should I get extra support when I’m on probation at work?

A reader writes:

After three years of hard work for and dedication to a small nonprofit (less than 50 employees), I was recently put on probation for low productivity and inability to meet deadlines. I admit I’ve been distracted by a personal situation; I recently had a baby and am having a hard time dealing with leaving him in daycare, where I suspect he may not be getting the attention and development he needs. My postpartum depression support group is helping, but I still have moments every day when I feel paralyzed by anxiety and sadness.

Fortunately, the organization employing has a deep philosophy about overcoming obstacles and setbacks, so this isn’t the kind of probation where they want to fire me and are just going through the motions to check boxes to avoid legal consequences. So I know I’m on probation with a sincere hope that I improve.

However, I’ve only been given vague metrics for measuring success — meet deadlines, improve productivity — and absolutely no advice or support on how to do that. I am expected to overcome my obstacles, and they sincerely hope that I do, and that’s it. It’s summer, and the organization president is on vacation a lot; meanwhile, my direct supervisor has reduced her hours in advance of retirement, and now only comes in one or two days a week. So I’m being told, meet your deadlines and be more productive, but I’m actually being offered less structure and support to help me do that.

I know what I need in order to stay on task: I need somebody checking in with me and giving me feedback. Eventually I can develop better habits, but in these critical three months of probation, I need support. I’ve expressed this to the organization president and was told I should continue reporting to my supervisor, even though she isn’t present most of the time and doesn’t check her email when she is out, and I have reason to suspect she never reads my reports. There isn’t anybody else within the organization to whom I can report.

In short, I am being under-managed in a dramatic way and at a critical moment. Instead of reducing my anxiety, it’s being compounded by this situation, making me even less productive. I still have two and a half months to turn this around and keep my job.

So what do you do when you aren’t getting enough management?

Well, I can see where they’re coming from — meet your deadlines and get your productivity back to where it used to be is actually pretty straightforward. (I’m assuming you have a decent idea of what they mean on the productivity front, since it sounds like you agree that you’ve fallen off there.)  It would be different if they weren’t telling you what good work looks like or not being clear about what you need to do to improve; these are things that managers usually expect employees to do on their own, without needing a ton of oversight to do it.

It there were a work complication that made meeting deadlines and raising your productivity difficult — like if your workload was way too high to realistically meet all your deadlines or if your productivity depended on getting input from others who weren’t providing it — then yes, I’d expect your manager to sit down with you and hash that through.

But it doesn’t sounds like that’s the case here. It sounds like you’re asking more for additional emotional support, and while that’s a nice thing when it’s given, it’s also not really something you can insist on.

Ultimately, they need to see that you can meet deadlines and maintain your productivity with this level of involvement from them. They’re telling you that’s what you need to demonstrate — not that you can do it if they’re more hands-on, but that you can do it when they’re not hands-on.

I’ll be blunt here because that’s probably the best way to convey this: Saying that you can “eventually” develop better habits when the stuff we’re talking about is deadlines and quantity of work output isn’t really a strong position to take. It would be reasonable if we were talking about a whole new skill you needed to learn like public speaking or Excel wizardry, but we’re talking here about baseline work ethic stuff. It’s understandable for them to want that improvement right away, and to be deeply concerned if you don’t think you can do that.

It sounds like you’ve got some hard stuff going on in your personal life, and certainly good managers will be sensitive to that. But I worry that you’re going to come across as blaming them for not helping you do something that it’s actually pretty reasonable for them to expect you’ll do on your own.

If you’re dealing with postpartum depression — and since they seem sincerely interested in a good outcome here — I wonder if a better approach would be to explain that’s really impacting your work, acknowledge that you haven’t been performing where you need to, and ask for a few months to get the PPD more under control (while actively working with a doctor). Say that you’ll be working hard on the work issues meanwhile, but that given the postpartum struggles you’re having, you’re hoping they can give you some time to work through that before drawing any final conclusions about your work.

Good luck!

{ 193 comments… read them below }

  1. Bend & Snap*

    Aw, this is hard. But I agree with Alison that “more support” isn’t a reasonable thing to be asking for when you’re working on correcting your performance.

    You can ask for training on how to better prioritize your time and handle your workload; there are lots of webinars and seminars that focus on that. I don’t know if Franklin Covey still offers those to the general public, but the Covey seminar I took a few years ago changed my life in this regard. If they won’t do that, asking a particularly effective colleague for pointers isn’t a bad idea.

    Ultimately it sounds like you need to build your own structure for your job vs. someone actively managing you, and if you need feedback, perhaps asking for coworker opinions on some (not all) of your work would help satisfy that.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      Also–if you’re not on meds for PPD–it might be something to look into. Something to calm your mind and keep you from incessantly worrying about the babe. I didn’t realize I had anxiety until I started meds and it disappeared!

      1. RVA Cat*

        Agreed. Talk to your doctor about this. I am on a low dose of Zoloft and went off it in my 2nd trimester due to overblown concerns from lawyer ads & the internet. That was a disaster. My therapist and OB-GYN said to go back on my meds as it is way more important to my baby for me to be healthy, and that it was fine to continue while breastfeeding.

        Also, I know it’s hard but try not to obsess about your baby in daycare. My son went in to a fully-licensed daycare at 12 weeks, he is 2 years old now and absolutely thriving. They are professionals for a reason. Honestly I think his vocabulary, social skills and manners are better than I could have taught him on my own.

        1. J.B.*

          Yes. Also expect that your new normal of work+kid will be more anxiety prone. There’s only so much time in the day.

        2. A Non*

          Yeah. Having a healthy, happy mom is more important than whether the baby gets some exposure to antidepressants. And your doctor can help you pick medication that is okay for nursing. The worst case scenario is having to switch to formula, which honestly? That’s pretty mild as worst case scenarios go. It’s far preferable to fighting an uphill battle with mental health issues.

          1. A Non*

            I realized after hitting the submit button that I should add – this is all if antidepressants end up being the right choice for you. That’s between you and your doctor.

        3. Artemesia*

          I was home with my first for two years and my second was in day care from 3 mos. She is the one who ended up being well mannered, easy to get along with and polite because the day care did a great job socializing little kids — better than this mother apparently did. If you have good day care your baby will be fine and maybe like mine, better off than home with a frustrated mother.

    2. Addie Bundren*

      I am about to take a FranklinCovey seminar on The 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity! Have heard excellent reviews of it from coworkers, too. If OP’s company is invested in her continued success, a seminar could be an amazing thing to look into.

  2. Kyrielle*

    What Alison said. And Bend & Snap.

    And if you have a smart phone, Habitica may be helpful to you if you respond well to gamification. (There are probably other options, but I use that one to keep myself accountable for chores at home, which I otherwise am inclined to let go until they actively must be done, at which point they are more of a nuisance.)

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Habitica is fabulous. I’ve also had good luck with using Brain Focus to keep myself on track while pulling out of a depressive + unproductive slump that lasted long enough to get ingrained as a bad habit.

    2. themmases*

      I would definitely look into some kind of app or organization system. For me, it really helps to just have something new where I will immediately notice the reminders and take them seriously because I’m not habituated to them yet. It can also be helpful to clean out your calendar and task list so you know every item in there is a real thing you need to act on. If my eyes glaze over when I look at my own calendar because it’s full of defunct lab meetings, I miss the real stuff.

      Since the OP is feeling so distracted, it may help them to not depend on their own brain so much. Use all the features of Outlook or similar to set reminders for when you need to start working on a task (not when it’s due), automate some email handling, and pick a system for where you will keep things you’re still working on. If there’s a way you were triaging things before that worked well, organize or automate some of that too. Save all your brain power for doing what the reminders tell you to do.

      1. FCJ*

        I recently went back to a pen-and-paper calendar because writing down all my appointments and to-dos and deadlines and things makes them stick in my head a lot better than just programming them into my Google calendar, especially since some emails and other programs automatically add things, so I was finding things doubled (if I entered it myself and then accepted an appointment on MeetUp or something), or things that were totally irrelevant to me (if something got transferred over from my organization’s calendar). Plus most paper appointment books have “notes” fields where you can write down things you want to get done that week but don’t want to schedule. If someone has a TON of things on their calendar the dead-tree method might be less effective, though.

        1. Temperance*

          I have a Plum Paper planner, and I love it. I couldn’t get into Google Calendar. Too sloppy for me or something.

          1. Kyrielle*

            …!!! Thank you! Every fall I start trawling the bookstores for the one or two planners that might use a layout I prefer, and I inevitably settle for one that is “almost right”. I had never heard of Plum Paper.

            Thank you, thank you, thank you.

          2. Honeybee*

            OMG, this is amazing. I finally found one layout I really liked from Sugar Paper (it’s task-oriented – so the weeks are laid out vertically on one page and the facing page has to-dos and task lists), but the Plum Paper ones look amazing and customizable!

        2. themmases*

          This is one feature of Google Calendar that I dislike too. I have my own way I want events to be formatted so the automatically created ones are not helpful. Luckily I am in the habit of creating an event for myself right when I hit “send” to agree to go to it, so I usually see the junk events right away and just delete them.

          I use Inbox, which tries to guess what your emails are and bundle them for you. I’m also on the staff and student email lists at my university and on Meetup… It’s pretty hilarious to see all the events Inbox would want to remind me about if I let it. Kind of makes me miss having Outlook at my old job, something I never thought I’d say.

        3. Honeybee*

          Me too. I tried all these gadgets and lists and task planners. Turned out the best thing I could do was write them down on the whiteboard in my office. They’re in my face all the time!

        4. Jen*

          Also, you could check out bullet journaling. However…be careful that you don’t look it up on Pinterest, because it’s a quick way to fall into a rabbit hole of feeling inadequate with all the artsy folks out there.

          Most of all, though, treat yourself kindly. You’re doing a yeoman’s job right now, and PPD is like a chemically toxic soup in your brain. Apart from meds (which I didn’t have with my first, but did with my others, and looking back it helped tremendously), if you can take tiny walks (even if it’s just 5 minutes around your office building), make sure you’re good on your vitamin D and iron, and maybe gift yourself with a small treat in the evenings (even if that means a hershey kiss while you do the dishes. Gotta multi task where you can! :)

          I don’t know where you live, but try googling for PPD support groups. There are so many more out there now than there were 10+ year ago, and they’ll be able to relate. And if they at all turn things into a “mommy war”, send them to me and I’ll kick their @ss for you. :)

          You can do this. You’re stronger than you think. (Yes, you. Don’t argue with me) :)

          –from one former PPD to another

      2. WorkingMom*

        Yes, Outlook reminders and can scheduling can help so much! OP, I can empathize SO much with what you’re going through. Coming back to work and dealing with PPD is something I can relate to. (I also found medication helped me get through that first year.) I started scheduling my time in outlook when I needed to excuse myself from work to pump – I scheduled it into my day and stuck to it like a firm appointment. As a result, I ended up scheduling a lot of my day in outlook and it really helped me stay on task when my mind and emotions were wandering. I wish you the best of luck, OP!

    3. Manders*

      I love Habitica! It’s not just a smartphone game, you can log into the same account from your browser too.

      If gamification isn’t your thing, there are some other online organizers that can help keep your to-do list in one place. I started using Trello after a recommendation from someone here, and one thing I love about it is that you can archive completed tasks and pull up that list later if you need to show a hands-off manager what you’ve been doing. And it has some features for helping teams work together even if they’re not in the same physical space–if you’re getting to the point where you don’t know if you’re on the right track or you’re waiting on approval for the next step, there are ways to flag that for your manager in Trello.

    4. Kyrielle*

      Another data point for Habitica: they have challenges and they have “parties” and “guilds” – the former adds specific tasks/goals with a small chance of reward (only one person completing it will get the reward). The latter two add people you’re accountable for (parties is a group of people doing quests, maybe different tasks though, but accountable to each other not to fall down on their dailies too much; guilds is a group of people with a forum for discussing things who might also do some guild challenges).

      Which is to say, the advice down-page about having check ins with other people than your boss *might* (or might not depending on how you process such things) be something you could meet with some of the structures in Habitica.

