intern spoil it for the other two.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      You have my deepest sympathy. The worst employee I ever had was related to a very influential person in my company, and, while I was ultimately allowed to fire them, it took a lot of political wrangling not to have blowback from it. I was helped by the fact that the former employee wasn’t just bad, they were spectacularly bad in front of some of the referrer’s peers, but it still wasn’t pretty.

      Hopefully, your VP gets it and is of the mind that he/she is opening a door but it’s up to the intern to make the most of that opportunity and not someone who expects you to keep on someone who is not doing work that is up to snuff and is making life difficult for your other folks who are performing well. I think a lot of people would be more embarrassed that their referral screwed up rather than angry at the manager for not “knowing who they are”, but you just never know.

      For what it’s worth, I think you’re doing all the right things by not allowing the behavior and actively managing the situation. That’s tough to do.

    3. Ignis Invictus*

      LW – when he starts interrupting you / talking over you, have you tried a direct, non-pride sparing approach? Is something like “HisName, HisName, HisName (repeat until he stops talking). Do not interrupt me again.” then continuing with whatever instructions you were giving him / all the interns, an approach you’ve tried already? I’m all for pride sparing (i.e. taking him aside and addressing his behavior without an audience) but it sounds like you have tried that and he’s to clueless or entitled for it to sink in. I got the name repetition trick from “Dealing With People You Can’t Stand” it’s weirdly effective when people perpetually interrupt me.

  11. Jessie*

    If you can’t get rid of him, try giving him more menial (but not degrading) responsibilities and explain clearly that the reason is because his work is substandard. Give him a chance to prove that he’s capable of the more difficult assignments.

    As to the hygiene, I feel like that can be faced directly too, although generally in that case some sensitivity is required. It’s generally better received (or less poorly received) to suggest that someone’s clothes are a little musky vs. suggesting that their body stinks.

    As for chewing loudly with his mouth open … I get it. I hate hate hate chewing sounds. But I also had a college roommate who I knew really struggled with chewing with her mouth closed for medical reasons and have worked with people from other cultures where that’s the norm. I think that’s one thing to let go.

    1. newby*

      This is what busy work is for. Try to find something that is not time sensitive (or not even necessarily needed) that he can just keep revising until it is correct. Maybe even make something up that if he does a good job would be helpful but not something that you would normally devote time to.

    2. Karo*

      I agree that she shouldn’t hold the chewing against him. That said, OP, I think you’re totally justified in choosing to not bring him to future professional lunches. Intern has shown that he can’t behave in a professional setting, he shouldn’t get a chance to behave poorly as a representative of this company. Instead, you should continue bringing the good interns as a reward for not being awful people.

    3. Pwyll*

      You bring up something that I was considering. Is the smell and table manners potentially a culture thing, or is it a disgusting college kid thing? Certainly that would affect how it might be addressed.

      For example, a colleague has been telling me about her “kid” brother, who grew up with extended family overseas in a decidedly male-dominated culture, and is now in college in the US. He has struggled BIG TIME with female superiors, and has received feedback about his table manners and body odor. Doesn’t help he’s also the golden child in his parents’ view. In that case, the discussion may be better had about what cultural norms are in a US business place related to hygiene, food, and interaction. And if this is someone very new to the US, OP may want to get a male peer of hers (or a superior of hers) to join her for the meeting, whose ONLY input would be to shut down Intern if he interrupts her and explain that Inter’s performance is being evaluated based on his interactions with ALL superiors and peers, regardless of gender. For some reason, colleague’s brother just couldn’t wrap his head around it until a male superior shut down his condescending attitude toward women in the office.

      If we’re talking about a US kid with gross habits, though, I think you shut that down much more harshly. “I understand things in college are a bit different and you can simply roll out of bed and go to class, but in a professional workplace we expect people to come to work showered and dressed appropriately.” And maybe a more muted discussion about the difference between eating alone and eating in a business lunch (which some people just never have exposure to).

      1. LW*

        It’s not a cultural thing, but a disgusting college kid thing. He’ll show up with his shirt half tucked in, like he slept in his clothes.

        My department is really tiny. My boss is female, and I don’t have any peers!

        1. Pwyll*

          Frankly, I’d tell him he needs to arrive looking professional, which includes having showered and his clothing not wrinkled and tucked in, and next time I saw him arrive disheveled I’d send him home.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I wouldn’t have a problem saying that being prepared for the work day includes showering and neat attire. I agree that I would sent him home and say that he is not prepared for work today.

            My thinking is that if you do not take care of basics, you put yourself out there to hear about where you responsibilities are. Of course, I would do this in situations that are wildly out of norms but I would not do this on the basis of one bad day. LW, the situation you describe here means to me the gloves are off and continued candor is the route to go. He seems to have no understanding that you are the boss and what it means when the boss speaks. He seems unteachable, I cannot think of a worse employee than one who is not teachable.

      2. fposte*

        I don’t know that it has to make a difference, actually. “We expect you to shower every day and comb your hair” is equally suitable to a college kid and a Slobovian immigrant.

        1. Pwyll*

          Oh, agreed, I was more referring to the idea that you’d phrase the rest of the conversation differently, not ignore it. That said, I’ve met professionals from other countries who appeared quite showered, yet still smelled different, I imagine as a result of different diets. Or who had never heard of deodorant before (but had clearly showered that morning).

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, that can get into a grey area–I’m not going to tell somebody to scrub until they don’t smell like smoke or fish or asofetida or garlic (mm, garlic). But I probably would add “and use deodorant” to the list, now that I think about it.

        2. many bells down*

          Having JUST had this argument with my teenage son yet AGAIN, I feel this so hard. I was just telling him he won’t be able to get the job he wants if he refuses to shower ever.

          1. Windchime*

            I had this conversation with my then-teenaged son, too.

            Me: “Honey, time to hop in the shower. I’m noticing a little BO.”
            Son: “Nobody else has said anything about it.”
            Me: “When you smell someone stinky, do you tell them?”
            Son: “No.”
            …..goes off to take a shower.

          2. Ignis Invictus*

            *considers not commenting… decides this is too good not to share* The columnist Dan Savage had the best advice ever on getting a heterosexual teenage boy to take personal hygiene seriously, he advised informing the offending teen (paraphrasing here, Dan was a bit more explicit) “honey, you’ll get more female interest if you smell and taste nice.”

            1. many bells down*

              Unfortunately, this kid has no interest in girls other than whether or not they play Minecraft or Gmod. I did tell him that “even computer programmers have to shower to get a job.” Because that’s basically the only thing he cares about.

              1. Fafaflunkie*

                The fact you know what Minecraft or Garry’s Mod are speaks volumes about your dealings with your son.

      3. Jessie*

        How someone treats female coworkers is a bit different from having to relearn how you chew your food.

    4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      The chewing loudly with mouth open thing… that’s not just about hating the sounds, though. It’s legitimately a part of basic table etiquette, and that is the kind of thing that, yes, is pretty important when you’re having an important lunch meeting. And if it were in isolation — say, coming from someone who showed evidence of understanding basic etiquette in other areas — then yes, it’d be something to let go, but to me it sounds a lot more like he has general overall disregard for his self-presentation and anything even remotely approaching manners.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Oh, and to add — recognizing cultural norms can vary would affect how the LW should address it, but not whether or not she should at all. It’s a part of going overseas that you have to recognize and adapt to different cultural norms, and in general conform to whatever norm is in place where you are, at least with regard to things that directly impact the comfort levels of those around you. For example, there are parts of the world where tipping is considered insulting. It’s a norm for Americans, but when they travel to one of those other places, it’s their job to a) be aware of that, and b) not tip. When in Rome, you know?

  12. Allison*

    Woah, are you one of my dance friends? Because this sounds like a problem she’d have at work . . . or in class, come to think of it.

    Either way, good on you for holding firm right now, and I hope you resolve this soon. Internships are great for “shaping” people before the enter the work world, cluing them into how things work and fixing bad habits before they get too bad, but that only works when an intern is willing to listen to constructive feedback. If he already figures he’s amazing, and it’s now his job to teach others, it’ll be darn near impossible to help him straighten up and fly right. I agree with others, you should approach the person who referred him and let them know, there is a small chance they’ll get angry with you for not seeing how great he is, but that’s unlikely and it’s worth the risk, because if you don’t try you’ll definitely be stuck with this screwball all summer.

  13. BRR*

    I think that the lw is handling him really well but for the interrupting would it not be better to address it more directly than just keep talking over him. If it’s in a group situation something about finishing their thought or in a one on one situation just saying “you need to not interrupt me as I’m telling you what needs to be fixed in your report.” And bring it up in terms of saying “you frequently interrupt me. Not going to help you and you have to stop doing it here.”

    1. Allison*

      Yes, I agree with this! Simply ignoring his interruptions isn’t getting the point across, OP should be explicitly telling him not to interrupt her.

    2. ElCee*

      It sounds like she’s addressed the interrupting already with him and he just keeps doing it. Or maybe that was another of his many issues. In any case, some people show very plainly that they’re allergic to constructive criticism in all facets of their work so if this is the case with Bad Intern, I can see why she doesn’t try to stop (and possibly derail) the conversation every time.

      1. JanetPlanet*

        I used to work with someone who would constantly interrupt everyone, including our boss. No one said anything to her about it, so she just kept interrupting. Finally, when it happened to me in a staff meeting, I looked right at her and said, “please do not interrupt me” and then continued on with my thought.
        She became much more cognizant of her behavior and made an effort to stop interrupting people.

      2. Construction Safety*

        Time to have the AAM, “I need this ‘action’, are you able to do that?” conversation.

        1. OhNo*

          With this intern, it sounds like it’s even time to drop the “Are you able to do that?” part of the conversation. When someone has proved this resistant to feedback, you can probably just go with “I need you to do X. This is not a discussion or a debate, just do it.”

    3. Leatherwings*

      I think both a direct big picture conversation AND stopping it when it happens is important here. I had almost the exact same situation except the person interrupting me was an employee not an intern.

      I had a few big picture convos with him about it, but it was such an ingrained habit I still had to either ignore the interruption by continuing to talk or pause and say “I’m not done, please let me finish.” The latter phrasing worked better because when I would say it four times in ten minutes it eventually embarrassed him into shutting up.

    4. TL -*

      If this was me, and I was sufficiently irritated, I might just treat him like a kid and make him request and wait for permission before speaking.

      1. Rana*

        Heck, my toddler is better at listening and letting the adults talk than this dude.

        I think he probably warrants the Shut Up Hand at this point.

  14. Susan the BA*

    I’m curious what the best thing to say to the Good Interns is, if the OP is not able to get rid of Awful Intern immediately. “Sorry I haven’t been able to fire this schmuck already” is probably not appropriate (sadly). Maybe things like:

    – “I want to make sure you know how much I value your work, especially when you [things that are markedly different from how Awful Intern operates]”
    – “It’s always okay for you to come talk to me if someone is telling you something that contradicts what I’ve said”
    – [if they specifically ask what’s up with Awful Intern] “It’s important to me that everyone’s personnel matters are kept confidential. I’d like to you focus on your work, but please tell me right away if something is happening that interferes with your ability to produce the work that I’ve asked for.”

    The best part about this situation is that the Good Interns will probably have Incompetent Coworkers when they become the Good Employees someday, and the OP can help prepare them to navigate those situations – much more valuable workplace experience than learning to use the copy machine.

    1. Stephanie*

      Good points. Remind the Good Interns of what a good job they’re doing.

      I would just caution talking about the Bad Intern in front of the other interns. My coworkers sometimes complain about another coworker (who’s subordinate to them) in front of me and it’s just off-putting (and makes me wonder what they say about me when I’m not around).

      1. E*

        When in front of the Bad Intern, just praise the good workplace behavior to reinforce to him (if he’s paying attention and absorbing anything) that he should imitate the good behavior to get the same praise.

  15. Editrix*

    Hate to nitpick, but what does “young-looking” have to do with anything? Is letter writer implying that Bad Intern isn’t respecting her because of her looks? I can’t see this necessarily being the case, since another male intern seems to be doing fine.

    1. AW*

      I don’t think that follows. Just because one male intern doesn’t hold her youthful appearance against her doesn’t mean the other male intern isn’t.

      1. Editrix*

        Yes–that’s why I said it can’t *necessarily* be the case. I was waiting to read that Bad Intern mentioned something about LW’s appearance, but the letter doesn’t indicate why her looks are relevant.

    2. Allison*

      Unfortunately, when a woman in the professional world looks young, they tend to deal with condescending jerks who (consciously or subconsciously) assume they can’t possibly know anything about the industry or line of work. It’s not fair, and not all men do it, but it happens.

      1. Stephanie*

        Yeah, this. I’ve thought about getting braces again, but I fear it would make me look really young, which is not a boon in my line of work.

