employee didn’t check email for 60 days

A reader writes:

I am two years into taking the top job at a somewhat dysfunctional local government agency.

I have an employee who has been here for 17 years and is mediocre in his performance. He does his job and does okay, but isn’t always a part of the team or as polite to the public as I would like. This week I found out that he has never logged into his new email account. Never, ever. It has been 60 days since we updated our email system and everyone was provided with written instructions on how to access their own individual account. He just hasn’t opened his, has lost his access instructions, and has not approached me to ask for help in getting access (I am the IT person for the office). He currently has 88 emails in his inbox that have not been reviewed. Many are from me providing updates on our programs and activities. Others could certainly be from the public asking questions.

I am a high-tech boss in a low-tech, small county government office, so I understand when people do not prefer email, but I am so shocked and baffled by this, and I am starting to question my gut reaction here. I feel like I have been completely clear about the need to have email access, the expectation that you use email for your job, that I am going to be sharing information via email, etc. I have mentioned in several staff meetings that I will be sending emails later with more information on various projects, that online training instructions have been emailed to the staff, and so on, so I just can’t see an excuse for this.

His immediate supervisor is pushing for leniency because in the past this employee hasn’t had a work email account, and may not understand that checking email at least once a day should be standard practice. But the more I think about it, the more frustrated I get. This seems like it would be the most basic of things to understand. You were assigned an email, and it is your responsibility to access it and manage it accordingly.

I guess my question is whether you and your readers think that this behavior is excusable because email is new to him, or whether my initial gut reaction (disbelief, frustration, outrage, etc.) is the right way to look at this. His immediate supervisor and I plan to meet with him next week to discuss this, and I am looking for guidance on what the right approach is here. Should I cut him some slack and give him another chance, or should I cut him loose?

I think you’re right to be shocked and outraged. It’s shocking and outrageous, for all the reasons you said.

But if this is a traditionally low-tech office and this is someone who hasn’t had work email for nearly all of the 17 years he’s worked there … well, I might not fire him over it, but at a minimum I’d be having a very serious conversation with him where you make it clear that it’s a big deal that this happened and that regularly checking email isn’t optional, find out what on earth he was thinking, and then give him some closer oversight for a while since he’s shown terrible judgment.

More importantly, though, I actually think this is about more than the email account. This is someone whose performance has been mediocre and who isn’t always polite to the public (!! — that should be a big deal, no?), and I’m going to bet that this isn’t the first time that he’s been unacceptably cavalier about an expectation of his job.

If he were a great employee and the email account were the only issue, I’d be more inclined to cut him some slack. In that case, you’d still have a serious conversation with him and make sure he knows that this is a big deal, it’s not optional, and he needs to immediately start checking email daily and being responsive to messages in there (and I’d be specific about what that means — like “you need to respond to all emails from the public within two business days” or whatever). And I’d follow up to make sure that’s happening.

But he’s not a great employee. He’s actually kind of a crappy employee. So I think the question for you is: Do you want to keep this guy on your staff? Would you be relieved if he came into your office tomorrow and resigned? At a minimum, shouldn’t you be laying out a higher bar that he needs to meet on a number of fronts, and telling him that he needs to meet that bar in order to stay in his job?

I’d take the email incident as the final impetus to get serious about fixing his performance (or in this case, requiring his immediate manager to get serious about it). If that fails, then yeah, cut him loose at that point. And of course, if his manager has already formally addressed the problems with his performance in the past, and the email incident is just the latest piece of evidence that those efforts haven’t worked, then you might part ways now.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 450 comments… read them below }

  1. WellRed*

    How refreshing. A gov’t manager who is actually considering removing a mediocre employee rather than saying “we can’t do anything about it.”

    1. Mel*

      Why is mediocre fireable? Mediocre generally means mediocre not crappy. Mediocre usually means overall you’re getting stuff done at an acceptable level. Granted it would be nice to have all high performers but that’s a relative term in tons of workplaces. When everyone becomes a high performer they’re no longer performing high relative to others. I just don’t get the problem with at least some folks being mediocre. Someone has to be.

      1. Coffeepoweerrreddd*

        “Someone has to be mediocre” is the running joke between the All-Stars if you have an All-Star team. It doesn’t have to be true

      2. Koko*

        Hmm, I don’t see mediocre as a positive term at all. To me it means, “not very good” or “nothing positive to speak of.” To me, mediocre would indicate an employee who gets work done but routinely misses deadlines, or doesn’t learn from mistakes and repeats them. Something where they aren’t bringing the whole operation grinding to a halt or doing anything unethical, but they aren’t actually doing their job well. And I think a manager is definitely within their rights to fire someone who isn’t doing their job well.

        I would never call someone who typically completes their projects on time and with a high degree of accuracy “mediocre,” even if they weren’t a top performer. If they’re effective in their job they’re more than mediocre.

        1. Kira*

          Agreed. For me “mediocre” doesn’t mean the same thing as “does the job well”. And “doing the job well” is still different from being an all-star.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          The difference is that an employee should be measured against performance standards, not their position within the group that took the test that day/year of within a class being evaluated against the same grade-point average scale. You could have an entire team of employees that routinely meet or exceed their performance standards, and if your “worst” performer is still doing well at their entire job, that wouldn’t be mediocre, it’d still be good.

          I don’t rank my employees by top X% because it’s not meaningful in what we do. We compare their performance to the standards set forth for their job, and, of the people I currently have, well more than half of them are meeting or exceeding their performance standards. I don’t look at it as a Lake Wobegon situation, rather than I’m fortunate to have (for the most part) a great group of people who are strong performers.

    2. Norman*

      How does this comment not get a commenting policy ding? It’s just a straight up hit on government employees, most of whom doe their job very well.

    3. Gene*

      Came here expecting the obligatory slam at government employees. Didn’t expect it to be the first one.

      Maybe WellRed can get her own water, treat her own sewage, build her own roads, put out the fire when her house starts to burn, hunt down, try, and imprison the burglar who targets her house, and all those other pesky things we government employees do.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Thank you. I was at work til 10pm last night along with 8 of my colleagues at my “lazy government office”. And no, we don’t get overtime.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        My husband also works for the government, and he would tell you that the most frustrating part about his job is the failure to weed out underperformers. He likes what he does, he likes the flexibility the government offers him, but he is, frankly, staying for the healthcare and retirement benefits, because working around the people they can’t get rid of means people like him get more work dumped on him.

        Also, the fact that the government provides essential services doesn’t negate the fact that the bureaucratic nature of its hiring/employment processes makes it hard to retain the best and brightest AND to get rid of the slackers. I would say the fact that the government does provide such important services means that more should be done to improve the overall quality of the workforce.

      3. PlainJane*

        State university employee here. I too get tired of government employees getting a bad rap, but I’d also like to see lousy performers dealt with more firmly, because they’re one of the reasons the rest of us are viewed so negatively. I try to manage well and address performance issues, but I’m stymied by a culture in which they are tolerated and an HR department that is pretty timid about managing underperformers out.

    4. Retail HR Guy*

      Yep, her too. I think Alison’s great and I agree with her 98% of the time but this is part of that 2%. Moreover, I never got the feeling from Alison that this is the type of comment section where civilly disagreeing with the host is taboo.

      For what it’s worth, you’ll note from other comments here (OP, Mishsmom) that I am not alone in thinking my comment was above board. In fact, not that I’m particularly thin-skinned, but it is my opinion that the manner is which these criticisms have been leveled against me is far more “unkind”, “belittling”, and “discouraging” than my rather tame post itself. I mean, do you honestly feel that your “wow” is anything but hostile?

  2. Kristine*

    I only recently found out that not all people keep an email tab open 24/7 and check whenever something comes in. The idea that you wouldn’t check email for SIXTY DAYS is mind-boggling. Especially if you deal with the public and should anticipate them sending emails that need a timely response.

    FWIW, I now understand why some people only check email once or twice a day. I’ve just always worked in customer-facing positions so emails can’t go more than and hour or two without a response.

    1. De Minimis*

      I’m in the same boat and I’m not even in a customer-facing position, other than the “internal customer.”

      I start hearing about it if I don’t respond to something after the first hour.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Hell, the antsier/more self-important of my “internal customers” will start “following up” (read: pestering) within 20-30 minutes of their initial email. My favorite was the one where I sent an email about something, and literally less than 3 minutes later (I counted) I had a phone call from one of my problem children about something in the email.

        1. Julia*

          I can top that. I have a guy who sends an email and immediately afterwards stands in my office asking if I read his email. Dude, still reading here!

          1. Heather*

            I like to delay my response for half an hour for every follow-up call or email. They probably never put two and two together, but it makes me feel a little better knowing I’m not reinforcing the bad behavior.

    2. Purest Green*

      Seriously! It blows my mind that their workplace just got email accounts (did I read that correctly?!) and they consider it high-tech.