      1. OhNo*

        Absolutely! I love the party feature of Habitica. I’m one of those people who needs accountability in order to get stuff done, so having a bunch of party members to worry about helps a lot.

        (Now I just need to get over my instinct to apologize every time I miss a couple of dailies. I always feel bad when I cause them that much damage!)

        1. Aurion*

          I loved Habitica when I started, but after the first few weeks of being glued to the app I started forgetting to update my app even when I did the task. So we got a lot of health docked for nothing and it was very annoying :( My fault, not theirs, but I feel like I’m probably not suited for Habitica in the long run. (Especially when I start adding pointless tasks just to earn XP, which isn’t really the point of the game.)

          I’m starting to look into ToDoist now, thanks to recs on this thread!

    5. Liz*

      I tried and then uninstalled Habitica, because it was actually too distracting.

      Todoist, on the other hand, works wonders and doesn’t let you get side-tracked into feeding imaginary pets…

    6. Sarah G.*

      Is Bend & Snap an app? Can’t find it, the Legally Blonde scene keeps coming up when I google. Thanks.

  3. Amtelope*

    Given the description of the organization, it sounds like they need you to be able to meet deadlines and productivity targets without much day-to-day supervision.

    If you’re not sure when the deadlines are or how much work they need you to get done, by all means, ask for clarification. But if you ask for someone to check in with you more frequently and make sure you are staying on task, you’re likely to persuade them that you can’t do the job they need done. That’s especially true while you’re on probation — that’s typically not a time when you get extra support, it’s a time for you to prove to your employer whether you can do the job or not.

    I think Alison’s advice to approach this as “I am trying to improve my work, but my current health problem makes that difficult; I would appreciate extra time to resolve this medical situation with my doctor’s help” is good. Asking for more time on probation while you’re being treated for PPD seems like a better route to take than asking more more help with your work.

    1. INTP*

      Yeah, I had the same thought – it sounds like this organization needs someone in the OP’s position that can function with minimal supervision. The president likes to travel in the summer, and the OP’s supervisor is preparing for retirement. Those are both reasonable things for those people to do, and not something that it’s reasonable to expect them to put on hold just to help you not get fired. Saying “I can’t meet these goals without more supervision” might just tell your employer that you are not the person for the job anymore. Think about it from the company’s perspective – can they really tell someone who has begun the process of retirement and might have made commitments based on their new lighter schedule that they have to start coming in more frequently to babysit an employee on probation? Can they tell the president to cancel her vacations for the same reason?

      I do understand how hard it is to work through depression, never mind maintain a good, objective perspective on your workplace when you feel like you can’t think straight about anything. It is SO hard and I understand wanting some hand holding during this time. But I do think it’s reasonable for your organization to want someone in your position that can function more independently, and I think you should focus on how you can become that person. Don’t sabotage yourself by convincing yourself that you need emotional support to do your job.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I relate to the OP here and I did not deal with PPD. I think it’s harder to keep moving if you can’t see the boss working along with you and others. In an extreme example, I drove through an ice storm, took two hours to get to work and I got to watch my boss sit on the phone and visit with family over the phone. Discouraged does not even begin to describe. I am using this example because it’s very clear. But you go through day after day of this type of thing and I think most people begin to wonder “why am I even here?”

        I’d encourage you, OP, to think back before the PPD, do you remember having even slight concerns regarding your bosses’ absences? I should think that the PPD might exasperate something that was already in place. Not a doc, by any means, so I am just throwing this out for consideration.

        I worked one place where the boss said “there’s the filing cabinets, see ya in three weeks.” I ended going just so far with things and then waiting for inputs/signatures/etc. I am told I have a good work ethic and I am a good worker. I had a hard time staying on track, finding new things to fill my time and finding work arounds.

        I also think that when you add family members or lose family members your work place and everything can feel different, because these life events do change us and mold us. While respecting your concerns about PPD, I am wondering if something is running concurrently, such as you privately feel that you would like to move on from this job.
        I had a job that I wanted to leave and I had a major personal loss. It was really hard to sort out which one was exasperating the other (leaving vs loss). I kept telling myself to chug through it and that was not really the correct answer for me. Things were so off-kilter for me, it was the one time in my life that I have ever been written up. Sometimes when what is at the core of our lives changes, we suddenly change, too.

        Also talk with your doc and let him know this turn of events at work, if you have not done so already.

    2. Collarbone High*

      I agree — it doesn’t sound like the LW’s work style is a good fit for the current organizational culture. Some jobs just require the employee to work without supervision, and right now this is one of them. It sounds like that’s the general culture, because a company that insisted on micromanaging employees would have hired a replacement for the supervisor already — they wouldn’t be cool with having the department go unsupervised four days a week. This is a sign that the president expects “works independently” to be a given, like “showers before coming to work.” I imagine this isn’t a great time for the LW to change jobs, but I get the sense the choices are “change your work style” or “change jobs (voluntarily or not).”

    3. nofelix*

      Maybe I have a too generous interpretation of the OP’s letter, but it sounds like the lack of upper management is impeding her productivity. If that’s the case then recording the details of these impediments could form the start of a constructive talk about what productivity they want to see from her.

      e.g. maybe the supervisor has to give comments on a draft of every report, and her absence often means reports are put on hold awaiting comments. OP can talk to her superiors about whether they’d like to see more chasing for comments, better planning to allow for delay, better awareness of side projects to do while waiting, or more flexibility to get work done to a less than perfect level.

  4. Leatherwings*

    This sounds really tough, OP. I have a lot of sympathy for you. It sounds like they really need you to be able to meet deadlines and have better productivity management on your own. It might be worth seeing a counselor or consultant that can specifically help you develop a plan to help you at work. If that’s not feasible, I would use internet resources to develop a plan on your own. Figure out tools and techniques that will work for you to buckle down as best you can for the next several months.

    I totally understand that doing that extra work probably seems overwhelming right now, given all that you have going on in your personal life. However, I think seeking additional professional help that’s focused specifically on job performance will really help you in the long run. Sending positive thoughts your way!

  5. The IT Manager*

    OMG! I was really channeling Alison while I read the question and agree 100%.

    When your target is to return to your previous level of productivity you shouldn’t need a lot of explanation what that means. You know what needs to be done and how to do it because you did it before.

    The kind of help you’re asking for is not outrageous but it’s the kind of hand-on management junior, inexperienced employees need. What your boss is saying that the person in role is expected to work without such close supervision and they don’t have the time or manpower to give you the close supervision.

    1. INTP*

      Agree that the kind of help the OP wants isn’t necessarily outrageous, and in some cases I’d say they should give it for a while to help an employee succeed. However, it sounds like providing the support the OP needs would have to interfere with either the supervisor’s transition into retirement or the president’s travel plans. (Or involve hiring a new person or giving a busy employee a new report.) So in this particular case, those would be pretty outrageous steps to take – from the company’s perspective, they’d be punishing a higher performing employee in a VERY significant way just to help an employee on probation not get fired because she says she can’t meet her goals without the level of supervision her position really provides.

      I don’t think we really disagree on the company’s actions here, I’m just spelling out exactly what providing the support would entail from the employer’s perspective so the OP can realize exactly what she is asking for.

  6. Katie the Fed*

    OP – it doesn’t sound like you’re working with a therapist on your PPD – just a support group? I would strongly recommend getting a therapist ASAP who can help you work on strategies not just for this but other areas where you’re struggling. Right now you’re expecting a lot of yourself when you’re ailing – that’s a tough situation.

    1. Elle*

      I was thinking the exact same thing. Also, if you have access to an EAP, consider using them as a resource. You often get a number of free visits, but at the very least, they can refer to you to someone with a background in PPD. And I would also second the recommendation above of considering how medication might help in conjunction with therapy. Together, they can often bring about some welcome changes. Good luck to you!!

    2. 2 Cents*

      Yes! OP, I really feel for you. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for years. The one thing that got me through the worst of times was a therapist I could trust when my own brain was telling me lies and making me feel horrible about work, life and myself. If your company has mental health coverage, take advantage of it! It may be pricey and just another thing to do, but it will reap rewards and help you with this! If you don’t have that kind of coverage, many therapists have a sliding scale for their fees. Psychology Today has listings of therapists based on zip code.

      1. 2 Cents*

        Also, I’ve been on meds for years, and can’t recommend enough trying something for your condition (I’ve worked with psychiatrists). I was resistant to the meds at first, but no joke, I felt like they started working in half the time they were supposed to — because I didn’t realize just how bad I felt.

        1. Michelenyc*

          Totally agree. I avoided going on anti depressants for so long because I thought I could deal with it and get over it. Going on meds was the best thing I have ever done and wish I would have done it sooner!

        2. Jadelyn*

          It’s a hell of a feeling, when you start to feel better and you’re like…I had no idea I was doing so badly, until I wasn’t doing badly anymore.

          I honestly felt like a f******* superhero in the first six months of being on meds, because I could, like…DO stuff! I could go to work for 8 hours, then stop at the store on my way home, then make dinner, then do a little bit of work on a personal project, and still feel okay. I could go run errands on the weekend without it being a major production and terrifying to the point where I had to *force* myself to get out of the house. I honestly was like, wait, is this how neurotypical people feel *all the time*? With enough energy to keep up with the demands of normal life 90% of the time? It blew my mind.

          1. Kit*

            I had a similarly mind blowing experience, but it was mainly because of how much *physically* better I felt. A week or so on meds (I take bupropion) and I no longer had merciless jaw and back pain, my menstrual cycle got more regular, and it was easier to get to sleep and wake up in the morning. Depression can have a lot of physical symptoms.

          2. Rebecca in Dallas*

            Yes! I was so amazed when my doctor started me on medication for my anxiety. I still remember sitting there talking to my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and just blurting out, “I feel normal! I haven’t felt like I was going to die at all today!”

        3. the_scientist*

          I had the same experience. Started taking a low-dose antidepressant a month ago for anxiety, and within three or four days I was feeling measurably better. I truly didn’t realize how bad I was before I started on the drugs, until I all of a sudden felt better than I had in…..years? I put it off for a long time because I was worried about the side effects, but honestly, the drugs have been much more effective for me than therapy was. I feel so, so much better.

          1. Cafe au Lait*

            I am really glad to hear this. I have just started being treated for depression and anxiety. I am super scared of going on medication but I know that I need it. The brain gremlins have been working overtime, and my life is no longer tenable “as is.”

            Luckily, a very observant husband insisted on seeing a doctor, so there’s a game plan being put in place.

          2. blackcat*

            For me, I had the exact same effect with treating my vitamin D deficiency. HOLY SHIT did I feel better! In like 3 days!

            OP, if you aren’t also under the care of a regular doctor, try to fit in an appointment and get tested for vitamin deficiencies (notably D and B12 are often related to depression). Pregnancy & breast feeding can make deficiencies appear and/or be much worse. I think pregnancy can also impact thyroid conditions which can also cause depression. Depression can stem from a variety physiological sources, and getting those checked out is important. Docs often fail to recommend this type of blood work for depressed women, so sometimes you have to ask for it.

        4. BananaPants*

          Agreed. OP, I suffered with what started out as PPD for over 2 years before I got help – I didn’t want to admit it had gotten that bad, I thought if I just sucked it up and dealt that it would get better, and I was afraid of gaining even more weight on an antidepressant (of course I was eating to try to comfort myself and gained weight anyways!). Within around 3 weeks of starting bupropion, I had done a total 180 in terms of attitude, mood, and ability to actually function normally and I’ve lost over 20 pounds of the weight that I’d gained pretty effortlessly. Bless whoever invented that drug.

          Support groups do help some people, but if the PPD is interfering with your work so much you’re on a shape-up-or-ship-out performance improvement plan, I would encourage you to consider either individual therapy or medication or both.

          If you’re concerned about your baby’s well-being and safety, please look into finding a new daycare. It’s critical for working parents to know their kids are safe in order to function at work. If what you’re concerned about is that daycare will somehow harm your child’s development or you feel guilt about being a working mother, be reassured that high quality childcare is not considered detrimental. We love the daycare center that we’ve used for our kids and having the confidence that our kids are safe, learning, and growing in a caring environment has been really key for me in losing the working mom guilt.