        1. Audiophile*

          Not to derail, but can you get Invisalign?
          I know my teeth shifted after my braces came off because I could never keep track of my retainer.

    3. Kelly L.*

      Because condescending people are often worse to people they think are younger than they are, whether that’s even correct or not.

      I’m not sure how a good person treating her well would rule out an obnoxious person treating her badly! :) The two interns are obviously very different personalities.

      1. Allison*

        Right. One intern knows to respect the person in charge of them at work regardless of their gender or how young they appear – your superior is your superior. The other figures “well she’s technically in charge of me but I actually know more/have more power, so I’m gonna take the lead here.”

    4. Myrin*

      I think it has nothing to do with gender here but more with the fact that many people often tend to not take younger (or younger-looking) people as seriously as older (or older-looking).

      1. Editrix*

        I was thinking that was the reason, but the LW didn’t make any explicit connection between Bad Intern’s jerkwad ways and her looks. In my experience, it’s usually been older employees who don’t take younger-looking ones seriously. But yeah, that doesn’t rule out the chance an intern could do the same.

        I’m 30 and look 19, and I do feel it’s a challenge for me to be taken seriously in the government agency I work for. I’ve become self-conscious about how I carry myself–I won’t even wear certain hairstyles because they’ll make me look like a teenager. Sigh.

        1. TootsNYC*

          “the LW didn’t make any explicit connection between Bad Intern’s jerkwad ways and her look”

          You know, people are writing in the best way that they can. I don’t think it’s fair to jump on people for the stuff they include and then argue with them that they’re wrong for including information.
          The fact that she mentioned it at all says to me that she thinks it’s possible that it’s a factor, since disrespect is the core of this guy’s problem.

        2. blackcat*

          As someone who was once a young (and even younger looking) teacher of high school boys, looking young DEFINITELY impacted how a subset of asshole boys* treated me. They respected my older colleagues (even those who were not that much older that me but were less petite) more than me until it was clear that I did. not. take. shit. It didn’t matter that I was older than them and in an explicit position of authority. Because I wasn’t their moms’ age**, I wasn’t worthy of respect to them.

          *I am quite convinced most (many?) of them grew out of this behavior. Almost every 16 year old, male and female, is an asshole sometimes. Almost every 16 year old is also really awesome in their own way. It’s a complicated age.

          **I think the transition from “my mom’s age” to “my/my siblings’ age” was somewhere around 30 for most teenagers, even though most had parents who were 40+ (and a good number had parents who were 50+).

          1. Katie F*

            I had a math teacher in high school who was something like 5’1″ and maybe weighed 115 pounds soaking wet. She also weighed that much due to pure muscle after having just finished her career in the military. Guys would saunter into her class thinking they could run roughshod over her because she was so tiny and young looking and that woman was a drill instructor. I mean, she actually WAS a drill instructor of some kind while in the military, but she took no shit and brooked no appeals in her classroom.

            It was an amazingly quiet place and it’s the only math class I ever managed to score an A in and actually retain information.

      2. Kelly L.*

        Can’t it be both?

        Really, I’ve met plenty of sexist men who can vaguely remember to outwardly respect a woman their mom’s age, but not one they think is about their own age.

      3. Anna*

        I think it would be nice if it didn’t have anything to do with gender, but that we’d be really wrong if we assumed it didn’t.

        1. Myrin*

          That’s what I wanted to say but I see now that I worded my comment poorly (or rather, mushed the two sentences I thought of together so the result wasn’t 100% what I wanted – my brain sometimes, ladies and gentlemen).

          1. Anna*

            It’s like when you think of something so quickly and your typing doesn’t keep up. :)

      4. LW*

        It’s a gender issue as well. He’s not disrespectful to younger men that work with us.

    5. Anon Moose*

      Because young looking women are more routinely disrespected/ dismissed, particularly by men such as the Bad Intern described? He is already using “being the oldest” against the other undergrad intern and the masters intern so it would follow that he may be doing it to the LW as well.

    6. LW*

      I’m shorter and look much younger than I am, so I have unfortunately dealt with some men assuming that I’m not as experienced as I am. My “good” intern is just really great and respectful.

      1. many bells down*

        People often think it’s “lucky” when we look (subjectively) younger than we are. But it’s pretty frustrating when you have to keep telling people you’re not as young as you look. I went back to school at 40, and I dealt with quite a few dudes who would talk over me until they realized I was literally twice their age.

  16. Bryce*

    I’d have a “come to Jesus” talk with this guy no matter what your course of action is. I’d also consider having the VIP with you in said talk. That’s because a key purpose of internships is not only to get experience in a specific type of work/industry, but also to learn, for lack of a better word, “how work works.” This guy needs to know that work doesn’t work like he thinks it does. He needs to know that acting in the way he is will be extremely hazardous to his career.

    I know nothing of this guy’s past, but he may genuinely have no idea how work works. He needs to know that he’s not back at the dorm or frat house. Or, he may have sucked badly at other internships and this was indeed the case, as Katie F mentioned. Either way, this guy needs a rude wake-up call while it’s early enough for him to change.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I agree–you need to have a really serious conversation with him in which you lay out exactly how he is damaging himself and wasting his time–don’t continue to rely on in-the-moment feedback.

      One other point: If you bring all the data about why he’s a bad hire (list of days late; number of times you’ve had to tell him not to act like a boss; number of times or topics on which he’s talked down to people more expert than him), it’s possible the VIP might sit him down and try to set him straight.

      I’d also make the point that letting him continue in this internship, apparently not learning that these are bad things, is not actually helping him. It’s a waste of his time, if he’s going to get a bad reference and no actual professional growth—and worse, no college credit—from this. He’d be better off playing all summer long.

      And one other idea: Once you’ve made these points to the intern himself–“I won’t be able to give you a good recommendation, so you won’t be wanting to use my name, or even our HR department, as a reference”–he may take himself out of the internship altogether.
      I might even suggest to him directly that if he can’t stop these behaviors, he might be better off dropping out and doing something, anything, else.

      1. Bryce*

        No matter what it’s called, or what you do, it’s a grave disservice not to sit this guy down and tell him what time it is un no uncertain terms. I’d do this because he needs to learn some hard lessons before the consequences are really serious.

        1. themmases*

          I really disagree. Feedback on how you are doing your job is valuable to someone willing to hear it. It requires a lot of time and thought– and willingness to deal with potential awkwardness– on the part of the person offering it. No one is owed that from someone else any more than they are owed mentoring or expert editing. The OP isn’t doing this guy an injury; she’s deciding not to do him a good turn.

          Even if the OP owed this guy feedback, it’s clear that she has already given him instructions many times. She revises his work. She corrects him when he behaves inappropriately. That is exactly the kind of management and instruction that people take internships to get! And the guy responds by ignoring instructions, being rude to the OP and his peers, and repeatedly turning in unusable work. At this point, you would have to believe the OP owes him infinite attempts to mentor him and save his reputation for him to call not having a talk a “grave disservice”.

      2. Pwyll*

        Hah. I had an old client who was a very strict traditionalist Jewish man, who would call it a “Come to Jesus, or if you prefer, Moses, meeting.”

        1. Turtle Candle*

          I had a boss who had heard of the idiom, but got it completely wrong–when she meant to say she was having a “come to Jesus” meeting with a particular vendor, what she actually said was that she was going to “send them to Jesus.” If I were that vendor, the wording alone would have scared me into line. ;)

  17. INTP*

    Is this intern being paid? If not, a frank discussion with him might cause him to rid you of himself. Once he learns that he’s not going to get a recommendation, a full-time job, or a passing evaluation for college credit from you, he’ll have no more reason to show up every day.

    Otherwise, and if contacting the family friend higher-up as Alison recommended doesn’t pan out, sounds like it’s time for a massive busywork project that keeps him too busy to bother his coworkers or attend meetings or interfere with anyone.

      1. Brooke*

        Well that’s considerable leverage, really. If he’s not already aware of the importance of this, perhaps he should be reminded :)

      2. an anon*

        Wow. I really hope you get the clearance to fire him if necessary. He may want to perform better if it becomes clear that his graduation may be jeopardized by his behavior at this internship. Does his internship involve any feedback flowing from you back to his university?

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I am not sure how this works. So can he fail this requirement? Do you write an eval at the end and the school assigns a pass/fail to it?

        If yes, can you write that eval NOW and show it to him?

      4. TempestuousTeapot*

        LW, I do wish you the very best of luck in giving this dead weight the heave-ho. Do you know who his major advisor is (his main contact to monitor and advise his degree progression)? I’d be very tempted to give Bad Intern the choice of two letters to send to said advisor:
        A) The unvarnished truth of his complete lack at adapting to industry norms, including all consistent poor behaviors and refusals to take corrections (the ‘we don’t want to see him ever again’ letter),
        B) Regrets on Bad Intern’s lack of readiness to meet modern industry workplace norms, but hope for him to improve and do better in his next attempt (still don’t want him, but he might do better with someone else in the future).

        Either of these on the grounds that Bad Intern does not get it in gear yesterday. It makes it clear and shows your decisions will have consequences for him. I feel for you as you do have to get him out one way or another. Like others here, I doubt the referring friend will be upset at your decision, not even the outcome which is not your fault. Not your fault at all. It might even help when checking in with referring friend and mentioning the specific things others here have recommended to mention the ongoing damage this could do to future intern relationships. Your other two interns have word of mouth power. “This one asterisk hat that the guys far upstairs saddled us with” reads far better than ” The group lead/manager just couldn’t straighten him out or get rid of him” does. It really isn’t a good place for all of you who are doing your parts and I do hope it works out for you.

  18. CaliCali*

    I’m pretty sure this guy doesn’t actually want to be there at all, since all his behavior smacks of that “I really don’t care about succeeding” attitude that comes part and parcel with resentful college kids having to spend a summer in an office rather than with friends or having fun (whereas the other two may see this as an advantage to their future careers, it might be entirely unrelated to his). Perhaps the family friend was strong-armed into getting the guy in. You may want to run it by the friend, since they might be all for getting rid of him!

    1. Meg Murry*

      Yes, I also wondered if the intern doesn’t want to be there, if he doesn’t care if he gets fired, or even if he’s actively trying to get fired so he can have the rest of the summer off. He may have been forced into this internship by his parents, and he doesn’t want to be there any more than you want him there.

      I’m also in the “tell the intern this behavior isn’t acceptable and if he doesn’t shape up immediately go talk to the VIP” camp, especially since this isn’t actually a relative – it’s quite possible the VIP doesn’t actually know the intern, only his parents, or even that the VIP doesn’t know them all that well. It’s also possible that the VIP will back up getting rid of him.

      1. LW*

        He actually needs to be here in order to finish college. It’s a graduation requirement to complete an internship. He wants to be here, and actually thinks that we’re going to hire him and help him get into UPenn. He’s just unaware of professional norms and how much he sucks, quite frankly.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          How much does your evaluation weigh in whether he gets credit for completing this internship? (Desperately hopes the answer is 100%.)

          1. LW*

            Sadly, not at all! It’s really strange, actually. The school calls him to check in about once per week, and he’s affirmed several times that we don’t have to sign anything or submit feedback to his university.

            As an aside, I’m very sad to say that he goes to my undergrad institution.

            1. Aurion*

              I can’t remember how my undergrad conducted its program (it’s been a while), but even if you don’t submit a formal evaluation, it’s quite likely that your assessment of this intern will be weighted heavily by his school’s internship coordinator.

              Presumably your employer is in contact with the internship office to set up this opportunity and make sure all the paperwork is in order, Is are dotted, Ts are crossed. If an intern were to be fired, the school’s internship coordinator must know. And any internship coordinator worth their salt would be very interested in the behaviour of such a crappy intern, whether or not you the supervisor have to fill out a formal evaluation.

              I imagine if you can get this guy’s internship coordinator on the phone and have a chat with him it’d help a lot. If this intern isn’t understanding the Come to Jesus talks you’ve had with him, maybe hearing it from his internship coordinator would make it sink in. Might be another avenue to try if your VIP wouldn’t have your back.

            2. jhhj*

              I’m sure he’s affirmed it, but has the SCHOOL affirmed it? Because this sounds a lot like a lie. (It might not be, schools do completely incomprehensible stuff, but it doesn’t sound typical.)

            3. Rusty Shackelford*

              That makes no sense, and like someone said, it makes me wonder if he’s lying. Because why would a school want absolutely NO feedback, or confirmation from someone other than the intern that he’s even secured an internship and showed up for work?

            4. Triangle Pose*

              Ack! As an alum and his supervisor, can you call the internship coordinator or the person in charge of careers/on-campus interviews? This is just so egregious that I think as a concerned alum and the person supervising a group of interns you have standing to reach out to his school.