      1. Pwyll*

        Actually, my reading was that they are just now providing ALL employees with e-mail, not that e-mail is brand new for the entire agency. This doesn’t really surprise me all that much: many government agencies have employees whose job doesn’t necessarily involve standard desk work. When I worked in small government, we had a number of clerks whose job was to be at a window and process constituent requests or direct visitors. They didn’t have computers or e-mail at all (because the agency didn’t want to spend the money to provide computers) so they filled out complaint forms and gave them directly to the analysts (who had computers) who would investigate.

      2. LBK*

        I read it as them switching over email systems (like switching from Lotus to Outlook) and the employee hasn’t bothered to do whatever he needs to do in order to get set up on the new system.

      3. Jenny*

        It looks like they updated their existing email system and he didn’t bother following the new instructions on how to log into his account and set it up.

      4. De Minimis*

        This would make sense though if for example it was a county office in a primarily rural area. The county where I grew up I believe still does not have any type of website, though I would guess they have e-mail.

        1. Blurgle*

          In a rural area a lot of your customers won’t even have access to internet yet, or may consider it a waste of their time and money. (And it might be much more expensive than it is for city people.)

          1. Salyan*

            Uh, no. Internet connections (for desktops) may not be as quick as in the city, but they are accessible and used almost everywhere. And smartphones bring the internet wherever there are cell connections (I’ve checked my email on top of a foothill in the Rockies!). We ain’t all the Clampetts, y’know. ;-)

            1. De Minimis*

              Not saying people didn’t have internet in rural areas, just that there might not be much business purpose for a government office to have as much internet-based activity as they would elsewhere. I could see how employees in a predominantly rural county like the one where I grew up might be able to get away with not using/checking e-mail as much, and most customer interactions would probably be done in person or over the phone.

            2. S*

              Actually, a lack of internet in rural and poor communities is a very real thing. There are areas where companies have refused to provide service. And of course there are people that can’t afford service and aren’t able to get to an area with free wifi.

              1. Red*

                Internet service still isn’t available for all home addresses in the rural county where my grandmother lives (and where I lived for a while, too). Part of the problem is the “last mile” connection issue. Satellite and cellular coverage are poor to non-existent. Dial-up is not really useful on the modern Internet. Cable coverage isn’t 100% available there, and because there’s really only one ISP servicing the area, cable internet service is pretty expensive. Plus it’s prohibitively difficult to set up a municipal broadband service in that state (and state lawmakers, backed by Comcast, recently passed a law forbidding already existing municipal services from extending their coverage outside their cities).

                1. Tatiana*

                  Friends of mine have a small consulting business. They are probably going to sell their homestead in rural Vermont and move because they cannot get fast, reliable connectivity at their home.

              2. PlainJane*

                I live in a small town in a rural area. We have broadband, but there’s only one company that provides it in my area, so it’s really expensive (double what I paid in my previous 2 cities). People who live where there’s no broadband can get satellite internet, but it’s even more expensive, and the quality is poor. So yeah, access and cost are real barriers out here.

            3. Not So NewReader*

              You don’t have to go too far to be out of range here. A couple laid dead in their car for weeks along a major highway here, a while ago. No cell towers. They went over a steep bank and the angle was such that passersby could not see there was a car there.

              For me this is a huge topic. I have many stories of the cable company saying “It will cost us $20k to bring cable to your house.” Jaw-droppingly, there are some people that are willing to pay that 20k. Once they offer payment the cable company says “Nope, it’s too much work.”

              I am convinced that with our current systems, there are parts of the country that will never have cable/internet. In my own town we are only able to add ten miles of cable each year. I think they are using the smallest cable they can find. On snow days, when the kids are home from school, you can’t even use the net. I have tried talking to the cable company about this and they just say it’s the fault of the computer and nothing on their end. I say five pounds of stuff will not fit in a four pound bag.

              1. One of the Annes*

                I think it will take a New Deal Tennessee Valley Authority-type initiative to get rural America wired up.

            4. Mander*

              You don’t even necessarily have to be rural. I think it’s changed now but a few years ago my parents’ internet just stopped working. After many calls the company finally admitted that they had stopped providing service to their neighborhood because it was too far away from the rest of their network (and this was in suburban Colorado Springs!). They ended up having to switch to cable IIRC, at twice the price.

            5. Perse's Mom*

              And yet my mom lives less than 3 miles from a town with a major hospital center and can choose between ridiculously expensive dial-up or ridiculously expensive DSL, so she goes without internet access entirely, while she often has to stand next to the windows to get any reception on her cell.

      5. The Cosmic Avenger*

        We have warehouse staff whose job is to pull orders and stuff envelopes, and they didn’t have email or system accounts for a long time; the warehouse manager prints the orders and hands them out to be filled, and that’s pretty much all of the computer usage at the warehouse. I guess he probably had/has some HR functions, too, since it was just him and 3 or 4 warehouse workers at that location, so he probably makes sure they submit paperwork and stuff like that.

      6. OP*

        We had some email access, but about 25% of staff were just using personal email accounts (@yahoo, @gmail, etc.). This seemed unprofessional to me, so we upgraded everyone to a business email account. And there was resistance to this, just like most other things I am trying to do.

        1. Brett*

          That makes the me get a sunshine law headache. Having that much staff use personal email creates some serious problems in sunshine law compliance for most states.

        2. shep*

          Good for you! I work at a government agency, and although we do have folks that work less with technology than others, the office as a whole is very tech-friendly, if not always tech-savvy. Our legal department would have a collective panic attack at the thought of government correspondence being sent through personal, unregulated accounts. I hope your people realize that upgrades like this are also instituted to PROTECT them, should their email correspondence, etc., be subject to audit and/or investigation.

          I hope people become more receptive to your policy changes; it sounds like you’re doing an excellent job and they’re lucky to have you!

        3. Creag an Tuire*

          :: wince ::
          Was your response to “resistance” “Fine, do what you want, but don’t come crying to me when you’re required to hand over your personal e-mails in discovery.” Because it would’ve been mine.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Yes. A big part of my job is legal discovery consulting, and no one is happy when they are compelled to turn over their personal email account and/or their phone. I’ve been collected, too, and, even when you’ve done nothing wrong and are a periphery party of an investigation, it still feels very invasive.

      7. Elizabeth West*

        In 2012 when I was job hunting, I took an exam for a state position. On the exam (which looked like a mimeograph from the 1980s) was a question asking what an A: drive was for.

        An A: drive.

        In 2012.

        Government doesn’t move very fast on anything. It would not have surprised me to get the job and find out that I had to use floppy disks for stuff.

        1. ModernHypatia*

          In 2012, I was managing computers in the library I worked at (small public university campus) that required 3.5 inch disks to boot for imaging. A: drive, still a very real thing in use, even if it baffled people.

          That was, however, about the only thing the A: drive was used for.

    3. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      Not having email open constantly baffles me. In my last job there were critical emails that had to be dealt with quickly and I’m still in that mind frame. I could probably get away with checking my email once a day here, but not having it open to view as they come in makes me twitchy.

      1. Emelle*

        I can’t deal with the little blue number next to my inbox. Sub folders with unopened mail doesn’t bother me as much, but inbox mail that hasn’t been dealt with in any form makes me crazy.

        1. Anonamoose*

          Don’t look at mine then. I just use my inbox as my Google filing system. ‘Now where did that report go? I think she sent it, oh, a week ago? Found it! Phew.’

        2. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          Yep, no unread mail in my inbox. Everything is flagged and filed for follow-up in a different folder that I check first thing each morning to see what needs done that day. Inbox is for items that will be answered today before I go home.

      2. (Another) B*

        I’m obsessive about my email. As they come in I read them immediately, and often respond. It’s critical to my job.

    4. Clever Name*

      We’ve had 1 or 2 fresh out of college employees we’ve had to tell that they are expected to keep Outlook open when they are in the office. I think if you normally check email from a mobile device where the email program is always “on” or are used to logging in from a campus computer, or whatever it may not occur to you that you need to actually click on Outlook and open it up in order to receive emails.

      1. Eddie Turr*

        That, and I would guess that many fresh graduates don’t rely on email for quick responses the way longtime office workers do. Between text messages, SnapChat, Google Hangouts, Slack, Facebook chat, and whatever else, there are plenty of faster ways to get hold of someone. The concept of responding to most emails within an hour is unique to offices, I think.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Well, the only thing I would say there is that if you leave your email open all day at home, you will probably get hacked. So if they are looking at email and closing it when done, that might be what their thinking is.

        1. Michelle*

          I feel like you don’t understand what hacking is or how it works. I haven’t closed my personal email at home for 15 years, except when rebooting my computer. I have never been hacked. The two things are not related. My husband is an IT professional, and has spent time working in computer security, and he never closes his email at home, either.

          Unless by “hacked,” you mean other people in your home looking at your email. In which case, put a password on your computer and lock the screen when it’s not in use.

