should I tell a low-performing employee that she needs to arrive at work earlier?

A reader writes:

I have a direct report who has been with my nonprofit organization for a little over six months. She is earnest and committed to our mission, but seriously lacking in areas related to technical skills, attention to detail, and any sort of analytical thinking. She is junior, but this isn’t her first job, so I am surprised by how many very basic skills she is lacking.

Our office is fairly informal, and the only person who really needs to be here at specific times is the receptionist. Many people come in early, leave late, or work remotely from time to time. There is a general understanding that as long as you are getting your stuff done, how you do it is up to you.

When the staffer in question first started, we had a couple of conversations about coming in on time, because she had been late to a few meetings. Now she is on time when we have mornings that start with meetings, but she’ll stroll in anywhere from 9:45-10:30 on days that don’t start with meetings. She doesn’t stay late, either.

At her first performance review, I focused in on the top two areas that she needs to work on to get her performance up to par; neither issue was her lateness. We continue to check in on these areas and discuss specific examples in regular check-in meetings. Her performance issues are not related to attitude or motivation. She has a very kind, pleasant personality and is extremely committed to developing her career in our specific nonprofit niche. She just lacks some basic skills and is not very professionally mature. She is putting in effort and making some progress, but it is very slow and requires massive amounts of hand-holding.

I’m torn as to whether or not to address the lateness with her. On the one hand, her tasks don’t have to be done at a certain time and when they do (like morning meetings), she’s there on time. On the other hand, I don’t think that she gets that people who come in late or leave early – me included – have generally earned this by proving themselves. Also, I know she really wants a career in this field, and it’s a pretty small world – being consistently late is very visible and I know others are noticing. Somebody asked me the other day if she still works here!

In order to try to address some of her performance issues, I find myself having to really control my frustrations with how basic some of her mistakes are, and I can’t tell if the “what time she comes in the office” is a big deal or not. It actually drives me nuts, because I read this as if she’s not taking her performance issues seriously. But I’m aware that might be my issue, and not her issue. Is this a big deal? Should I address it with her?


I’m a huge fan of not holding people to rigid, strict arrival times when the work itself doesn’t require it.

But it doesn’t sound like she’s even working full eight-hour days! That might be fine if she was doing stellar work, but she’s not. Someone who’s struggling should at least be there for the full day.

Plus, it sounds like it’s impacting her reputation, and that’s something she needs to know too.

So yes, it’s entirely reasonable for you to tell her that when she’s resolved the performance concerns and has a sustained track record of good performance, you’ll give her some flexibility on her arrival time, but that for now you need her to arrive on time. I’d say it this way: “I’ve noticed that you’re regularly arriving between 9:45 and 10:30 on days that don’t have morning meetings, and generally not working a full eight hours on those days. We’re not super rigid about time of arrival, as you know, but usually this much flexibility is earned over time. Being consistently late is something that people notice, and it can reflect poorly on you, especially if you’re not working late on those days. Particularly while we’re working to get your performance up to where it needs to be, I’d like you get here on time each morning — meaning between 9 and 9:15. If we’re able to resolve the issues we’ve discussed, we can talk about returning more flexibility to you at that point.”

But also … I’m pretty skeptical that you should be investing this much time and hand-holding. You’ve described someone who’s not lacking in one area, but in many areas, and they’re crucial ones. Technical skills can be teachable (sometimes), but attention to detail and analytical thinking are not likely to be things that you’re able to teach in any reasonable amount of time. It really, really sounds like you need to put a timetable on this — something like four weeks, not months and months — and let her know that if you don’t see significant progress in that time period, you’ll need to let her go at the end of it. That would be my advice to anyone in your situation, but it’s especially true because you’re at a nonprofit, which means that you have an obligation to your donors and to your mission to use your resources wisely. This level of hand-holding and commitment to continuing to keep giving more chances to someone who’s lacking multiple basic skills isn’t really justifiable in that context. So this is something to resolve quickly, not let drag on.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 256 comments… read them below }

  1. alter_ego*

    Yeah, I stroll in at 10 AM sometimes. I was also here from 5PM to 2AM last night finishing something. I get really annoyed with rigid clock-watching, but requiring an 8 hour day is a totally normal thing to look for, even from top performers, let alone people whose work isn’t great.

    1. JessaB*

      This, or if not an 8 hour day a generally 40 hour week even if that’s 5 hours on Monday and extra on Tuesday and all (because adults can work late one day and come in late the next or the one after just fine, yes?) The idea is to generally be there to do the work (because sometimes things come up and if nobody is there, who will do them.) If not at least a general consensus that on one day you’ll stay and on another someone else will. That there’s a specific amount of coverage.

  2. Leatherwings*

    I also think that you need to take a hard look at how much support you’re providing this employee. It sounds to me like she needs to be on some sort of improvement plan to get her skills up to snuff or else be let go.

    It also might be worth looking at your hiring process to make sure you’re not surprised by someone’s lack of technical skills again.

  3. Construction Safety*

    Hmm, so what are technical skills? Sending an email? Setting up folders & subfolders on her computer? Filing stuff alphabetically? Laminating documents? Filling the copier with paper?

    How would a person be hired if they didn’t have the technical skills for the position?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Technical skills are more specialized than that — could be anything from Excel to data analysis to dealing with lab equipment. Varies based on the job.

      People get hired without having the right skills either because the hiring process wasn’t thorough enough or because no hiring process is perfect (you might do rigorous assessments of all kinds of things, but you can’t test for absolutely everything, and sometimes you extrapolate to think that if someone can do X and Y, they can also do Z, or you might assume they can pick up Z quickly and then it turns out that they can’t).

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        My job requires skills that very few people have been exposed to. The learning curve is huge, and for some, it’s bigger than others.

        1. littlemoose*

          Every position at my office requires the use of at least one, if not multiple, unique in-house computer programs. I can see that being the kind of technical skill one would be expected to learn on the job in a reasonable amount of time, but couldn’t have possessed before their employment.

          1. JessaB*

            Yes but then you do test at interview stage for the soft skills necessary – self starting, ability to learn new processes, etc. They may not know THAT programme, but you at least ask them about how they learn stuff to see if they can do so in a reasonable time. I think the OP’s employee is more of a mess with the soft skills needed to learn the technical ones.

      2. LabTech*

        could be anything from Excel to data analysis to dealing with lab equipment

        In my case it’s both! :)

          1. Annonymouse*

            Yes, technical skills vary by occupation.

            They are in simple terms the specific tasks and skills you need to succeed in your role that don’t apply to every other job.

            Admin people it might be typing speed and accuracy.

            Surgeons and doctors of course would be anatomy and recognising and diagnosis of symptoms.

            Some of these are assumed you have before the job and others are specific to that job or company – like in house databases.

      3. AMT*

        To add to this, sometimes “lack of technical skills” = “unwillingness/inability to learn technical skills.” People seldom come into a job knowing everything about the software or equipment they need to use, but I’ve seen a lot of frustration caused by people who just don’t retain information well, don’t take notes, or think a particular piece of software is “too hard.”

        It’s *extremely* difficult to assess someone in a job interview for their ability to learn and enthusiasm for acquiring new skills. My wife hired a guy with a master’s in his field who turned out to be a nightmare. He would forget routine duties and ask basic questions about software that had been explained over and over to him. Despite many coaching sessions, he never bothered to write anything down or change his organization style. Luckily, he quit because my wife was too “hard on him.” She was much more vigilant about hiring after that and her new assistant is wonderful.

        1. Annonymouse*

          Yeah, I can see his perspective.

          I mean repeatedly trained and corrected on a basic job function because you can’t be arsed to learn it?

          She’s a jerk (sarcasm).

          If that guy thinks she was “too hard” on him then he’d get eaten alive at other jobs I’ve worked at.

      4. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

        My position is very heavy on data analysis and building presentations. I still don’t understand how it happened, but our newest hire (almost 8 months ago) came in with extremely outdated MS Office skills and has not been catching on at all despite being shown multiple times how to do a vlookup or pivot table. Everyone else in the department is operating at a very high level with both Excel and Powerpoint, and picking up her slack is getting really old.

        1. Christine*

          You can show someone many times how do something, but it they are not taking notes they will not retain it. When I train someone I show them once, have them do it once while I watch, and tell them to take notes & screen shots. Myself, I have to do it. I had a trainer years ago that would, you do this real quick, do these key strokes fast as everything and back to her own work. My employer at that time upgraded some of our Clinical Trail Assistants to a level 2 and training/mentoring was part of their job description. They were evaluated on it. Instead of making training someone an extra responsibility they had, but not credited for; but still expecting the same output; it’s going quick and short. I learn by doing; versus being shown.

          1. Marcela*

            I knew somebody who takes notes for everything, but the notes are completely worthless because she can’t never find the relevant note when needed. And I’m sure the actual process of taking notes allows her to not to pay actual, real and focused attention to the process she is supposed to be learning. Even worse, I never managed to teach her to even ask Google. It was very annoying, very fast.

          2. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

            I honestly feel like in some ways she was set up for failure, because everyone else has walked in the door with really solid, up-to-date Excel and Powerpoint skills. My position is one where you are expected to hit the ground running very quickly, and she’s just not equipped to do that. This is not a job for someone with rusty Office skills and limited analytical ability, but somehow she landed the job. It’s super frustrating for her as well – most of my department has only been hired within the last two years, and another employee who joined the team just a couple of weeks after her is running circles around her.

            1. Artemesia*

              This is a person who needs to be fired. Whoever is managing her needs to step up and do that and hire someone who can do the job.

              1. JessaB*

                Exactly. And it’s the fault of the hiring manager, this person should never have been hired for a job where you have to know this stuff.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I had an internal employee dumped on me once who literally could not point and click when asked to do so.

      1. Pwyll*

        Yup, this. Ours even picked up the mouse and held it like that scene with Scotty in one of the Star Trek movies.

        Unfortunately, in our case he also treated every single female employee as a secretary whose role was to operate his computer for him. (Including once telling the VP of Marketing “I’ve never heard of a CEO having a Marketing Assistant before, can you tell me what it is you do?”) We weren’t allowed to fire him because “How else will he learn?” and “He brings much needed industry relationships.” Sigh.

        1. Boop*

          It makes me wonder how much of it is actual ignorance and how much is willful. Sometimes people learn that if they act clueless enough someone else will do it for them/walk them through it.

          1. Middle Name Jane*

            This! I’m a woman in my 30s, and I’ve seen this happen several times with female coworkers in their 50s. I know these women are intelligent and capable, but they *choose* to act helpless (especially in front of male coworkers) in order to gain sympathy and/or have the work done for them. Annoys me to no end.

      2. ZuKeeper*

        It’s amazing to me how many people don’t know how to do technical aspects of their jobs, and that they’re allowed to get away with it.

        My husband, an inside sales guy, works with an outside sales guy who refuses to learn how to order/invoice anything. He shows up and expects to take whatever parts he needs (which can run into 10s of thousands of dollars) without an invoice. The company lost big money last year because outside salespeople were ordering & delivering parts and never invoicing the customers so they’re really cracking down now.