              1. Anon Moose*

                +1 to Triangle Pose’s comment. I think the coordinator would want to know. Especially if you/ your company would be less likely to accept interns from the school in future due to this/ the bad reputation you feel he’s giving the undergrad institution.

            5. Sparrow*

              Have you talked to the university’s internship coordinator? If this student is souring a relationship with a good employer, they’d probably want to know. Depending on the arrangement they have with the student, they might also put some external pressure on him to shape up.

              It sounds like you’re super on top of things and generally kicking ass, but if you haven’t had a come-to-Jesus talk yet, I’m definitely seconding that suggestion. I work with college students and am sometimes taken aback by how often I have to explicitly spell out things that should be obvious. If he actually wants to be there, you’d think that he’d take this a bit more seriously!

            6. Lily Evans*

              Since it sounds like your company is pretty prestigious in your area, I think the school would want to hear feedback. Like I mentioned in a comment downthread, an internship program I was involved with really wanted feedback from the (in this case) school that the intern was placed in. A bad intern could cause a teacher or an entire school to not want to participate in the program anymore. If this guy is bad enough that he could make you seriously reconsider taking on interns in the future the school probably will want to know that.

            7. Episkey*

              LW, I’m almost positive he’s lying about that. My masters class in grad school all had to complete an internship. Our degree was in counseling psych, not law, but part of our graduation requirement was successful completion of said internship.

              One of the women in my class basically refused to complete major requirements of the internship (mainly that she conduct therapy sessions with clients herself) — it wasn’t malicious in her case; frankly, she was just scared to death to conduct sessions as the therapist. When our coordinator found this out after speaking to the staff at her organization, she ended up not being allowed to graduate.

              She had to have several meetings with our university psych staff as well as our student liaison (another woman in our class) where she was basically given a come to Jesus talk. When she still didn’t complete this requirement, they would not allow her to graduate. Our student liaison advocated to allow her to graduate with a general masters degree in psych (because she did make other improvements), but she was ultimately unsuccessful. Two years of this woman’s life, and no masters degree to show for it…and she was nowhere near as awful as your Bad Intern.

              1. Kerry (Like the County in Ireland)*

                I would not be surprised if he’s just planning to fill out his own form evaluation and forge a glowing recommendation letter from the LW.

            8. Chinook*

              “The school calls him to check in about once per week, and he’s affirmed several times that we don’t have to sign anything or submit feedback to his university.”

              Is there anyway to verify with the school itself that they don’t need your feedback? There is a chance he is doing it on your behalf (because the guy is a jerk). I can’t see the benefit of an internship that is essentially self-graded if there is no feedback from his supervisor. At the very least, they should have someone from the school come and observe him in his work place, right?

        2. INTP*

          Does he have to get an adequate evaluation from you to pass his internship? (That’s how it worked at my school, we also had a paper but we couldn’t just utterly flunk our evaluation and get credit.) If so, a frank talk that you won’t be giving him a passing evaluation might prompt him to quit the job and rid you of the problem conveniently.

        3. Althea*

          If you feel like it, you could see if you know someone in the company this kid does respect, and ask that person if they are willing to have a conversation with him. You know – an overview of what is expected of someone in the work environment, work products, and the consequences of extreme suckitude.

          This is self-serving in that it may elicit change!

          1. Anna*

            I don’t think this is a good move. It would kind of reinforce the idea that the OP doesn’t deserve the intern’s respect. It says “Do it not because she absolutely deserves your respect as your supervisor, but because I asked you to do it and you respect me.” It’s not a good look.

            1. Althea*

              It doesn’t reinforce it. This guy doesn’t respect OP, so he’s not going to listen to her message that she should be respected. In order to learn, he has to hear the message from someone that he WILL respect and pay attention to. If this mentor-type person gets through to him, problem solved – in fact, everyone is better off. If not, no one is worse off.

        4. College Career Counselor*

          He thinks you guys are going to help get him into Penn Law (making an assumption from this and you saying that you work at a law firm)? The entitlement sounds strong with this one. FWIW, I agree that you’re doing the right (if time-consuming and laborious) thing by calling him out every time. And document, document, document even if you’re not going to fire him. This sounds like the kind of person who will whine and pester you for a recommendation because he “worked with you” and “you know my work best”. Perhaps saying “I have X # of documented instances where you continued to act against my expressly stated directives–are you sure you want that recommendation from me?” would be useful. My condolences on your crummy intern.

          1. Troutwaxer*

            That so needs to be said in a Darth Vader voice: “The entitlement is strong in this one!” Probably followed by a Force-choke.

        5. Triangle Pose*

          Hire him full time and then eventually help him get into Penn (law?)…. Nooooo! I when you have that “come-to-jesus” talk with him you should definitely put a finer point on this.

          “A lot of the performance issues I’ve raised about your work here, such as (interrupting, trying to give directions to Good Intern, showing up late) are really big issues, not just here but at any company. Your behavior is seriously out of step with workplace norms. If you have goals of getting a full time position at any company or going on to grad/law school, you need to seriously reconsider your approach to work and how you handling working with colleagues.”

          1. Rana*

            I’d lean towards even blunter language at this point, actually. “The way you have been behaving here is completely unacceptable in a professional setting. At this point, I am planning to give a negative review to anyone who asks about your performance during this internship. If you want to change that, you need to shape up, starting immediately.”

        6. Mephyle*

          LW, you say “He’s just unaware of professional norms and how much he sucks,” but you also mentioned above that you’ve explicitly corrected him many times and told him to stop his unprofessional behaviours when he does them.
          I can’t put these two things together: that he’s unaware, and that you’ve been correcting and admonishing him. Is it because you’ve been telling him what he’s doing wrong piece by piece but haven’t had a big-picture talk with him about it? Or is it simply his obliviousness? Or both?

  19. Not Karen*

    You keep using the term “mansplaining” and yet none of the examples you provided were based on gender differences. If he’s condescending, then he’s condescending, but you are doing everyone a disservice by trying to “blame” this condescension on the fact that he is a guy. Whether or not someone is a jerk is not related to their gender.

    1. Kelly L.*

      If he doesn’t act like this toward men, there’s your answer. I imagine the LW has seen this in action, and just didn’t quote chapter and verse here. This isn’t a court of law. :)

      1. Editrix*

        No, no one’s on the stand here, but we can only assess the situation based on what we read. I missed LW’s note on that :-)

        1. TootsNYC*

          I think you shouldn’t have needed her note. “What we read” included the label.

          I take it from your user name that you’re in editing–you have to remember that the people who write these letters are doing their best in what they’ve got, and they’re trying to keep the letter from bogging down in the detail. (I’d imagine you’ve had that task as well.)4

          1. Editrix*

            Absolutely. But like a few others, I didn’t pick up on any strong hints of sexism from the letter alone.

          2. Elsajeni*

            Right — “he’s mansplaining stuff to me and to the older female intern” IS a description of the behavior, in the same way that “he’s having problems with excessive absenteeism” or “his work product is unacceptable” might be in another letter. Detailed examples of exactly what’s so bad about his work, how often he’s absent, or how his attitude toward women differs from his attitude toward men could be helpful in deciding exactly what to do about it, but it really isn’t necessary, especially in a case like this where the mansplaining is only one small part of the larger problem of “my intern is rude in a variety of ways and does lousy work.”

    2. J.B.*

      I don’t love the term, but I think it’s part of the frustration of this situation. When talking to anyone at work or having a performance conversation, I would definitely use the word condescending instead – the point is that it is not ok to treat anyone that way, his reasons for it are irrelevant.

    3. Megan Schafer*

      This did bug me – I’m not sure I saw anything to indicate that he was being sexist and not just arrogant.

    4. LW*

      I’m not blaming it on his gender, but his attitude toward women. He’s not like this with the men in the office that he perceives as his superiors.

      1. Editrix*

        If he’s not like this with the men, then yeah, there’s probably more going on than simple arrogance.

      2. Lady H*

        For what it’s worth, your use of the word mansplaining was something that I thought was really helpful here, because I have experienced is so, so many times myself. It made it easy to understand your situation and what you’re dealing with!

        Wishing you the best of luck in dealing with this intern, and hoping that we’ll hear a positive update from you in the future about how it all ends up!

    5. Anna*

      Sexism is hardly ever as clear cut as someone actually saying “because you’re a woman, you couldn’t possibly know X.” If all the sexists you’ve come across have advertised their shortcomings so clearly to you, you have been at least fortunate in that.

      Also, she’s not blaming it on him being a guy, she’s saying it’s because of his attitude about her being a woman. There’s a difference.

    6. Mustache Cat*

      How much evidence do LWs really, honestly need to provide? Should she have to provide a spreadsheet formula for his condescending remarks towards different genders, and evaluate condescension level on a five-point scale? Should she have to consult the internet for all observations and judgments of sexism in the workplace? Should LW provide us a voice sample so that we can decide for ourselves how much of a sexist jerk he is being? Or maybe instead we can just take her at her word?

      Snark aside–what example could she provide that would prove that he is being condescending based on gender that would convince you? Serious question.

      1. Mustache Cat*

        But also, I think I speak for all of AAM when I say that I would love to be provided with spreadsheets and voice samples from LWs.

  20. Why is a Name Required?*

    Even though it sounds like the intern is problematic, saying things like ” He’s honestly awful, in any way that you can imagine” makes it sound like hyperbole and combining that with “He’s not smarter or more well-versed on any topic than she is” (which obviously isn’t true, there is always something that someone knows more about than someone else – it just may not be relevant to the work they are doing) comes off as though the letter writer just dislikes him, because there is no way he can be awful in ANY way I can imagine (does he disappear for days on end, physically threaten coworkers, sleep on the job, etc.) .

    I also read undertones of resentment from the manager (do you really WANT to fire someone? Most times I hear firing described as necessary but unpleasant, since we recognize the other person is human too – and its combined with hope they’ll learn and grow from the experience to get better). As well as what would appear to me, as an outsider, as juvenile behavior (he shouldn’t have interrupted her, but why are we having a yelling match? Can’t his manager simply say “excuse me” like most normal adults?)

    When I read the letter, the hyperbole combined with the undertones of resentment and the juvenile behavior on the part of the boss, combined with the mansplaining (which other commentators have addressed above) led me wondering if the “bad intern” was really that bad or if the letter writer was just an ineffective boss. If you are going to go complain ‘I want to fire this intern, he is awful in every way you can imagine – has a bad personality, mansplains, and chews with his mouth open’ (which is what I got from reading the letter the first time through) I don’t think you are making the strongest case you have.

    It sounds like there are serious work issues ( you shouldn’t have to correct the same thing 3 or 4 times; at that point he just isn’t listening – And giving the other intern directions after you explicitly told him not to is inexcusable!). I personally would have been more sympathetic to the letter-writer if she had focused more on those.

    1. ElCee*

      This is language nitpicking to the extreme (and I’m an editor so I know from language nitpicking). I didn’t get any of this from the letter (particularly the assessment of “juvenile” behavior on the part of anyone but Bad Intern. She tried to speak to him and he didn’t change his behavior. Talking over constant interrupting is a legitimate way of dealing with that).
      Hyperbole is a writing technique. It doesn’t have to be shorthand for the writer’s soul.

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        Thank you x 1000. The OP has exhibited nothing but extreme patience with this oaf given what she said she deals with on a regular basis from him. There’s nothing childish about her behavior.

    2. Lady H*

      Picking apart every aspect of the OP’s choice of words is really unhelpful and discourages people from wanting to write in. You agree that there’s a problem that needed addressing. I don’t think it’s necessary to examine whether the letter writer was 100% precise in their language.

    3. Aurion*

      I think nitpicking the OP’s letter to that extent is pretty harsh, though. We can assume that when OP says “He’s not smarter or more well-versed on any topic than she is” she means that in the context of work, since this is a work letter written to a workplace advice columnist. Maybe Bad Intern is more skilled at RTS video games or underwater basketweaving, but if their work is focused on chocolate teapots and Bad Intern is laughably bad at everything to do with chocolate teapots, that is a valid statement to make without having to qualify it as “oh, I’m only talking about chocolate teapots.” It’s implied, because this letter is about work. You don’t need to qualify every single statement on a letter.

      And if I really wanted to get rid of a bad intern but might not be able to due to office politics, and the Bad Intern is causing havoc with my other two awesome interns, you bet I’m going to be resentful.

      Criticizing the OP for not being a sea of zen calmness about a legitimately frustrating situation is unwarranted and doesn’t help her situation at all.

    4. LW*

      I’ve never had problems with any of my other interns. Ever. If I have an issue, I’m happy to work with them on it.

      Sure, I used a bit of hyperbole, but he’s disrespectful, sloppy, and does bad work. He doesn’t retain verbal or written instructions, and I keep catching him on ESPN when he’s supposed to be working.

      I would love to fire him. He interrupts me when I correct him on serious issues (like using Google Docs when we have strict security protocols that he’s been trained on). He doesn’t respect me. Never having to see him again would make me very, very happy.