    5. Honeybee*

      60 days? People would be hunting me down in my office by then. And Skyping me. I think somewhere around day 3-5 I’d be getting a concerned conversation with my manager. Already we’ve chatted about how to improve my communication because I sometimes take 24 hours to get back to people when their e-mail requires background research.

      1. Coffeepoweerrreddd*

        Yea so this person collected 2 months of pay by hiding in his cubicle and taking frequent “bathroom breaks”

      2. Michelle*

        My big question is, how important is email to his job if it took 60 days for his boss to NOTICE that he had never opened his email?

      1. Brett*

        I bet few people now his new email address in the first place. He probably had a lot more email going to his personal email (as described above by the OP).

        1. doreen*

          Or he has a job that doesn’t require him to send /receive a lot of emails. The security staff at my government office have email accounts and are expected to check them once a week or so but it’s entirely possible that they might have 88 (or fewer) emails in 60 days as the only emails they get are those related to their timesheets and agency wide announcements like that the governor has proclaimed “Teapot and Teaspout week” or that we will have a contingent marching in a parade.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I can relate to this. I get maybe 20 emails a month. I don’t give my address out. There is just too much fraud going on associated with addresses similar to mine.
            It is easier and very clear for the public if I say, “I will never email you. If an email looks like it came from me, it did NOT, and you can go ahead and report it.”

            We communicate with peers in a limited manner. You know it is actually your peer because usually the email is part of an on going conversation that only Peer would be aware of.

    6. Koko*

      There is a woman I work with occasionally, in another department, who almost refuses to use email. Every time she wants something, she comes to my office and interrupts me to give a vague description in person. Every time, I say, “Sure. Can you put all that in an email for me? Thanks!” And yet the next time she needs something from me, she’ll come knocking on my door again.

      Sometimes when she’s standing there talking to me I can see that she’s reading off an email she printed out. An email she could have just forwarded to me with her comments at the top instead of trying to summarize it verbally and expect me to remember it.

      When I email her documents to review she prints them out, edits them with a pen, and then carries them to my office and stands over my shoulder pointing out each edit she made, which I then have to edit in the original document. The original document she could have edited herself instead of using a pen and paper.

      It boggles the mind.

      1. AMPG*

        At my last job I worked for a non-profit on projects overseen by a federal agency that shall remain nameless (although I will note that a former head of said agency is currently dealing with a lot of scrutiny over use of email), and there finally had to be a branch-wide directive in order to get our colleagues at said agency to use Track Changes to edit documents we sent them. One staff member would call us and review a 60-page document OVER THE PHONE, line by line.

      2. Roxanne*

        There’s still lots of people who work this way: they like to look at the paper copy, not the screen. It’s very much a comfort level thing.

        Some people just don’t “get” what the software is for, or what it can do. I had a co-worker, only four years ago, who didn’t know that she could generate a sum from entered numbers in Excel (you know, +10+4.95); she was using a calculator manually, writing down the sum on the invoice in question and then entering the sum (rather than the equation) in the Excel in the right cells. She was stunned when I told her Excel is essentially a glorified calculator.

    7. KH*

      Where I work it would be mind boggling as well. But email in this organization is obviously not very important – he only got 88 emails in two months. I get that many emails by lunch time. I get the impression that email is not a big thing and someone is trying to make it mainstream, and then getting peeved when not everyone embraces the tool. Where I work, we have to check email ALL the time, but obviously not everyone likes it. There are some people who will always call on the phone instead of typing an email reply. They would probably wish it wasn’t so pervasive.

      1. Sketchee*

        In this case, that someone is the boss. If important messages are now delivered by email, then it isn’t trying to make it a thing. It’s a thing. The immediate supervisor and the employee both need to be talked to. Yes, in some jobs the managers allow phone calls or email to be options in some situation. In this case the person who decides these things has decided. That decisions just has to be further communicated.

    8. Michelle*

      Not to slam governmental agencies, but nothing surprises me after waiting nearly a year and having to get my state legislator involved just to get a response from one of our state agencies regarding my daughter’s birth certificate. No one answered the phone, no one returned my calls, and no one replied to my emails, for a year.

  3. BBBizAnalyst*

    Let this guy go. Managers need to stop trying to keep people who aren’t particularly good at what they do. I’m willing to bet this guy is a morale suck after 17 years.

    1. Jennifer*

      Usually it seems to boil down to “it’s too hard to get rid of them, especially if they’re kinda mediocre rather than did something drastically bad.”

      I just sat through a story about someone like this. Whee.

    2. Happy Cynic*

      Strongly agree.

      We’ve all come to expect that government wheels churn slowly. And government *should* work slowly for big-impact things like the law – thoughtful, considered, not acted upon out of haste.

      But this is very different. Email has been a central part of work life for twenty years; this is equivalent to refusing to speak to someone when they stop by your desk. This would be bad enough in the private sector, but the added weight of a government job being one that really is supposed to work, makes this absolutely inexcusable.

      Fire this fool and get someone who can make government work like it should: adapted to today’s needs.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        What slays me here is the concept of “Boss says to do X and I have decided nope, nope, nope.” It fascinating to me when people do this and the boss says, “oh, okay then”, because I would be out on my butt.

    3. Short and Stout*

      Agree. I thought the point of having long term employees (most likely sitting at the top of the payscale for their positions) was that they were super experienced and therefore great to have around. Sounds like this guy is just sitting there wasting resources …

    4. Jerry Vandesic*

      Consider letting the supervisor go also. If they can’t seem to teach this employee how to use email or the importance of checking it regularly, they are not an effective manager.

  4. Ineloquent*

    Let him go. You may find that he’s violating record keeping requirements at the very least. But why keep a guy who sucks at his job when you could very likely find a new employee who would be awesome?

    1. Jaguar*

      It’s so strange to me that mediocre goes so quickly to “sucks” on here. Even Allison does it, going from “medicore” to “crappy” in her letter.

      Not to pick on you, Ineloquent. This is just a jumping on point.

      1. Bevina del Rey*

        I think you’re using ‘mediocre’ to be synonymous with ‘average’ or ‘ok’. But mediocre is worse than that, for sure.

          1. KH*

            Is that a Middle English definition of the word mediocre I’ve never heard of? It does not mean “average.” It means “not that good” or “barely acceptable.” It’s like a 2 out of 5, where 5 is the best. At the very least he should be put on a professional improvement plan and if no improvement is seen, he is out.

            1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

              No, it’s a Latin definition you’ve never heard of. Or actually you probably have, if you’re familiar with the words ‘median’, ‘medium’, etc. If someone is really bad, they’re not mediocre, which in current English means something like “average, but in a bad way”. Undistinguished, but not terrible.

        1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

          “He’s colossal! Stupendous! One might even go so far as to say. . . he’s mediocre.” –Daffy Duck, Yankee Doodle Daffy

      2. Sassy AAE*

        I get what you’re saying about the point in which “mediocre” becomes bad, but I really think in this case the employee is bad, and the IT administrator is being nice. I’d give someone a break if they didn’t use their email, but were at least nice to the public. This employee can’t even manage being decent to people 100 percent of the time.

      3. LBK*

        Well, I’d say the behavior in question is pretty crappy. I usually read “mediocre” in these contexts to mean “doesn’t exhibit crappy behavior other than the one I’m writing about,” and that the OP’s purpose in writing is to get a gut check on if this is something that should tip the scales to considering this person a bad employee or if they’re overreacting.

      4. James*

        I think part of it is that we’re afraid to openly criticize someone these days. Instead of saying “This employee has screwed up numerous times” or “This employee has a habit of ignoring direction and missing deadlines” we dance around the issue, calling them “mediocre”. I’m not saying any one person is at fault here–in fact, if I could point to any one group it would be a non-issue. Rather, our culture as a whole has used these terms this way, to the point where when we hear “this employee is mediocre” we assume that what’s actually meant is that they suck.

        1. SenatorMeathooks*

          For sure, I wouldn’t want a mediocre teacher or lawyer or doctor. But I wouldn’t really care if the guy who does some low-level, mundane, non-regulated job in a back office was.

          However, OP can’t expect to waltz into a work environment and expect to change a deeply rooted dysfunction in a few months.

          1. NW Mossy*

            Well, the OP is the head of the agency and has been in-role for 2 years. If anyone can be reasonably expected to set a direction for the agency and hold people accountable to aligning themselves with that direction, it’s someone in the OP’s role. I can’t think of someone who’d be better placed to tackle this head-on.

            1. SenatorMeathooks*

              The head of the agency is also IT? (I guess I got confused while reading the OP, that’s my fault.) I will say in that case he needs to meet with the employee’s supervisor and find out why HIS direct report is not doing this basic thing.

        2. Jaguar*

          I’d want the best possible, just like I’d want the best possible food when I go to a restaurant. I wouldn’t refuse to pay if it were mediocre, and I wouldn’t fire a nanny if they’re mediocre. To me, “mediocre” reads as “average” or “in no particular way noteworthy bad or good” when talking about someone’s work. The idea that someone is skating on thin ice with their employment for being “mediocre” is a scary idea.