        When my husband, who also temporarily runs the warehouse, says no the other guy gets all mad because he “doesn’t know how to do that” and he’s in a hurry. Then he has to hunt up another salesperson to run all the paperwork for him. His excuse is he spends so much time on the road that he can’t drive and generate paperwork, so why learn?

        That seems to me to be an integral part of his job that he’s flat out refusing to do. He’s then making someone else do his job for him. I don’t understand how he’s still employed. The company is slowly cleaning house though, his time may be limited.

        1. Hotstreak*

          I have seen many people do the same thing at my jobs, it’s so frustrating! From my perspective, it’s not that they lack the technical skills – it’s that they are choosing to focus on certain parts of their job, while neglecting the parts they don’t enjoy or feel are “beneath” them.

          1. Lindsay J*

            This. There is no reason why people should not be able to learn to click on an icon on the computer and enter data. But they don’t view that as part of their job – they view sales or whatever as the entirety of their job, and the paperwork/technical stuff is unimportant. Unfortunately, unless they have a boss that hammers it home that all of it is part of their job, they learn to pawn it off on others.

            1. AMT*

              Yes, the “not a tech person, so it’s not my job” argument! It might be crucial to their job duties (e.g. documenting work done, communicating with co-workers, looking up important information), but if it has to be done with a computer, it’s somehow okay to say, “Oh, I don’t do that.” I have a coworker who absolutely refuses to check her email. She has stated as much to our supervisor. She’s a nurse. How is that acceptable?

              1. Clewgarnet*

                Or, “I am a tech person, so paperwork isn’t part of my job.”

                It doesn’t matter how many circuits you commission if you don’t complete the admin side to a) tell the customer their circuit is commissioned, and b) tell billing to start charging!

                But, no, apparently THAT is the one system that’s too complicated.

      3. FiveWheels*

        I had one who didn’t know how to Google. Well educated, not their first job, literally didn’t know what to do when he asked me a question and I replied “I can’t remember, but if you Google it, it should be the first result.”

        1. JessaB*

          I do admit that a lot of people are not good at Google. I do research for a living (freelance job, I’m disabled now,) but I’ve been doing it since working in the library during High School. One of the things I have to teach people is how to actually format a query. Not how to Google per se, but how to ask Google the right question to get an actually relevant and accurate answer. So sometimes I will say “Google this particular string of information.”

          But if someone actually does not know how to go to Google and type, well that’s a different kind of issue. Especially in companies where they expect you to check for an answer/process first, and they let you USE Google in the first place. And in 99% of those cases it’s not a knowledge issue (because that can be fixed in five seconds by putting an icon for Google on their desktop, or a bookmark in their browser, if they insist they have trouble finding it.) That’s an issue of not wanting to or feigning helplessness.

    3. Florida*

      Many times people are hired even if they lack the technical skills to do a job, because they have similar skills. To use your examples, if someone had never laminated documents before, but they were well versed in copy machines, scanners, postage machines, and many other office machines, would you NOT hire them because they didn’t know how to use a laminating machine? Or would invest in the very short amount of training required to show them?

      It depends on what the technical skills are, how difficult it is to learn, and how important it is to the job.

    4. pope suburban*

      In addition to everyone else’s reasons, sometimes, people lie. We have a low-performing employee who claimed to have basic skills in Office, as well as customer-service experience that could translate to a client-facing role here. She in fact has no skills in Office, still, despite instruction, and if the client feedback I get is any indication, she does not have customer-service skills either. Unfortunately, our CEO is a lot like the VP in today’s previous letter, so we won’t be doing anything about it, but the bottom line is that she got this job by bald-faced lying to us. I’d like to think it’s rare, but it can happen.

      1. Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

        Most definitely people lie. We had a woman say she knew how to type 72 words per minute. Well, try 2 words per minute. And once, we had to use one the big network printer. When she saw it, she nearly had a heart attack. Whatever happened to “skills testing” before hiring. Bring those days back.

          1. Angelina*

            I once got a resume with a typing speed of 60 wpm listed on it! Couldn’t tell if they thought that was impressive, or what, but I did not call them.

            1. JessaB*

              Was it an older candidate who might not have been tested in awhile? Because that was a good speed back in the actual typewriter days. On a computer not so much at all.

            2. bkanon*

              Every ad I see in my area asks for 35-40 wpm. I do 90-95 on average and have been rejected for being “scary fast”. Lots and lots of people would call 60 a pretty good speed.

          2. JessaB*

            Besides, I thought that almost any company where actual typing at speed was important gave a typing test. Seriously I had to take tests for companies where if I typed a few minutes an hour it was rare. Nowadays with computerised things like Mavis Beacon and all, tests are cheap to administer. It’s not like the old days where you had to pay a few hundred dollars for an IBM Selectric that could sit around just to test people on. It makes zero sense not to test for that skill (takes 15 minutes to half an hour depending on how much testing you need and how complicated the tests are.)

        1. pope suburban*

          Oh lord. The two upsides of temping during the recession are that I can learn stuff *fast* from being plonked into so many new offices, and that I have proficiency score for Office programs. I feel like testing, plus a probationary period to gauge how new employees acquire skills, would go a long way to preventing the kinds of long-term mismatches that result in so many letters and comments here (and so much wasted time and money). Not every person, even if they are experienced, clever, and resilient, will be the right person for every job. Some small steps to acknowledge and work with that would go a loooong way.

          1. JessaB*

            Exactly, I think the biggest skill of temp workers is being able to be plonked into a company and hit the ground running. And if a company needs a set of skills like the whole MS office thing, temp companies are really well set up to test that stuff. They have whole batteries of tests they can administer. So going temp to perm (or even just having an agency to do the screening for you) on those kind of jobs means you don’t have to do all the testing yourself.

        2. vpc*

          I type 90+ WPM. Back when I was doing temping jobs, I would state that on the intake interviews, and I always got an “uh huh, sure. We’ll put you through a typing test, and our minimum is 50.”

          …and I usually clocked in at over 100, error-adjusted. Boy, did I get some raised eyebrows. “why are you temping again?” “because it’s what I want to be doing right now, I’m going to be moving again in two… three… six months, and so I need a short-term, no strings attached paycheck.”

          1. Sea Monster*

            My mom told me that my grandfather could type 120+ wpm with zero errors- and that in an era when only manual typewriters existed.
            To me that was mind boggling. I couldn’t even learn to type *properly* let alone at any kind of speed worth talking about. Decades later I come to find out I am dyspraxic, and simply lack the motor skills & coordination to ever become proficient at it.
            Possibly needless to say, I’ve never had a job where good typing skills are a requirement.

      2. Cafe au Lait*

        In grad school, I had to take a computer skills class. I knew 50% of the content, and worked for the other 50% (woo hoo, html!). Some of my classmates had never touched a computer before. One guy, older, probably in his 50’s, struggled with every assignment. He asked 1,000 questions, and often had to be walked through the steps multiple times.

        I bought my next semester’s books off of him, and he told me that he was applying to librarian job. He was thankful that the class covered html and Office 2010 because he “…now had experience with those programs,” and could apply to jobs listing those as required qualifications.

        It was a huge eye opener on what qualified as “experience” to some people.

        1. Happy Lurker*

          I have family members whose “experience” bookkeeping goes back 30 years to cashing out their drawer at the end of the shift. They kept asking me if I would act as a professional reference. I kept avoiding the question.

      3. Kira*

        I think, too, that we don’t easily identify where our own skills lie in the range. I’ve used Word, but is my knowledge basic/intermediate/advanced? I’m not sure, since I haven’t seen people who are more advanced than I am.

        Likewise, a person might say “I was in a customer-service position” but not realize that they’re bad at customer service.

        1. Dot Warner*

          Yes, this. Even if a person recognizes that his/her skills aren’t an exact match for the job, sometimes it can be difficult for them to discern if they’re a AAA minor leaguer who’s ready to be called up to the majors or if they should stick to T-ball.

        2. MoinMoin*

          Whenever I get asked something like this in an interview I end up launching into a big Dunning-Kruger thing and just start listing what I can do.

    5. Anonymous Educator*

      I’ve been hired for a number of jobs I didn’t have “the skills” for, and I adapted and learned those skills and excelled at them. Skills are highly overrated, unless you are in a highly specialized field that requires years of schooling (no, you can’t take a Jane Schmoe off the street who failed Bio 101 and hire her to be a surgeon). Aptitude is far more important. I’ve also seen a number of people who look good on paper and officially “have the skills,” but who really can’t do things well.

      I will say that, since I’m working with computers now, very specific computer skills or experience with particular programs doesn’t really matter that much, unless you need someone to come in at a high level of expertise and do only that job. In other words, if someone’s job is to maintain a FileMaker database, and she’s never used FileMaker before, but she knows SQL and generally how relational databases work, I wouldn’t be worried about her. Or if someone whose primary experience is being a Windows admin of a fleet of 300 computers, I wouldn’t worry about hiring her to manager 300 Macs, as long as I can tell she is willing to learn stuff and can do so quickly. However, if I’m a corporation with 60,000 Macs to manage, and my Senior Systems Admin just left and had to be replaced right away, you can bet I’d want to replace her with someone with a lot of experience managing Macs.

      It really depends. I think a lot of people overestimate “skills” with specific tasks or programs instead of general approaches and ability to learn and adapt.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think it’s true that you can teach skills in many jobs, but definitely not in all. For example, really good writing isn’t usually teachable in the amount of time a manager will have. Also, as roles become more senior, you more frequently need someone to come in with really honed skills and instincts.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          Sure. I fully agree with that, which I hope my last example addressed.

          My point was more that specific skills are often overrated. For example, perhaps you have someone who is supposed to be able to write admissions copy, but she’s done only development copy before. She can clearly write, but I know some hiring managers would oddly not realize that you can translate that over (it’s not like technical writing vs. creating writing, which aren’t necessarily transferrable).

          Most schools wouldn’t hire a head of school who’d never been a division head, a department head, or a dean before, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with hiring an assistant director of admission (or even a director) who’s never done admission work before—I’ve seen it done to great success.

          And if a job requires you to use Excel (but not necessarily VB or Macros), you don’t really need someone with previous Excel experience, as long as the candidate can pick things up fairly quickly.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Unless you want a candidate who can do those things immediately. The employer may not have the time or capacity to start teaching somebody brand new skills – they want to hire someone who can do them immediately. “Skills are highly overrated” is frankly untrue, because it depends entirely on the skills and the situation.

            1. Anonymous Educator*

              I addressed that above:
              However, if I’m a corporation with 60,000 Macs to manage, and my Senior Systems Admin just left and had to be replaced right away, you can bet I’d want to replace her with someone with a lot of experience managing Macs.

              I didn’t say skills are useless. I said they’re overrated, and they are.

              1. UnCivilServant*

                My reaction to that example was “Why do you only have one guy overseeing 60K desktops?” then “No wonder he bailed. The ordinary ‘coffee in keyboard’ calls would have him running from pillar to post all day and still be backed up.”