          1. Been there, done that*

            I will chime in about the daycare center. I had the working mom guilt for about a minute, but I quickly realized that my son was getting much more attention and developmentally appropriate stimulation than he would have gotten if I had stayed home with him. I have a law degree, not a degree in early childhood development. I’m really smart and can do lots of cool stuff with him. But I also have no clue how to *effectively* teach a small child anything. I was shocked at preschool orientation when the teacher broke down the schedule and the longest things were 15 minutes. It takes me 15 minutes to even get ready to do a thing. But apparently that’s the maximum attention span of the average 4-5 year old, so you’re supposed to keep structured activities to 15 minutes or less and only give longer time blocks for free play. I have no idea how to structure a day like that! Likewise, he has gotten so much more socialization at daycare than he would have with me. Sure, we would have done story time at the library and swim lessons and things. But he wouldn’t have had any real chance to just play and learn to navigate the challenges of friendship with other kids. How to share toys, take turns, choose what to do when you each want to do something different, tell your friend you need some time to yourself. How to tell a story that actually makes sense to someone other than mom. How to handle having other authority figures and situational rules (it’s okay to do X at home but not at school or vice versa). At first it bothered me to realize there was a big part of his life that I didn’t know about, but now that he is able to carry on a solid conversation, I love that I’m not there to experience everything right along with him. Instead he has to tell me about things, so I experience them only through him. In about 6 weeks our daycare journey will end and he will start kindergarten and this is *much* harder for me. His teachers have been phenomenal. His friends will be splitting up and going to different elementary schools for kindergarten. He’s excited for kindergarten, but I am so not ready to leave daycare!

            If you have actual, specific concerns about the daycare center, by all means talk to them about your concerns and look around for another center if they don’t address your concerns adequately. But if your concerns are more of the general “I’m a bad mommy for sending my child to daycare instead of staying home with him” variety, then that’s probably your anxiety lying to you.

            1. blackcat*

              Actually, that 15 minute attention span stuff is kinda bullshit. 15 minutes is how long you can get kids that age to pay attention to a task assigned to them by researchers, hence the “research shows this” results. But many kids around 3-5 can actually pay attention to things for A LOT longer than that–as long as they find it interesting and engaging.

              There’s a lot else that I’m sure they do right, but the 15 minute thing drives me bonkers.

              A course in developmental psychology w/ a focus on research design taught me just how little we actually know about how kids develop. Most research settings are pretty artificial, and basically the research only shows how a kid will behave if put back in the same setting.

        5. Shark Lady*

          Agreed. I had a particularly bad fall/winter in regards to my mental health, and starting Zoloft was like something flipped a switch in my brain. I had more energy! I could spend time with people and not freak out! I didn’t spend all evening figuring out every way I possibly disappointed everybody in my life! I’ve since switched to Lexapro due to some side effects, and while it hasn’t had quite the lightbulb effect that Zoloft had, it works pretty well to keep me stable.
          Please, talk to your doctor about potentially starting medication. And consider finding a therapist in addition to your support group–between therapy and medication, I’m in a better place mentally than I’ve been in years.

      2. lfi*

        Or if your company offers an EAP they might be able to help you get in the right direction. Sending you lots of good thoughts.

    3. addlady*

      Also, I understand that progesterone supplements are both incredibly helpful and underutilized. It’s helpful both for PPD and PMDD (depression occurring during the second half of the month due to lack of progesterone)

    4. Liana*

      Katie The Fed is completely right. Mental health issues can be really difficult to overcome on your own, and if you have access to a therapist, I’d suggest that. I’ve never had a baby, but I have friends who dealt with PPD; it’s a pretty tough situation, and my heart goes out to you.

  7. Government Worker*

    This sounds really hard – I also had some degree of PPD and had a productivity slump after my twins were born, but it came during grad school at a point where I was able to skate through with my advisors until I was back up to speed.

    When my spouse and I are in productivity slumps at work (which happens to everyone occasionally, I think), we sometimes spend a few days emailing or texting each other to-do lists first thing in the morning of what we hope to get done during the day and then checking in with each other through the day. My spouse has no idea what I mean by “run the XYZ report” and I don’t know what she means by “write X memo”, and we’re often sidetracked by other things that come up during the day and so don’t finish our lists, but it doesn’t really matter. That little bit of accountability helps, and if she texts at lunch time to ask how things are going and I haven’t gotten anywhere, sometimes it jolts me into having a productive afternoon. It might not be enough if your PPD is severe, but if you know you need accountability, you might be able to set it up for yourself outside your organization with a friend or family member.

    Similarly, I have a friend who occasionally “live blogs” her work on a (private) social media account. Nothing confidential or detailed, just things like “Hoping to get through my to-do list of 11 tasks today” and then an update a couple of hours later that says “4 tasks complete, got caught up in a conversation with a coworker. On to task 5, which is a big one and will probably take me a while.”

    1. Leatherwings*

      I like both of these strategies – it’s like a check-in with a supervisor that the OP mentioned she wanted, but instead it’s with someone outside the org, or just with herself.

    2. Elle*

      This is a really good idea…I was thinking along the same lines of picking a willing partner in helping the OP stay on track. As you stated, they don’t really have to have any idea what you’re talking about, just the act of checking in with someone may help a bit.

      1. Intern Wrangler*

        I too was wondering about an accountability partner. Maybe there is someone in your organization, a peer, who you could check in with and use to help keep you on track.

    3. Been there, done that*

      I’ve done the same thing. A former co-worker and I would set “challenges” for ourselves. We would check in at the start of the day and tell each other what our goals were. Then we would check in again periodically with updates.

    4. Honeybee*

      I was going to suggest this, too. It always helps me to tell someone else about a deadline, even if I don’t report to that person or even if that person doesn’t really care if I get it in by then. That makes it Real in my mind, and I’m more likely to meet it.

  8. MindoverMoneyChick*

    This is going to sound weird, but I went through something similar during a period of anxiety and depression. I didn’t get put on probation, mostly because I was a trusted employee not being supervised that closely and I don’t think people knew exactly how much my productivity had dropped. But I knew I couldn’t hide it much longer.

    As I start to pull out of the spiral, I still couldn’t get my productivity back where it needed to be (I’ve since found out hi level of stress hormones have impacts on the amygdala that take a while to heal.) I thought about going to my sympathetic boss and asking her to really supervise me closely. But ultimately that wasn’t her responsibility at my level. So instead I put the job on my therapist. Seriously I told her that I needed to come in each week with a list of important tasks I need to accomplish at work the following week and she needed to check up to see if I did them.

    This helped a lot until my brain righted itself. Interesting since I was feeling much better it drove my husband crazy that I was paying $200 for this service. But I had to do SOMETHING and willpower wasn’t cutting it in the face of my compromised brain power..

    1. Little Missy*

      That $200 per session was an investment in your career. It was money well spent.

  9. animaniactoo*

    Question, when it comes to checking in with you, does it have to be your manager? Is this something you can setup with somebody outside your job in helping keep you focused?

    What kind of feedback are you looking for? How well you’re doing with staying on track, or actual feedback on the work you’re producing?

    I’m asking because it sounds like the kind of support you need is something that you can go outside your company to provide for you, and if that’s so you should absolutely do that rather than asking your company to provide it. Or rather, it was reasonable to ask, but they’ve given you a pretty clear “no” that they’re not going to do it, so it’s not reasonable to continue to push for it from them, and you need to go look elsewhere for it.

  10. hbc*

    Yeah, probation isn’t usually a time when you get extra support–it’s a time when you get extra scrutiny. If you were coming in late (in a job where that matters) and got put on probation for tardiness, you’d have *less* leeway to come in a minute late. You can’t ask for your supervisor to make wake up calls or pick you up at the bus stop so that you can get through your probation period successfully.

    If there’s some tool they can give you or a reasonable shuffling of things that would help, that’s a reasonable thing to bring up. For example, if some items on tight deadlines need to go through your mostly-unavailable boss, you could find a way to get her out of the loop so that your schedule doesn’t hinge on whether she gets back to you on Thursday for something with a Friday due date. But having a daily call just to ask if you’re up-to-date? No. You can set your calendar to give you those same reminders.

    If you’ve got a medical reason for accommodation, you have to invoke it explicitly. I probably wouldn’t if I thought things could be resolved without it, but in your position (without a clear plan of how things would get better), I would absolutely bring up the PPD and come armed with a doctor’s recommendation.

  11. MK*

    OP, I don’t want to sound harsh, but this statement:

    “I know what I need in order to stay on task: I need somebody checking in with me and giving me feedback. Eventually I can develop better habits, but in these critical three months of probation, I need support.”

    I have seen it proven wrong no less than 5 times in the 8 years I am doing my current, deadline-heavy work. In each case the story is the same: a colleague falls so drastically behind on their deadlines that it becomes a disciplinary issue; they are put on probation, usually with the advantage of a lighter workload, and told they have to be up to speed with their work by date X; during that time, their supervisor checks in all the time to see that they are on track and they eventually succeed. And always, always, sooner or later, they fall back into their previous bad habits and start missing deadlines again.

    The fact is, having a taskmaster constantly nudging you to work and reminding you not to fall behind is not the way to devolop better work habits; because the pressure isn’t coming from yourself, as soon as the close supervision is over, you begin to relax and fall back.

    1. Christy*

      When I was really struggling with my anxiety, I felt like I needed that kind of support too. It turns out what I really needed was regular therapy, daily medication, and emergency Xanax. Now I’m down to just daily medication and my work life has really turned around. Without dealing with my underlying anxiety, more supervision wouldn’t really have helped me.

      1. INTP*

        Yeah, I think when you are feeling overwhelmed and sad and everything else you might feel due to a mood/anxiety disorder, it can make you feel like you need a lot more social support, and make you feel a bit abandoned when you don’t get it. But it’s really not the job of work to provide that, you need treatment outside of work that fortifies you to do your job as necessary.

  12. Chriama*

    I don’t know if I agree with this advice today. If I were in the OP’s shoes my biggest concern would be wanting to know I’m on track. ‘Increased productivity’ is absolutely not a reasonable target when your job is potentially on the line. I think OP should be proactive by disclosing her medical issues (and taking FMLA if it’s needed/getting ADA accommodation if it’s possible) and also clarifying the goals with whoever will be responsible for evaluating her. It sounds like the president is leaving this to her supervisor, so she should speak directly to her supervisor.

    1. Chriama*

      Hmm. Ok, so reading the comments I get where people are coming from. I don’t think you can ask for someone to hold your hand, and if you need someone to keep you focused and motivated I don’t think you can ask your boss to be that person. My concern was mostly around the idea of being on a PIP with one of the targets being something so vague. OP says she knows they want her to improve, but I would be worried that even if I get back up to the previous level any small mistake would be seen through the lens of the previous PIP, and I think that’s more likely when there aren’t specific targets to hit. So maybe I would set up my own targets and confirm with the boss that they’re acceptable to her.

    2. MK*

      As far as I can tell, ‘increased productivity’ doesn’t mean they expect her to reach higher-than-ever-before levels; the OP admits that she has fallen behind in her work and they ask her to perform at the level she used to. I don’t know that it is a goal that can be clarified any further.

      1. Leatherwings*

        Yeah, as a long time employee I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect OP to understand what that means without further guidance

    3. Jadelyn*

      Unfortunately if she’s just had a baby she probably doesn’t have much, if any, FMLA left. You only get 12 weeks per year, and most of the time when someone has a baby they use up at least half of that, if not all of it, ime.

  13. LQ*

    I would also recommend creating a plan yourself and bringing it to your supervisor.

    I aim to get x, y, and z done by Friday. These are the subtasks I’ll do to get there. Does this make sense?

    It sounds like you had been doing it this work successfully in the past, so you have the skill to do it. But maybe what you need is a bit more structure for yourself now. Before it was a top of mind thing. Now it is below about All The Other things for you and so you need to create lists and plans.