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            Mediocre file clerks will result in the insurance payment for that surgery being miscategorized and denied coverage. Low-level office workers are how the big important people have the files they need to do their job and pens in the supply room and food for that big VIP lunch delivered to the right room.

        1. Jaguar*

          But it’s been two months before anyone even realized he wasn’t accessing e-mail. Maybe there are timebombs that are going to go off, but I get the impression with all the talk about “low-tech, small county” that e-mail is a new initiative (amazingly). We’re all posting in the comments section of a blog – we probably can’t extrapolate from our own experiences of e-mail to how it’s affecting the delinquent who possibly has never had to deal with e-mail before. If I stopped checking my e-mail at work, that would be a huge issue and would surface far faster than 60 days. It’s possibly a much less important job duty in this case.

          At the risk of speculating, it almost sounds like an IT guy is being brought in to modernize an office and isn’t being as patient as that job requires.

      5. Katie the Senual Wristed Fed*

        In government, we have a responsibility to use taxpayer money wisely. I don’t waste your tax dollars (except when I’m checking AAM at work…shh), and I don’t want my tax dollars spent on someone who can’t be bothered to do the bare minimum of his job. We can do better.

        1. NutellaNutterson*

          I’m self-employed, but even when I was in social services, I was completely open about reading AAM at work. (I mean, not in lieu of time-sensitive tasks!) The cover letter advice here definitely helped a client get a great job!

          I am always amazed at how helpful and relevant advice from AAM ends up being elsewhere. I think so few people have a good idea of what it would look like in a healthy workplace, Alison and commenters really help re-frame expectations of good workplace behavior.

      6. Creag an Tuire*

        The OP says he’s “mediocre”, Allison says “No, he’s crappy”.

        Kinda like how people write into the other sort of advice columnist saying “I’m in a wonderful relationship except my SO belittles me in public and cheats constantly” and the columnist has to say “No, you’re not, you’re in a lousy relationship.”

        1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          I love those letters and the advice columnists who shut that stuff down. Along those lines, forget about crappy, how many people would feel happy about a “mediocre” spouse?

      7. Not So NewReader*

        Mediocre does mean average. But something I do not understand, people think that mediocre means lousy. “The height of mediocrity” makes me think of the top of a pile of trash. I have no idea why. In spoken conversation mediocre is almost never a compliment.

        1. Koko*

          Here’s what Google says about mediocre:

          “of only moderate quality; not very good.
          synonyms: ordinary, average, middling, middle-of-the-road, uninspired, undistinguished, indifferent, unexceptional, unexciting, unremarkable, run-of-the-mill, pedestrian, prosaic, lackluster, forgettable, amateur, amateurish;”

          So ordinary and average are in there, but so is “not very good” “lackluster” and “amateurish.”

          I think the reason why it’s never a compliment is because, when asked to assess their performance, you conspicuously fail to come up with one good thing to compliment about them. That’s why ‘mediocre’ is something less than average – because the average person has at least ONE good thing going for them.

          1. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

            I finally get it! Never understood why mediocre didn’t mean average before now. What a great explanation, thank you.

    2. Mike C.*

      I think it’s really over the top to suddenly come down so hard on rules or policies that were previously never enforced or possibly discussed.

      The opportunity cost is really something that needs to be considered. Also, “mediocre” doesn’t mean “sucks”. It means “acceptable” but could be better.

      1. James*

        What opportunity cost? You’ll lose some institutional knowledge, sure–but at the same time, you’ll lose someone who’s causing damage to the organization (that’s what being rude to the public does) and who’s unresponsive (meaning, undermining managerial authority).

        I’ll agree that hitting him really hard is a bad idea. I’d suggest a meeting with this guy, saying “I noticed you haven’t been logging into your email. This is a problem. We’re using this system to handle internal communications about policies and procedures, some of which have legal implications for us. It’s also a major way for the public to communicate with us. I need you to start logging onto your email and responding to messages from the public within two business days, and internal communications as needed.” Then give him a few weeks. If he’s not improving FAST, have another meeting saying “We discussed this, this is not optional, it’s part of your employment–check your emails daily and respond as we previously discussed.” How he responds will tell you if he’s just an old fart who doesn’t want to learn new tech, or if he’s actively hostile. If it’s the former, maybe work around it (but ONLY if the other issues are fixed). If it’s the latter, get rid of him.

        1. Mike C.*

          If you set him down for a come to jesus talk and it works, that’s a great deal cheaper than firing him, then going on a search for a replacement, thus your opportunity cost.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But the OP says, “I have been completely clear about the need to have email access, the expectation that you use email for your job, that I am going to be sharing information via email, etc.”

        1. SenatorMeathooks*

          I have no doubt OP believes he’s been clear, but if you have not been using email prior for your job, how could you use it for your job *now*? Why wasn’t the guy’s supervisor making sure he understood the importance and that he was using it? How does OP know he was clear? It doesn’t seem like it.

          1. LBK*

            OP clarified below that the employee was using email for work before, it was just a private email. It seems like the only reason he stopped was because he couldn’t be bothered to set up the new system.

          2. Anna*

            I’d rather trust that the OP knows when they are being clear and when they are not. Benefit of the doubt; OP has made it completely clear people at the agency should be using their new email. OP told employees they would be receiving information about programs via email. OP also provided written instructions on how to set up the new email accounts and access them. I don’t think “was not clear about expectations” really flies here.

            1. Coffeepoweerrreddd*

              I think since OP identified that they are “resisting” the modernization, it is very obvious that they have indeed taken in the information and have decided to reject it (and reject OP). Ignoring something is the same as rejecting it, just in a more passive-aggressive way,.

              1. Doe-eyed*

                I mean, to play devil’s advocate, the OP is clearly a very technologized person who knows a lot about what they’re doing. What may be very clear to them may not be as clear to a person who only receives 80 something emails in a 2 month period. Managers ALWAYS think they are being crystal clear, no matter how well they’re disseminating information.

          3. Not So NewReader*

            Management has to help reinforce the change. At some point many problems stop being about a bad employee and start being about a boss who allows the situation to persist.

        2. E*

          Funny thought when I read this…Did the OP send emails about the need for email access? Because if the employee’s not reading email, there should be a verbal discussion instead. I get so used to email for most conversations that I can find myself forgetting that it’s not the best form of communication all the time.

  5. TotesMaGoats*

    Ugh. I feel you OP. I agree with all Alison has said. I’d lean heavily on “if he’s a kind of sucky employee then let this be the final nail in the coffin” approach. However, if he wasn’t sucky and it sounds like he is, I’d try for the benefit of the doubt and monitor closely.

  6. Muriel Heslop*

    I’ve worked in two different schools in which employees were let go due to an unwillingness to use email and other related technology. Both instances involved teachers who had been in the classroom for years and believed that they should be absolved from having to evolve to email because they never had before. In one school, teammates and other teachers had to pick up the slack and read her email; in the other school, the teacher was informed of her new job responsibilities and when she refused, she was told to take early retirement or be let go. She chose the former. (Guess which campus had better morale?)

    1. WhichSister*

      at one time, I was an instructor in a college . The job required a certain amount of technical savvy. You needed to be able to use the course management system for your classes, be able to upload documents, open documents, etc. I am hardly a tech superstar. Another person and I were hired to co create and then teach a course. I sent her an excel document and she flipped out on me (via email) because the info she needed wasn’t there. I knew it was there so the next day in the office I had to show her the little page tabs at the bottom of the workbook so she could see the other pages. I later found out when she did her teaching presentation AT HER INTERVIEW one of the committee had to show her how to put her powerpoint in presentation mode. (evidently she went through the first part of her presentation in normal mode. ) Yes, she didn’t last long.

    2. Seal*

      I had the exact situation with an inherited 30+ year employee who refused to have anything to do with computers in general. For whatever reason, his previous supervisor allowed him to get away with not using a computer for anything despite that fact that it’s the norm in libraries and had been for at least half this guy’s career. Needless to say, this drove everyone else nuts. I rewrote his job description, told him he would be expected to attend training to get his computer skills up to speed, and made it clear that this was not negotiable. He announced his intent to retire the next day. Once he was gone it was as if a pall had been lifted from our department.

      1. Lionheart26*

        I’m a librarian too. I am quite techy and love the fact that keeping up with tech tools is a huge part of my job, but I do sometimes wonder about librarians who have been in the field a lot longer than I have and never needed these now essential skills. The role of the librarian has changed SO much. What are all the introverted, book wormy, tech phobic nerdy (insert other stereotypes as necessary) doing nowadays?