      1. Meg Murry*

        I think you need to make a list of these serious offenses like using Google Docs after you told him not to, spending time on ESPN instead of working, not following instructions and go talk to the VIP about these issues. Or at least start with your own manager, or an intern coordinator if there is such a person.

        While his grooming and condescention sound like a problem, they are much more vague and more in the “I don’t like him” mode – whereas hard facts of policies he is breaking is what you need to fire him. Do you have an official “write-up” or disciplinary procedure? If so, use it.

        1. LW*

          I honestly don’t know! I’ve never had this problem with an intern in the past.

          The grooming and rudeness are a serious issue because we work at a law firm and regularly deal with fee-paying clients as well as pro bono clients (who deserve to have professionals working with them).

          1. Mabel*

            This reminds me of a former trainer who worked for me. I was astonished when she was exceptionally rude to me a couple of times, but while I was figuring out what to do about it, the last straw came when she stood up a student for a training session because she had personal business to take care of. I fired her that day. Clients pay the bills, but it’s disrespectful to be rude to people, whether they’re clients or not.

        2. Troutwaxer*

          When you deal with the VIP, start with the security issues. (Or alternately, whatever issues the VIP is most concerned with.) Your critique of the Intern should align as closely as possible with the VIP’s priorities as possible.

      2. TootsNYC*

        you don’t even have to talk about disrespect and mansplaining when you bring this up.

        you have such clear-cut objectively observable behaviors.

        In fact, you might show him the list of behaviors, not tied to him, and ask him if he’d pay money to hire that person to work for him. Sort of a Nathan-and-David situation.

        1. Artemesia*

          This. But particularly the fact that you have given feedback and he he continues to do what he has been asked not to do. Interns make mistakes; people who constantly ignore the supervisors directions are in a different category. Hence the focus on the fact you have mentored him and problems persist 2 and 3 times after he has been specifically asked not to do them. I sure would move to dismiss him by talking with the VIP who employed him; he or she probably has little personal knowledge of this person and would be mortified. Or they will insist it is important because it is an important client’s son and then you will know.

      3. Rat Racer*

        And you’re clearly frustrated with this guy – and it sounds like you have the right to be! This is a place where we can come to express our frustrations with the workforce and ask for advice and support. I don’t think you sounded juvenile or hyperbolic, just fed up.

    5. Katie F*

      I imagine LW has said “excuse me” to no avail several times, and resorted to her current tactic of simply continuing her sentence on top of his bald-faced interruption. I also think “shouting match” isn’t really the right turn of phrase here, that seems like a bit of a stretch from “I’ll keep talking louder until I finish my thought.”

    6. AW*

      which obviously isn’t true, there is always something that someone knows more about than someone else – it just may not be relevant

      Well if it’s not relevant, why mention it at all? Does the OP really need to include, “He might be better at Jenga”?

      Your comment basically boils down to, “I don’t like that you have emotions about a negative experience.” 99% of the letters here include the emotions of the LW.

      1. Really?*

        Nowhere did I say “I don’t like that you have emotions about a negative experience” and it is disrespectful of you to pretend that I did.

        I explicitly stated MY reaction to the letter, and commented how I think the letter writer could make a stronger case by focusing on the work aspects of the problems rather than debating the boorish behavior.

        1. LW*

          The boorish behavior is part of what makes working with him difficult. Last week, on the way to the meeting where he chewed with his mouth open, he stopped at our infused water pitcher and started lecturing my grad student intern on how infused water is made. (By putting fruit into a pitcher of water.)

        2. Anna*

          Yes, really.

          AW didn’t have to pretend because that’s what them boiling down your post was about. Basically you minimized and dismissed everything the OP wrote. I don’t think your read on the letter is at all typical and says more about you than it does the OP.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          The boorish behavior IS the work problem. Those behaviors are not acceptable in teh workplace. He’s got so many boorish behaviors that he is extremely difficult to work with.

          Just my opinion, but if I don’t believe someone, a LW or a commenter, I just skip the letter or comment. I don’t have to do this very often and it is a very easy thing to do.

          I think if Alison felt LW was not focused on work issues, she would have clearly said so, because she is usually pretty clear about her take on a given situation.

  21. TootsNYC*

    Oh–when you talk about him to the VIP or anyone else, don’t use the term “mansplaining.”

    Use terms like “creates confusion” and “spreads misinformation” and “gives the other interns wrong information, which means I have to spend time correcting it–and of course, that’s never as accurate, because whatever someone hears first often sticks.”

    1. KR*

      I think OP could even go as far as say that she feels his treatment of her and the female intern is gendered, but I agree that she shouldn’t use the term mansplaining when she talks to the VIP.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Agreed, but I’d also assume she wasn’t planning to use it in talking to the VIP, just like she probably wasn’t planning to use “shit-can” with the VIP either, although that’s a truly great expression.

      1. LW*

        Thank you! I can confirm that I would not have used either of those phrases when talking to our VIP. ;)

      2. TootsNYC*

        yeah–what you’d say to your friends, or your Internet audience, is very different from what you’d say to your boss!

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Am giggling. “Shit-can” is OLD. I first heard it in the 70s. It probably goes back longer than that, though. It can be a noun or a verb. Something can go into the “s-can” or something can be “s-canned”.

  22. SenatorMeathooks*

    Letters like this make me think that the mansplainer in question has some sort of autism or social interaction problem. He stinks? He’s got inappropriate social graced on top of not understanding LW is the boss? Sounds familiar.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep, thank you. We can’t diagnose based on anecdotes on the internet, these statements often stigmatize people with those diagnoses, and it’s generally not useful to focus on disorders rather than practical advice for dealing with the person in question anyway.

    1. Anna*

      Not every asshole in the world is an asshole because they have an undiagnosed disorder. More frequently than not, they’re just assholes. At some point you have to take their behavior at face value. This intern is telling the OP everything she needs to know.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Also, he needs to come to work clean, and do good work, regardless of his diagnosis (or lack thereof).

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            … so then, why does it matter, and why bring it up? The LW is his boss, not his doctor, therapist, or family. He needs to change his behavior, regardless of what is causing it.

      2. Important Moi*


        You don’t need it , but I wanted to agree with your statement. Sometimes people are just glassbowls period.

        No one is obligated to proffer a diagnosis as to why a glassbowl is acting like a glassbowl and based on said diagnosis..

    2. Nerdling*

      Why attribute to neurological atypical it what can easily be attributed to ignorance or assholishness? Especially since none of this behavior is solely in the realm of neuro-atypical folks, and it’s frankly insulting to them to suggest that every individual who acts like a douche isn’t neurotypical.

      1. SenatorMeathooks*

        I’m certainly not suggesting that is the case. It’s likely that he’s just an asshole. But the combination of all of those things made me wonder if something like that could come into play. But whatever.

        1. Kate M*

          The fact that LW says that he doesn’t act like this with men in positions of authority suggests that it’s not a condition he can’t control, but exactly the opposite.

        2. Observer*

          Aside from all the good points others made, I would ask you WHY you would think this? There is nothing in the description that sounds at all like autism or social interaction problems. On the other hand, there are some things that are actually quite atypical of autism in what the LW writes.

    3. AW*

      The problem isn’t that he’s socially awkward or doesn’t understand business norms, the problem is that he is ignoring (repeated!) instructions and interrupting the boss.

      Also, if this were just the result of a condition then he’d be treating the other male intern the same way he’s treating the female intern.

    4. Tau*

      With all due respect, as an actual autistic person? This sort of response is really unhelpful and stigmatising. Autistic =/= refuses to follow basic instructions. Autistic =/= being rude and condescending to peers and superiors. Autistic =/= goofing off online instead of doing work. But jumping in with “but what if this person is on the spectrum?!” perpetuates the idea that these things are connected, which is the sort of negative stereotype we could REALLY do without.

      (And before anyone comes at me with “but I knew this guy with Asperger’s who-” – sure, some autistic people are all of the above, because some PEOPLE are all of the above. Doesn’t mean it’s in any way related or needs to be treated in any way differently from a neurotypical person being a rude, condescending, lazy jerk. I don’t go around saying “oh, he must be neurotypical! The signs are obvious!” when I hear stories like this – I’d appreciate others doing me the same favour.)

    5. Muriel Heslop*

      I used to work in an HFA (high-functioning autism) unit and have worked with dozens of autism-affected families. Nothing I read here made me think of that.

      PSA: OMG, everyone please stop diagnosing on the internet.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Ditto from me. I have worked with people along the autism spectrum and I have never seen these behaviors.

    6. LW*

      Honestly, I have a few friends/acquaintances with social disorders, and they are largely wonderful, nice, respectful and professional in their interactions. He’s just a schlub.

    7. Almond Milk Latte*

      Whatever causes his issue isn’t the responsibility of his manager. The manager’s responsibility ends at identifying the problem and sharing feedback with her subordinate, which is the topic of the letter. It’s up to him to figure out the root cause of his problem.

    8. an anon*

      Considerate people with autism are usually horrified to learn that they have behaved in an inappropriate way and immediately take steps to change their behavior. This dude appears to not care at all.

      1. Anna*

        This is exactly what I was thinking. All people do things that make people uncomfortable, regardless of any possible diagnoses. The difference is what they do when you bring it up.

      2. SimontheGrey*

        This. A person can have autism and still actually be an asshat. I have tutored/worked with some very pleasant students on the spectrum, and I have also worked with one who was on the spectrum but was also just a straight up jerk, expecting everyone to do everything for him because of his diagnosis (no, I don’t write papers for you. It doesn’t matter if you are autistic, blind, or a paraplegic. I can help brainstorm, I can take notes, I can type if you write something and I am not busy with other students, or I can edit, but I cannot create ideas for you.)

    9. Sarahnova*

      I dream of the day we are discussing a boorish dude and NOBODY leaps in to explain how he probably just has X disorder and we need to understaaaaaaand him.

  23. Editor*

    A few articles on education that I have read talk about how students tend to remember things better if they copy them down manually. Maybe one of the tasks this intern needs if you can’t terminate his internship is a daily quote or lesson. So he needs a pad of paper or a fairly large journal that’s easy to write in and a decent pen, probably a roller ball that doesn’t skip.

    Then, each day he has to copy down a quote you have provided and read the homework, then summarize the reading with at least five sentences in the journal. The readings can be as simple as Miss Manners columns, material from Ask a Manager, or an etiquette book.

    I will come back later with some suggested readings, and maybe commenters who are familiar with Captain Awkward or other workplace blogs can suggest sources so the LW doesn’t have to spend extra time developing a “curriculum” for this intern. It sounds like reading about then writing about listening skills would be corrective. Because he devalues charitable work, some readings about how caregiving is undervalued might be helpful. Articles about how women get talked over might be useful. I am sure there are other topics that might be good for him to consider, such as generL stuff on appropriate workplace behavior or effective meeting participation and so on.

    1. Aurion*

      I assume the students copying down the notes actually want to participate and do well in the class though. If Bad Intern already thinks of himself as God’s gift to mankind, and already resents OP because she’s a woman, I really doubt being forced to write lines (which is what this boils down to) will improve his attitude. Learning generally requires a desire to learn, no?

      And spending energy on handholding the intern on how to be a respectful, functional adult seems…a bit beyond the scope of an internship.

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        And spending energy on handholding the intern on how to be a respectful, functional adult seems…a bit beyond the scope of an internship.

        Agreed. She needs to work on finding a way to get rid of this kid, not coddle him further.

    2. Leatherwings*

      This sounds like a ton of work for OP, who has already said they’re completely buried.

      It’s OPs job to develop interns in the working world, it’s not OPs job to be their teacher and grade baloney “homework” assignments. I agree this dude needs to expand his mind and learn about appropriate behavior but he’s already demonstrated that he’s not willing to work on those things and it’s bad enough that nobody should take on this kind of work for someone this awful.

      On the other hand, this might make him quit right quick.

      1. Editrix*

        I agree. He’s setting himself up for failure, and the LW doesn’t have to life-coach him into doing better.

    3. Kelly L.*

      I disagree–to me this smacks of Bart Simpson-esque sentences on the board and seems more like a disciplinary tactic for kids than adults.

    4. Muriel Heslop*

      I am a high school teacher and while that may be a helpful learning tool, that sounds like a ton of extra work for the workplace. And this case sounds more like an attitude problem than a learning problem (the fact that he is an intern notwithstanding.)

    5. LW*

      I appreciate the thought, but I’ve already wasted so much time and energy on him that I just can’t do more.

  24. Mustache Cat*

    The amount of nitpicking and doubt-casting in these comments towards the LW is….eyebrow-raising.

    1. Katie F*

      Fascinating but wholly unsurprising. The second I saw female LW who didn’t twist herself in knots to make excuses for the problem with male Bad Intern, I kind of wondered if it would end up like this.