    Doing this will show that you are being proactive about solving this yourself and give your supervisor a chance to redirect you, or say if they think it isn’t enough work. Then you have a list to make yourself accountable and go through to do the work.

    I really wish you the best on getting through this. I think that this is hard, and you’ll have some great suggestions from people here on managing the emotional pieces.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      “Before it was a top of mind thing. Now it is below about All The Other things for you and so you need to create lists and plans.”

      This is so spot on. I’m a single mom to an almost 3 year old (part of why I’m currently medicated) and some days it all comes rushing at me at once. I have a deadline at work. I need groceries. Did I do that load of laundry? Did I leave dishes in the sink? Is my kid going to be a big ball of crank when I pick her up from daycare? Will I have enough energy to do some picking up before bed? and on and on and on. The mental wheels never stop. It’s easy to get burned out by the cumulative effects of the big picture.

      1. LQ*

        I’m glad it was spot on! I’m not a mom but when I have other parts of my life pick up I find myself needing to create ten times as many lists for things I swear I could do in my sleep before. But suddenly something else is more important and so it just slips down in my brain. I think it is important to be willing to go, hey, life has changed and now I need new tools to handle it.

    2. Serin*

      This is a thing that parenthood does to your brain.

      Just one example, unrelated to the LW’s plight: Before I spawned, I used to bake cookies like so: Mix up all the ingredients, put the pan in the oven, somehow just know when the pan needed to be turned around, somehow just know when the cookies needed to be taken out of the oven.

      My recipe cards from that period don’t even have times on them. Why would I need times? (my twenty-something self asked) — I always just know when they’re done.

      As near as I can tell, that talent disappeared in my third trimester, and the “baby” is seventeen now and it still hasn’t come back. Now I have to set timers like the rest of the civilized world.

      LW, there are lots of great techniques here; what I have to offer is more like a worldview. Your brain used to have a lot of synapses free to handle a lot of tasks in the background. Those synapses are focused on your baby now, and one of the challenges of this phase of life is to develop techniques to do consciously what you used to rely on them to do without your input.

      1. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life*

        I was about to list the number of skills it feels like I’ve lost since the baby was born and honest to Goobers I cannot recall. The irony. But ditto on the baking recall. I now write it ALL down because there’s no way I’m going to remember what I put in what order where.

    3. CaliCali*

      I needed to make lists for EVERYTHING after having my son, and I still need them a lot more than I used to. I was one of those people who prided themselves on barely needing to list or remind myself of items at all, which I realize was a bit misguided…especially as that ability slipped. There’s just more to think about now, and there’s no harm in writing it down so you don’t have to use up all that brain space REMEMBERING and you can use it for processing instead.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Elder care will also give a person mash-potato brain. When you have to do someone’s thinking for them, it seems the wheels fall off everywhere else.

  14. SG*

    Here’s another question for the crowd along similar lines:

    What if you’re put on probation and are being told to get back to your earlier productivity, but are having assignments consistently steered away from you (including to freelancers that theoretically you manage)? Is that a sign that it isn’t about improvement, but rather that they’re going to let you go and are preparing to do so? Or just a sign of no confidence?

    1. MK*

      The second certainly, I would say. If there are time-sensitive projects and you have been unreliable about meeting deadlines, people might prefer to play it safe till you have proven yourself again. But it could be the first too.

    2. hbc*

      Can you ask? Not “I think you’re being dishonest about this probation,” of course. More like: “I’ve noticed that you’ve shifted a lot of assignments away to Jane and Wakeen lately. Is this a temporary measure as I get back up to speed, or is this a permanent shift?” If they give anything but enthusiasm about getting those back to you, I’d be concerned. And if they say that you’ll get them back or keep it vague (basically, anything other than “You won’t be doing that anymore”), I would make sure you make a move to take those tasks back before your probation period is over.

      You don’t want to fail to meet productivity goals of 10 projects per week because they’re only giving you 8, and/or having anyone think the only reason you’re delivering on time is that you’re still at 8 per week.

    3. Been there, done that*

      Honestly, it’s probably a good thing. You used to be able to juggle 25 balls at once. Now you cannot juggle 20 balls at once without dropping some. Even if the goal is for you to be able to juggle 25 balls again, it would be setting you up for failure to keep giving you 20+ balls to juggle. Your boss should give you 15 balls to juggle and divert the other balls to other coworkers. Once you show you can juggle 15 balls consistently, you’ll start getting more until you are at your goal.

      Productivity isn’t just about completing the same number of assignments but about completing them at the same level of quality, with the same efficiency and timeliness. If your productivity is down, it is probably not just about quantity. So it makes sense that you’re going to be given less work and lower-priority work until you can show you’re able to consistently handle that.

    4. NicoleK*

      If your boss involved you in this process then it’s about improvement. If you’re being blindsided then it’s about preparing to let you go.

  15. spaceygrl*

    Hi OP / LW – I really wish you luck in dealing with this. One thing I’m wondering if you’ve ever considered is the nutritional/hormonal cause of postpartum depression. I’ve had a lot of experience with this and believe that many doctors ignore / aren’t aware of WHY women have PPD. More information can be found here: (I have nothing to do with this site, I just find it amazingly helpful in dealing with my health).

    1. J.B.*

      Before going to the woo, she should probably look at sleep and medication adjustment first. When you have a real issue someone talking about nutrition/supplements is really not helpful.

      1. AFT123*

        I agree with J.B. – while nutrition and supplements can no doubt be wonderful, if you aren’t seeing results, it can sometimes make these kinds of issues worse. I’m also very familiar with the organization linked here and IMO, they have very strict, bordering unreasonable requirements/guidelines to follow. This can lead to a constant feeling of failure, exacerbating the issue at hand.

      2. A Non*

        There’s also the issue that someone who has enough energy to eat really well, exercise, meditate, and do all the other natural healing things probably isn’t depressed in the first place. That stuff definitely helps, but sometimes you need something more aggressive to jump start the process.

      3. Anon for this*

        Nutrition can be very helpful – I have a professionally diagnosed & treated anxiety disorder, and it’s easier without vitamin deficiencies adding to the trouble! :)

        1. Megs*

          Depending on what you’re talking about, though, vitamin deficiencies generally don’t fall into the same “wellness” end of the supplement market. Vitamin D deficiency, for example, is a real thing, which can be tested for and treated and have immediate benefits to addressing. Having a nutritionist tell you to take St. John’s Wort to treat depression is very different and chances are that “St. John’s Wort” is actually sawdust and garlic powder because the supplement industry in the US at least is almost totally unregulated.

      4. Observer*

        That’s actually not true – sometimes diet and / or nutrition is at the heart of the problem. If you are not getting enough food, eating things that are making you feel marginally unwell or making you feel tired, all the therapy in the world is not going to help – and often medication won’t counterbalance it either. Just like if you are not getting enough sleep, or if you have an untreated medical condition.

        None of these are mutually exclusive. It’s just incredibly unhelpful to discourage investigation into nutrition and diet “until you find the problem”, because sometimes that IS the problem (or a part of the problem that won’t be properly dealt with via other means.)

        1. Hrovitnir*

          You should probably talk to a medical professional about things like diet though, not a weight loss site (I’m not opening it but the URL is “weightandwellness” so if you like it, go you, but it’s not something I would trust for medical advice!)

          1. Observer*

            In theory, I agree. In practice, I cannot tell you how often doctors overlook this stuff. Sometimes they will follow up with you if you ask (eg testing for vitamin D), but sometimes not even that.

            1. Aurion*

              In addition, I think there’s a lot of room for your levels of X to be within the allowed range but low/high enough for you to feel like crap without being truly dangerous.

              Imperfect analogy: the average body temperature is about 37 degrees C. My body temperature runs low; usually a full degree lower in every site of measurement. If I hit 37 degrees, I’m actually running a mild fever…but doctors have told me I’m not because I’m smack on the correct value. Of course, a 1 degree fever isn’t going to really hurt me, but my point is an individual may still feel bad even if they’re within normal.

              So generally, if it isn’t too onerous, doesn’t dabble in unregulated markets full of snake oil (health supplements), and isn’t too expensive, I’m all for people trying to take a bit more vitamins within reason. Vitamin supplements at a drugstore usually does contain what it says on the bottle. Worse comes to worse you’ll have colourful urine for a bit.

              Of course, making time for eating better/sleeping more/improving other nutritional or lifestyle deficiencies during a high-stress time is a whole different kettle of fish. But I don’t think the idea is bad.

              1. animaniactoo*

                Oh! Hello! Another anomaly person. 8•)

                I run a solid 97.1. I *always* have to correct people when they say “Hmmm, 99.1, that’s only a 1/2 degree, not a big deal” and explain that no, actually for me that’s a 2 degree temperature, equate it to 100.5 and evaluate from there.

                I think it’s worth looking at those outlier kinds of things, but I tend to think that they’re worth looking at when the usual stuff has been looked at and an answer hasn’t been found with relative ease.

                1. Aurion*

                  Ha, it’s gotten a lot better now that I’m older, because I know my body and can track/quantify my data.

                  As a kid, I was told (by doctors and well-meaning relatives) that “no, you’re fine, you’re not running a fever” while I pouted and whined “I feel bad”. Nowadays I can calmly say “this isn’t normal for me; my normal blood pressure/body temperature/heart rate/etc. is X, Y, or Z, and I’ve had symptoms for A, B, or C duration of time.” They take me much more seriously when I have solid data.

                  I once had a specialist ask me if I was an engineer (I’m not), because in all his years of practice, he only had two people–of which I was one–sit down and report in analytical detail the symptoms, severity, date, time, and answered all his questions without having to think about it (i.e. I had predicted the things he would ask and recorded them all).

                  I think in another life, I could’ve been a data analyst :)

                2. Lady Kelvin*

                  I can’t reply to Aurion, but my vet and doctor have told me the same thing. My dog wasn’t eating and after trying a variety of things to see if we could fix it ourselves, we finally went to the vet. I gave her a run down of all the things we tried and how they worked, and she looked at me and said, wow you sound like a scientist reporting back data. I laughed, but I am biologist so of course I sound like one. I’m the same way with my doctor too.

  16. Panda Mom*

    I’m currently home with a 5 week old so I sympathize. It can be difficult to re-calibrate with a new baby. PPD aside, there is the sleep-deprivation, the hormonal rebalancing and the physical healing that can all take a toll on you. Here is something that helped me:

    I kept an Outlook calendar open on my desktop and I literally assigned myself tasks for the entire day in blocks. Example: 7-8am check and respond to emails, 8-8:30 meet with boss, 8:30-9:00 review and prioritize today’s assignments, etc. Realistically things happen and don’t always stay within those neat confines but it was incredibly helpful for me when I was starting to derail into distraction to glance at the color-coded slots and snap myself back to where I was supposed to be. Idle time was my devil’s playground and I could not have my mind wandering when I was in the thick of a steady stream of time-sensitive projects. I also found an upbeat Pandora station with a moderate BPM rate to keep me alert and motivated when slumps of tiredness threatened to overcome me.

    I hope you can resolve the daycare issues and find a provider that you feel is giving your baby the attention it needs. Being more comfortable with the care situation would probably go a long way to easing the transition for you. Good luck.

  17. animaniactoo*

    “I recently had a baby and am having a hard time dealing with leaving him in daycare, where I suspect he may not be getting the attention and development he needs.”

    OP, question – do you have a particular reason for feeling like this? Is it that you question the ability of the particular daycare you’re working with, or that you question any daycare’s ability?

    If you’re questioning the particular daycare, then you’re not going to be able to resolve this until you satisfy yourself as to the quality of your daycare center and either feel safe leaving your child there, or find a new daycare that you place more confidence in.

    On the other hand, if you feel like you’ve got a good daycare, but you question *any* daycare’s ability to provide your baby with the attention he needs, talk to the daycare people more. See if you can spend a half day there to get a feel for it and be able to question and be answered more directly. Watching the environment can give you a feel for how well they respond to everyone’s kids, not just yours while you are there. And they can explain developmental things in more detail and go into specifics about how some drawbacks are offset by other benefits that you may not focus on or be able to provide if you’re caring for your child at home. That kind of information might be what you need to let you feel comfortable and less worried and distracted at work.