                More rational me chimed in an suggested that the Senior part implied Junior level people, but that could also reduce the level of “The sky is falling, Mac-only hires” urgency to his replacement.

                I may be overthinking your example.

                1. Anonymous Educator*

                  Even with lower-ranked sys admins, you don’t want to replace a senior sys admin with someone green who needs to be trained. And, by the way, one person can manage 60,000 Macs. There are lots of great automation tools out there to do it.

              2. neverjaunty*

                I know you didn’t say they’re useless. You said they’re overrated, which is inaccurate. Sometimes they are overrated – say use of a minor software tool that can be quickly taught and where ‘ramp up time’ isn’t a major factor. Sometimes they really, really are crucial, and the time it takes to train someone meaningfully on that skill is 1) time you’re not doing other things and 2) time they’re not doing the thing required by the skill.

                I push back on this because it pops up not infrequently around here that somebody hires a person who is supposed to be able to do X, and it turns out they can’t do X, but figured they’d learn on the job or maybe read a tutorial on X once.

          2. Annonymouse*

            Depends on context.
            If you need your role filled yesterday and it is highly technical then you are going to want someone who already knows/can do the tech aspects.

            If it is a job that the tech aspects aren’t too demanding or there is no way to know it in advance (work specific database for example) then similar skills that can translate would be fine.

            We’ve all heard the saying “look for someone with the right attitude, you can teach them the rest.”
            Part of that right attitude is a willingness to learn or already be working on the skills you need.

        2. Bob*

          Writing is the example I always use of a skill that typically can’t be taught later in life. If you made it through all of your education and still can’t write well, not many adults are willing to invest the amount of time required to learn it.

          1. Kira*

            This makes sense. I don’t enjoy writing in my job, and have little desire to work on that skill. But I love learning new tools–how to use that machine, that software, etc.

          2. Mary*

            Agreed. But if you can write well in one style, you can often learn to write well in another style or genre without too much trouble.

      2. Bwmn*

        I think in addition to over-estimating people’s skills – I also think that very often people see skill A and being similar to skill B when in actuality they’re not.

        I do very well with institutional fundraising and grant writing. I however am not great at writing copy for nonprofits. If we’re talking grants, donor reports, thank you letters, etc. – these are all areas I do well. But if we’re talking about writing an organization’s annual report or website content – not my strong suit. The thing for me is to be honest with myself and in an interview if a position is looking for a heavier Content Creater/Copy Editor role to be filled vs. Development/Fundraiser role. I didn’t learn this professional distinction about myself immediately, and depending on who’s hiring you, those differences may not be distinguished very well.

        I say all this wondering if the OP’s new hire may be in a situation like that. Had my second or third job in fundraising had the expectations of heavy writing and editing copy, I might not have genuinely evaluated my own capabilities and wrongly assumed their cross over potential. I probably could interview very well for a number of “Grant Writer” positions and would have all the necessarily references for it – but knowing more about how some of those jobs end up, I now know enough about myself to know what weaknesses I’d bring to such a position.

      3. pope suburban*

        I really, really wish more people thought like you. As things currently tend to stand, the only way to get a job is to have that job, even if that’s not necessarily an accurate statement. For example, answering phones for a film production company is going to work a lot like answering phones anywhere else. Building a database is generally going to be within reach for someone who has built databases before, and used them. Supporting field staff is something that works the same in environmental consulting, construction, and video production (I’ve done it in all three fields; the specialized knowledge was easy to learn, but also a very small percentage of the work). The trouble with insisting, always, on a laundry list of skills, is that it cuts out a lot of people who have transferable skills, and the drive and aptitude to do well.

    6. Analyze All The Data*

      My first internship in my field was building a patient web portal. It required PHP, HTML, CSS, Twitter Bootstrap & SQL. I had very minimal experience with html and sql and none with the others. I got the internship because it was for my professor’s company and he knew I could handle learning the technologies. I taught myself enough of each to complete the patient web portal to the satisfaction of the internal client (and in 2/3 the time my professor had predicted it would take).

      I told this story during my interview for my current job. My boss was so impressed with the fact that I taught myself how to code, he didn’t care that I didn’t know how to use most of the technologies I would need. He figured I could learn them. And I have, mostly without any official training or assistance from my coworkers. I guess I’m proof that you can hire based on potential rather than actual knowledge and experience.

      1. JessaB*

        Yes but your proof is actually a solid showing of an ability to learn the tasks. I’d hire you, but I wouldn’t hire someone who did not have that kind of proof. Knowing x, y, z isn’t transferable to a, b, c necessarily, but knowing x and showing you learnt y and z quickly, might be transferable to learning a, b and c fast enough to make it matter. I’d hire on your proven ability to learn. And the critical word in that sentence is PROVABLE.

  4. My 2 Cents*

    I’m with Alison: why is she still working there? You sound like a very kind, patient person, but you’ve given this employee A LOT of chances to improve and she isn’t, and she’s taking advantage of the situation by not even working full days. Time to cut her loose.

    1. OP*

      Here’s why she’s still here: She’s been here about 6 months. The work my organization does is complex, and there is usually a long learning curve for new hires, even people with extensive experience and great skill sets. So I was expecting it to take a few months for her to get up to speed.
      Plus, she only has a handful of repetitive tasks, the rest are unique tasks that may require the same skills but that can’t use the same “recipe” (to quote a comment further down). So it took some time for the pattern of issues to float to the surface. Given the expected learning curve and taking some time for the patterns to become visible, it’s been about 2-3 months that we have been trying to address her issues.
      Not saying that it’s not time to cut her loose, just explaining why she’s still here after 6 months.

      1. Kira*

        That makes sense–you’re realizing that it’s not the learning curve, rather it’s her personal abilities.

      2. Oranges*

        We have the same long learning curve and it’s amazing how long it takes to figure out that you’re “throwing them at a wall”.

        It’s a phrase I heard that I like. Basically you’re tossing them against an immovable object that will never go away.

    1. AMG*

      Seriously. Time for some hands-on managing. Addressing this is just the beginning. You need to be engaged in managing her and making your expectations clear.

  5. AnonyMeow*

    I have to agree with Alison that this employee might not be good enough to keep on staff. Some of the things that she struggles with (attention to detail and analytical thinking in particular), are not things you can improve quickly, and investing your time and energy in her is probably not in the best interest of your organization. You might want to look at your hiring practices, too, if this employee is so massively below where you need her to be.

  6. StarHopper*

    I agree with Alison, and would also add that you might want to look at your hiring practices if someone with so few skills got through. There are lots of people out there who manage to be both committed to the mission AND competent.

  7. AnotherAlison*

    Sounds like she must be someone’s relative. Feels she can stroll in whenever, work a short day, keeps her job even though she’s not capable of doing it. Why else would this be tolerated?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I get the sense it’s a manager who wants to be accommodating and understanding and give lots of chances, but isn’t realizing that it doesn’t make sense to do that (a) in cases where the employee is missing core traits that aren’t easily taught (like attention to detail), (b) for more than a few weeks, and (c) in cases where the employee isn’t bothering to help herself by doing things like working a full day.

      1. JessaB*

        I hate to say it but the working a full day thing, needs to be addressed separately, because as bad as this employee is, I doubt she considers her bad points to be doing what everyone else is. I’m not sure it would occur to an employee who has issues with problem solving skills in the first place that “being body in seat longer, might help.”

    2. Leatherwings*

      That’s a big leap and OP probably would’ve mentioned it. Low performers are tolerated all the time for lots of reasons – because managers don’t manage as effectively as they could be, because managers are hamstrung by overly bureaucratic HR practices, because managers want to give people a chance when they’re professional and motivated etc.

      1. BRR*

        I also think that would have come up. It’s a really big point and the situation would then likely revolve around that.

        It’s normal to not want to fire someone. I might even think it’s a good quality to not want to fire someone (as long as it doesn’t stop someone from dealing with performance issues). When someone is fired it can usually has a huge affect on their life due to income, insurance, future hireability etc.

    3. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Because sometimes subpar people turn out to be pretty great? Michael Jordan was cut from his varsity basketball team, and Elvis Presley was told he was a terrible singer and should keep his day job.

      I get what you’re saying. Employers aren’t charities, and hiring people isn’t granting a favor. But this OP sounds like she has invested a lot already, and she comes off as hopeful. I’d want an employer like that…to a point.

      AAM gave her a nudge towards the reality of the situation in the last paragraph. That’s fair. Sometimes we get wrapped up in things that we miss the bigger picture. No long-term harm done.

    4. Ruthie*

      I know it’s unlikely, but she sounds so much like my former report that I can’t help but wonder if it’s the same person. I tolerated this exact behavior for several months before coaching her out of the organization for a few reasons, and it had nothing to do with nepotism. She had personal experience related to our non-profit’s mission, so offered a really unique perspective as a self-advocate. As a result, she also had amazing relationships with thought leaders in our field, which made it a more delicate situation. Because of her unique qualifications, we were really rooting for her professional success and committed to mentoring her. Unfortunately, she managed to use up literally everyone’s goodwill, despite our best intentions. But before the conditions of her termination were finalized with HR, she found another position with the job source resources I purchase for her.

    5. Marcela*

      Let me tell you the story of the only time when I was a supervisor. I am a scientist turned software developer, and I work in academia. About 4 years ago, one of the group members told me about his wife: she was a scientist too, and she needed a job. She was told about the cool project I was working in, and she thought that perhaps she would like software development as an alternative career. I saw myself in that description, so I talked to my boss and we hired her as my apprentice.

      We had 3 months of hell. From the very beginning it was obvious she didn’t like programming. But she kept telling us that she wanted to work with us. She is an adult so we believed what she said, and we kept trying to find ways to teach her, giving her small tasks, later allowing her to work with real code and be in charge of helping our “clients”, the other scientists in the group. She was seriously lacking attention to detail, and had this paranoid attitude (shared with her husband) that everything was going to end badly and sooner or later everybody was going to do her a bad turn. Everything we gave her to do end in disaster. Once I asked her to justify some code she wrote, and she went to other researcher that was helping her, and asked him to explain the reason to my boss, not even to me! And there were many other things like that.

      I kept trying to work with her because I was somehow in her shoes and somebody gave me an opportunity. I wanted to repay that cosmic debt. However, I had to finally let her go because she also loved to do some guilty trip tantrums, where she would tell me (never to my boss) that we were giving her a dirty look, that we didn’t understand, etc. etc. When I asked what we could do to help her succeed, she kept asking over and over if I understood her feelings, never giving any factual reason why she could not perform as expected or any suggestion for us to approach in a better way to her experience or way of thinking.

      I tolerated many things because I truly wanted her to succeed. Now I realize that it was a mistake and I know my boss let me do all of this as a lesson in managing. But here you have a reason for allowing stuff for people who is not a relative.

  8. Dust Bunny*

    If this isn’t her first job, I assume the employee in question is, what, mid-twenties? She’s old enough to have these skills. These aren’t rocket science: Show up on time, do your work, do it well. She’s not taking her performance issues seriously, and it sounds like you aren’t, either. Weirdly, you’re both babying her and doing too little: You’re putting a lot of effort into justifying her presence and making her feel OK about being a half-hearted employee but not enough into doing anything that might actually benefit her in the long run.