      1. Mustache Cat*

        That’s very true! LW very unapologetically categorized Bad Intern as Bad, which I applaud her for…but I guess she wasn’t properly demure or something.

        1. Katie F*

          To see the comments section devolve into tearing apart her -tone- and -word choice- is just… I suppose a basic truth of the internet – call out a sexist behavior and have half the internet explain how it can’t possibly be sexist to you.

          1. AD*

            Hmm. You have a point, but I think the LW’s use 5 times of “mansplain” in her post may have been the catalyst as well. There are many other words (arrogant, condescending, presumptuous, rude) that could have been used to describe the intern’s actions, and ascribing ALL his actions to gendered/sexist thinking isn’t going to solve the LW’s issue (an intern with professional behavior norms tone-deafness).

            1. Katie F*

              I don’t believe her word choice described ALL his problems as gendered, only the mansplaining part of them.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              I guess some folks still dunno that we don’t get to pick out the LW’s words for them.

              I just wish people would explain how picking a part a word choice helps the LW solve their dilemma.

      2. Triangle Pose*

        Yes! And the thing is, I’m pretty sure LW has posted previously about Bad Intern in the comments sections and we all had helpful advice and responses then. Only when she put it in a post did everyone jump all over to doubt her and nitpick her word choice. I don’t want to “out” LW in case I’m wrong and she’s not the commenter I’m thinking of and wants to remain somewhat anonymous but I’m truly disappointed and frustrated at this reaction.

    2. Lady H*

      I have found that whenever someone uses the term mansplaining, they are sure to get mansplained to. Based on this phenomenon, maybe I can try to get the term “Solnit’s Law” to catch on.

        1. Lady H*

          Yes, that’s what I was referring to! She coined the term ‘mansplaining’. I’m trying to be the one to coin the term “Solnit’s Law” :D

          1. Sarahnova*

            “Solnit’s Law: When a woman uses the word ‘mansplaining’ to describe her experience on the internet, the comments section justifies the existence of the word ‘mansplaining’. (C) Lady H, 2016”.

            Someone get it on Wikipedia! We can consider it a corollary to Lewis’ Law. :)

      1. ElCee*

        It’s almost like there is a Google Alert for the word “mansplaining” on a certain sector of the Internet…

        1. AW*

          There almost certainly is. I can’t help but notice that some of the more inappropriate comments are being left by usernames I don’t recognize.

          1. Kay*

            Recently I was reading through the AAM archives and found that post about offensive Halloween costumes from a while back – there were dozens and dozens of comments posted days after the original entry from people who are obviously not regular readers who seemed to just want somewhere on the Internet to vent their negative opinions on political correctness. It’s very frustrating.

            1. Typically a Lurker*

              That was mine. I rarely post, even though I read this blog almost daily, and when I do I just pick random things.

        2. Mustache Cat*

          The temptation to respond to all of these comments with “Thank you for explaining” is very strong

    3. jhhj*

      Zero surprising.

      I could have premade a bingo card with the comments I would see on any post about “woman complains about man’s actions and calls out sexism”.

      1. CMT*

        Some squares:
        “No, you’re the one being sexist [for calling out sexist behavior]”
        “Maybe he’s not really sexist, maybe he’s just socially awkward”
        “As a man, I . . . “

        1. OhNo*

          Can I cast my vote for, “Maybe he’s autistic”/”Maybe he has [insert learning/social/emotional disability here]” as the free space? Because, man, that one seems to show up every single time.

          1. LW*

            Which, completely OT, but I find that to be wholly frustrating. It’s stigmatizing to people with Asperger’s/autism, and pathologizes what is mostly just clueless and kind of shitty behavior. I know many people on the spectrum, and as a whole, they are not rude, messy, and do not chew with their mouth open.

        2. INFJ*

          The most-filled square: “He was just trying to be nice/give a compliment/be helpful”

    4. Mustache Cat*

      By the way, are the “As a man I don’t like the term mansplaining” comments 100% necessary?

      1. Lady H*

        If only those who are so upset about so-called sexism against men would be as up in arms about sexism against women.

    5. Myrin*

      Absolutely agreed, and it’s something I’ve observed quite often in the comments section (I want to say “lately”, but I honestly haven’t really noticed a prominent increase), not even necessarily related to things like sexism or racism. It’s pretty frustrating when it’s clear a certain word or phrase is only in the letter as a shortcut and then people will jump on that one phrase and basically make up a whole new letter because of it.

      (The example that is fresh in my mind is last week’s [?] letter of the two coworkers having an affair with one of them about to be promoted to supervise the other. Almost every comment warned the OP to not act on assumptions and yet from the way the letter was written it seemed clear to me that the OP didn’t assume but actually knew that there was an affair going on – which she later confirmed in the comments, as one of the two coworkers having the affair had actually told her about it.

      And, I mean, there is often value in reminding someone that a problem might not actually be as dire as they thought or that there might be a very different reason for certain behaviours or whatever, but it can pile on in ways that has OPs defending themselves for something that was half a sentence in their original post. I really think it would be a good idea to generally take OPs at their word and trust them to assess a situation they’re actually in and have much more knowledge about than can be conveyed in one letter correctly – something Alison points out all the time, too, which I think is a very commendable thing for a blog-owner to do, by the way.)

      1. Rana*

        Agreed. This sort of legalistic nitpicking at the letter rather than the spirit of letters here gets really old.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Second guessing, for any reason, defeats the purpose of this blog. Alison is in charge here. If she feels the letter is legit/on target then that should be good enough for us. So all this second guessing is actually kind of an insult to Alison. PLUS, we are “in her house”. When we are in someone else’s house it’s rude to insult the host(s).

        If someone feels the LW is lying, misrepresenting or exaggerating, then that person is free to skip over the letter and move to the next letter.

        Here’s the bottom line. There is no need to worry about someone misrepresenting the situation. If the situation is not explained accurately then the advice will not fit into the solution. And the world will keep revolving.

    6. Karo*

      On the other hand, I’m super impressed by the LW calmly and rationally defending herself, instead of just turning off her computer and yelling with rage (which is what I would do).

      1. Not So NewReader*

        LW has been through some stuff, she knows what is “small potatoes” when she sees it. Some points are non-points. Some people in a situation can quickly grasp that the point has nothing to do with their situation, it’s a dead end and so they move on.

    7. Polka Dot Bird*

      Yeah, I saw the number of comments to this post and was like, that’s an unusually high number of comments – must be full of people complaining about the use of mansplaining. And yep.

  25. Rafe*

    My only concern is that — well, I’ve never been in any organization where I’d feel safe going to a VIP and suggesting that the intern they had secured the internship for should maybe be fired(!). Even at the most lenient places I’ve worked, with the most open-minded top people. That’s not to say I’m 100 percent wrong. But I’m this far down the thread and haven’t seen anyone yet suggest the OP tread carefully lest that conversation backfire. I think the first reaction of every VIP I can think of is, it’s an internship that ends in 4 more weeks…

    1. Kate M*

      I totally agree. I mean, it’s worth noting the possibility that the VIP might totally be on LW’s side and tell her to fire the intern. And it definitely depends on the person. But even if the VIP is totally sympathetic to the LW, I still wouldn’t expect them to be on board with firing the intern. It’s doubtful to me that someone would take the chance of torpedoing their relationship with a friend over firing their schlub of a son. I’d expect them, at best, to say “I’m so sorry about this. I’ll definitely try to not recommend someone like this again. Since there’s only a month left, can you just deal with it and give him busywork?”

        1. Kate M*

          And I definitely think it deals with the nature of the relationship – I’m probably coming at it from more of a professional relationship slant (i.e. the interns we’ve had referred to us that we basically “had” to hire were children of professional contacts or our clients, which can be a different beast. Thankfully they were all great, although I was a little nervous about it.)

          I almost think it has to do more with how reasonable the parent of the intern is – i.e. if they are going to throw a fit and not take it well (which could very well be the case if the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree), the VIP might not think that it’s worth it since they’ll only be there for another month.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Ah! Yep, I think it’s harder when it’s the kid of a donor or an important client. But a family friend of a high-up employee? It’ll probably be fine.

            1. Triangle Pose*

              What about family member? A son or nephew or son in law of a C level executive/rainmaker partner who clearly got Bad Intern the job but does not supervise him….this is what I saw in the law firm world a lot (I think LW mentioned it’s a law firm in her replies). I feel like a family friend is one thing but a family member is…a harder situation for a LW to deal with.

              1. Rafe*

                Yes, I guess I should say I was thinking primarily of nepotism involving actual family members. And no way no how would I dare even suggest it. It’s not just that the problem adult children usually wind up as owners/bosses where I’ve been. Parents are … touchy/sensitive/take any slight as a personal offense. That is a little bit different than a non-family intern. But you’d still be approaching a VIP and doing so in such a situation is just so far outside the realm of what I know that I was surprised to see so many people thinking this would go over without any repercussions. And more power to the OP if it does.

          2. AdAgencyChick*

            I BLOODY hate hiring clients’ kids! They know full well you can’t fire them. Sigh.

            1. Blue Anne*

              Heh. You might enjoy this – when I was in my final interview for Big 4 Firm, the partner and I were discussing how my background at the time was Philosophy but I had still scored very highly on the time-pressured math and reasoning tests they require as the very first stage of the graduate interview process.

              She said, “Every year I get one or two of our clients calling me up saying hey, my kid just graduated from Toff University and he’d love to work at Big 4 Firm, but he failed those electronic tests you do at the start. He’s really smart, just those tests!”

              “What do you tell them?”

              “Just yes, they’re tough, now let’s talk about your account. I don’t help them out with it. I don’t want a client’s kid working here anyway, what a pain in the ass, can you imagine? And a huge conflict of interest.”

              It made me happy.

        2. Pwyll*

          I think this is also similar to the mindset of an executive who fears ruining the relationship with the school if you let go of an intern. I struggled with this for years with our CEO, who thought we’d never get good students from the school ever again if we fired a Bad Intern. Especially because, ‘what harm could one more month cause?’

          But I don’t really see the downside in discussing this with the executive. Worst case scenario they say that you can’t fire him, and you’re . . . in exactly the same situation you’re in now?

          1. Lily Evans*

            That’s so interesting, because I feel like schools are equally as worried that sending bad interns will make a company stop working with them. Apparently this actually happened once or twice with teaching internships at my alma mater, a couple schools and specific teachers stopped accepting interns after bad experiences.

            1. Pwyll*

              I think you’re absolutely right. Interestingly, we did fire interns, and the school was amazing to work with during the process each time. They did some troubleshooting with us to determine whether firing was really the right decision (it was), and then really made it a learning experience on the student’s end by explaining what went wrong and how inappropriate the student’s actions were. It was an awesome experience, but this is also a school with a very, very structured compulsory internship program and a very comprehensive employer outreach program.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          I have to be honest. Hearing you say they should be fine with it actually surprised me. I have never seen this go well. /snark Maybe I have never worked with professionals./snark. Or it could be that the times it did go well, it went so well that I was not privy to it. That could be, too.

          However, I would still go to TPTB on this one, in spite of my life experience. I tend to swim upstream anyway. And sometimes doing what’s right for the company and for your employees means making some waves that are not comfy. I think that OP is probably a well-respected employee and has good credibility. This will only be an asset to her in this situation.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I agree about this–I’d be nervous.

      But I think our LW / OP could say, “I wanted to let you know how it’s going. It’s going badly; he does this and that and the other thing. This hasn’t been a successful internship for him, because he’s clearly not learning anything, despite my trying to teach him—not even about basic things like ‘come to work clean and well-groomed,’ let alone things like ‘listen to the directions your supervisor gives you.’ It lso hasn’t been a successful internship for the company, because his work has to be redone, which costs me quite a bit of productivity, and we aren’t identifying someone who might be a useful full-time hire later. The only upside I can find it that we know now that this person would not be a good hire.”

  26. Heaven's Thunder Hammer*

    For the record, as a man, not a fan of the word “mansplain”. I get it that it’s used for a very special circumstance, but it often says just as much about the person using the word as it does about the person being described that way.

    1. Mustache Cat*

      It only describes a situation, which is encountered far more commonly by women than you seem to realize. Saying that it “says just as much about the person using the word as it does about the person being described that way” is like saying that calling out sexism is sexist.

    2. Lady H*

      What if everyone who spends their energy complaining about the use of the word mansplaining instead directs their energy to stopping it from happening? Is it really more helpful to tell women that although you recognize that mansplaining happens, that you don’t like the term?

      I don’t like the term either, because it describes a very real and frustrating occurrence that sadly isn’t rare or special to many women. It’s unfortunate that it’s such an everyday occurrence that the term was coined and can be used so frequently.