    1. MarinaZ*

      Maybe the OP should see if she can go to part-time? I think it’s very normal for the mother of a new born to be concerned about being away from her baby.

  18. J.B.*

    I want to chime in, not just on the idea of medication and possibly counseling, but SLEEP. Your sleep is a priority. With a baby sleep is less anyway and if you are breastfeeding your sleep is likely cut into the most. I had no idea how much better I could feel until I got 5 interrupted hours of sleep a night. One bottle at night was a lifesaver for me. (And if you hesitate on that, please please go to someone like the Skeptical OB or Fearless Formula Feeder to prioritize you.)

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      YES. Getting a base amount of sleep per night can do so much for you in so many areas! I recognize that for new moms, “get sleep” is advice basically on par with “develop superpowers,” but if there’s anything you and/or your partner can do to get you a decent rest. Exhaustion will make everything else worse!

    2. J.B.*

      Oh, also 5 UNinterrupted hours, followed by as many interrupted hours as I could squeeze in. Doh!

      1. Been there, done that*

        Yup. 5 uninterrupted hours was the key for me as well. When I was getting 5 *interrupted* hours a night for the first few weeks, I was an absolute wreck. Hours-long crying jags, irritable, anxious about everything. A mess. I was certainly not cured of anything once I started consistently getting 5 UNinterrupted hours a night, but man what a difference did it make! I could plan and carry out simple, multi-step tasks. Like making a sandwich *and* eating it. I could remember and prioritize wearing a non-stained shirt. I could muster the energy to get myself and the kid dressed and out the door to run to Target – by noon!

    3. Audrey*

      +1000 to this! I experienced the same falling-behind issues and couldn’t focus or concentrate at work after I had a baby. I was eventually diagnosed with PPD, and along with medication, the thing that made the biggest impact was getting more sleep. When I was really in the fog of PPD, I couldn’t see any reasonable way to get more sleep. I had a hard time communicating my needs to my husband, and I felt guilty for working, so I felt even more like I “had” to nurse the baby at night. This set off a spiraling downward spiral of less sleep, doing less at work, feeling terrible about that, coming home and trying to “make up” for the time I spent away, etc.

      Honestly, the productivity-related accountability is only fixable if you are sure that your foundation (sleep, movement, nutrition) + proper medication is strong first. Do you have a partner who you can enlist to help make sure you are getting enough sleep? Can you get a recommendation from a doctor, in writing, that you get x amount of sleep per night, or something similar? I have a terrible time motivating myself to do the “foundation” stuff, telling myself that I don’t have time or I’m being selfish, when in reality those things are the most critical, and I’ve realized that I need external accountability for THAT. Then, things like work-related productivity and planning tend to fall into place much more easily.

  19. Jack the Treacle Eater*

    OK, I’m going to go against the flow here. It’s not unreasonable to say the OP must have an idea of her former productivity level, but productivity requires the right environment and it takes two to tango. It doesn’t seem to me from the information given we can put everything back on the OP.

    We don’t have a clear picture of what management was like in the days the OP was fully productive. What we do know is that the president is currently on vacation a lot and that the OP’s immediate supervisor is winding down to retirement, only attends a couple of days a week and is not responsive to emails or reports. That does not sound to me like a well managed organisation, and managing organisations in such a way tends to result in a lack of clarity and direction. I can understand a good employee, let alone someone suffering from post natal depression, drifting in such circumstances – and have seen and experienced it myself.

    There are some valid thoughts here assuming the OP’s ‘I know what I need’ assessment is correct, but I think this needs to be considered in the round, particularly if the OP’s depression is affecting her assessment of her issues and the situation.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think that’s inherently indicative of bad management! It’s not uncommon for people to use lot of vacation time in the summer, and sometimes people (including managers) go to part-time schedules because of impending retirement, new baby, or all sorts of other things. We don’t know enough about the OP’s role to say for sure, but there are many jobs where it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect someone to function relatively autonomously and to work successfully with a manager who’s part-time.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        And the OP’s reality is that she needs to be successful in her workplace as it is structured now, even if that structure doesn’t suit her as well as the previous set-up.

    2. Leatherwings*

      Yeah, I tend to agree that the situation is far from ideal. However, I don’t think there’s anything OP can do to change that. They’ve already expressed that she’s getting the management they think is appropriate/doable.

      I just don’t know if it’s that helpful to say “yeah, they need to give you more guidance” when it’s clear they’re not going to do that. Where does that leave OP?

    3. Ad Astra*

      Probably because of my own experiences, I tend to relate to this OP and suspect that management hasn’t done a good job of telling her what they expect and when. I have definitely been on thin ice at past jobs when I truly didn’t know what I needed to do to improve. For instance, I knew I needed to meet nightly deadlines more often, but I didn’t know how to design and edit the newspaper any faster than I was already doing it, and I would have benefitted from more support in terms of getting my design skills up to par, learning how to strategically organize my tasks, building some assets ahead of time, resources for verifying information, etc. It felt like the only feedback I got was “do better.”

      Of course, we don’t know if OP’s company is like that company. But parts of the letter just really hit home with me, so it makes me wonder.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        To me, this reads differently though — it sounds like the OP was performing earlier at the level they wanted and just needs to return to that level (so it’s not an issue of needing to learn new skills).

        1. Been there, done that*

          It can be a matter of learning new skills though. I was diagnosed with ADHD after my son was born and I was struggling at work. I initially thought the issue was anxiety (and don’t get me wrong, there’s some of that at play too, but it’s not the main problem). Before parenthood, I could be distracted and inefficient and still get my work done. It took me extra time, but I could come in early or stay late, take work home at night and on the weekend where it would be quiet, etc. After parenthood, those old coping mechanisms were useless. I didn’t have the extra time. Add in some postpartum depression and some changes to my job, and I really had trouble being as productive and meeting deadlines. I had to learn new ways of managing my time, prioritizing tasks, and structuring my day to avoid or manage distractions. I had to learn to say “no” more often. I’m still learning to do these things.

          So I agree that it’s not a matter of learning new skills in the sense of how a new employee would be learning new skills. But it can be a matter of learning new skills for managing your workload. Maybe more like the type of learning new skills that would come from a promotion or lateral move to a different department or a move to the same type of work at a different company. You know how to do the basic work tasks, but you have to learn new ways of doing them or how to do them faster or more efficiently or in a different environment.

  20. F.*

    While I second all the comments about therapy for your PPD and possibly meds, be sure to get a full physical work up before any meds are prescribed. Pregnancy and breastfeeding (in my case) messed with my pituitary gland to the point where specific medication was necessary. I wish you the best. It is very hard to be a parent and hold a job.

  21. Christine*

    Please look into your employer’s EAP program if they have one. My employer does 4 counseling sessions free of charge per year and I use them. Depression is terrible, that combined with anxiety can truly cause you to have distractions and problems focusing. This might help you. During the last 15 – 30 minutes of your day write down your priorities, goals for the next day. Than work through your check list; follow that procedure per day. If you have major deadlines, get a large calendar and write them down so you have a visual reminder beyond your outlook calendar. I wish you the best; but do not go back asking to them for assistance. They want you to perform like you did before the pregnancy and to catch-up on the back-log. You need to show that you can take minimum direction. It’s possible if you are not doing it, to ask for your doctor for some type of medication to help with your anxiety and distraction, etc. on a short-term basis.

  22. Friday Brain All Week Long*

    I’m going to take a different route here. Yes, it’s important that you get your head on straight at work and become productive again… BUT, not at the expense of your health. I vote for you going the FML/ADA accomodation route. Work with your doctor to figure out a good path for treatment for your depression and anxiety, tell your work that these are the specifics on what you need to heal (someone upthread mentioned the need for sleep – that’s SO overlooked in general and pushing your start time back in the AM might make a world of difference). Once your work knows that this is what you are dealing with, if they are really kind and caring then they will back the hell off with the probation and support you. At the very least, they are legally required to meet the reasonable accommodations that you and your doctor outline as necessary.

    You’re right that this is not a normal probation. But I don’t think you should be on probation at all for your mental health issues. I wish you all the best in healing and hope that your doc/medical team can get you feeling more like yourself.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      One note here: They’re not actually required to meet the accommodations that the and her doctor outline as necessary. If the condition rises to the level of ADA protection, they’re required to enter into an interactive process with her to determine reasonable accommodations, but they can decide on different accommodations than what she and her doctor propose. (She also still would need to be able to successfully perform the essential functions of the position, with or without accommodation.)

      1. Friday Brain All Week Long*

        Thank you Alison; that’s a good point. I hope the OP goes this route… and I do see how it can be hard to be forthcoming at work about a mental issue. Sounds like OP was a fine employee before the baby, and will be great again once more with the right support from both employer and doctor.

    2. Just a Thought*

      While FMLA is a great idea in theory, my guess is the OP used all of hers while on maternity leave. In the US you only get 12 weeks/year, so if she took maternity leave, she actually can’t take anymore FMLA leave. She may be able to go out on short or long term disability, but I’m not very clear on the rules around those things. I had a baby two years ago and one of the hardest things is you take maternity leave to heal from having a baby, and then have no leeway when you go back to work. In my case, I had to use up all my vacation and sick time (and still didn’t get paid for 2 months) and then when I started back, my husband had to stay home with the baby anytime he got sick because I had no sick time!

      All this aside OP it sounds like you work for a companionate company, so maybe they will let you take a leave of absence. Hang in there, it does get better.

      1. Kyrielle*

        OP, if this is something you might consider, and you don’t already know your state laws, Google (state name) family leave or the like – a few states do have better protections.

    3. Marina*

      Came to say this. OP, I STRONGLY recommend talking with your therapist or doctor about ADA accommodations that might help you. Maybe that’s adjusted work hours so that you can get a bit more sleep or need to rush less in the morning. Maybe it’s relaxing a “no personal calls” or “no texting” rule so that you can check in with outside support people during the course of your work day. Maybe that is asking for more specific accountability metrics or scheduled check ins–not because you will need them long term, but because your specific diagnosed health issue means you need them now.

      And maybe your work won’t be able to make those accommodations. But it WILL open up the conversation. If you require ADA accommodation then, as Alison said below, your work is required to enter an interactive process to determine appropriate accommodations. It sounds from your letter as if part of your frustration is that you simply haven’t been asked what you need, and how your work can support you, in order to succeed. Requesting ADA accommodations will give that conversation a jump start.

  23. TotesMaGoats*

    PPD should be treated like depression at any other time in your life. PPD is just depression with a specific trigger/starting point. That means therapy and (hopefully) medications to regulate those hormones. And while you are looking for input on your work activities, I would also suggest that you investigate ways to feel more secure with your daycare situation. Maybe your gut is right and your baby isn’t getting the care they need and that you are (probably) paying through the nose for. But maybe your gut is wrong and it’s the PPD talking. So, work with your daycare provider to get better reports on your child. I get tons of pictures everyday and if I was worried I would call and can even talk with my kid or facetime. Within the abilities of your day care provider you should be able to get some of those needs met. Explore that. You are paying for it, after all.

    At work, I have to agree with AAM. While it does seem that you are being left to your own devices in a time when most normally aren’t, you can’t really ask for more supervision. It sounds like you are in a pretty high level role, so it just doesn’t make sense. I would say that a once a week check in with your boss wouldn’t be inappropriate. Especially as it seems she’s not reading your reports or has mentally checked out anyway. That’s more a CYA for you than support. It might help you to have that accountability. What might be more of the crux for you is knowing that someone does care about what you are doing. I can see the thought spiral of: I’m not doing my job well>>I’m worried that I”m not making good choices for my child>>I’m not making good choices at work>>Boss isn’t paying attention to what’s going on>>Boss doesn’t care and doesn’t want me here anyway. I think a regular check in might be enough to help you feel like someone does actually care if you improve.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      “PPD should be treated like depression at any other time in your life. PPD is just depression with a specific trigger/starting point. That means therapy and (hopefully) medications to regulate those hormones.”