    If you care as much about her succeeding in this area as you seem to, call her on it. Call her on her lateness and her weak performance and all the things, or as soon as she tries to move up to a more demanding position, everyone will found out that she’s blowing hot air.

    1. OhNo*

      This. The only way she’s ever going to improve is if someone is honest with her about the ways she is falling short – ALL of the ways. If it helps, frame it for her as the reference that you would give to a potential employer who called about her. You’d tell them that she almost never works a full eight-hour day, right? And that she was lacking in technical skills and was showing no actual desire to improve? Tell her that if she ever wants to move up in the field, her ability to do so will be dependent on references like yours, and the way things are right now there’s no way anyone else in the field would take a chance on her.

      Of course, once you’ve said it, you have to set a strict deadline and follow through. That’s going to be the really tough part.

      1. Sea Monster*

        When I was a manager in retail (a mall clothing chain that went from independent to corporate during my time there) I was told that when I was asked to either give or check references, the questions I could ask and the information I could relay was both specific and limited- by law, not store/corporate/business policy. To make statements like those you’ve given as examples- that employee X doesn’t work 8 hour days, lacks technical skills, and showed no interest in improving would fall WAY outside of what information was permissible for me to say (or ask for) and would have been illegal.
        Granted, this was close to 20 years ago, so maybe things have changed, or maybe things are different in a professional office environment (or in non-US countries) but I would be very careful about either threatening an employee in such a way or advising anyone else to do so unless one is certain that it is legal in your area.
        And even then I would tread carefully- telling someone that essentially, if they don’t shape up not only are they out on their ass, but you are going to go out of your way to make it difficult for them to get another one seems both unprofessional and exceptionally mean spirited.

          1. Sea Monster*

            Thank you for answering this. Both my direct manager and corporate district manager told me in training that we could do little more than verify (or ask) that person X worked where they said they did, from (date) to (date), and if they were considered rehirable. Almost anything else was illegal (this was emphasized) and basically this law was in place to prevent disgruntled or vindictive ex-employers from being able to make up anything they wanted to to sabotage the job prospects of former employees (or current ones looking to leave.)
            Perhaps this was just a thing in California, or an employee protection that’s been eliminated by the influence of corporate power, but because of that training, reading ohno’s comment filled me with horror that someone might take that advice unknowingly and land themselves and/or their employer in some serious hot water.

            1. Sea Monster*

              I want to add that the emphasis they gave was along the lines of “even if you have to give reference for someone you fired because they were horrible, you still have to tiptoe around all this because if you ask/say the wrong things it is ILLEGAL and the company can be SUED as well as facing other legal repercussions.”

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Nope, not in California and not in past decades! It’s a common myth that some people believe though, which sounds like it was the case with your managers.

  9. animaniactoo*

    LW, I would argue that her attitude and motivation actually ARE part of her performance issues.

    I’m willing to bet that at least some of her basic mistakes are because she’s rushing through getting the job done, rather than taking extra time to make sure it’s done right.

    And if she were truly motivated, her attitude would be that she needs to have her butt in the office every available hour to hurry up and learn what she doesn’t know, use the extra time as an opportunity to delve into learning some stuff, fiddling around with it and practicing, rather than limiting showing her willingness and attempts to learn to the hours she shows up for.

    I would absolutely put the emphasis on “Working fewer hours or regularly coming in late is something you get to do when all your work is done properly.”

    1. Rat Racer*

      I came here to say something similar: if her work is rife with careless mistakes, she should be investing the time it takes to turn in error-free deliverables – there’s no excuse for working less than 8 hours when her work is sloppy.

  10. The IT Manager*

    I’m cynical, and I wonder how committed she really is or is she just committed to keeping this job which allows her to work less than 40 hours a week, do bad work, and still pays her.

    I mean if I were making mistakes, I’d be working on fixing them which might include working more slowly and triple checking my work. These things take more time not less.

    1. LQ*

      I’m kind of with IT Manager here.

      She’s nice.

      But why are so you committed to keeping her? Nice isn’t enough reason to keep someone. She believes in the mission, but not enough to actually show up for a full day’s work. I’m pretty opposed to making people go all in for a cause, but can you say you care about the cause and not show up for a full day’s work? They seem sort of in opposition to me. It doesn’t sound like she’s really putting in a ton of effort and still not improving so maybe you feel like if she put in the effort she’d improve. But she’s not putting in the effort which says a lot.

      (Also I may admit that a tiny part of me wonders if she’s actually anti your cause…)

    2. Always Anon*

      I agree. Well, I can believe that this employee is committed to the mission in the abstract. I can believe that they want to help the organization accomplish their goals. But, believing in the overall mission and dealing with the day-to-day nitty gritty of the work involved with advancing the mission is a different story.

      I think it’s great the OP wants to help the employee develop, as many employers don’t bother with that, but the employee has to show that they are committed. And the easiest way to show commitment is face-time. It’s a basic thing.

  11. Tammy*

    I’m also not a rigid clock-watcher, because I firmly believe in treating responsible adult human beings like responsible adult human beings. I have a regular appointment that necessitates me leaving work at 4pm one day per week — but this is a non-issue, because I generally am in the office early, I stay late, and I get my work done. My boss knows I am effective in my job, and so my schedule adjustments are a non-issue. If I wasn’t working a full week and being effective, we’d be having a different conversation.

    So I agree with Alison’s point: It’s not as though this employee is putting in a full week and being effective, and that’s a problem that needs to be dealt with. I communicate to my employees (by words and actions) that I fully trust their professionalism and judgment until and unless they give me a reason not to. But once I know I can’t trust someone’s professionalism and judgment, we have a serious problem. And it sounds like that’s what’s happening here. So I’m with the group consensus: This is a problem, and it should be addressed with reasonable speed.

    1. Jinx*

      Yeah, I get that OP wants to be fair, but the employee is not using the flexible-time schedule fairly. It’s completely acceptable to tell her “I know we aren’t strict about start times here, but I need you to work full eight hour days”. That’s basic job requirement stuff, especially for a low or average performer.

    2. Marillenbaum*

      I think the key is the wording you’ve used here: “responsible adult human beings”. This person is not behaving responsibly if there are careless mistakes at this level, and it’s fair to (as you point out) hold her to a more rigid schedule unless and until she starts performing at the level OP expects.

  12. Snarkus Aurelius*

    When I worked in nonprofits, I frequently ran into this problem, “She is earnest and committed to our mission, but seriously lacking in areas related to technical skills, attention to detail, and any sort of analytical thinking.”

    OP, just because she’s dedicated to the mission doesn’t mean she’ll be a good employee.

    I was forced to work with a guy who was so passionate about our mission, but he couldn’t write a complete sentence.  He frequently misinterpreted data to make it fit his own political agenda, which happened to agree with ours, but we never talked about things in the radical way that he did.  All of this occurred despite that position requiring writing samples!  (Yes, he was eventually fired, and thanks to him, that job now has unannounced, in-person writing tests.)

    Given she’s so new, you should go back and walk yourself through the hiring process.  Why were you attracted to her?  What skills did she demonstrate in the interview that you thought would make her a good fit?  Do you think she pulled a bait and switch on you?  Was there something you think you missed?  What did her references say?

    I’m not going tell you that you should have known because there’s no exact science to this and bad fits happen all the time.  (Plus I’d never trust anyone who’d tell me she has a catch-all solution.)  But this situation is worth examining whether you were blinded by her passion.

    Don’t beat yourself too much.  I worked almost 20 years to get the high-level job I have, and I still have people who have never worked in government think they can do my job because they “really like politics” without realizing the two aren’t the same.

    1. EA*

      This is how I interpreted it. That OP didn’t want to fire her because she is so earnest and committed. I understand that non-profits generally want someone who is committed to the mission, which really doesn’t make sense to me. I would rather have some that did their job well than someone who cared about the mission. I am sure with a different hiring process OP could get both, but pushed against a wall I would clearly pick A.

      I wonder if when they hired her all they heard was how much she cared and sort of ignored the rest. Like the caring will make her do a good job…

    2. OP*

      I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about our hiring process for this role. We actually had a much larger than usual pool of qualified resumes for this position. On paper, she was a great fit. Education, language (this role needs someone who is bilingual), some work experience in a related-but-not-exactly-the-same field. We phone screened in English and the second language. We interviewed, asking what I thought were good questions. We checked references, which were all great.
      What we didn’t do for this position, which I wish we had, was to have her do some sort of short task that is representative of the work the position does. I’m sure if we’d done this, her issues will attention to detail and analytical skills would have shown themselves.
      FWIW, our HR generally doesn’t do this for more junior positions, but they do require this for higher-level positions. I’ll be asking them to change that when we hire her replacement.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        I wouldn’t beat yourself about this too much (though know better for the future, sure). It’s a common mistake in hiring. One time, I was involved in hiring for my department (an admin area at a school). My boss was leaning toward hiring the candidate who looked good on paper, but when I interviewed that candidate, I had her do a few simple things with a spreadsheet, and she could not do them! Fortunately, I convinced my boss to look more closely at the other candidate who could definitely do the position but didn’t officially have the directly relevant experience.

        I would recommend sitting people down and doing almost a mock training of sorts. “So this is what you would be doing…” instead of “Here’s a test. Let’s see if you can pass it…”

        I mean, even though it really is a test, emphasizing that it is can put people extra on edge.

        1. Stardust*

          I really like the distinction in your instructions on the test (wording it as an example of duties instead of a “test”).

      2. Michelle*

        “I’ll be asking them to change that when we hire her replacement”. That sounds like you have already decided to let her go.

      3. Muriel Heslop*

        Only once in my teaching career have I been asked to teach as a part of the hiring process. (Twice, I guess, since my student teaching location hired me.) I can’t understand why this isn’t the norm in teaching (probably because a lot of hiring happens in the summer) but I think some sort of performance of duties in an interview should be a standard in any field where it’s feasible.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          If you look for a private K-12 position in the U.S, it’s highly likely you’ll be asked to teach a sample lesson as part of the hiring process. Just one niche area of education, I guess.

        2. Artemesia*

          I would never hire a teacher without observing them teach. I used to hire people for academic positions and teaching a real class was just a standard part of the process; people had to teach an undergraduate class for a class period and also had to give a research presentation to faculty. Teaching is something you have to see in action.

          1. JessaB*

            Yes and in the same kind of venue, with the same kind of students, that it will happen (classroom, online, whatever.)

      4. neverjaunty*

        I agree, don’t beat yourself up. Sometimes it’s hard to catch these things. And sometimes you end up with one of those people who’s very, very good at making themselves look excellent on paper, and being “nice” so that their managers feel bad about making them do their jobs.

        The one thing you might want to look at is your reference checking. What kind of questions were asked of those references? Were they specifically directed not just to her dates and job duties and whether she was liked, but intended to find out if the reference was actually familiar with her work? (There’s a huge difference between ‘oh yes, Jane was a great employee and worked hard’ and ‘I reviewed Jane’s writing on many occasions and found it was very much up to our standards’.) Did anyone ask about undeveloped references – that is, asking the references who else you might contact to discuss Jane’s work?