        1. fluffy*

          I was talking to a library user yesterday about the new Blair Witch, and I said I really didn’t care for horror movies. He looked a little taken aback, so I told him that being a librarian was scary enough. He got a good laugh (but not the new movie)

        2. DragoCucina*

          Hopefully they’ve mostly retired or updated their skills. I graduated with my MLIS in the 90s and we were all about the technology then. I was 39 when I graduated, so I didn’t grow up with email. It’s been a generation and technology is integral to the profession. While I think card catalog cabinets are pretty I don’t yearn for the days of flipping through the cards. Give me a keyword, title, or author search. The stereotype is interesting. The SLIS dean was also my adviser. We had a conversation on how the personality type he was seeing was very outgoing. While they wanted alone time to recharge, they loved working with people.

    3. Old Grumpy Guy*

      I just assumed everyone working in education has this same senior colleague.

      In my college, one of the administrative assistants was actually tasked with reading the email over the phone and/or printing it out (to put in the physical mailbox) of the colleague.

      I still use this as a don’t know whether to laugh or cry example.

        1. Doe-eyed*

          I just finished doing this for a professor with two PhDs to submit to a journal. It’s very common, even now.

        2. zora.dee*

          I temped for a president of a (small) university, who considered himself an expert in Business/Nonprofit Management, who would print his emails, hand write the answer, and give to his assistants to type/send his emails back. This was last year……..

          He couldn’t figure out how to do anything on his computer, so I would have to come into his office all day long to click forward on an email, or click the tab on an excel so he could see a different sheet.

      1. anonononononon*

        One of my work study jobs in college was making powerpoints for a professor. It was a great job because I could do it at home or wherever I was. She would send me the typed up notes with comments on what pictures she wanted me to find and use and I would copy-paste it into powerpoints for her. I also formatted her books and found the references for her. It was a wonderful job. The only thing that sucked was that she was convinced somehow that she had to make her powerpoints with a blue background, using yellow text with white text if you wanted to highlight something important. I tried to convince her about other formats, but she was convinced that was the only professional way to do powerpoints, and it was sometimes painful looking at all that text.

  7. LSP*

    I know some positions get more email than others, and seeing as how this guy only had 88 emails pile up over 2 months, it seems like his is one of them, but even having come from the government sector, I cannot imagine how anyone is still not using email, even at the county level. (Sorry for the run-on sentence. I am too baffled to control the clauses!)

    I know I would be very tempted to fire this guy right off the bat, but if this is the first time he’s going to be hearing about his work being unsatisfactory, I’d use this as the impetus to start a PIP and stick to it. If he cares about his job, he’ll shape up, if he doesn’t, you can free up a spot on your payroll for someone who has an understanding of the usefulness of technology that has only been in common business use for the last twenty years!

    1. Zahra*

      More mail than others? 88 emails in 2 months, that amounts to 2 emails per day. That’s not a lot, actually.

      1. Orca*

        I think LSP mistyped considering they also said “only 88” which was definitely in my thoughts too! I started thinking how quickly I would accumulate 88 emails and how many there would be in two months and developed an eye twitch.

        1. Tatiana*

          I can get 88 emails by lunch and 200+ by the end of the day. And half of them will have the subject line “update”. Or “udpate”.

      2. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        I’d say my team averages maybe two emails a day, and I’ve done contract work where we don’t even have access to email at all (which I think is lame). That said, those two emails a day are always really important because they’re usually communicating something that the entire team needs to know whether they’re in the room or out to lunch or home sick, or something they need to reference regularly to do their jobs right. I’d be really unhappy to find out that someone wasn’t checking regularly.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Two emails a day is totally manageable if he is having difficulty learning the new system. After a period of a few days he should be solidly acquainted with how to navigate in his new email. I could see if he was getting a ton of email every day and was overwhelmed by navigating it all. But in a case like that, he could ask for help and someone could get him set up with some folders an other ideas for sorting.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        I can go whole days without getting an email. But when I do, it’s usually something I need to address right away or soon. If he’s not getting many but they need a prompt response, then that’s definitely a performance problem, regardless of the reason for the lack of response.


    If you aren’t going to just let him go (which I think you should based on numerous red flags of performance), this sounds like a PIP situation to me – to address the email and all the other issues simultaneously. With clear goals and deadlines for improvement.

    1. justsomeone*

      Yes, this, this. Immediately getting rid of this guy or a very clear PIP, and clauses that if he reverts to his bad behavior after the end of the PIP he’s out.

      He’s ignored your directives now for at least two months. Two weeks, maybe. Two months? Nah. He needs to get in line or get out of the station.

    2. Sheepshank*

      This. It’s unclear from the letter whether the sum total of the employee’s faults has ever been brought their attention. This manager needs to have a calm, sit-down, closed-door meeting with this employee and discuss what’s going to be expected going forward.

  9. Venus Supreme*

    I’d love for an update on this just to hear this employee’s excuse as to why he didn’t check his e-mail for two months (!!)

  10. BethRA*

    Isn’t there also a management issue happening here? The exact chain of command isn’t clear to me, but I’m wondering why his supervisor didn’t know this was going on, especially if there’s a lot of task and project-related info going out via email.

    1. Karo*

      Is there “a lot” of task and project-related info going out though? 88 unread emails over 2 months averages out to like 2 emails per business day. I received 111 yesterday, not counting all the ones I deleted because I’m anal about keeping my mailbox clean.

      I’m not excusing this guy’s behavior, or his boss’ behavior in keeping this guy around for 17 mediocre years, but if one employee isn’t responding to an occasional email, I don’t think you can necessarily expect a manager to notice.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, it sounds like there is nothing important going into this guy’s email box, so I can see why he wouldn’t bother.

          1. Anna*

            Exactly this. It’s not really up to the employee to determine if it’s worth his time to open emails because they probably aren’t important. The OP set clear expectations of email use and this guy ignored them.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            No, you’re not biased. IT says something needs to be done by each employee then each employee needs to do that thing. It’s not optional.

          3. MarCom Professional*

            I’m stuck thinking if what you were sending him were so important to his doing his job, then you would have noticed after 1 week (at the most). I mean, there were no deadlines, action items requested, information from him required to move forward? Bizarre.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          Well, I don’t get a lot of US mail at work, but I also don’t put it in a drawer unopened for 2 months before I deal with it. There *could* be something important in it. (Usually someone just wants me to take a training course or order branded tchotchkes.)

          I work with people who are reluctant to use technology. They try to use age as an excuse, but I don’t buy that, when I know and have trained so many people the same age who have had no problem with technology, especially since a lot of it has been part of work life since the 80s and 90s. It’s really that they’re allowed to avoid technology because they aren’t good with it. But they aren’t good with it because they’re allowed to avoid it. And so the cycle continues…

            1. Not So NewReader*

              I don’t think you meant that the way it sounds… there are many readers here who are in their 50s and 60s.

              1. memboard*

                For the record, someone in their 50’s today was still in school (ok Uni maybe) when personal computers came out. There can’t be many people to whom computers are a foreign concept these days.

                1. Charlotte Collins*

                  My mother just retired. She definitely had to use computers at work in the 80s, when she was in her 30s. They aren’t new unless you’ve been out of the workforce since the early 70s.

            2. Ixnay Edfray*

              !!! Please explain further how lucky everyone will be when I and all of my generation will be dead and the “problem” will be over.

              Totally uncool.

              1. Charlotte Collins*

                Also, the person I trained with the worst knowledge of computers was actually a millennial (on the early end of the scale and this was over 10 years ago). I’m pretty sure he had never really used a computer in his life, and since I think he had gone to a school district with almost no money, it wasn’t that surprising.

                On the other hand, he was probably the most polite person I’ve ever trained, which means a lot in Customer Service.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            It’s not age necessarily–I know people younger than me who won’t touch computers. I’ve experienced the exact same frustration with them as with an older person trying to explain that no, you probably won’t break the expensive computer, and no, I wasn’t any better than you at it when I started using one.

        2. Tequila Mockingbird*

          Erm, how would he know if there is anything “important” in his inbox if he never opens it?

      2. Sibley*

        But if no one emails you because they know they don’t get a response, you don’t get any emails. There is one person at my company that I walk up 2 floors and into her office, because she doesn’t respond to emails, meeting requests, or answer the phone. I don’t email her. It’s not worth the aggravation. I really wish someone would either fire her or enforce expectations.

      3. LBK*

        As a counterpoint to this, see J’s story below about an AVP getting away with not checking emails for so long that she had 10,000 unread by the time she quit. I think you underestimate how much people can get away with not reading emails and expecting others to pick up their slack.

  11. Murphy*

    Assuming that there was a meeting (or meetings) about the new email accounts, and it was described as important, if not required, then I don’t think this is excusable behavior. To just ignore instructions like that is not OK.

      1. De Minimis*

        Same here, some of which is due to my workplace’s “reply all” e-mail culture.

        I got dinged on my evaluation for not “replying all” often enough. I’ve since changed to just replying all every time, and they said I’d greatly improved over the past few months.