      1. Pontoon Pirate*

        Preach. You know what else I don’t like? Being talked over and down to when I have just as much right to speak and be heard as the man doing the interrupting. I like that even less.

      2. Myrin*

        And I bet most men’s negative reaction to the term is only so strong because it actually has “man” in it so you can’t really go around it or embellish it or make it sound less like a problem with the male gender in particular. Whereas sexism is so entrenched and established in our culture (and has been for centuries) that it is much more… subtle, in a way? So people who aren’t on the receiving end of or on the lookout for it can easily say “Oh, that wasn’t because you’re a woman, it was just because of XY”. You can’t do that with terms like “mansplaining” because it’s so direct and unambiguous. And I like that.

  27. Heather*

    This is NOT an armchair diagnosis, but I wonder if he’s on the autism spectrum (aka Aspergers). A lot of his behavior reminds me of an ex-boyfriend of 4 years. E.g. poor hygiene/manners, offensive behavior, condescending manner of speaking, unfocused, etc…and no matter how many times I would coach him on social norms or respecting other people’s boundaries, it never stuck. One year he went through four jobs because he never showed up on time despite an afternoon start and rubbed his coworkers the wrong way. The word “creepy” came up a lot. Eating out with friends was also a challenge because he would arrive late, disheveled, and act like a slob. If I didn’t know he was on the spectrum, I’d assume he was just a jerk, but the situation still became too much for me to handle.

    Point is, there could be more going on with the intern than OP is aware of. But regardless, he’s not doing his job and there are consequences.

    1. Leatherwings*

      This was addressed above, but discussions like these are really neither helpful nor kind

      1. Heather*

        According to who? I think they’re helpful when handled appropriately because they encourage compassion instead of disdain toward people who could be struggling with hidden limitations. My comment was an observation, YOU assumed it was an insult.

        1. Leatherwings*

          According to AAM, who’s website you’re on and who’s asked us not to engage in this kind of discussion.

          1. Heather*

            Like I said, my intention was to encourage compassion, not stigma (I’m actually a mental health advocate so being called-out as “not nice” is…interesting). Anyway, I think OP is doing a great job reinforcing her expectations and trying to provide guidance. Regardless of the cause of his behavior, it’s damaging the team and I think AAM’s advice about checking in to dismissing him early is spot on. Now everyone relax.

            1. Mustache Cat*

              You get called out based on actions, not on what you are outside of the AAM comments or even by your good intentions. Don’t deflect by saying that these concerns about your commenting choices aren’t warranted.

              1. Heather*

                Point taken. Chill out. No need to argue with a stranger on the internet. I’ll respect her guidelines.

                1. Rusty Shackelford*

                  Man, this has been a good day for comments. The person who started the argument telling someone not to argue is almost as good as the explanations of why mansplaining wasn’t really mansplaining.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Okay, everyone, please take this down a notch. This has gotten heated to the point that I’m considering closing the comments, which I’d like to avoid.

                  If you can resist making a heated or snarky comment to someone else, please do.

            2. Katie the Fed*

              you posted from the experience of someone who has known a single person on the spectrum, not a mental health advocate. And you basically just equated jerkish behaviors and poor hygiene as indicative of autism, so I could see why that might be unwelcome to people who are autistic.

        2. myswtghst*

          I think it’s important to start from a place of compassion regardless of whether or not an employee maybe might be neuro-atypical, and I think Alison typically encourages that. There are a million and one reasons (mental health, culture, naivete, etc…) why someone might struggle with business norms, and all of them deserve an opportunity to improve and feedback from a compassionate manager.

          In this particular instance, the LW seems to have done that part already, and the behaviors still aren’t improving. If the Bad Intern had come back to LW and explained it was due to an ADA-protected diagnosis, then we could discuss how best to deal with that, but he didn’t, so it doesn’t seem helpful to speculate.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      We talked about this above, but the reason the commenting guidelines ask people to avoid this is because these statements often stigmatize people with those diagnoses, and it’s generally not useful to focus on disorders rather than practical advice for dealing with the person in question anyway.

    3. LW*

      Honestly, I have friends and acquaintances on the spectrum, and they are all wonderful employees, industrious, etc. I don’t think that there is a disability issue.

    4. Preux*

      Starting an armchair diagnosis with ‘this is not an armchair diagnosis’ doesn’t make it so. And if you really are a mental health advocate, you should probably know that those of us with mental health needs (like myself – autistic, among other things) find comments like yours unhelpful and insulting. When I struggle to acceptably meet professional standards – which I sometimes do – I need the compassion and assistance of my family and my support network. I do NOT need ‘compassion’ in the form of my manager or coworkers speculating about what conditions I may or may not have, and holding me to a different standard because of it.

      1. Tau*

        I do NOT need ‘compassion’ in the form of my manager or coworkers speculating about what conditions I may or may not have, and holding me to a different standard because of it.

        Exactly! If I discovered that my managers were doing this to me, I would be – incensed isn’t a strong enough word. What my manager should do if I wasn’t meeting standards is exactly the same as what they should do if any employee isn’t meeting standards – take me aside and have a clear and frank conversation about it. Be ready to work with me to find an acceptable solution to the problem that meets the business’s needs, but don’t pretend we don’t have to find one. Should you ever think I need to be treated differently on account of my being autistic, do me the courtesy of treating me as a full adult human being and talk to me about it. And don’t speculate. If I haven’t disclosed to you, I haven’t done so for a reason.

        Honestly, the “but you can’t hold him to standards or subject him to consequences because what if autistic??” attitude that crops up over and over in these discussions is pretty infantilising.

        1. JessaB*

          Exactly. If someone with a medical issue is talked to about a problem and they need a reasonable accommodation, they can ask for one. Otherwise, beyond that, you treat them like any other employee. If you have an issue, you tell them.

      2. Heather*

        There was a question awhile back from a guy who had a smelly coworker who often wore the same clothes. It was a work-related issue that the OP was trying to handle on a practical level, however some commenters brought up that it could be caused by homelessness….which was my point: when inappropriate behavior pops up, you never know what could be behind it. But in no way am I suggesting people gather round and play doctor. I’m also not suggesting all people with mental health needs or xyz diagnosis behave in negative stereotypical ways. What I am saying is bad intern maybe just needs extra guidance.

        I sure did. My first internship was terrible. My manager would yell at me in front of others and call me mentally incompetent if I didn’t understand something (which was often). But the thing was, I was just scared. I come from a poor immigrant family. No one from my neighborhood went to college, much less had a professional job so that world was foreign to me. It could have been a great growth opportunity. However, my manager focused all her attention on the good interns and let me go.

        My ex struggled too because of his own unique issues. And so did other friends who for whatever reason didn’t fit office culture right away. I understand it can be frustrating for managers, and there has to be consequences for bad behavior, but bad intern could be a great employee in the making.

        1. Tau*

          OK, I think I better understand where you’re coming from now, and I’m really sorry your first internship experience went so badly.

          The question that I have is – what would you have OP do differently? It sounds like she’s being pretty direct and clear what is expected of him and what he needs to change. She isn’t dropping vague hints and expecting him to pick up on them, which a lot of people mentioned they were worried about her doing when they first started reading the letter. She isn’t yelling at him and calling him incompetent, which I am pretty sure would garner some stern words from Alison and have the comments section up in arms. She’s given him explicit, repeated feedback and he’s refusing to even start to take it into account. Where is she going to go from here?

          To be honest, although I get the angle you’re coming from, I’m not sure OP can do anything for this guy. A lot of behaviours can be a matter of difficulty adjusting to office culture – lateness (I am remembering my own first internship and cringing, everyone), clothes issues, even stuff like interrupting, not doing the work properly, and goofing off. But from the sound of it, he doesn’t respect OP and doesn’t care to change, and while that’s the case there’s nothing the OP can do to guide him into the work world.

          Actually, correction: the one thing I can think of that might work would be a real wake-up call, such as him being fired or failing his internship. But he *needs* to learn that this is not how you get to behave in a job, and OP talking to him doesn’t seem to be working.

        2. LW*

          I remember that letter. I didn’t want to get too specific … but he smells like Axe. His clothes are clean, he just is sweaty or something. He’s not homeless or struggling; he comes from a wealthy family (that’s how he’s here).

          I don’t really have time to give him a ton of extra guidance when it’s clearly not working. I’ve never called him mentally incompetent, and I make it clear that interns can ask me any question, no matter how silly. I do focus on growing the careers of my good interns because they’re helping me and deserve to be rewarded for it, and also because I can’t trust my bad intern to represent us in meetings etc.

    5. DeskBird*

      I want to say, from the most kind, jedi hugs kind of place that it is very possible that your ex was both on the spectrum AND a jerk. The one doesn’t have to do with the other.

    6. Observer*

      As it happens, most of what you describe has nothing to do with Aspergers. Just because someone is on the spectrum, doesn’t mean that anything they do is a result of that.

  28. Editor*

    About this intern’s interruptions: would it be appropriate to send an email or IM to the intern saying that from now on, when he interrupts, the supervisor will say “stop” as a short form of “please stop interrupting and resume listening.”

    Then, with each interruption, instead of talking over him or some other response, it’s always “stop” so he’s getting a consistent signal about the misbehavior.

    I would be tempted to carry a deck of blank index cards and hold one up or set it aside for each time I had to say “stop,” so there’s a physical count of the interruptions that can be tallied in a follow-up each day or each week. That way the intern can’t claim there were not that many interruptions. I just don’t know if this is too much like dog training to be acceptable in the workplace. Some tangible evidence of the interruptions might make him see his behavior in ways he has apparently been unable to previously.

    1. Leatherwings*

      To be honest, I don’t think this is helpful. A ton of work for OP, and not useful for a working adult, who shouldn’t need something like this to function. It does feel like dog training, and that’s a sign that it’s probably not appropriate for the office.

      I also wouldn’t ever address something like this via email or IM.

    2. KR*

      I agree that this probably wouldn’t be helpful – this kind of training or detailed feedback on his behavior is something a health professional or his family or something should be doing. It’s not the responsibility of the OP.

    3. Kate M*

      It might not be appropriate for work, but I do love the idea of just carrying around a sign that says STOP and just hold it up whenever someone gets like this with me.

      1. Tau*

        This sounds like the next best thing to the IgNobel prize’s method for making sure speakers don’t go over their allotted time: hire an eight-year-old child to go up to them when time is up and say really loudly “I’M BORED PLEASE STOP” over and over until they shut up.

        …I wonder if LW has a kid or niece/nephew or so who’d like to earn some pocket money?…

      2. Lady H*

        Years ago, I bought a pack of business-card sized cards that just say “STOP TALKING” in silver ink on beautiful heavy, matte black stock. I got it for my manager at the time as a joke gift (people often used her as their personal therapist). Of course she never used it, but I loved that they were so beautiful and yet downright stone cold. How tempting it would be to give one to this intern!

        I just recently read that David Sedaris travels with these very STOP TALKING cards. They would definitely be useful on an airplane, too!

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          I remember this one company that did cute business-card-sized folding cards that said “Congrats!” on the front in brightly colored letters. And on the inside, they said, “You’re an a$$hole!” with several boxes you could check with a reason (“Double-parked car,” “butted in line,” etc.) BRILLIANT.

        2. myswtghst*

          My Mom bought me a really cute wooden desk sign with flowers and engraving on it for me at a craft fair – it says “I’ll try to be nicer if you try to be smarter on it” so it sits where only I and my coworker can see it. :)

      3. Rusty Shackelford*

        I’d rather have it embroidered on a beanbag that I could bounce off the offender’s forehead…

    4. Nerdling*

      You don’t need a whole deck. You just need a yellow and a red. First interruption or whatever gets a yellow card. Second interruption gets a red and the intern being sent back to his desk with orders to speak to no one for the rest of the day. :P (No, we don’t have soccer on in the office. Why do you ask?)

      1. Marty Gentillon*

        Taking over someone interrupting is a normal, expected response when you aren’t done. You don’t even need to raise your voice. They will eventually get the message that you want to say what you are saying, and research indicates that everyone should be able to follow the conversation. (Assuming, of course that they don’t get flustered.)

        I would recommend that you both look into conversation styles. I would recommend anything by Deborah Tannen.

        1. Nerdling*

          Thanks? I feel pretty comfortable in my communication in everything but my ability to get humor across in writing right at the moment.

  29. Student*

    You’ve tried giving good-faith feedback. You’ve controlled the damage he can do tot he other intern or the organization. So now, control the damage he can do by wasting your time and energy.

    Firing him is the best route. If that isn’t an option, then stop engaging with him.