      5. Chickaletta*

        Her references were great? Sigh. If you let her go and become a reference for her in the future, keep this in mind. Find a way to giver her a good review while giving potential employers a realistic picture of her work “style”.

      6. Kira*

        Sounds very reasonable. I’m surprised that I’ve never been asked to do any short tasks in my interviews.

  13. Zee*

    All the clueless-behavior-without-malice makes me think this is an under-40 product of our current dismal public school system, hence the need for all the hand holding, remediation, and pointing out obvious things about time (please note I am also slightly under 40 and went to public school, albeit in a very egalitarian state, this is just my opinion based on personal observation). It is too bad that this worker hasn’t had the opportunity to foster analytical thinking skills before to the point that it may cost her the job. I also wonder if the technical skills are specific to this non-profit (ex. ArcGIS) or more general (using MS word)? I agree that hiring practices might need to be reevaluated to screen out the inevitable glut of candidates who were taught to the test, or maybe the new employee training could be adjusted to eliminate months and months of hand holding. Also, on that note, there are different ways of teaching and learning, which may need adjusting to cut out the hand holding. I personally have to write down how to do a new task stepwise like a recipe and then I have to do it several times, following the recipe, to become proficient. I still keep all my recipes (SOPs) around in binders to refer to, especially since some of my tasks only surface periodically while I do others daily. The employee needs to figure out what works for her to learn to do the tasks proficiently ASAP and maybe the manager needs to adjust the style the uses to teach the task, because she may inadvertently be reinforcing the need for hand holding. I agree with the above suggestion about a structured improvement plan.

    1. Leatherwings*

      Honestly, blaming low performance on “young people today” or similar language is so unnecessary. Plenty of young people are excellent, creative and dedicated workers, and this kind of hand-wringing about the younger generation is tiresome.

      I like the idea of a “recipe” to do basic work though, and might help the low performer break down tasks into more manageable pieces during a structured PIP.

      1. neverjaunty*

        There’s a fairly regular occurrence here of new commenters showing up to bitch randomy about Millenals and how the working world is going to hell in a handbasket. I’m not going to say it’s always the same few people, but it’s as predictable as it is tiresome.

        1. GovWorker*

          I’ve also seen references to over 50 people being technological dinosaurs. I once showed my tech shy fifteen years younger manager how to do certain tasks on the computer and she was amazed. All stereotypes are bad. I am 61 and know my way around tech quite well, being an early adopter of many new hardware and software products.

      2. Kira*

        I agree with the recipe phrasing! I wrote out procedures for so much of my work, so that someone new to it could just follow it step by step and end up with the right result. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that none of the people I was training have very good reading comprehension…

    2. Christopher Tracy*

      Oh please. There’s a sixty-year-old man in my division who takes three to four half hour breaks a day and barely does his work, yet somehow still manages to not get fired. That behavior is not “young people” behavior.

      1. What's Wrong with this Picture?*

        We have an Admin Asst with too much time on her hands and spends most of the day chatting with the receptionist. GM walks right by, president walks right by, their managers walk right by and they keep talking. I’m here from 7 to 5 and busy all day, every day supporting outside sales staff.. They both requested to work “summer hours” (work a little longer Mon thru Thursday and leave at noon on Friday). Guess who was asked to fill in for both so they could enjoy longer weekends. Yep, me.

        1. YOLO*

          Why is it that the irresponsible people are seldom punished for their lack of work ethic, and the responsible people are “rewarded” by being given more work to do? I’ve seen this played out over and over again in academia, the non-profit world, and in corporate America. All it has taught me is that in my currant job I am not going to be a striver or the person who volunteers to do extra, because there’s no benefit to it.

          If you’d told me that when I was younger, I wouldn’t have believed you: I really did think hard work paid off. So much older and wiser now! :(

          1. Kelly*

            So very sadly true in many people’s situations. I work in academia, which values seniority over doing good work. I’ve kind of learned to do my job but not do any more than is required because my boss doesn’t appreciate people who take initiative or have ideas for improvement.

    3. Ad Astra*

      I never know what people are talking about when they say “Public schools these days don’t teach any critical thinking!” My public schools sure did. In fact, I recall lessons specifically on critical thinking. And I’m far from an expert on curriculum, but I get the distinct impression that schools are generally de-emphasizing rote memorization in favor of teaching students how to find and analyze information.

      But you’re right that different people learn different ways, and I also prefer the “recipe” method. I need steps, not concepts! That was always my struggle in math.

      1. Muriel Heslop*

        I am teaching as much critical thinking and acceptance of responsibility as my students’ parents will allow. I work with plenty of people much older who have issues with workplace expectations.

        1. animaniactoo*

          On the other end of that spectrum, I was completely frustrated by my son’s 11th grade English teacher who would not fail him when he was a month overdue turning in his final project. Because he was otherwise carrying an A in the course. Wouldn’t even downgrade him at all. She told me not to be so hasty. I told her I was trying to teach him responsibility alongside with the actual content of the course, and prepare him to live in the world outside of school.

          I know schools end up with the attitude that they need to do everything possible to help the kid pass the course because they are being looked at for pass/fail rates and are under pressure from both parents and school administrations to work to help kids to graduate, but I’m just saying… it’s not always the parents who are the impediment on teaching critical thinking and personal responsibility.

      2. anony*

        Yep. My son was so frustrated. He would instantly know the answer for the math question. Then was “explain your logic.” He hated that part, the explaining of how he got the right answer.

      3. Marillenbaum*

        Yeah, it’s baloney. I graduated from college less than five years ago, and my most recent job has involved assessing teenagers for college admission, and honestly? I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by how thoughtful and hardworking those kids were. Sure, they weren’t perfect, and they definitely needed some training, but the solid core was there.

    4. BRR*

      I’m going to leave it at age does not equal anything you suggested.

      I hope people read through the rest though because you’re absolutely right about the employee needs to figure out what works for her. The op can suggest methods or ask the direct report what works for her but I don’t think it’s a wise investment of time in having the employee test different methods going forward. This just sounds like someone isn’t a good first for a job.

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        I don’t think it’s a wise investment of time in having the employee test different methods going forward. This just sounds like someone isn’t a good first for a job.

        This. OP does not have that kind of time. This was something that probably should have happened three months ago.

    5. Anonymous Educator*

      Seriously? How is this a generational thing? All people over 40 are competent employees who do their jobs well? Sure.

      1. GovWorker*

        Of course not. And not all employees over 40, 50, or heaven forbid even 60 are inflexible old coots incapable of learning and adapting to current technology. Some of us love it!

    6. addlady*

      I’m pretty sure bad schools have always been and will always be a thing, as long as there are schools at all. Remember when people weren’t literate at all?

    7. anony*

      Sorry – no. I had to train the new admin assistant at a branch office who was well into her 50s…and she expected a lot of hand holding. “You’re not spending the whole week with me for training?” Ah, no, I have my own work to do at my office across the bridge. I did spent several half days with her. And then the many calls started about how she couldn’t remember how to do something, do you? (No, but I Googled it and sent it to her and she could have done the same.) And then there was tricky documents that sent her into frustrated fits of whinyness that I had to fix for her. She was paid 15K more than I was and I was constantly handholding. For someone of her age and supposed experience, she should have hit the ground running for what she was being paid. And I know lots of workers under 40 who do hit the ground running. It’s not an age thing, nor a generation thing. It’s that person’s thing.

    8. Chickaletta*

      It’s not a generational thing. I’ve worked with plenty of Baby Boomers who had trouble doing basic computer tasks, were unwilling to learn new ways of doing things, had to be trained in basic English grammar, who couldn’t be found anywhere in the office for several hours only to leave a trail of rummers behind that they were at the movie theater… Good work ethic has nothing to do with age.

    9. PT*

      The most useless, entitled employees I’ve worked with have been over 40 – people who either got used to not having to do very much, or maybe felt that after putting in their dues they could coast, or who just could not adapt to changing work technology/expectations. I mean people who would come late and leave early and do almost nothing all day, or couldn’t figure out the basics of the software they were required to use every day. And some of the best colleagues I’ve had were in their 50s and 60s. People that had tons of experience and were still passionate and engaged, who were good at dealing with people and managing, and could call bs when needed.

  14. Allison*

    Seems like she’s abusing the flexibility; 9:45 is late even for an office with no official start time. The latest anyone on my team comes in is 9:30 unless the traffic is horrendous, and they usually either stay late, or they’re in the practice of making calls and checking e-mails before they start their morning commute, and/or after they’re home for the night. I’d definitely tell her she needs to be putting in full, 8 hour days, whether that means coming in at her usual time but staying later, coming in earlier and working until her usual time, or putting in remote work off hours.

    1. matcha123*

      My start time was 10 at an old job. Even that was too early for me. I’m at 9 now, and it’s killing me.

      If she were staying later, I don’t think 10 or later is all that bad…if everyone is in agreement with the times, that is.

        1. matcha123*

          Yup, most full-time staff start at 8:30 (excluding cafes, etc.). That is one of the really good things about working here. The 6am and 7am start times I hear about back home are just starting to make inroads here in Japan, but people still work until 6pm if they’re starting at 7am.

          1. Indie*

            Damn 8:30 really? When I worked for years in Japan my start time was either 10 am or 11 am in my industry, my English teaching friends were always jealous.

        2. Marillenbaum*

          Oh, God, I’d be TERRIBLE at that! My old job started at 8:30, and I actually really loved that it started earlier, because otherwise I would have had to be there later, and I do my best work earlier in the day. I’m glad you had a system that worked for you, though!

        1. matcha123*

          Heh. I’ve never been a morning person. It’s 1:17am here now and my peak is usually from 3pm to 12am. Definitely doesn’t mesh with most working hours, unfortunately.

        2. Angela*

          That would be great with little to no commute. I work 7-330p now and it’s great for getting home, but with my 45-60 minute commute it makes for an early morning. And I’m not a morning person. At all. But I wouldn’t want to work until 6 and then not get home until 7p.

      1. UnCivilServant*

        My start time was 10 at an old job. Even that was too early for me. I’m at 9 now, and it’s killing me.

        I would go mad with a start time that late. I’d be stuck in the worst traffic of the day and have no afternoon. (I currently start my workday at 7am)

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Ditto! You can take my 7-3:30 schedule when you pry it from my cold dead fingers! I love finishing up early and having a good chunk of afternoon free while businesses are still open.

        2. GovWorker*

          Thats why the Maxiflex arrangement in my agency is so wonderful. I am not a morning person and can work hours that work for me. You will never see me at 7am. To each their own.

    2. Newby*

      I wouldn’t say that 9:45 is bad assuming that she is getting her hours in. I frequently come in later than that, but I also stay until 7 or 8 to get the work done. I even had a few weeks where I came in at noon and stayed until 2am because that was what worked. The problem is that she is not getting the time in.