        1. Drew*

          That would drive me bonkers. My boss has modeled very good “Y’all look like you have this, so you can leave me out of the email chain from here on” behavior and I’ve started to emulate them. I’ve also put “Please reply directly to me with questions rather than spam the whole group” at the top of informational mails. This hasn’t been as successful as I had hoped.

        2. Alice Ulf*

          Ahahaha, I wouldn’t know whether to laugh or sob hysterically. Either way, “hysterical” would be the only correct description of my response. :P

    1. Kore*

      Same here. I was once gone for two days and had well over 150 unread emails, and this was me adding two days to a holiday weekend.

  12. Jesmlet*

    What a dream, to only have 88 emails after 60 days. This is clearly unacceptable and irresponsible. If he’s so lazy with this, god knows what else he’s not doing.

      1. De Minimis*

        I will say if it’s that few [and it sounds like a lot of them were not directly sent to him] it’s possible that his job just doesn’t involve a lot of e-mail usage?

        1. Jesmlet*

          Right, so theoretically it shouldn’t be that hard to keep up with them? If you barely use email, figure the few emails you do get are probably relevant and should be kept up with.

          On the other hand if none of those emails are worth reading, I could see forgetting to switch over and then putting it off.

    1. Short and Stout*

      Yeah, I would want to know what he is actually doing in the time not spent replying to his 2 emails per day …

  13. Hillbilly*

    The reactions to some of these crack me up fire someone that has never had to use email in the past 17 years over not checking his/her email? I work in a similar situation, and have worked in a different one a few years ago. I currently supervise two employees who are not adept at technology. By this I mean they do not own a computer at home, and at best can enter their own time into our system. One of which was proud that they finally learned how to bing or google. It’s all new to them and they simply have never needed it in the past. At my previous work place I worked with, and supervised a gentlemen that honestly did not know how to turn a computer on. As a state employee I cannot just let these staff members go because they are not savy to technology, besides it’s my job as their supervisor to help them learn how and place the emphasis on using it. All three of the employees listed above have 20+ years in with our agency. It seems to me the OP needs to place a stronger emphasis and remind the staff member in a performance review that they need to check it, make it clear, concise and clearly state what happens if they do not start checking it.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Sure, but it’s not just that the guy is not savvy with technology – he was given a directive and instructions on how to access this email and ignored it for two months. A very serious chat and PIP are probably in order rather than immediately firing the dude, but this is a little different than an employee taking time to ramp up to the new technology.

    2. Cordelia Naismith*

      It’s one thing to not be good with technology but trying to learn. It’s completely different to just ignore your email for two months without ever asking for help with it. Especially given all the other red flags with this particular employee’s performance (being rude to the public, etc), I’d say he needs to be put on a PIP immediately. You can’t just not do a big part of your job because you don’t like computers.

      1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

        “You can’t just not do a big part of your job because you don’t like computers” is perfect. There’s nothing magical about computers that means lots of people just can’t use them ever. Learning to use a computer is a skill like any other – and it kind of boggles my mind that someone who has an office job in 2016 would refuse to use computers or email and get away with it.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, if it were just the computer thing, I’d be inclined to sit him down and go over it with him, be available to help, etc. I would assume he’s intimidated by it and needs some assistance. But the rudeness, etc. would change the approach for sure.

    3. FunTillSomeoneLoosesAnEye*

      This seems less an issue of “not adept at technology” and more an issue of “screw you I’m not using email, deal with it”

      1. Rafe*

        I don’t know. Our own IT frequently email all kinds of instructions that frankly are borderline worthless even to those of us who have used computers our entire career. Not excusing the employee for not asking for help (unless IT is only going to point him back to written instructions, which it kind of sounds like, actually).

      2. SenatorMeathooks*

        This seems more like a “I don’t understand what’s going on, and the IT guy’s instructions aren’t as good as he thinks they are”

            1. LBK*

              Not everything is a two-sided problem. Sometimes you can be clear as day and people just ignore you and do what they want anyway.

              1. Christopher Tracy*

                This. OP has been pretty clear here, so I have no doubt she’s been clear with this employee too. He’s just choosing not to listen just like he chooses to be terrible with the public.

        1. Observer*

          If he’s the only one who has that issue, then that is HIS problem.

          Also, if the instructions are not clear there is usually someone else to ask. Because others will also notice that the instructions are not clear so if the guy who isn’t savvy says “Hey could you help me out, because I can’t follow IT Guy’s instructions?” people won’t think much of it.

      3. Sheepshank*

        Disagree. This seems to be a case of “Lost the instructions, it’s been 2 months so asking My Boss The IT Guy would be embarrassing, everything seems to be going along as it has been for the last 17 years…I’ll just keep my head down.”

        Give him a new copy of the instructions and a clear set of expectations. He can take that rope and hang himself, or not.

        1. LBK*

          Disagree. This seems to be a case of “Lost the instructions, it’s been 2 months so asking My Boss The IT Guy would be embarrassing, everything seems to be going along as it has been for the last 17 years…I’ll just keep my head down.”

          I don’t think that’s an acceptable course of action, especially for someone with at least 17 years of experience who should know better than to just pretend a problem doesn’t exist and hope it goes away. That’s something I’d expected from a fresh college grad.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes. And when you combine it with the other details the OP has mentioned (like not being polite to the public), it paint a pretty concerning picture overall.

    4. Joseph*

      I get that some people aren’t as up on technology – particularly if it’s a job that has not previously really required it*, but the real issue here is the refusal to learn and the fact he couldn’t even think to ask. I don’t actually know all of the latest and greatest new communication technologies (Slack is some kind of group-messaging thing, maybe? like an alternative to Lync?), but if a higher ranking person mentioned every single week that they’re contacting people through it, I’d at least feel like I should ask about it.
      *And to be fair, it seems like this is the case given that he only got 88 emails over two months, many of which are internal.

    5. Sparkly Librarian*

      I had to laugh at your example of the man who didn’t know how to turn on a computer, because it reminded me of a time I was in that boat. I work in libraries now, and I worked in tech before. I took my master’s course online, and I grew up in Silicon Valley. I’m a little older than the “digital native” crew, but I got my first email address when I was 9. I TEACH people how to use basic computer functions as well as some advanced software, and I have for a decade.


      When I was at my second temp job, I was faced with a Mac desktop for the first time since elementary school (they’ve changed the design, you know?). And I did not have a CLUE how to turn the sucker on. I couldn’t find a power button anywhere on the monitor. I couldn’t google for it. I WOULDN’T ask my new boss — how could I admit that I didn’t know something that basic?? I’d be reassigned immediately. It was like an anxiety nightmare. I ended up doing other onboarding tasks and then hid in the bathroom and called my dad (the guy who got me my first email address and set up my first modem at college) and begged him to stop laughing and help me out.

      1. BadPlanning*

        In college, where I was majoring in computer science, I think I spent 10 agonizing minutes scouring a Mac for its power button. Trying to look all casual…

        1. Chinook*

          Did the same in the final exam in the lab for my computer class. I grew up on PCs (could even reprogram them) and every time I used the Mac lab, the computers were already powered on. I eventually asked the TA proctoring the exam and she took pity on me and realized “how to turn on the computer” was not part of the exam.

          The irony is that, on the first day of class, the first slide showed a picture of a PC with the caption “this is a computer, this is the on/off switch.” Too bad they didn’t include a picture of the Macs we were using.

      2. Mander*

        So wait, how do you turn a Mac on? I’ve never used one, actually — far too expensive for me to buy and I have never needed one otherwise. Is there some special magic?

        1. OP*

          Fergus, is that you?

          Pretty sure you have to trace a pentagram with the mouse and make a sacrifice to Steve Jobs.

        2. Misc*

          The button is hidden around the back of the monitor; logical and ergonomic if you know where it is, impossible to find if you don’t

          … I may or may not have spent ages running my hands over the back of the monitor and even turning it round a few times the first rare few times I used macs (they changed shape between the first and second time). Even tipping the monitor forward doesn’t help because the buttons hidden under the curve of the base…


            1. Callietwo*

              I’m a mac fan through and through (and hubby is Apple Certified so I come by it fairly naturally)

              But I am so peeved at the no headphone jack. I spent $300.00 earlier this year for my fabulous noise cancelling Bose headphones and you’re telling me I won’t be able to use them if I upgrade?
              Looks like I’ll have to upgrade to an android next time around and it infuriates me. I’ve invested a LOT of $$ in that app store. Grrr

        3. Shortie*

          On the old ones, I think you had to press Tab-A-J-Backspace all at the same time while standing on your head. Seriously, though, I was a PC support lead and network administrator back in the day and someone asked for my help with their weird little Mac notebook or whatever it was. I had to call support to figure out how to turn it off. It struck me as so funny! I’m assuming they are more logical now.

    6. Anna*

      But he did use email. It was just his personal account, not a business account. The OP set up the new system where everyone had a work email address instead of just receiving stuff on Hotmail. This isn’t a case of someone having to make a dramatic cultural/technological shift; this is a case of someone ignoring clear instructions on a new policy.