    Not just by giving him busy work – significantly reduce how often you check in on him and how often you give him assignments. Don’t give him tons of little assignments so you’re forced to interact with him a bunch – give him one big useless task, like proof-reading a very long document that is already finished and in distribution, or researching something vaguely industry-related and writing up a report on it. He’ll goof off on his computer for most of the time. He’ll feel like he’s pulling one over on you and congratulate himself on pulling a paycheck for nothing. You won’t be wasting your precious time on him. Every time you find yourself wanting to deal with him, for example, by correcting him again, instead devote that time to something more important. Maybe that’s your projects, maybe that means giving the good interns more feedback or advice.

    1. Chriama*

      If this was Reddit I would upvote you. OP, you have this guy for a max of 4 weeks. If there’s no way out of it, stop resisting and just let his suckiness wash over you.

      Also, reading some of your comments you seem a little conflict avoidant, for example hinting about his appearance/hygiene instead of saying things straight out. It’s funny because you’re also pretty assertive in the talking over him when he tries to interrupt you. I think you need to start being explicit with him. When something is off, tell him how and do what you can to fix it. If it’s not too much time and energy for you I would do stuff like send him home to change when he’s not dressed appropriately, or tell him he’s not invited to any more lunch meetings because of the way he acts. One conversation where he gets fair warning, then stop humoring him or beating around the bush. Of course, this is all way more effort than just basically ignoring him for the next month, so decide the course of action based on your priorities. Either way, please come back and update us!

      1. LW*

        I’m usually incredibly assertive, but I’ve never dealt with someone who looks disheveled. It’s something we’re trained out if in law school, so in my mind, it’s beyond inappropriate.

      1. Red*

        Oh god, I got the basement assignment in college… It was awful. If it was meant to drive me out of the office, it succeeded. That was the only time I’ve ever nc/ns’ed and, while I feel a little guilty even a decade later, I just… There were so many *bad* things about that office. Being sent down to the ill-lit spider basement to sort files in cartons was just another nail in the coffin.

  30. Le Clerk*

    I think he absolutely needs to be fired. He is taking up valuable space for someone who can benefit on merit and not nepotism.
    Mansplaining= omg never know there was a word for that!

  31. Sara*

    Your letter is giving me flashbacks! I had an intern very similar to this one, right down to the condescension towards the other interns (who were younger) and poor hygiene. I wasn’t allowed to fire them either, though mine was because the internship was being done for course credit and not because anyone referred them. At least I got to give a grade at the end of the semester.

  32. Eileen*

    This sounds exactly like an intern we had a few years ago who was a referral from a VIP connection. He had a major problem with women in authority (and didn’t hide it), didn’t finish anything correctly, or would half finish something and send it back to me to finish (?!), and didn’t shape up despite lots of very clear feedback. We did fire him, and the VIP was totally supportive of it. I still have some of the emails the intern sent me saved because they’re so ridiculous.

    1. Serafina*

      Aww, come on, you can’t tease us like that! Take out identifying details and share the wealth, plzzzz?

  33. March*

    This guy sounds like a real piece of work.

    LW, you mention that he needs this internship to graduate – is there a coordinator anyone at his school you can talk to about his unprofessional, frankly problematic behaviour? It’s great that you’re handling it at your office, but I have to wonder if his school might want to know how he’s acting.

    1. TootsNYC*

      one other thing in terms of roping in the school:

      It really is a helpful thing FOR THE STUDENT.

      He needs to learn some pretty basic and valuable things. He isn’t learning them. The school can do its part in teaching him.
      So I’d reach out to the school to say, “I wanted to alert you, and to ask you to help. Things are going wrong. Is there anything that you can do? Even if not in time to help us, as a company, with this intern, maybe you can help HIM, once he’s done here, by confirming the important of stuff like proper grooming, attention to detail, respectful treatment of a boss, proper time management, etc.”

  34. Katie the Fed*

    Wow…the comments section on this one. I need a drink after reading all of that.

    OP – good luck.

      1. Nerdling*

        You really are handling this kid very well. If you do decide to talk to the VIP, I hope you get a positive outcome. And I do think reaching out to the university for more information on what they need from your company to confirm his participation/for him to pass the internship is a good idea. I strongly suspect he’s jerking you around there. Keep kicking butt!

      1. Katie the Fed*

        It’s a shame. This is usually such a nice place. Glad I missed the nastiest.

        1. OhNo*

          Unfortunately, I have a feeling there’s an influx from elsewhere on the internet today.

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      If I believed in astrology, I would be muttering something about the planets…’cause this comment thread is *so* out there today.

      1. CMT*

        I had the same thought, so I did just go check to see if Mercury is in retrograde. Surprisingly, it’s not. (That’s the only planet alignment thing I know of.)

  35. Meg Murry*

    LW, given his comments about how your department isn’t important, and his lack of respect for you, how did he wind up in your department/how did *you* end up with him? Is your department the best fit for his undergrad program? Are you the only one that takes undergrad interns? Did you interview him before hiring, or were you just assigned him and told he would be one of your interns because VIP says your firm needs to hire this intern and you had an open position? Are you the only person in the office with undergrad interns, or is there a whole “class” of interns? I don’t normally believe in passing the buck on a terrible employee, but would he rather be doing other assignments other than your charitable ones, and could you explain to him that if he shapes up his work for you, you could help him get other assignments that are more in line with his interests?

    Does VIP ever interact with the intern? Does s/he ever come to your area and see the intern there in their sloppy state? Or is VIP in a different office or department and doesn’t see the intern? Do you ahve any reason to send him on errands that involve going to the VIP’s office?

    Normally, I’m not one for special treatment, but since this person is an undergrad and an intern and seems to need a good “this is the way the world works” talk – are there any more senior people in your company that treat you with respect that you could ask to “mentor” this intern, and help him get through his head that it’s not ok to disrespect his boss, and/or women in general? And to point out ways in which he is currently doing this, like interrupting you and ignoring your instructions? Actually, regardless of the way this intern turns out, I’d highly suggest you consider that kind of structure going forward with interns – when I was an intern we had an official boss, who was the person who gave us assignments and feedback on our work, but then we were also all assigned mentors who would take us for lunch or coffee and handled more of the soft skills/cultural fit training, and also was a person you could go to with questions that were more like what people ask here like “what do I wear to the XYZ casual event” or “is my boss just really busy or is she mad at me when she says/ does ABC?”

    In addition to in the moment feedback like “Please don’t interrupt me, let me finish my explanation” , have you given him any big picture feedback like “I need you to take more care with your appearance. You need to understand that if I take you to a customer meeting you are there as a representative of the company – and you need to dress the part, including clean, unwrinkled clothing ….”

    It sounds like this guy has a really big ego, and probably doesn’t even realize that he isn’t making a good impression right now. Could you give all of your interns a big picture “here is how things are going” meeting?

    1. LW*

      Thank you so much for this extremely helpful comment!

      The VIP requested that we take him on because we have a reputation for working well with interns, and we have a huge need for help in my department. (As background, we transitioned to a mandatory volunteer program last year, and my workload has almost doubled.) I didn’t want to take him on, but a friend of mine in HR needed a placement for him, so we agreed that he would work on a project that I’ve been unable to handle because of my workload.

      There are a few departments that take on interns, but we don’t have a really formal internship program for non-grad students. That’s actually part of the issue; they typically work directly with me and with my boss, and we give them assignments, feedback, etc. I’m always happy to answer any questions about our culture, but I wouldn’t know who to set him up with as a mentor because we’re all so busy here. I can’t really find a way to make him work with our VIP, because the VIP is in an entirely unrelated department that Intern couldn’t help out whatsoever.

      I’ve tried to give him neutral feedback (like saying that we’re having an important meeting tomorrow, please wear a tie, etc.), but it’s very hard. I’m trying not to doxx myself, but I work at an org that is in the top 10 in our city for what we do, so most people who come here know better. They actually tend to overdress, if that makes sense.

      He absolutely has a big ego. It’s so strange to me, because his work is honestly substandard. I’ve worked with high schoolers who have better spelling/grammar/professionalism than he does.

      1. Kate M*

        Oh, the Dunning-Kruger effect. Where “relatively unskilled persons suffer illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than it really is.”

      2. Meg Murry*

        Since you have a friend in HR that helped you place him, I’d start with that person to get some advice on how to handle him – whether you should start going in a “document his poor work and failure to follow instructions” route, or whether there are other HR resources you should make use of.

        My comments about the VIP were more along the lines of “does the VIP ever see him there, would the VIP come down on him for being so sloppy looking?” A more subtle way of starting to clue the VIP in on how his intern (isn’t) working out.

        I think you’re past the point of neutral feedback, especially since subtly is lost on this intern. I’d talk to your boss and see if she will role play with you, but you need to be clear that what the intern is doing now isn’t acceptable (for instance, don’t just say “wear a tie”, say “you need to take more care with your overall appearance everyday, and especially on customer visit days. That means your clothes should be unwrinkled and tucked in, your hair and shoes neat, ….” Or if there are customers in and out of your office every day, say that – customers could see you at any time, so you always need to up to par, and while right now he is meeting the letter of the dress code (shirt, dress pants, tie where appropriate) he is missing the spirit of the policy by being rumpled and untucked.

        Is the intern also being condescending to your (female) boss? Or has he not interacted with her much? I think she and HR are your best first line defense for either coping strategies, documenting a case to fire him, or finding something harmless for him to work on for the rest of the summer.

        Do you have an office or conference room you can pull him in for a private talk? Next time he tries to interrupt or disagree with your feedback, (or if he doesn’t stop after you call him out gently with an “excuse me” or “please let me finish”) could you pull him aside immediately and tell him that you need him to stop interrupting like he just did?

        Otherwise, I’d give him as much feedback and instruction via email as possible, and be explicit. For instance, “When you have finished collecting the data, I need you to input it into this Excel spreadsheet and email it back to me. I need the data electronically, scanning me your handwritten data isn’t going to work.” No room for interpretation as a casual request or that you’d “prefer” it that way but his way would also be ok.

        My concern is that if you just ride out this summer gritting your teeth, you will wind up asked to write a recommendation for this student in the future – and if you don’t give a good recommendation, that will get back to VIP (because if they are that much of a VIP, they may know people at the law school or potential other position). Or he will try to get an internship back with your company next year, and you’ll have to give a negative recommendation then. So you, your boss and HR probably need to decide whether you need to start letting this intern (and possibly the VIP) know now that it’s not going well, or whether you will wait to see if there is any followup after the internship and how to handle that.

        Also, if he really is this incompetent and obnoxious – make sure he’s never working with the only electronic copy of your data. Actually, that’s a best practice in general, but especially for know-it-all interns that don’t realize what kind of havoc they can cause by accidentally sorting part, but not all of a spreadsheet, or saving over data with a blank document, among other mistakes I’ve seen happen.

      3. TootsNYC*

        “I’ve tried to give him neutral feedback (like saying that we’re having an important meeting tomorrow, please wear a tie, etc.), but it’s very hard.”

        I think the time is way past for neutral feedback to be appropriate.

        I think a really hard-hitting, direct criticism session is long overdue. With no hints, but flat-out orders. Maybe you’ve tried that, though.

        And +1 to the idea of getting the HR person to help you with this.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I agree. Match what you see in front of you. A quiet, apologetic person gets soft spoken explanations and a loud mouth lout gets crystal-clear, hard boundaries.

          I was thinking that every time he interrupts you, maybe he could have 1 hour deducted from his work week? I guess this will mean he will be done by noon tomorrow.

    2. Alli525*

      This is all really good advice. If LW is interested in going with the mentor route, it might be extra effective if she has a male peer who is supervised by a female superior (and, you know, is a decent human being about it), and have Terrible Intern sit in on meetings between those two people. Triple point score if that peer is 100% aware of Intern’s sexist tendencies and explicitly models correct behavior.

    3. Student*

      A lot of this advice sounds to me like it rewards the bad intern for acting out with more attention, more of the OP’s time, and special opportunities (helping him find work in the company that he enjoys more). It’d be one thing if this was an employee who was really good at X but really bad at Y. But, he’s not that employee – he’s the time-drain employee who produces nothing good.

      The OP’s time is a limited resource. Every minute the OP spends redoubling the efforts to make him into an acceptable employee is time not spent enhancing this opportunity for the good interns. Instead of trying to invest deeply into the problem intern to make him acceptable, invest in the good interns to make them great.

  36. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Y’all, the debate about mansplaining has taken over the comments entirely and is really derailing from useful advice to the letter-writer.

    As of the time I’m posting this (2:08 p.m. EDT), I’m not allowing further comments on that topic, and any further that are posted will be deleted. Please limit your comments to the non-mansplaining parts of the letter, to minimize the amount of deleting I have to do…

    1. animaniactoo*

      I am ridiculously tempted to splain something, anything, right now. I’ll behave [slinks off]…

  37. Myrin*

    LW, although a good part of Alison’s answer is about this, I fear it might have been drowned in the derailing comments, so I want to reiterate that I think you seem to be doing an absolutely amazing job at managing this jerkball! As I started reading your letter, I was already preparing to get to a bunch of “I don’t dare talk directly to him” or “I keep hinting but he doesn’t get it” and so forth but you completely blew me away with your handle on this – I imainge quite tough and exhausting – situation. I especially like that you’re trying to keep things as positive for the other interns as possible – thanks to you, they can feel relatively safe from condescending, steamrolling know-it-alls at their place of work which must be a huge morale booster for them, especially if they are, as you say, high performers. Keep doing awesome work!