    3. Indie*

      I don’t know. 9:45 isn’t crazy for a lot of areas, and this can very by what you do. My last job most people didn’t come in until ten, but then, our “official” end time was 5:30 but there were tons of meetings that didn’t start til 6 or 7 which might not end until 8 or 9 thus the more flexibility — hell sometimes people didn’t come in until noon if they had a really late night meeting. Reversely sometimes there were 5 am meetings so people would leave the office by 2. It really matters what the office culture is.

      I wouldn’t have a problem with someone coming in at 10:30, so long as they stayed 7 or 7:30 depending on when they do their best work. But then again, I’ve worked with lots of people who are rockstars, just not morning people.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Yeah, my company frequently doesn’t have people come into the office until 10am, but people may be checking email or attending meetings at 11pm or 6am. It is a lot more on performance – some days may be 6 hours and some may be 14 hours, depending on the demands of the project.

    4. SL #2*

      My old job had a 9:30 am start time, but it was probably around 10 am before anyone really got going, but our schedules aligned to our clients’ and our industry partners’ typical schedules, so it worked out. But that’s also an industry-specific standard; I get work emails at 7:30 am these days (I start at 8 am) and I wonder how on earth people are functioning at such an early hour!

    5. irritable vowel*

      It’s possible it’s not deliberate abuse but a lack of observational skill. She sees people coming in late, people leaving early, and may not be looking at the other end of those people’s shifts to see that they’re actually putting in a full day (or longer hours one day to compensate for a shorter day, etc). So she assumes that she can come in late and leave early because she sees other people doing what she thinks is the same thing. Not that that’s an excuse; quite the opposite — not being able to assess something like that shows a lack of awareness and judgment, in my opinion.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        That would be a serious lack of awareness and judgment, especially in someone not in their first job!

        That said, I would (and have!) have a very explicit conversation that working 10-6 is fine (in a 9-5 “base”), as is working 8-4, but working 10-4 is not a full day of work!

            1. Katie-Pie*

              Is there a NW fandom stewing on AAM I didn’t know about? My gosh, this makes life exciting.

    6. hbc*

      I might revise that to say that 9:45 is probably too late if meetings are regularly being scheduled before that time. My last company was pretty loose about schedules and didn’t have official core hours, but there was a kind of understanding that normal meetings could be between 8 and 4. I’m sure it wasn’t a coincidence that people also kind of expected to find you at work around those times.

      If you were known to do good work and to roughly put in the right hours, it was no big deal if you weren’t around at 9:00, but the employee in this situation is doing neither.

    7. Kit*

      My start time is 9:30, though I usually get in around 9:00. Stay till 5:30 or 6 unless there’s something going on that needs tending to later.

      I had a job that started at 6 a.m. once. I almost went nuts. People would try to tell me, “Oh, but you get out at 2:30, you have the whole afternoon!” Yes, well, everyone I know is working during the afternoon. It’s not like I can hang out with friends during that time. Yes, I could go to a doctor without taking time off work, but that was maybe five times in a course of a year. By the time everyone else got out of work and was ready to go do things at 8 p.m., I had to be in bed.

    8. Connie-Lynne*

      I don’t get the blanket assumption here that 9:45 is a “late” start time. Clearly it is for this role, but I think it’s been 15 years since I had a job that started before 10am.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        Starting at 11 or later is common in Silicon Valley. Engineers tend to not be morning people, and it avoids rush hour traffic. But staying late goes along with it.

  15. looking to have a career in nonprofit*

    So it sounds like you may have an opening in the next few months. Any chance your organization is in the Boston area? Assuming I have the requisite skills, I might want to apply…

  16. Christopher Tracy*

    Somebody asked me the other day if she still works here!

    This is bad. Look, I come to work late too (I always have at this company), but I’m also usually the last one out the door in the evening, and no one has ever questioned whether I’m still employed there because they never see me at my desk! OP, I agree that you need to make this apart of your report’s feedback because while this may not be the cause of her performance problems, it certainly doesn’t help. The time that she’s not in the office could be time she could use to ask people she works with questions or re-read manuals or whatever it takes to help herself get better at this job.

    1. Leatherwings*

      +1 – OP should make it clear that the extra time should be used to really make a (probably last ditch) effort to significantly improve her performance. Maybe the low performer can make up her own practice work and a couple of exercises per day.

  17. B*

    Please discuss this with her for the sake of your other employees. By saying does she even work here they are giving you a huge amount of insight that they are disgruntled by the perceived, she can do anything. It can bring down morale greatly because many will think “why should I bother working so hard and performing well if they are giving this new low-performer so much leeway”

  18. Katie the Fed*

    “but attention to detail and analytical thinking are not likely to be things that you’re able to teach in any reasonable amount of time. ”

    I just went through 4 months of this with someone. I finally let him go. Those are such innate skills that I don’t honestly know how to coach someone into getting there. Plus he was a contractor, and we’re paying for those capabilities, so I had to make the hard choice to cut him loose. Lovely person, but it wasn’t working out.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        For the attention to detail, I laid out very specific things I needed him to look at before sending work along. I eventually even made him a checklist and told him I needed him to go through every single one of them to make sure it was done. They were basic types of things, not something that requires a lot of expertise. That helped some, but it took him FOREVER to get stuff done then.

        The analytic thinking was almost impossible. I tried talking through how he approached problems, asked him to come up with some possible solutions, but it really just wasn’t there. He just doesn’t seem to think that way – I don’t know how to fix that.

      2. neverjaunty*

        OP, please steer away from the idea that you can teach her to care about details and to think carefully about her work. Handholding and second chances are less personally uncomfortable than hard conversations and firing someone, but honestly, you can’t teach people to care about their work.

      3. LQ*

        I think for someone who has attention to detail issues having them do a checklist every single time can be good. And have them make their own, review it, fix it, then ok, now do this every time. (If checklists are good enough for sending people into space, they are good enough for you too.) I have a coworker who consistently has issues, unless the thing is urgent I ask her where on the checklist she’s having trouble. She always has to go back and run through it. But when she does about 95% of the time she’s able to find and fix the problem herself.

          1. Happy Lurker*

            Checklists and my self imposed triple check rule is the only thing that saves my skin.

            When I train people I always say to triple check their work and they look at me like I have 2 heads…guess who finds their mistakes?

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Checklists are actually great for teaching best practices. A good employee will start to naturally incorporate these behaviors after a while (it becomes second nature to them).

      4. Kira*

        When my boss was trying to coach a coworker, she would say “Now see how this is messy, this part is unfinished, and I asked you for three examples but you brought me two? Go back and work on those then let me know when you’re done so we can actually review them together.”

        For decision making, she tried “I want you to decide which of the three drafts we should go with, okay?” or “What do you think is the best choice here?”

        It didn’t work.

    1. sunny-dee*

      Also, it sounds like these are critical aspects of the job, since there are few repetitive tasks.

    2. Ad Astra*

      I think, generally speaking, attention to detail can be coached. If an employee comes from an environment in which speed was valued over quality, or perhaps one where there really just weren’t many details to worry about, it could be as simple as emphasizing that your organization values doing it right over doing it fast.

      I know that sounds obvious, and I know most places want things fast and right. But, in my experience, every business does have a preference between fast and right when it comes down to it. In print news, right mattered a bit more than fast — because misprints cost us more money than late fees. In online news, fast mattered more than right — because being late to the story cost us more clicks than typos.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s not intensive coaching though — that’s more like a couple of conversations. And yes, sometimes that will correct the issue. But when the person has explicitly been told that it matters, and it’s still not happening, I’d argue that’s a different issue. You still might try a short-term investment of time to see if you can get them where you need — like one week of being really hands-on in coaching them … but if they’re not able to turn that into significant, sustained improvement, it’s not likely anything you can realistically have time for that will solve it.

        1. Ad Astra*

          Yes, I think you’re exactly right about the “short-term investment of time.” I’ve never really heard that phrase before, but it’s perfect and now I’m going to be looking for opportunities to borrow it.

      2. Anonymous Educator*

        I wouldn’t necessarily call that coaching attention to detail. If someone is coming from a place that valued speed over quality, she may in fact already have attention to detail that she just wasn’t using. But if the person doesn’t have attention to detail already, it’s very difficult to instill that in her.

        1. Kira*

          Thanks for that. I think my last workplace really valued # of tasks finished and turnaround vs attention to detail. E.g. this surprise email has to be drafted/designed/tested/approved/fixed and out in 10 minutes! I’d love to work somewhere slower paced and see if I’m can be more perfectionist vs rushed.

      3. OP*

        We have had this exact conversation. She says she feels pressure to get stuff done fast (and I wouldn’t be surprised if some colleagues do pressure her in this way) and I’ve told that for now I want her to prioritize right over fast. There has been some improvement since this conversation.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          That would actually be a great segue, then, into a conversation about her showing up for her full 40 hours, then, since she feels pressure to get stuff done fast. If she were there the whole day instead of just the latter half, she’d have more time to get things done slowly.

        2. animaniactoo*

          Honestly, this was a missed opportunity to say “If you feel rushed, you need to come in at your normal start time of 9 in order to make sure you have enough time to do the job correctly.” If you can find any way to backtrack into that, something alone the lines of “Last time we talked about this, I told you I wanted you to prioritize correct over speed, and there has been some improvement which I’m glad to see. However, I realized that there is another major piece of the issue with your feeling rushed, which is that you are regularly coming in late and I don’t see any effort to make up that time. You can’t be doing that if you are feeling so rushed to complete something that you’re making basic mistakes with it. Until these issues are resolved, I don’t want to see you in here later than 9:15.”

          1. Kathlynn*

            but there is/can be a difference from not having enough time to get things done right and being pressured to get things done as fast as possible, quality be damned. My immediate thought was the second things, not the first. And time in the office may effect how pressured one feels, it might not be the whole picture. Especially when the OP said that it’s possible that the other coworkers may be pressuring the employee to get things done asap.

            1. JessaB*

              And if other employees are pressuring, a discussion needs to be had with them that “No, you can’t keep asking her for stuff in ten minutes. It’s not a reasonable timeline for someone learning this job. So cut it out.”

    3. Security SemiPro*

      Analytical thinking I don’t know about, but attention to detail is absolutely a skill that can be developed. I am not a naturally detail oriented person, I’m a big picture, philosophical thinker. But I’ve learned that not paying attention to the details can sink projects I care about or inconvenience people I respect, so I’ve trained myself to check the details.

      Its a ton of work. Its a ton of work I don’t find particularly enjoyable. But I do it, and I do it pretty well. (To the point that during a leadership exercise with the DISC assessment that described how my personality type is terrible with detail work, my boss argued with the mediator that “There had to be a problem, that’s the work we rely on SemiPro to do!” until I pulled him off and said it was pretty accurate, I just work hard.)

      I think people who believe it to be inborn maybe don’t put the work in to learn the skill. Or they expect it to get easier or more fun, and when it continues to just be an uncomfortable slog they think its impossible. It isn’t, its just hard. Every time. And you just have to do it, every time. But other skills are like that too, where having the skill just means you are capable of the work, not that it becomes ignorable. (Exercise for people who don’t get the endorphin rush is similar.)