      1. LCL*

        I think OP mentioned elsewhere it was a shared account with his wife. In my experience that is always an indicator that at least one person in the partnership has minimal to nonexistent computer skills, and email is done via no skilled leaning over the shoulder or hollering across the room at skilled.

    7. Bikirl*

      I totally agree with this, Hillbilly. This worker had no previous experience using company email. There is a learning curve in using company email, and that should be taken into consideration. As for the other performance issues stated by the OP–has the employee ever been told about them? They deserve the opportunity to know what is not satisfactory, and then should be given the opportunity to correct the problem(s).

  14. all aboard the anon train*

    I’d get 88 emails if I didn’t check my email for a few days. I don’t even want to know what two months would look like!

    I don’t think this is excusable at all. If I was told to use a fax machine to send out information or receive information every day even though I’ve never used one before, I’d learn how to use it instead of just ignoring that task because it was using unfamiliar technology.

    I vote for a PIP with clear guidelines saying that email is part of the role and a refusal to continue using it will end up with termination (or whatever action you decide).

  15. Queen Anne of Cleves*

    Wow. I am in industry that is working hard to be completely paperless. I would ask this employee if he could go two months without using a phone…any phone…or a mode of transportation besides walking. A telephone at one time was considered new and high tech. Email should be treated in the same regard. It’s not a luxury. It’s not new. It’s not optional. It’s as necessary as the phone on his desk or his car (bus, train, whatever). It’s as necessary as the plumbing and electricity in his house. Use examples he can relate to. Does he check his personal mail box everyday? Not checking email is like not checking your mailbox (you know, the ones where envelopes filled with tangible correspondence are delivered by a post person.). And, hold him accountable for whatever you send to him via email just like a bill collector would hold him accountable for paper bills mailed to his home.

  16. OlympiasEpiriot*

    17 years ago is only 1999. In 1999, I was already getting at least a dozen emails a day, and although my job is time sensitive, we don’t pepper each other with questions.

    This is weird and there are no excuses.

    1. justsomeone*

      This is a really good point. Email has been around for at least as long as this guy has been employed. He has no excuse.

      1. LBK*

        Yeah, even if we accept that he’s in an industry that’s behind the times (my company still has some critical processes that rely on inter-office faxing!) I can’t imagine it hasn’t been a minimum of at least 5 years since email was a taken-for-granted element of his job. It sounds like the new system just required some effort for him to set up and he couldn’t be bothered.

        1. Bob Barker*

          Do not get me started on faxing! Finance offices looove the fax machine: it’s a lot more secure than regular email. (Blah blah complicated secure email systems, which are so bad most of the time they’ll make you WANT to go back to the fax machine.)

          But yes. If you throw away all faxes received without looking at them, you get fired. If you don’t read any emails, even the ones that tell you, Hey, read this email Or Else, guess what.

          1. LBK*

            Ha, yes, I’m in finance. I think shortly after I left my manager finally convinced compliance to let them send digital faxes for everything instead of physical ones. But before that we’d have a huge stack of stuff getting faxed to our processing office every day (which we would then bundle up and mail to them, even though most of it was just printed off of PDFs anyway). Gotta love outdated bureaucracy and retention policies!

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I was going to write the same thing. I’ve been working for 16 years and email was common from day one for my first company, and our vendors and clients. Okay, we still faxed stuff, had paper interoffice memos, and shared files by walking a floppy disk to someone’s desk in 2000, but we all had email, too.

      This isn’t like it is 1999 and the guy has been working since 1982 without email. It’s 2016. My dad is a truck driver and has work email these days. Come on.

    3. jax*

      I think that those of us who have never not known computers, who have grown up with computers or who were early adopters forget that even today, for many people computers and the internet are a luxury they can’t afford. Go to a public library and see how many adults struggle with typing or filling out job applications online or even using a mouse. Especially if this is a rural area I can see how someone who has worked at this place since 1999 may not have ever been exposed to email before now. This doesn’t excuse his unwillingness to learn or the other areas in his job that he is under performing but I don’t think we should just assume because we are internet savvy/literate that EVERYONE is these days, because it’s just not the case.

      1. Hibiscus*

        Completely agree. I spend a lot of time helping employees do basic stuff–just now I had to show someone with a Yahoo email where to go and how to delete contacts. Or explain the difference between Chrome and IE. Very basic stuff, and I am not a computer whiz, just a librarian.

        1. Observer*

          Using email is FAR more basic than the difference between Chrome Firefox and IE. In fact I have people who “live” in email who really don’t know the difference. Those that do, mostly know which programs / web sited work better in IE vs Chrome vs Firefox.

      2. Observer*

        Oh, please. This person is not a ditch digger, brick layer or employed in any other highly manual outside based field. Even lots of those folks have email – as Another Alison said, her father is a truck driver and he has work email. Certainly in offices, which is what we are talking about here, email has been common for many years. This is NOT a new issue.

        1. auntie_cipation*

          Eh, he might just be. Could be he’s the guy on the garbage truck, or the guy who runs the irrigation systems for the county parks, or the guy who maintains the hiking trails, or the guy who tunes up and repairs the county cars. There are lots of jobs, especially in rural areas, where electronic interactions or even a physical inbox and paper memos are just not a noteworthy part of it. I know lots of people who don’t have email and don’t want it.

          That said, the fact that this fellow has been specifically directed to do something and hasn’t done it or addressed it, THAT’S the problem here IMO.

          1. Observer*

            If you read what the OP writes, he’s almost certainly not in the kinds of roles you mention.

            I agree, not doing what the boss says is the core problem here. I’m just making the point that it’s not credible to make the argument that he’s being insubordinate because email is some strange, outlandish thing that means nothing to him either personally or in his job.

      3. Sheep*

        I don’t know, my grandmother who is 82 learned to use a computer around 7 years ago. She doesn’t do a lot with it, but she uses email, Skype, internet banking, and googles stuff. Of course, if something happens, like she has forgotten a password, we have to step in to resolve it, but other than that I’d say she’s doing pretty well.

        I just think that if she (and a lot of other, older people) can manage, then pretty much everyone CAN manage. A lot of the time it’s about not wanting to do something.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          The guy who repairs my computer is 82. He has forgotten more information than I have learned about computers. Yeah, 82, goes to work everyday. He gets to my house by 8 am, which means he left his house at 7 am.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          A lot of the time it’s about not wanting to do something.

          That’s the way my mum is. She uses the computer for the very basic stuff she needs for her work (she’s self-employed) and nothing else. I’ve offered to help her many times, but she told me it was too hard and she wasn’t smart enough to learn it. I finally called bullsh!t on that and told her if she just doesn’t want to go online or whatever, that’s one thing, but don’t tell me you’re too stupid to learn it because I know that’s not true. And that any time she wants to know something I would show her. Her sister is the same way–and I think it’s awful because they live 4200 miles apart and they could Skype for FREE instead of calling long-distance. But that’s how they do it, so *shrug*

          I think a lot of older people who are afraid to upgrade technologically remember when computers first came out and you had to be a programmer and learn code, etc. to use them. Or they’re afraid they’re going to break the expensive machine. And I also think they don’t like to feel incompetent when learning something new.

    4. Bad Candidate*

      Agreed. In 1999 I worked at a company who made it very clear that you were expected to check and answer your emails at least once per day.

    5. Anna*

      Thank you for pointing this out. It’s not like email is all that new. It’s been around for years. I have a Hotmail account that I opened 21 years ago! (Now used mainly for junk mail and subscription sign ups.)

  17. EddieSherbert*

    I am interested in a little more detail on how email introduced in the office – simply because who’s information is public/customer-facing can a big deal, and apparently he is someone the customers can email directly.

    In my experience, there was a discussion on protocol for whose email you can give out and whose you can’t. Like… A gets public facing mail and filters it to B, C, and D.

    And for emailing customers, I have a generic us@place.com I can send from (most of the time) and an Eddie@place.com I can send from (once in a great while).

    1. irritable vowel*

      Yeah, that was an interesting detail that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere – the OP supposes that some of the unread e-mails might be from members of the public. If this guy’s address is being made available for public inquiries, and he hasn’t set up his e-mail account, then that to me is a much bigger issue than him being a mediocre employee who apparently doesn’t want to learn anything new. He’s shirking his duties as an employee of a government agency, not just blowing off reading project updates.

    2. Willis*

      This. It sounds like his email address is available to the public as an avenue to contact his office. If that’s true and he knew it but still didn’t bother with his account for two months, that’s a pretty big deal. It’s willfully ignoring a part of his job and could ultimately reflect badly on the department.

      Also, while I could understand not being accustomed to using email, if your boss specifically says she’s disseminating info via email, it’s on you to make sure you receive it, or to follow up if you’re having problems. I’d be inclined to deal with his technology issues a lot more than his blatantly cavalier attitude toward whatever the boss or public may be trying to communicate with him.