      My doctor described depression/anxiety like 2 powder kegs in the desert. Once explodes by itself with no outside triggers. One explodes after a fuse was lit.

      Either way they were going to explode, but one was prompted by an outside force (like PPD) and one was just a result of chemicals.

      Net net–many, many people are wired for this and that keg will blow up at some point in their lives.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        You are correct. I meant more that many people don’t give PPD the same gravity as a major depressive disorder. It’s somehow less than depression that “just happens”. Even though I’d argue that depression never “just happens”.

      2. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        My PPD yurned into severe anxiety, which then became PTSD as raising my son brought back childhood trauma.

        Can’t ever take those “baby blues” lightly.

  24. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Just to be clear for people suggesting FMLA, because the OP’s organization has fewer than 50 employees, they’re not covered by FMLA.

    1. Government Worker*

      Also, since OP has a new baby, she’s probably taken pretty much all of her available leave already. It’s a tough spot to be in, since she likely wants to hold onto whatever leave she has remaining or will accrue in case her child gets sick (which is common for kids in a new daycare). It makes getting treatment for the PPD that much harder.

  25. BRR*

    I’m sorry you’re going through this LW. Last year I had a bad reaction to an anti-depressant and was put on a PIP. It’s so tough when you have a magnifying glass on you at a time where you could use them to ease up temporarily. I don’t think the expectations are that vague. As Alison says you might have a general idea of where your productivity levels need to be but that’s the only that sounds like it might be vague. Also in an organization that small, I would guess there aren’t tons of resources available to help you.

    Here’s some advice from personal experience:
    -Start looking for a new job. You may not need to but there’s a lot of benefits from starting it early.
    -Seek all the treatment you can. Doctors, therapy, if you have an EAP try it. I let my psychiatrist know my job was in jeopardy and he adjusted his treatment based on that. Referencing Alison again, it might help to let your work know what’s going on.
    -Ask for clarification if any parts of the PIP are unclear. Productivity might be vague or you might know exactly what they want but if there’s any confusion I would ask. If you usually produce 10 teapots a week and you’re only producing 5 now, I think it’s clear where you need to be. With the length of time you’ve been there, I would lean towards you know what they want out of you.

    I’m making the last suggestion based on the thinking you need a job (as most of us do). Can you put your for a time in a daycare where you might be less worried even if it costs more?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Great advice!
      OP, please consider that you may have outgrown this job for any number of reasons.
      I usually say, “watch how you talk to yourself”, I will do a variation of that here, “don’t beat yourself up here because some of the reasons this is happening maybe outside of any PPD”. I love BRR’s steps here. And BRR is a voice of experience who moved to a better place. (I think I am saying this right, you like your new place, right, BRR?)

      Continue working with the doc, continue looking for ways to work through the probation but keep it in the corner of your mind that it maybe time to move on anyway for [reasons]. A bigger picture perspective might help to bring clarity in for you.

  26. Murphy*

    OP, this is really tough. As someone who suffered from PDD my heart breaks for you in so many ways. It’s a hard recovery and (at least in my opinion) leave some scars that take a long-time to heal (feeling like you were robbed of your time with your baby, for example). So believe me, you have my deepest sympathies.

    But, as a manager I also understand the need to have staff who can, at the very least, meet the timelines for work and accomplish X amount per day. And I need them to do that without me watching over them (I have enough on my plate).

    I do worry that you’re relying on your support groups and not a doctor for your PDD. Support groups are wonderful, but they’re not able to provide you with the one-on-one behavioural therapy that PDD really needs. And really, you don’t want to let PDD linger because the scars get deeper. It’s treatable, but needs medical help (whether that’s medication or therapy or both, that’s up to you and your doctor to decide).

    So I agree with Alison that you may want to disclose to your employer what’s really at the root of this and try and address this like any other medical condition that a) requires treatment and b) has a recovery period.

    Good luck to you. This is a hard one.

  27. Kevin*

    Staying motivated and productive at work is simple and direct … until it’s not. When motivational issues arise, they can be very complicated and hard to sort through. If I were OP, I would strongly consider hiring a job coach on her own to provide the kind of structure she’s looking for and to help her develop this capacity on her own. I agree that it is not reasonable to expect a boss to provide this. But since OP perceives a need for more coaching and structure, there are ways of getting that without expecting it to come from the boss. Of course it’s an investment of time and money, but it may be worthwhile if it can help to turn this around and help her bring more of her best to the workplace on a daily basis.

  28. Critter*

    I’m going to parrot others here but throw something else in here – you should absolutely IMMEDIATELY seek help for your PPD, and while this a blog about work, and there are plenty of things you can do, all excellent suggestions here, to increase your productivity at work. I think, however, that your impediment here is your PPD, your worry and anxiety for your child, and that if you focus on the impediment other things might start to go more smoothly. It doesn’t help for you to think of strategies to help you at work if you don’t have a strategy to help you with life. Do you feel as if you’re struggling with other parts of your life? PPD, anxiety, and depression have a way of creeping into EVERYTHING. You need lots of support, but not necessarily from work. Do you have a partner? What is your support structure, outside of daycare, like? If your organization is not covered by FMLA, perhaps you didn’t get enough time after delivery to recover. I wish you and your new family all of the luck in the world, and I hope you can find what will help. First stop, if I were you? Doctor’s office.

  29. mmg*

    I’m surprised Allison didn’t mention that properly diagnosed PPD is covered by ADA. Since the OP’s employer is over 15 employees, she should be covered. She should think about whether or not there are certain things about her work environment that make it more difficult for her to perform at her previous productivity rate. Deadlines will still have to be met, but perhaps there are environmental changes that could make this easier to do.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      Please see Alison’s comment at 12:04 pm. She did mention it, but it appears there are caveats.

  30. Dan*

    As technical matter, I’m not sure what the OP is really looking for. She knows what she needs to do; she used to do it. What does she really expect her manager to do?

    What I read from this letter is, “Work used to be the most important thing in my life, and now it’s not. I want to keep my job, but need to know what the critieria is for doing so. I can’t/won’t put in the same level of effort I used to.” I actually don’t have an issue with that — work has different priorities in all of our lives, and those priorities can change over time.

    The problem is that when your boss is evaluating your performance, they’re evaluating it against what they know you can do. If you’re producing less than you used to, they have every right to hold back future raises because you are showing decreased, not increased value to the company.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      Uh no. This is someone struggling to juggle work, depression and a new baby. It’s not about effort, it’s about coping skills right now.

      1. Dan*

        It’s about more than coping skills — OP is on probation for not making deadlines and having the productivity she used to have.

        1. fposte*

          I think she’s pretty clear what she’s looking for–she was hoping a manager could do the external policing for her during the probation period until she gets well enough to go back to structuring herself. It’s just that she can’t have that, and she wouldn’t be likely to have it at another workplace.

          I don’t think that’s a hugely uncommon desire with anxious employees–I’ve encountered it, and there’s at least one other post talking about a similar scenario. But it’s just not something a manager can really do or has the time to do, and I think MK has a point that you don’t really relearn the structure from having somebody else do it for you anyway; it just feels like a solution when you’re grabbing for a life raft.

        2. Bend & Snap*

          Your comment on her intent: “What I read from this letter is, “Work used to be the most important thing in my life, and now it’s not. I want to keep my job, but need to know what the critieria is for doing so. I can’t/won’t put in the same level of effort I used to.”

          Not at all what she’s saying in her letter.

          1. Dan*

            OP writes,
            “After three years of hard work for and dedication to a small nonprofit (less than 50 employees), I was recently put on probation for low productivity and inability to meet deadlines.”

            “However, I’ve only been given vague metrics for measuring success — meet deadlines, improve productivity — and absolutely no advice or support on how to do that.”

            “So I’m being told, meet your deadlines and be more productive”

            OP has real things going on in her life that are distracting her from making work the priority it used to be. I suppose she’s not *saying* it flat out in her letter, but she clearly says she used to be a hard worker, and makes no mention of ever having prior performance issues.

            The thing I’m stuck on is that as a prior hard working employee, she knows what success looks like. So to turn around and say, “my plan has absolutely no advice or support on how to do that”… well, she knows what success looks like. She knows how to meet deadlines. Which is why I go back to external factors making work no longer the priority it used to be, and the OP wanting to know what “good enough” looks like.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              But she’s not saying “I used to focus on nothing but work and now I’d rather spend my time with my baby.” She’s saying she’s anxious and distracted and dealing with postpartum depression and it’s impacting her work. Those are very different things.

    2. fposte*

      What I read from the letter is a stressed and anxious person flailing in the water and hoping for a life raft. And I think the desperation is real and it’s understandable that she’s seeking a flotation device–that’s just not the kind of support a manager offers.

      1. BRR*

        Yeah I think she is looking for a way to get better but the help she wants is unfortunately something she’s not going to be able to get.

      2. Murphy*

        Exactly. When depression is messing with your brain it can be hard to even know where to start on something or how to tackle the to do list because it’s overwhelming. It’s paralyzing.

        It happens to me a lot with house work. I know x, y, and z need to be done, but I honestly cannot figure out how to even begin. That in turn causes me a lot of anxiety, which makes the problem worse.

        It’s not a simple lack of effort on her part, it’s something far deeper than that.

        1. Dan*

          Well, as a single guy, I admit that I can’t do everything, and for me, housework is the thing that gets left in the dirt. (Pun not intended.) It’s just not a priority for me.

          I know when my personal life hit the fan, I couldn’t give work the attention it needed. And yes, I do think it’s ok as an employee to say, “you know what? I used to be an ‘A’ performer. But my life is different now, and I’m ok with being a ‘B’ performer.” Yes, your performance (and raises) are going to reflect that, but those are choices we all make. Like I said, I choose to let my housework slide.

          1. Bend & Snap*

            When you’re a parent, you can’t let work slide, and you can’t let your family life slide. That’s why the LW is trying to figure this out and needs some help.

            Before I had my daughter, a friend told me: “Sometimes you’ll feel like you suck as a mother. Sometimes you’ll feel like you suck at work. Sometimes you’ll feel like you suck at both at the same time. But you’ll never feel like you’re doing both well simultaneously.”

            She was absolutely right.

            1. Murphy*

              Yes. I can see the long game and why I’m doing what I’m doing, but I definitely feel bad at both most days. It’s an awful feeling when you’re brain isn’t lying to you and telling you you’re absolute crap (or that your family would be better off without you as I felt).

              Add on a medical illness and it gets 1000% harder, especially knowing that your family’s welfare (and housing and clothing, and, and, and) depends on you keeping your job.

            1. Dan*

              It’s about having been an “A” player and wanting to know what it takes to be a “B” player/no longer be a “D” or “F” player. She might not be phrasing it that way, but she knows what it takes to be an “A” player, she was one for three years. She can’t work to that standard for right now, and needs to know where the line is where she won’t get fired. Her concern is that her employer isn’t spelling it out for her. (Ok, “meet deadlines” is rather bright line. “Increase productivity” is not.)

              I’m certainly sympathetic to people who have issues where their home life impacts their ability to work productively. I’ve been there.

              1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

                Until you acquire the ability to gestate and give birth you haven’t “been there”.

                She is legitimatrly struggling, not choosing her effort. Your situation is not like hers in any way. You don’t get to negate her experience or struggle based on your assuption of her words, but by her words alone.

                I think you lack some empathy here and would do well to try to picture things through her lens, not yours.

          2. Nerdling*

            Yes, but that’s a much, much easier decision to make when you aren’t dealing with depression and the hormonal changes that come with having just had a baby. But particularly the depression. Depression/anxiety really mess with your decision-making skills. So it’s great that you can make that decision to let housework slide. But the OP isn’t in a position where she can, rationally and calmly, figure out what she can just let slide because her jerkbrain (thanks, Captain Awkward) won’t let her.