      1. Whats In A Name*

        Good for you for recognizing where you needed to improve and working on it! That’s so awesome!

      2. Colette*

        I suspect it’s something you can develop in yourself, but something very difficult to help someone else develop. If the OP hasn’t done so, though, it might be useful to explicitly point out how her mistakes are affecting others and how it affects her reputation with those people.

      3. EA*

        I’ve improved my own attention to detail a lot. I googled, forced myself onto check lists, and tried every trick I could get my hands on in. In the end, I think that I tend to go quickly when the work is boring and need to force myself to slow down and care. I have greatly improved.

        Granted, I am now helping a coworker improve, and it isn’t going well. She just thinks that she makes ‘mistakes’ and everyone makes ‘mistakes’ and she is being picked on and the expectations are unreasonable. IDK other then that she makes too many? Improving in this area might be an attitude thing.

        1. addlady*

          Sounds like she can’t recognize the big picture, where she’s making too many mistakes!

  19. Ruthie*

    I know it’s unlikely, but I couldn’t help but wonder when I read this if you hired my previous report who I ultimately coached out of the non-profit we used to work at. But at any rate, I can pass along my lessons learned from working with someone, who at least from this letter, seems exactly the same kind of employee.

    Despite being likable, charming, and personally invested in our our mission, was she was a universally poor performer in every job function and professional expectation. I realized over time that she was very good at exploiting anything that wasn’t given to her in black and white. She was also very good at using the employee handbook to her advantage. If there was a gray area, she would find it. If she had any wiggle room, she would use it.

    Specifically related to arrival time, I had a similar experience. Like you, I realized that being late wasn’t the main issue, but handled it in a different way than Alison recommended. I made the mistake of telling her it would be unfair of me to hold her to different standards than everyone else in the office who often arrived late or left early, so told her that office hours were 9-6, and that she had a half-hour grace period at the beginning and end of the day where she didn’t need to let me know if she was running late or needed to head out early. It should not have been a surprise to me that she never once arrived a second before 9:30 or stayed a second later than 5:30.

    In retrospect, and after reading a lot of AAM, I should have been a lot more clear about expectations, and that she needed to be working harder than anyone else given the documented concerns with her performance. I should have told her that she hadn’t earned the flexibility to set her own hours, and when she tried to push the office policies to the limit, I should have told her that’s not really in the spirit they were intended.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      Sounds like she had plenty of attention to detail. Just the wrong ones.
      Which shows that it was motivation and ethics issue.

  20. Newby*

    I work somewhere with flexible hours too and ran into this problem with a summer student. Part of the problem was that they thought flexible hours meant that the number of hours worked was flexible, which is not true. I had to have a very blunt conversation with them about what my expectations were. I told them that although everyone who works here comes in at different times, they had to be there when I was working because they were not independent enough to work unsupervised. I then told them what hours I expected to see them and that they needed to let me know in advance if they could not work those hours on any particular day. It was an uncomfortable conversation, but it was effective.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Feel free to mock me.

      When I was a kid, I was watching Family Matters, and the aunt on the show ran a business. Restaurant maybe? Anyway, she was interviewing this candidate, and he asked about “paid vacation.” Plus my parents talked about “paid vacation” in their conversations too!

      For five years after that, I thought employers would pay for your vacation.

      1. UnCivilServant*

        I’m still confused as to why they would pay for time not spent working. PTO still seems counterintuitive, despite the amount of time I’ve spent in jobs that offer it.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Because having employees who are well-rested, not burnt out, and not coming in to work contagious is good for the business. It’s an investment.

            1. Colette*

              That’s your issue to work through – there’s no reason to feel guilty. There are benefits to the business when they give PTO, just like there are benefits to the business for providing free coffee or health insurance. If you want, you can think of it as making slightly more during the days you work and taking vacation unpaid.

        2. LBK*

          Because everyone wants days off at some point and they don’t want to have to compromise their livelihood by taking unpaid time off for it. I mean, if I were making the rules, I’d certainly want paid time off for myself.

          1. Sea Monster*

            Exactly. Without PTO, my husband would not have been able to take any time off in the 12 years he’s been at his company because there is no way we could afford for him to take an unpaid week off work. Same when I unexpectedly landed in the hospital for 6 days, and he needed to take the week off to care for my elderly, disabled sister, who cannot be left alone. 5 unpaid days off work means we couldn’t have paid our rent.

        3. Kathlynn*

          Think of it like they are taking a bit off your paycheck, and saving it for you, so you have money when you take time off. You aren’t paid for not working, you are being paid for work already done.

      2. Some Sort of Mangement consultant*

        They do in some countries!

        I just had my first paid vacation. Apparently, rules in my country is that one gets around 12% extra pay on vacation days!! To… I don’t know the reason but I googled and it’s the law.

        I just never realized because I’d never had a paid vacation before (usually only happens when one is a salaried employee)

        A very pleasant discovery!

        1. Some Sort of Mangement consultant*

          I reread my comment and it came off as sooo confusing!

          Basically, it turns out that I get paid more on vacation days than when I’m working.
          It’s the law! Not sure why. :p

          1. JessaB*

            Maybe vacation days are taxed differently? So you get the difference that would have been taken out in taxes for days actually worked? IE if you make 100 a day after taxes you’d make 112 a day on vacation because they don’t tax that? I dunno. No clue.

            1. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

              Nope, I did some googling this morning and it’s just… to compensate for being on vacation.
              Weirdly enough.

    2. Margaret*

      I think this is an important point (in addition to reminding her that she actually needs to work her full 40 (or whatever) hours each week!). My firm is very flexible, people officially can start whenever they want but are supposed to be here in the “core hours” of 9 to 4. However, once you’re to the manager level even that is stretched – I not infrequently get in closer to 9:30 (though I can manage earlier if I need to for a meeting); there’s a manager on the other extreme who’s in around 6 and thus leaving before 4.

      But staff at lower levels do have it brought up if they’re tending towards an extreme and not here by 9 or leaving before 4, because they more frequently need assistance, have to go to managers for questions, etc., so they can work most effectively if they’re in the office when the majority of the people above them are in the office. It’s not a requirement to be here by 9 in the sense that phone coverage is needed, but it’s also not just a butt in seat requirement – they’re at a level that simply requirements a certain degree of supervision or availability or resources in order to keep projects moving and not waste time.

      If the person in the OP is new and still being trained on specialty skills, then it would be totally reasonable to say she needs to align her hours more closely to her supervisor or others who can be resources to her.

    3. Anonymous Educator*

      Perhaps I’m reading the letter wrong, but it sounds as if this workplace does let you work less than 40 hours… as long as you get your work done.

      1. OP*

        I wouldn’t say that we are officially “ok” with people working less than 40 hours, but if a stellar employee were doing great work, nobody would be paying any attention to how many hours he or she worked.

  21. Levsha*

    This sounds so much like one of my coworkers that I almost wonder if it is. It’s not exactly a morale booster to see her getting what I see as a perk (flexible schedule) for obviously sub-par work. For everyone’s sake, please do address it with her!

      1. Levsha*

        Based on some of the details above, this definitely is not my coworker (I was really wondering, since I know my manager reads AAM too.) I’m actually kind of sad it’s not, because this person is a topic of grumbling for the whole office and I was hoping it would be resolved by now:)

        You sound like a good manager – best of luck!

    1. AnotherCo-Worker*

      Just wanted to add on to the co-worker’s perspective that not doing anything (which it doesn’t sound like what the OP is going to do) will cost you some valuable employees. I’m considered a rockstar at my current employment, but because of my manager’s lack of action with a similar sounding low-performer, I started looking for another job and am in the middle of salary negotiation.

      1. regina phalange*

        Currently struggling with this same situation…there is zero lack of accountability across my organization, which is unfortunate, because I like my job. But how much longer can I sit here and fix other’s mistakes without them being held accountable for screwing up all the time?

    2. AnonAcademic*

      Yeah, if someone was trying to slightly obscure the details on a situation with one of my coworkers, it could totally be my workplace in this letter.

      My coworker is a nightmare to work with, it’s emotionally draining and extremely inefficient trying to work with her, and I am much more productive than her while working the same flexible schedule. What saves my sanity are hints that my boss knows she’s a problem – he keeps reassigning the “good” projects she has to other people and the ones she is still on all seem to be fizzling out/in danger of being cancelled for lack of results. But seeing her walk into a meeting 20 minutes late for the 5th or 6th time that week is really starting to rankle me…

  22. Eddie Turr*

    I don’t disagree with Alison’s point on setting a timetable with how long you’re going to hold this employee’s hand… but while you are holding her hand, it makes a lot of sense to spell out the expectations as far as scheduling goes. If she’s not professionally mature and she’s seeing people come and go when they please, it’s very likely she doesn’t realize that the expectations for her may be different for a higher performer. And, of course, she may be unaware that someone else is making up for lost time in other ways, like working from home or working through lunch.

    A surprising amount of my professional missteps came from not realizing that the expectations for others might be different from the expectations for me. You’d be doing her a kindness to explain that now, even if you wind up letting her go later.

    1. Pwyll*

      I was literally typing this exact statement up. It sounds to me like she is emulating the flexibility of her colleagues, and not realizing she hasn’t yet earned such flexibility.

      1. Ad Astra*

        In my first job out of college, at a newspaper, I always saw our editor-in-chief on her phone during daily budget meetings. So, since I have ADHD and sometimes do better when I have a secondary task to do in meetings, I started bringing my phone to meetings and scrolling Twitter for news while listening to the day’s stories. Occasionally, news would break on Twitter while we were in those meetings, and boy did I feel smart being the first one to know.

        But… it turns out, the editor-in-chief can be on her phone all she wants in meetings, but an entry level copy editor is not going to be looked upon fondly if she does the same.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          I gave up fighting and just let my inner doodle wizard fly during meetings, and it has improved my retention enormously!

          1. MoinMoin*

            Me too! Though I notice it seems like some fellow meeting goers end up just watch me sketch, so I don’t know that I’m helping much with increasing the net overall retention of the meeting as a whole…

  23. AstroDeco*

    OP, your commitment of trying to keep this employee is commendable although from my experience, you should seriously start thinking that you might need to let this one go.

    Definitely give the time frame and then be firm in its implementation. As others have said, believing in the mission is not necessarily a reason to keep someone on staff. If you want to help this employee, performance issues need to be addressed and the results monitored.

    Try a different approach as well and connect some dots for this employee, such as specifying that in non-profits the organisation has a responsibility to the donors and if a staffer believes in the mission that belief should translate to using resources wisely (such as donor money for staffing) and to this end a good work ethic is a must.
    (Of course, this can be said for any organisation.)

    Alison suggested you say: “I’ve noticed that you’re regularly arriving…”
    Whilst this might be the tactful way to approach the lateness, this soft approach would probably be lost on someone who doesn’t pay attention to detail.
    Be more more direct so there’s no misunderstanding. This can be done kindly yet firmly.

    Also I’d ask “Why do you arrive late when you’ve been told to arrive at x-time?” This way you can assess the reasons and dispel any myths.
    eg: “I arrive late because others do” or “The bus schedule…”
    (The latter doesn’t seem likely since the employee arrives on time for meetings.)