    (You’ve also taken some of the nastier comments here in stride, by the way, which I hugely commend you for!)

  38. Looking forward*

    There’s only four weeks left. Give him a special assignment. Something he has to research. Maybe even something you want to know about but don’t have time to look into. Ask him to create presentation and include a recommendation. You don’t actually have to do a darn thing with it. You are going to have a wild variety of quality with interns. Let’s hope this is the bottom of the barrel.

    1. Troutwaxer*

      Getting him out of your hair is a very good idea, but I don’t think you should give him a special assignment if you want to give him a poor grade. The argument will be something like “I’m a great intern, I was given a special assignment, wasn’t I?” Alternately, give him a special assignment which will make it clear to anyone that the assignment happened because the intern was substandard… have him copy a book on workplace etiquette by hand, from a printed format into MS Word, or something.

    2. Tau*

      I have similar worries to Troutwaxer on this front – that it’d come off like special treatment, not so much to him but to the other, good interns. If (silly example) the other interns make coffee for the employees, but he doesn’t have to because he can’t be trusted not to put salt in it and instead gets an interesting project to research, I can imagine that being pretty demoralising to them.

    3. Kiki*

      Yes, fortunately the summer is pretty short! I guess I would look at this at a great opportunity for some on-the-job-training. For *me*. I’d write myself a list of items to be addressed and a plan for each, then work my plan. At the end, once he’s gone, I’d evaluate myself. You might as well get something out of this headache.

  39. Char*

    Such an annoying character – I feel sorry for you. Maybe just keep in mind he will be gone in 2 or 3 months time? But yes, it sounds like positively annoying how he thinks himself better than the rest, despite being corrected and told of all the times, when the other interns aren’t. And the personal hygiene – that’s a red flag for me when dealing with people at work, specially young ones – people shouldn’t have to tell you to dress appropriately for work and clean yourself.

  40. Triangle Pose*

    LW, I just want to thank you for your letter and how helpful you have been in soliciting advice. You gave us useful examples of his behavior, you told us what you’ve tried to do already, and you gave us the VIP-connection context to help us understand the difficult situation. I think you used excellent word choice and descriptions of the entire situation. Lastly, you’ve been so gracious in responding in the comments in the face of more than a few perplexing and frustrating comments.

    I’ve worked in the BigLaw/law firm world and I really feel for you. Law firms are not set up for undergrad interns and generally don’t have a big “program” for summer interns apart from the summer associates who are in law school and have been through endless trainings on how to conduct themselves in a law firm way before they even get to you. Add in the VIP and it’s another level of annoying.

    I would approach the HR person who first placed him with you first and say “I know we initially placed him here because my department has a good history with working with undergrad interns and because we thought he’d be of help on this project on my plate. However, we need to revisit the issue because he’s been generally unhelpful and exhibited some really bad behaviors that are out of step with any workplace. I’ve given him feedback and many, many chances (bring up the fixing documents 4x times, continually interrupting and acting like he can give orders to other inters, etc.) but he simply has not been up to par by any measure. I think we should let him go or at the very least, sit down with him for a TALK and reach out to his school/internship coordinator to let them know about his terrible performance and how badly prepared he is for the workplace.”

    From there, let the HR person respond and push back if she doesn’t agree. If the VIP person if pulled in, explain everything above and make it a “we” conversation where “we” at the firm, would not want Bad Intern representing us in any capacity and our fee-generating clients and our pro bono clients deserve our very best. VIP cannot argue with that and if she’s reasonable, will sign off on the firing/”come to jesus” conversation.

    1. Christopher Tracy*

      Yeah, OP has done a commendable job in this situation because if it were me, I’d be so damn annoyed at this kid that I’d hand him a broom and make him do janitorial work for the rest of the summer.

    2. LW*

      You totally figured out what I do. ;)

      Thank you for the lovely comment and the really useful advice. I’m going to call my friend in HR and clue her in.

      1. neverjaunty*

        This twerp is pulling attitude on you and you work at a BigLaw firm? Does he not KNOW what the legal job market is like? (He clearly doesn’t know how much reputations matter in this profession.)

  41. Amadeo*

    My favorite Southern saying. It’s like a Swiss Army knife in it’s variety of uses.

  42. Loremipsum*

    Sorry to hear this. I have been there. Chances are others that are in contact with the person feel the same way.

    I have said this repeatedly: YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. Companies take advantage of interns, and strain their staffs to deal with it.

    My interns were all paid, and we formalized it with a contract, start/end date, and language like: ‘While we hope your internship is mutually successful Teapots, Inc. is an at-will employer and our relationship could end at any time.”(At-will state, which I think most are)

    1. LW*

      I don’t disagree, but I would have pitched a fit if they paid this guy. My other intern is paid, and he’s great.

  43. De Minimis*

    I am so late to the party on this one….I sympathize!

    I’m actually about to fire a student worker for poor performance/attendance issues [I’ve mentioned this person in passing a few times in open threads.] The complicated part is my boss doesn’t want me to actually say anything about the performance issues, or even to say we’re letting her go. He wants me to tell her the assignment is ending–sort of like when a temp assignment ends. Some of this I think is for administrative reasons with the university [she is technically their employee—we aren’t directly part of the university, we just pay them for our student workers.] It still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but I have to do what he says. It’s not even that the performance isn’t good, though that’s part of it, it’s that she is unwilling to take direction on correcting the problems. It’s not that I want to “tell her off” or anything, but she is really not doing herself any favors by developing these poor work habits. But I guess the time to do that was earlier on.

    This was my first hire, and my first fire….so far, judging from my experience here and with a couple of temp workers I’ve been reponsible for, I feel woefully inadequate at the supervisory aspects of my job [which is only part of my job, I’m not really a manager.]

  44. Avocado's Number*

    LW, I think you have more power than you realize: if he’s going to be applying for future schooling, you/your company might be the source of one of his recommendation letters. When you talk about consequences of his continuing to give you shoddy work/not listening to instructions, maybe you can frame it in the context of:

    “at this point, if these things aren’t fixed, I won’t be able to write you a positive letter of recommendation. But, if we can turn some of these around in the next month, I will be impressed with your dedication (etc.) and I would consider writing you a letter.”

    (Or something similar about getting a job with your company in the future – your word has a lot of pull in whether or not he gets hired/a letter of recommendation, and he needs those things, so he needs to start acting more professionally.)

    1. De Minimis*

      I’ve heard that is really the main leverage for student workers/interns….especially if they are unpaid.

      Ours are paid, but I think a lot of the less conscientious students just view the job as a way to get extra spending money when they want it. [but I want to say that most of our students are really great and many have been with us for most of their college careers–and we’ve even hired some for full-time positions after graduation, that’s how great they were.]

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Maybe all this extra talk is for nothing. Maybe all LW has to do is say, “Sorry, Stinky, but I will not be able to give you a good reference when your potential employers call me.” He could just ghost her after that.

  45. reader*

    If talking to the intern doesn’t help, AND talking to the VP doesn’t help (mention your personal integrity won’t support giving a good recommendation), then there is always the window office.

    As in, nothing to do but stare out the window. Remove his computer access and assign him to work in a certain place. Don’t give him anything to do, not even busy work. Direct him back to his “office” if he comes out to bother other people. He’ll quit. You might say, “I wish I could do nothing at work all day but play with my phone and still get paid”… until you try it. The shame and guilt is brutal when you don’t even have the fig leaf of pretending to work. Can’t even be useful in your own imagination. Plus, he’s not getting paid and can’t imagine he’s going to get a good review from it.

  46. Brisvegan*

    I’m a bit late, but wanted to chime in as an academic who has in the past placed students in law firms.

    Please, please, please let his school know, if you can, without causing problems for yourself with the VIP. We really do NOT want our students behaving this way anywhere they are identified with us and especially not in an BigLaw firm with whom we want future ties. You’re not in my country, but I can’t imagine that Bad Intern’s school would be happy.

    Also, if this is a capstone/graduation requirement, I would be very surprised if they are not expecting written confirmation of his work from you. I am side eyeing Bad Intern so hard about his claim the they need nothing from you.

    Best of luck with this LW. You sound like someone who gives interns a great exerience.

    Also, if you would like to update, I would love to read it.

    1. Kyrielle*

      I am wondering if Bad Intern’s claim that they need nothing from his actual supervisor is because either the VIP or HR is the “point of contact” for the school and will be giving the feedback – and he’s counting on a bland review because they’re not interacting with him much, or a positive one from the VIP because of the connection there.

      All the more reason to reach out HR and the VIP in question – both so they’re aware, and to make sure that reaching out to the school won’t cause the VIP to land on the OP. (With most sane people it won’t! But a quick conversation before reaching out will let the OP judge whether it’s going to be an issue, and if it is, decide whether it’s worth it.)

  47. DJ*

    Honestly, it seems that 90% of the problems people write in about on this site can be solved with a direct, frank discussion. “Intern X, you are doing Y behaviour/s which is/are completely in appropriate and unprofessional. I need you to stop this behaviour if you want to stay here and if you ever hope to get a recommendation or reference from this organization.” No equivocating, no being so polite that you cover up the actual intent and leave any room for misinterpretation from the receiver of the message.

    1. Katie F*

      While I agree that many letters do end with Allison’s advice essentially consisting of “Just have a frank conversation”, in this case the LW is clear that she has spoken to the Bad Intern about the issues with his performance and his behavior multiple times.

    2. LW*

      I’ve actually had several blunt and direct conversations with him regarding his attitude, lateness, and sloppy work. It’s … not working! It’s so strange.

  48. I'm Not Phyllis*

    I would be MORTIFIED if someone that I had suggested for a job was behaving this way and I would absolutely want to know about it. I had a situation at my last job where my CEO put a name forward for a position I was interviewing for. The applicant was really nice but completely unqualified and generally didn’t know how to behave in an interview (hadn’t been in job search mode for 30+ years). I explained this to my CEO, who was very grateful for the feedback. She was able to coach the applicant on how to interview, and gave some good pointers on where to improve skills. All I’m saying is, if I recommended someone for a job and they were behaving this way, I’d want to know … and not only that, but I’d be perfectly fine with you firing him. Plus his behaviour would ensure that I didn’t help him get another job.

  49. Some Guy*

    I just found this blog and was enjoying the few posts I had read… Until this one. This letter clearly describes a manager that doesn’t know how to handle problem employees. Everyone keeps giving her credit for trying to correct the employee. Unfortunately, every one of the described corrections is confrontational in nature. Especially where she describes cutting him off and saying “actually, no.” You think this is good management? If you can think of a better way to get someone to stop listening, let me know, but when you say that to a person they will immediately put up a wall. She also describes correcting him publicly and talking over him. Again, these are confrontational styles. I’m not saying let the guy walk all over you, clearly that would be a mistake, but has she tried having a one on one conversation about what he needs to do to make his experience a positive one? Tell him an example of a problem and ask him how he thinks it needs to be fixed. LEAD your employees, don’t just tell them when they’re wrong.

    I understand you can’t fix everyone, and it’s not a manager’s job to fix all the problem employees. There’s a reason we fire people. But could you at least try a less confrontational approach?

    As far as the author, I’m disappointed you didn’t notice any of this. To your credit you did mention having a one on one with the intern, but your advice was to threaten his career. It was also after exploring multiple avenues of either getting rid of him or minimizing his contact with others. Heaping nothing but praise on this manager, who is clearly not trying to help this employee, makes me seriously question the value of your management advice.

  50. Rick Tq*

    BadIntern must think that BigWigParent’s connections will smooth things over in life forever, he’s never felt any serious consequences from his awful behavior.

    Your mention of him using Google Docs in the face of a flat ban is interesting and may give you a window of opportunity. I assume you documented your direction (and the firm’s security requirement) to use internal tools only. I also assume all your interns got some information security training so they can’t claim they didn’t know company policy.

    Has BadIntern used any Google apps again? That, to me at least, would be grounds for immediate removal for both insubordination and violation of the firm’s security requirements. This one is cut and dried, especially if a regular employee would be removed for the same actions.

    And, Some Guy, BadIntern wants a career but doesn’t seem to care enough to learn even basic hygiene and table manners, much less appropriate behavior for a business environment. Frankly that says some scary things about BigWigParent and their actual amount of interaction with this child in the last few years.

    HE is throwing his chance for this career away, LW is simply the light that has exposed his many shortcomings…

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