  31. Abbie*

    I’m sure it’s been mentioned, but I couldn’t read all comments. Please contact your company EAP if they are available. This may actually be seen as a sign to your employer that you are taking steps you need to take to gain additional support and be more focused and available. Your manager may not provide this exact support, but you employer (through the EAP) can.

        1. Elle*

          Doesn’t have to though…at least the ones I’ve dealt with. The employee can contact the EAP directly with no involvement from HR, nor is any identifying information sent to the EAP. They do sent out utilization reports, but it’s a very vague summary that’s just tells the company the number of people who used it in a particular time frame. Otherwise, I don’t think many people would find it a very attractive option.

      1. BananaPants*

        With my employer it is, unless the supervisor/HR include using the EAP as part of a PIP. In the case that it is used in the PIP the company providing the EAP will report back to HR if that specific employee has made use of it, although they don’t provide any details on services provided.

  32. Pseudonymous*

    I wonder if perhaps the writer needs more support from their spouse and family, but finds it emotionally easier to say that work is letting them down? A new baby and a spouse not pulling their weight is not an uncommon situation for women to deal with, but it’s awfully painful to confront.

    It might be a good time to use counseling services if work has them or try to find a cheap shrink or social worker who can set up two or three appointments to specifically talk to you about setting appropriate boundaries (because you are asking the wrong people for what you need) and expressing expectations/ needs more clearly.

    Good luck!

    1. fposte*

      Oh, this is a really, really good point. We had a letter like this before where somebody was trying to get work to cut her slack because her husband wouldn’t.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, that is what it sounded like to me– feelings of loneliness or isolation can leave us grasping for straws where we think we want x and we actually need y. I am not expecting to see an answer here, OP, but how is your support on the home front? If you can’t ask for the support you need at work, you most certainly can ask at home. Is there something you can do to beef up support at home while you work at your goals for work?

  33. Michele H.*

    If I knew more about your deadlines, I might be able to give you better tips on getting on track. I have worked in non-profits for many years, and one thing they all share in common is that they really give employees a huge amount of leeway in dealing with these kinds of situations. They really are giving you some broad goals too – -increase productivity and meet deadlines. If you focus on meeting your deadlines, then your productivity will start to increase automatically. You also mentioned that you feel this probation isn’t about firing you, but helping you, so that’s a positive way of looking at it.

    Since you’ve been with the organization for a few years, you already know if you’re meeting your deadlines or not. I don’t mean this to sound harsh, but maybe you should ask yourself if what you’re really looking for are more professional pats on the back from your supervisors, especially now when you have so much going on in your life. But they may not be able to give that to you, so you’ll have to find a way to reward “yourself” when you accomplish your deadline goals. A good way to do that is to break down your ultimate deadline goals into smaller, manageable parts. For example, if I have a big project like an event, I make a huge calendar out of some poster paper and hang it near my desk. Working backwards, I write down all the things I have to complete to make that event happen and add them to the calendar, like mailing invitations, or calling speakers, or meeting with parents. Then I focus on just that week, or just that day. When that task is finished, add a big sticker or a gold star or a big check mark through it. It sounds kind of silly if you’ve never tried it, but I can tell you, I had a MAJOR event to plan with two others in six months, and by the time we neared the end, my personal poster board had turned into a “wall mural” where the entire office loved to see our progress. We all stood and cheered when we checked off items and wrote things like DONE! Confirmed! Finished! Rocked it! Nailed It! And it was incredibly empowering for us. We all pushed to meet those deadlines and my team was so supportive. Our supervisor told us our paper wall calendar was the best organizing tool she had ever seen, and that felt really good too.

    The point is, had I just said to people to support me more, give me more, I need more from you than what you’re giving me now, they probably just would have said, “Okay, we’ll try” and let it be. Once they see how you are able to reward yourself, and you gain confidence in the smaller tasks you complete yourself, then they will reward you more too with that pat on the back we all need. But you have to start with the first step yourself and give it a try.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Am chuckling. I remember hanging up a goal chart for our group. At first everyone ignored it. Then one day someone noticed we hit the 55% completion mark. What happened next was like I had given everyone large cups of coffee. The group got excited and productivity went through the roof. We finished early. It was pretty cool to watch the group go from tired/overwhelmed to excited/ energized.

  34. Turtle Candle*

    Oh, LW, I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I know from firsthand experience, depression of any kind is miserable, and depression when you’re dealing with a new baby and work problems even more so. I second all the above comments encouraging you to get additional support for this, from a doctor and possibly a therapist.

    On the other side, I can also see why a manager would resist being asked to provide support in the form of significantly increased check-ins and feedback. I say this because I was once in a similar, though not identical, situation: a coworker who was dealing with considerable (medical) anxiety, and who felt that getting frequent check-ins was the best way for her to manage that. (I was not technically speaking her manager, but I was her team lead and mentor, so it fell to me.) In her case, it wasn’t so much that she wanted accountability as that she wanted the reassurance that she was ‘on the right track,’ which she generally was–which is why I say it isn’t identical–but it’s hard for me to explain how wearing it was to be constantly asked to check in on her; it was sort of as if I was being asked to become a sponge for her anxiety and depression, soaking it up on her behalf. She came out of the meetings feeling better, and I came out of them feeling exhausted and wrung out. And though she did improve, the meetings didn’t decrease in frequency; in fact, she asked for them more frequently even as her performance got better. I finally had to tell my boss that I couldn’t do it anymore for reasons of my own workload–and as soon as she didn’t have me on tap for daily (or, at some points, twice-daily) check-ins and feedback sessions, she faltered again. (I am pleased to say that she recovered on her own after that; this isn’t a story with a sad ending. And this coworker was a good, conscientious, kind person who I very much wanted to help–it’s just that even when that’s the case, support can be higher effort than we might think at the outset.)

    I’m not saying that that’s what would happen here–as I said, it’s not the same situation, and you and the coworker are different people. But it definitely made an impression on me as to why offering support isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Before that experience, I would have said: of course I would support a coworker with an issue! Of course I would try to give them whatever help I could! It took the experience of having my own productivity levels drop while my stress skyrocketed to see that it isn’t a cost-free offer. I’d like to say that I would still support a coworker or employee who needed it, but I’d be much more circumspect as to how, and how much.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This. I used to say, I can teach you the job and I can show you the easiest way to handle things so you work efficiently. But I cannot make you do the job and I cannot make you work efficiently. That is something you have to do on your own.

      It has been my observation that people who want the boss to check in or check their work will not keep the job UNLESS they decide to take control over the situation themselves. Sadly, I did not get to pick who took control and who did not. The ones I thought would rope it in, did not always take back control. Conversely, some of the people who I thought were not committed to the job turned into the best workers. You just don’t know. OP, they think enough of you to give you a chance to pull it together. If they did not like you at all, you would not be there. As a boss, you tell people what they need to do, hope for the best and above all else, strive to be fair.

  35. Observer*

    You’ve gotten some excellent advice, which I’m not going to re-cover, except to add my voice to the folks who are saying to take care of yourself, and get goof treatment for PPD, even if it means medication.

    I want to throw in one more thought. You say “I recently had a baby and am having a hard time dealing with leaving him in daycare, where I suspect he may not be getting the attention and development he needs.

    That’s incredibly anxiety inducing, and almost certainly un-necessary. Yes, there are some pretty bad day care places out there, and if you are seeing signs of that (eg diapers not being changed etc.) then the best thing you can do for both you and the baby is to start actively looking for other options. But, in reality, babies really do NOT need a lot of “development”. In fact, in the long term, too much emphasis on “development” can actually backfire.

    Before anyone jumps down my throat, I do understand that leaving even an infant in a car seat with no interaction all day is a very, very bad idea. But, they do NOT need a whole developmental program. They really don’t. And, for someone who is having a hard time dealing with leaving their baby behind, knowing that the kid is not going suffer for not having it can be a HUGE load lifted.

    1. Sue Wilson*

      Are you getting “babies don’t need development” from some scientific studies you’ve read?

      1. Observer*

        Actually, I didn’t say that. It’s pretty obvious where you are trying to go with this, but let’s start with accuracy.

        I’m not going to google the studies now, but it’s become overwhelming clear that the amount of stimulation a baby needs is not that high.

    2. MJH*

      At our daycare, which I like very much, babies are fed, changed, moved around the room, engaged in crafts, and play with toys. It’s literally all I would’ve done at home.

      I think Observer is right that infants need stimulation, but not an entire developmental program (what would that look like? Is that what SAHMs do?). But a good daycare will engage babies, have a regular feeding and diapering schedule, and make sure they get interaction with caregivers and each other. My kid bonded really well with her caregivers and (when she was old enough) got excited about going to “school.”

      LW, I really, really suggest getting to know your child’s caregivers and seeing how a day at the center goes. Talk to other parents and see if they like the center. See if you can meet older kids who’ve gone there since babyhood. If it’s a good center other parents will talk about it enthusiastically and you will see well-adjusted older children who are happy and smart and all the rest. Seeing my friends’ children who attended our center cemented my daycare choice.

      If it really is a bad center, find a new one, but if it’s just your anxiety, there are ways to mitigate that. (medication, therapy, learning about where and how your child spends her/his days).

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think Observer is right that infants need stimulation,

        Yep, they do. I used to work at a baby magazine, and I did a story on this. I interviewed one of the nation’s foremost experts on babies’ need for stimulation.

        He said that fortunately there is a really simple way to be sure that babies get all the stimulation they need. He said, and this is a direct quote: “Don’t lock them in a closet.”

        1. Turtle Candle*

          That reminds me of something one of my professors discussed in a linguistics class back in the day–that some cultures have a high level of “infant-directed speech,” and some cultures have a much lower level; basically in some cultures it’s common to talk to your infant, and in others people mostly don’t talk to their infants until they’re old enough to begin to respond back. He said that people from cultures with a relatively high level of infant-directed speech tend to respond with, “But how is the child going to learn to talk if you don’t talk to them?”–and yet the end result in both types of cultures is children who are fluent speakers of their native language; it turns out that babies need speech to go on around them, but it’s not actually necessary to talk to them much (although it also certainly doesn’t hurt). Interesting stuff.

        2. MJH*

          Everything is stimulating if it’s brand new!

          “Hey look, a light! There’s a cold breeze now! Mind blown, must nap.”

        3. Murphy*

          This is why I wish I could go back and do new-momhood over again (with my same easy-going baby). I was so terrified that if I didn’t engage with her every moment she was awake – singing songs, pointing out colours, making animal sounds – that she was going to be delayed. I wish I had the knowledge then to just sit back and let her lay on her mat by herself and stare at her toys while I, I don’t know, ate lunch and had a hot cup of tea. I was so terrified of doing it wrong, that I over did it and lost myself in the process.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Some pretty impressive comments here, I like how grounded this thread is. I feel like I learned something. OP I hope you find it helpful.

  36. Argh!*

    I agree, and think that time off is a good idea, even if non-paid. Employers have a right to expect employees to have their personal life under enough control to be able to function at a basic level. We all have occasional down times or brief issues, but if it’s a lingering problem to the point of being put on probation, that’s more than normal.

    I absolutely hate it when a supervisee asks for “understanding” because what they are really asking is for me to accept an excuse. I can understand when someone has issues but that doesn’t mean that workplace standards fly out the window, and it doesn’t mean I want to my change role to social worker or shrink.

    The reason why FMLA doesn’t apply in small workplaces is that any employee’s lack of productivity is more detrimental than in a larger organization where the workload can be spread around to more people. So LW should ask for a leave of absence and employer may be able to hire in a temp, or else go to an actual psychiatrist for medication (which usually works) & get on with life.

  37. TootsNYC*

    I know what I need in order to stay on task: I need somebody checking in with me and giving me feedback.

    How can you create that without someone else?

    It’s not at all unusual to need some level of accountability like that, but it’s not really OK to expect them to provide that for you.

    How can you be your own mother to your own teenager? There has to be a way.

    To-do lists, one of those apps mentioned above, etc.

    Build in rewards–heck use a to-do list and a gold star! If you get enough gold stars, then you can have ice cream on the way home.