    As already said several times, one can’t be taught certain skills within a limited time so please keep this in mind, as well.

  24. kraken*

    I’m still fairly new to the work world, and I really appreciate strict start and end times. Before I started my previous job, I asked what time they wanted me to come in every day, and the reply was “Oh, come in sometime between 8 and 9.” My first few months I came in every day at 8 AM and everyone acted surprised by how early I was. Then I started coming in at 8:30 or so and my boss commented on how I was late every day. I asked several times what time was expected and still just got the response “between 8 and 9.” I always worked a full day, but still the start time thing caused me a lot of anxiety. Now my job has set hours and it’s such a relief; I’m not dealing with all the stress of thinking I’m late every morning and it makes me a much better worker. I’m sure at some point when I’ve been in job long enough the flexible start/end time won’t be so bothersome, but at the beginning I really, really appreciate clear expectations for timeliness.

    1. Pwyll*

      I doesn’t sound to me like you actually had a flexible start time, just an employer who wanted you to think you did while holding you to an uncommunicated standard. That’s not flexibility, it’s bad management.

      1. Ad Astra*

        I agree. This would have been fine if the manager had actually told kraken the expectation. Instead, he told kraken one thing and expected something different. That’s not a recipe for success.

    2. Katie F*

      It sounds to me like your manager decided that your “coming in time” that you stuck to at first was going to be your ‘standard’, and then saw you as being late when you came in later than the standard you had set when you first started the job. I don’t think that’s fair at all – every employee who wants to prove themselves, if given ambiguity, is going to err on the side of caution. Ugh.

      I work at a place with flexible start-and-end times – the idea being that all that matters is that SOMEONE is here from 9 – 5, and that we get all our work done. I come in at 8 and leave at 3. I also often work at home after my daughter’s in bed for an hour or two at night and don’t go out for lunch. I make sure everything works out over the course of the week. But my standard is 8ish, so if I’m not in by 830 it is noticed, because it’s later than my usual. I have coworkers who come in at 9 and one who is more between 9 and 10, but they stay until 5.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Yup, I regularly came in early at my previous job. One day I came in on time, and my manager tried to tell me that I was late. I said “No, I’m on-time. The fact that I’m normally early does not make being on-time late.” I refused to accept her definition of late and went off to handle the issue she’d been waiting for me to show up and take care of.

        1. Katie F*

          Ha, yes. I had a tendency to arrive a half-hour early at my previous job just so I could listen to the radio, drink some coffee, and do nothing for a half-hour or so. My boss was trying to get me to start working early (it was strict start-and-end time – I was “on the clock” from 8:30 until 5 pm every day) “since you’re here anyway”. I pointed out it was my NPR-and-coffee time and I was hourly, not salaried, so he’d need to speak to HR about adding a half-hour to my pay every day. That “work early” suggestion dropped real fast.

          Granted, that boss regularly lied on his own time sheets that he was there from “9 to 5” when he actually strolled in around 11 or left around 330 or 4… so… He was a peach.

    3. Jo*

      One of the things giving me the most anxiety about my new job is figuring out what acceptable start and end times for the work day are. It’s surprising how much stress such a small thing can cause.

      First of all, I never got a straight answer on what our work day is: HR said we worked 8-4, then I figured out most people actually work from 8-5+, then I saw on the sign-in sheet that it’s actually 8-4:30, and so on. Second, I purposely try to arrive and leave at different times so my schedule is unpredictable and therefore I am less of a target for kidnapping (yes, where I live this is a serious consideration and does happen — the street I live on is nicknamed ‘Kidnap Alley’ for a reason). However, as there doesn’t seem to be much flexibility in hours, when I come in at 9 I feel like I’m being judged for it, despite the fact that other days I’m in at 7:30 and that I cleared this with my boss. I also routinely stay late and never actually take a lunch break.

      So far it’s giving me fits but hopefully at some point I’ll figure out a balance.

      I rather look forward to moving home at some point and working a normal, boring, 9-5 job. Where I won’t be kidnapped.

  25. Anna*

    I want to point out that the combination of her incomplete work days and the fact that she’s under-performing can have a negative effect on the rest of the team. Her waltzing in at 10:30am and gathering her things up at 4:59 is a visible sign of the level of her contribution to the office. While this might be OK if she delivered the same amount and quality of contribution as the rest of the office, it’s a reminder to everyone else that she does not. I don’t know the nature of the work, but if it is the case at all that others are having to pick up slack because of her incompetence, they’ll for sure grow to resent her, and, in turn, her managers.

    I was once working at a job where someone in a much more senior position than me (not my boss, though), was so bad at her job that our boss would routinely give me her work to secretly redo. Imagine my burning anger when she not only got paid almost twice what I was making, but got to take 2 or 3 hour lunches because she had “finished her work,” while I stayed behind to rewrite her copy.

    1. Coolb*

      This is a really good point and one I make with people who don’t follow the office norms for face time. It’s easy to say we don’t want to be clock watchers but employees need to take responsibility for how it looks to their co-workers when they are habitually late and everybody else isn’t. You get credibility demerits and it will affect your ability to be successful. If you want to work your own hours and be measured on results only find a job that allows for that and then deliver.

  26. Young'n*

    I think you may need to reevaluate this role if you do not have a lot of time to dedicate to overseeing and hand holding. You mention that this is only the employees 2nd role and she has only 2 years experience – that is a junior analyst who will need frequent oversight and qa/qc. If not weekly then at least every two weeks. maybe even more frequently if your data has anomolies.

    Mid tier analyst typically have 5 years exp and have always been paired with a senior analyst or manager who met weekly to review work.

    Any less oversight than that really is a senior analyst role and you will have to pay for it as the skills are in high demand.

    1. Young'n*

      Not to say the op should not manage employee out. Just suggesting that you insure role title, needs, and pay range are in line. Also look into an interview skills test or project.

    2. OP*

      This is not a data analyst role. Different sector, different job.

      We’ve had the same position / salary combo for years and years and this is the first time we’ve had this kind of issue. The prior person did this job successfully for 4 years, and moved on to bigger and better things (as one should!).

      1. Young'n*

        If it’s not a data analyst role then why are there analytics skills needed with little oversight? What skills made your other candidates successful in the role?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think you’re misinterpreting the OP’s mention of “analytical thinking.” That’s needed in lots of jobs, not just data analysis — it’s the ability to break down problems smartly, look at it from different points of view, and see potential obstacles and solutions.

          1. Young'n*

            ah yes. I read this in chunks in between running various morning reports and Miss read that bit.

        2. LQ*

          I think this is a more casual analytical skills set than the formal Analytical Skills set you’re thinking of.

          If you have a problem do you sit down and try to think through how to fix it? If so you have analytical skills. Working with our intern today we talked about how to look at a list of things and a list of abbreviations and try to figure out which is which. Pick the easy and obvious ones first, then you narrow it down from there until you have your lists matching, you can dig into the files if you have things that don’t look exactly like their abbrv. Analytical skills.

    3. Student*

      Your experience is not necessarily typical of the entire industry of data analysis. From where I sit, I’d consider your reported expectations to be incredibly low. It’s likely due to different industry sector norms rather than because one of the two of us is “wrong”, though.

      We expect people who are doing data analysis in my sector to do it correctly with minimal oversight and little to no QC for low-impact items within a couple of months, for the entry-level position. Even very high-impact items only get modest QC (probably less than they deserve). If it’s above an entry-level position, odds are very good that you have no oversight, have to train yourself or actively seek someone to train you on any specific issue you don’t know, and need to implement your own QA/QC as you deem appropriate. Personally, when I was in my first entry-level position in the field, I was dumped immediately into the no oversight, invent-your-own-QC territory. Check-ins with managers were once-a-month affairs with no serious technical review of my work before putting it to use.

  27. Nobody Here By That Name*

    Given the letter from earlier today I’m surprised there’s no suggestion to motivate her with a promotion and a raise ;)

  28. Kira*

    This reminds me a lot of a coworker I had a while back. A lot of people are asking why the employee was kept at all, so I’ll share what I saw.

    “Mary” was in her mid-twenties, and this was her first professional office job. She came from a creative background, and was passionate about our mission. She had been working directly with clients, and got hired full-time in a marketing role. She was enthusiastic, friendly, and was always brainstorming ideas. On the other hand, her numbers weren’t high, she couldn’t explain what her priorities were or how she planned to meet her goals, and she would incessantly ask for feedback/input/ideas rather than making a decision and implementing the plan. At first, Mary was supervised by “Dan”, who was also running a different program so I don’t think he invested much in pushing her to improve.

    Then Mary was moved to “Ashley”s department. Ashley was very excited to have the extra staff time, and enthusiastic about Mary’s plans. She wanted to Mary to succeed, and the marketing efforts to be successful. But Ashley started getting tired of how much handholding Mary required and tried to work with Mary on those soft skills: strategic goal setting rather than chasing trends, decision making rather than asking for approval on all her ideas. After a few months, Mary hadn’t changed at all and was let go. The marketing position was viewed by higher ups as unsuccessful and was eliminated against Ashley’s wishes.

    1. Kira*

      Since there’s a thread upstream about generations, I’m adding that I put in the age because Ashley viewed it as a mentorship opportunity, not that Mary’s age was deterministic of her performance.

  29. Mel*

    Why are you bothering with keeping her? Poor performer and has no interest in putting forth enough effort to even get to work on time, even after you told her her work is substandard?

  30. Mustache Cat*

    Somebody asked me the other day if she still works here!

    Someone was giving you a big hint, I think.

  31. SeekingBetter*

    I worked with a guy who didn’t do his work until the absolute last minute, came in an hour late, played games on his computer all the time, took two-hour lunches, left an hour early, and loved to take long naps at his desk.

  32. Student*

    I have a lot of trouble dealing with employees who have many “small” flaws. It’s so much harder to address than one or two “big” flaws. With the fewer, “bigger” flaws, there’s a sense of consensus that this specific thing needs to be addressed, a clear ability to focus on addressing that one thing, and a clearer consensus that if the big thing does get addressed we can all put this behind us and move on.

    With many small flaws, it’s harder to pick which ones to address and easier to get sidetracked on fixing one or two before they’re all uncovered. So maybe you get sidetracked addressing a small obvious problem and then have a harder time also addressing another small, more important problem that comes up later. Maybe you go after an “easy” problem to fix instead of a higher priority problem. If you try to fix everything, the consensus is usually that such an approach is overboard because people are generally allowed a couple small flaws- this person just has too many in total. Plus, trying to fix multiple issues feels from the management side like you’re just delivering constant criticism – morale-busting for the employee, less likely to get meaningful progress on anything, taking up too much management time to address and track and follow up with. However, it’s also extremely vexing to try to talk with anyone else (like higher management who may have firing veto power) about the specific problem, because the specific problem is really that there are 1000 little problems rather than one show-stopping problem. As soon as you start giving specific examples, you sound like you’re being too hard on someone for something minor, or something that other people also do without facing criticism.

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