    ALSO: Look at some root causes, w/ some honesty. Are you truly worried about the care your child is getting? Truly? Then pull out all the stops, call in all the allies you can think of, and find him a new, safer place.
    Or, is it merely anxiety? Too-high standards, an unrealistic view of what an infant needs? Then work on that with a therapist.

    Good luck!

    You can find all the resources you need without relying on your employer–I totally believe you can.

  38. AnonAcademic*

    OP, I battled a productivity/motivation slump after I defended my Ph.D. and moved across the country for a new job. What helped me was to make everything I could easier on myself – buying lunch instead of making it, ordering stuff from Amazon instead of going out shopping, hiring a housecleaner instead of despairing at all the chores I faced every weekend. I figured out what the bottom line, have-to-get-done stuff was at work and focused primarily on those things. I said no to doing favors, serving on extra committees, etc. I also took time every day to meditate, get some exercise, and get outside (sometimes all three at once – walking meditations are the best). Finally, I found a medication option that I can take as needed on really hard days. There were still many times I felt overwhelmed, thought I had to quit, and cried on my husband’s shoulder – but at around the year mark I started actually enjoying my work and feeling motivated again. I think I just needed time to process all the life changes, which is something I’ve also heard new moms say.

  39. Anonymousse*

    OP, I am SO sorry you’re going through this. I have nothing but sympathy. Your letter deeply reminded me of my own experiences. I was diagnosed in my late 40s with seasonal depression/anxiety and with ADHD. For years I felt as (I think) you are describing—it was so, so hard to force myself to get tasks done. I was ashamed at how hard it was. Medication has helped tremendously, but I had to make a medication change over the last month, and had some less productive weeks, and it was terrifying. I felt like I was being sucked right back into the way I had felt for so many years. Just reading your post brought that feeling back!

    So, 1) I really agree with all the folks encouraging you to get a full medical and mental health screening to whatever extent you have not already done so and 2) get whatever therapy, medication or other supports you can. I know it is SO hard to think about doing that when you’re depressed. So hard. Because you’re already struggling, feeling bad about yourself, and hey, a working mom of a small child. Who has time to do more? But you really have to. Maybe you have a friend, or the EAP program, etc., who can help advocate for you, or be your check in person.

    In the short term, you might check out some of the tricks that people with ADHD uses. I know that’s not your diagnosis* but if you’re anxious and depressed, I think some of the tricks might work for you. The one I had to pull out this month when I absolutely could not bear to do a horrible assignment: setting a timer on my phone for 10 minutes. I told myself, “Just do it for 10 minutes. Then you can surf the net, or whatever, for 5 minutes.” At the end of 10, I decided, well, maybe I could handle another 10. And in fact, I worked for an hour and a half that way. I also do things like pick the worst thing in my inbox, tell myself how great it will feel to get it done, and then do it first, or conversely picking the absolute easiest thing to do and doing it first, just to get started with a small success. Also: since ADHD folks are not very motivated by the priority of a project (my secret shame for so many years! Yes I can prioritize but that doesn’t mean I can bear to do things in priority order), I use that to my advantage. If I can get away with it for a few minutes or a few hours, I’ll use it as a hook to do the other work I’d rather do. “Okay, if you’re not going to do important Project A, you can do less important projects B, C, D, E….as long as you get back to A in time to do it.” Man, I’ve threatened myself with Project A for a whole day during really bad times, and that kept me moving at light speed on everything else (got that inbox cleared out! took care of those old letters! set up the new filing system!) even if I then I had to really hustle on Project A towards the last minute. Not ideal, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

    Good luck and take care.

    (*Although hey, I would check it out, because I’m living proof that you don’t have to “look like you have ADHD” to have a whopping case of ADHD. Most useful thing I listened to, post-diagnosis, was the ADHD Experts Podcast #114 called “Are You Sure, Doc?: ADHD Diagnosis and Treatment Mistakes.” It does a great job of laying out all the ADHD symptoms and what they can be mistaken for. You might also consider looking for podcasts about PPD. Words cannot express how much it has helped me to hear other people with my same condition talk about their struggles, and how much benefit I got from hearing presentations by physicians that gave much more detail than my own doctors did in rushed appointments.)

  40. James Buchanan Burn*

    Oh, OP, I have been there. PPD is the worst. I had it pretty badly with my first daughter (now almost 4), and have been able to avoid it with #2 (5 months), and the postpartum experience is just night and day. I really, really second what everyone has said about considering therapy and medication, both of which I found enormously helpful. If you’re nursing, Zoloft is probably going to be the go-to SSRI because it transfers least into the milk, but I had a bad reaction to it and ended up on a different one — which I took while nursing #1 and while pregnant with #2, and am still taking, and everyone is fine!

    Other advice: infants really don’t need much in the way of stimulation and development. I’m a SAHM, and my baby basically gets popped in the stroller and brought along to whatever her big sister is doing, or put under her play gym to bat at her animals, or parked on a boob while I read a book. As long as you don’t think your baby is being neglected — diapers going unchanged, not being fed, etc. — I would not be concerned about your daycare. (I know that’s easier said than done — my PPD worries about my baby tended to focus on other things, because I was home with her, and I couldn’t rationalize myself out of them, but REALLY, it’s okay.) One thing that helps me a lot when I’m feeling like a bad mom is to think of all the millions of people who have done whatever it is that I’m doing — having someone else feed the baby formula while I go out because I hate pumping! letting the preschooler watch the iPad because I need a break! — and whose kids turned out okay. I recently read Stephen King’s autobiography where he talks about watching endless hours of TV as a small child with a single mom — clearly it didn’t destroy his imagination… In this vein, I really really really loved a book called “Baby Meets World” — it’s half “here’s the science of infant development as far as we know” and half “here’s some crazy stuff people used to think about how babies work,” and it was always a great reminder for me that (aside from infant mortality, which is a big aside!) pretty much all styles of childrearing in human history have resulted in successful, competent, well-adjusted adults. I really believe that your kid is who he or she is, and as long as you don’t do anything really egregious (being depressed for a while: not really egregious) your kid will turn out okay.

    My heart really goes out to you. Quite aside from the work stuff, being depressed SUCKS and being depressed with a new baby sucks extra-specially much. I’ll say a prayer for you.

  41. SD*

    This letter made me want to cry, because it reminded me of going back to work full time after my first child was born. Fortunately, my job was relatively low stress and my MIL was our daycare, so things weren’t nearly as bad for me as they sound for the OP. But I still HATED going back to work.

    I can’t help but think this situation would be so much better if we had much longer, paid maternity leave like they do in every other civilized country, plus high quality child care subsidized by the government. And, while we’re at it, more professional positions that are part time, and policies that make it easier for one parent to stay home if they choose to, maybe a tax credit or something. It’s a shame people have to go through things like this.

  42. Mando Diao*

    I would try to work out a treatment for the PPD as soon as possible, since (depending on the office culture and perhaps the attitudes of OP’s management) “I just had a baby so it’s hard for me to come to work” might not fly. I admit to blanching at that part of the letter before reading that OP has PPD. You don’t want to coast on the perceived need for emotional support right after having a baby. Your husband probably isn’t using that verbiage with his boss. You have an illness that is not your fault, but if you have the resources it is your responsibility to try to treat it. Good luck.

  43. Mr. Mike*

    I’m a little late to this thread and just skimmed the comments, so it may have already been covered, but this might fall under the purview of ADA rules since there are circumstances where temporary issues are covered. You might look into some local ADA organizations (Here in the Seattle area, we have the Northwest ADA group) to see if you might be able to request some accommodations. It may open some avenues that hasn’t been sought yet. Its not a definite, but….

  44. Beth*

    It feels like OP needs more support from sources outside her workplace. Because, to put it bluntly, having someone check in more often than the manager is doing currently is also a pretty “vague metric for measuring success”. I wonder, given the circumstances, if OP is able to take short term disability so she would have more time to deal with her health problems. Good luck to you OP.

  45. Linguist Curmudgeon*

    “Eventually” is absolutely appropriate when the cause of stress is something with an expiration date. Like “my too-young baby is in daycare.”

    Life is very long.

    Vote towards real parental leave.

      1. Linguist Curmudgeon*

        That’s true, and after reading the whole thread I think I am now on team “fix your head first.” Depression really messes with you.

  46. Kalli*

    What I’m seeing here isn’t related to depression/meds/anything at all on that front. (I don’t think it will help, anyway, not with this and with such a short time frame. And you absolutely do not want probation extended.)

    LW was put on probation, with an end date and a goal, and then the manager took off and the supervisor started cutting her hours. With regards to just the work situation, LW is being expected to meet those goals with less support than she had before. It’s a terrible time to have someone on probation. But medication/therapy/better daycare won’t fix the work situation.

    People have suggested organizational tools and habits, but I am going to add to that by saying this:
    Have a deadline for every task that comes from someone else. Check in with them.
    Anything that is an issue, put aside in an agenda, get face time with your supervisor and go through everything on the list when she is there. You can get feedback that way, and at least it’s regular.

    My other suggestion is a bit of a devious one, since you say you’re on probation pretty much because it’s a company that thinks PIPs are good tools for improving people rather than good management. Ask the company president (when they’re there, or anyone you can get hold of) what plans are being made for your supervisor’s transition. Instead of framing it around you not having, you know, a supervisor, frame it as the work is being left/emails unread, and while not necessarily offering to help document or train or interview (though if you want to you can flat out say ‘I’d love to help’, but that’s not your job so I wouldn’t recommend it), just point out that having a clear transition plan would help with managing workflow, especially if you have long-term projects or clients that will be there after your supervisor leaves. I suspect that that’s a source of pressure, because it’s a workplace change that’s affecting you, but it doesn’t seem to have filtered up that that’s an issue. Putting it that way may get upper management to either get moving on finding a replacement, or clue you in to how things are being managed so that you can factor it in.

    Since you could do the work before, when everyone was there, work out exactly what it is that was helpful – could you get questions answered straight away? Did you have someone to delegate to? Did you have regular meetings? Was it just that there were other people there? You can’t replace those with an app, but on thinking about it you might find something that you can replace it with or pick out what is most important to you. Was your supervisor doing work that now you have to do because she’s not there? (If so, raise that ASAP.)

    And start documenting. What you did each day, who you talked to about what, what they said. While you’re fairly sure they’re not railing you towards UI, journaling can help with emotions and putting it all into perspective, plus it gets the icky bits out of your head so you can focus on other stuff. If they come back to you, you’ll have what you did written down, and you won’t have to scramble through your memories picking out what happened on what day.

  47. Kaitlyn*

    Oh man, this is crazy tough. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with going back to work so soon (side note: America! Pass your maternity leave protections already!), and with PPD, and with misgivings about your childcare, AND with a management who put you on probation and then kind of checked out themselves.

    As far as the work stuff goes, I think you all need to be working from the same understanding. What deadlines are coming up that need to be met? How many data points need to be entered every day? How many sales need to close? Quantify as much as you can ahead of time, so that you can track how you’re doing with minimal supervision.

    Ask for a couple meetings over the next few months and check in: these are the goals I’ve hit, this is how I’m measuring my productivity, this is where I was a year ago, this is where I am now. Ask them for feedback and direction; even five minutes every payday. I think Alison is correct when she says that people on a PIP need to understand the expectations put on them and try to rise to the challenge, but you also need a to get the normal feedback you would get from your managers, as well as the info to help you course-correct.

    Feeling overwhelmed and unmotivated at work is REALLY REALLY common for new parents. I went back to work at four weeks, and I struggled with a lot of resentment, anger, anxiety, and loss of motivation. Remember that your entire life is in flux, and that you *will* find a new rhythm with the baby and the job. Go easy on yourself as much as you can at home: as money allows, order the takeout, hire the housecleaner, get your parents to pick up the baby from daycare, insist that your husband take a feeding while you work out for half an hour. Whatever it takes for you to feel supported at home, put those mechanisms in place, then remove them once you’re off probation.

    Finally, know that this time will pass. You’re capable, you’re smart, you know your job, and you can handle this. Your probation period is less than a trimester’s worth…think about how much you accomplished then. :D

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