  18. J*

    Can I tell a story? I’m going to tell a story. Ignore if you like.

    Two jobs ago, I worked in a department that was going through a bad time. When I say “a bad time”, I mean that, in my six years on the job, I saw the entire non-admin staff of 15 turn over twice. We had “group counseling” in the form of twice a week sessions of 3 hours each for four weeks. It was bad, y’all.

    So, our new VP starts, and he seems like a nice guy. He hires a new AVP as my boss’s boss. New AVP seems nice enough, but she’s not entirely on her game when we have meetings with her. At first, we chalked it up to her being kind of new to our type of organization. Within about three months, it was clear that she just wasn’t cottoning on to some basic concepts of the work we did.

    Conversations start being had among the staff. People start bringing concerns to the VP. The New AVP stops trying to engage with the department.

    The VP pulled each administrator into his office for a one-on-one in which he told us to stop being mean girls to the new AVP. We were to keep our complaints to ourselves and learn to get along. So we did that.

    A couple months later, New AVP’s mom had some health difficulties. She took FMLA and started spending half the week in her hometown, some five hours away. Things ground to a halt. We couldn’t get decisions made because she hadn’t responded to any inquiries sent via email. And when she was in the office, she wasn’t present enough to answer questions. We soldier on miserably. Finally, after about 18 months, New AVP resigns. She has to go home to take care of her mother.

    After she left, IT discovers she had 10,000 unread messages in her inbox. She either never figured out how to check her messages, or she just didn’t read them. Which explains why we would have to explain things to her multiple times in addition to sending thorough follow-up emails.

    The VP was so livid that he wanted to sue to get her salary back for the last year.

    And the rest of us just kept updating resumes and going on interviews.

    1. Isben Takes Tea*

      What the whaaaat.

      I have no sympathy for the VP–if he couldn’t figure out that she wasn’t doing her job, he has no right to indignation.

      1. KG, Ph.D.*

        Agreed! Plus, he told anyone who tried to point out her shortcomings to just shut up and try to get along. Awful, awful management all around. Holy cow.

    2. SenatorMeathooks*

      Your VP should have done his job properly too – he shouldn’t have dismissed your complaints.

      1. J*

        He was an older gentleman who was very proud of having never fired anyone in his entire career (this would have been 40+ years at this point). So, he had his own issues.

        1. LBK*

          I can’t imagine in what universe not firing anyone in 40 years is supposed to be something to be proud of. It’s basically putting on a sash that says “I can’t solve problems”.

          1. Isben Takes Tea*

            Right? It’s kind of like “perfect attendance” pride–how many other people did you get sick because you are prioritizing the wrong metrics?

            1. Joseph*

              Similarly, the people who are proud of never taking vacations. Am I supposed to be impressed that you fail to realize that the human brain requires relaxation and downtime? Is the fact you show up every day supposed to override the fact that you’re burnt out?

    3. Cat Steals Keyboard*

      Omg. This reminds me of old bad manager who, it transpired after he upped and quit, had been spending his time looking at motorbikes online instead of actually getting any work done.

    4. Beckie*

      Oh wow, I hope the “stop being mean girls” is a paraphrase of what the VP actually said. Way to dismiss feedback from female employees as being personal instead of professional.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      So let’s see, 10k in emails. And he never noticed? Okay maybe she responded to JUST his emails., so he missed that she wasn’t answering anyone else.
      BUT, when she was on FMLA no one took over her spot? No one noticed while she was on leave the number of emails she had?

      At one point I inherited a computer with almost 10,000 family pictures on it. Delete, delete, delete…. I cared for about the first ten pics, then after that, caring stepped out the door, delete, delete.

      1. J*

        She was on intermittent FMLA, so she was around two or three days a week and out of town the rest of the time. There was no reason to give someone else access to her inbox while she remained employed, and there was no one she was close enough to (professionally or personally) to rely on as her out of office surrogate.

        The job was a learning experience that went on far too long.

  19. SenatorMeathooks*

    I am not on the side of crappy employees, but if this guy has literally worked there for 17 years without needing an email account and suddenly there is one, 1.) what other ways of disseminating information prior to this system was available and is he still using that and 2.) email is not a new concept, but not necessarily intuitively useful for someone who has worked without it for so long. I don’t think it’s that you’re not clear, it might be that the importance and gravity of it’s use is not understood in an environment that has functioned so long without it. What kind of training was offered? What did his direct supervisor offer to do? In what capacity is his job function? Is he at a desk or is he something like Public Works, out in a truck all day or part of the day? What does email replace in his current job function? A phone call? A walk-in request?

    1. OP*

      OP here, and these are the same thoughts that I started with. Maybe I wasn’t as clear as I had thought I was being. But after thinking things through, I am positive that I was abundantly clear and as helpful as possible in getting him going. Fergus had a shared private account with his wife that he used for work purposes prior to getting his new work specific one. So he understands the basics of email. We talked about the new email system at 3 consecutive monthly staff meetings prior to activating it. I did a live demo during one of our meetings to show everyone how it worked. I provided a written (on paper) copy of new email instructions to each employee. And I assigned (and announced) a tech savvy intern to oversee any technical issues after the initial roll out. I am the office IT person, and with a staff size of under 15, Fergus has direct and instant access to me to fix any log in problems. Even if we are just using our email for internal communications, he needs to play along.

      1. Karo*

        The clarification that he WAS using email, just not a work-designated one, is huge. It makes this much more blatant and less like it could be a careless assumption that he didn’t actually need it.

      2. LBK*

        This is a side note and I’m sure just one of the many ways this place is dysfunctional, but my hackles went straight up at him using a shared email address with his wife for work. Talk about PII violation! Ack!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          A lot of small municipalities are still changing over to a group system. If you come in to a setting where no one gives you an email, then you do have to use your own. Ideally you’d make a fresh account just for work, but that is not what happened here. He used his personal account…. that he still shares with his wife. People do what it is they think of to do if left to their own devices. And initially, he was left to his own devices. It made sense for that time. I find his unwillingness to comply with a directive to be concerning.

        2. Mander*

          Regardless of your political persuasion, Hilary Clinton’s current difficulties should be enough to warn anyone away from using private email for government business.

      3. animaniactoo*

        I’ve got 5 bucks that says he thinks this is just a big inconvenience and is actually a problem because all his business contacts have and use his personal e-mail account. And that “the stuff you send” is just updates that don’t really matter/he hears about from somebody else anyway.

        I think you need to go into this saying “Hey, this is not just some alternate benefit we are providing. This is a non-optional thing. Work MUST be conducted through your work-provided e-mail account from now on. Redirect your business contacts to that e-mail account. If you have questions about getting them acclimated to using that address instead, we can discuss ways to do that, but you are not to continue to use your personal e-mail from here on out. And I expect you to personally read and review the information that I send via e-mail. Which I will not be sending to your personal e-mail account.”

        And btw – I would check, because if there’s been resistance, I bet you that somebody who is also on the recipient list has been forwarding your e-mails to him and maybe others so that they don’t have to login.

      4. OG OM*

        This does raise the possibility that his wife was sending all of his work emails previously. At my current workplace we had a bit of a scandal when a coworker who had been sending emails and using the database for years suddenly seemed to “forget” even the most basic functions of computers and when people tried to talk to him, he didn’t seem to know what the internet *is*. It turned out that his wife had been sending all of his email and essentially doing every part of his job that required technology for over 20 years. She had left him and the charade was up.

        1. a.n.o.n.*

          We had a less dramatic version of this at my old workplace. One of my old managers used to get his wife to write all his emails for him. I figured it out after he forwarded an email to me from her and forgot to delete the header with all her information. It finally made sense why some of his emails were articulate and others were nearly incoherent.

        2. pony tailed wonder*

          To me, that raises the possibility that the employee may have been illiterate or has a grade school level of reading comprehension. With the wife covering for him, I wonder if a learning disability might be intertwined in the problem. I have heard of all sorts of elaborate ruses people use to cover up the fact that their reading levels aren’t up to par. I once read about a NHL hockey player whose first language wasn’t English who would always order steak and eggs at restaurants because he couldn’t read the menus. He said restaurants would usually have it.

          1. pony tailed wonder*

            Not to say that ESL is a disability, but that the reading comprehension skills might be low in both for different reasons.

        3. doreen*

          My husband has had a number of fellow salesman who did the same thing. The salesman traveled to the customers, sold the products and called the orders into the office- and then went home and had their wives print out their emails. They then dictated the response for the wife to send. They did it for years, since they didn’t actually go into the office and all of these emailing was going on through tablets and phones.

      5. Temperance*

        I’m having serious twitches at the idea of a government employee using a private email account. What about open records laws? FOIA requests?

        Sorry, but I would shitcan this guy hardcore.

        1. Collarbone High*

          Yeah, as a journalist, I would be highly interested to know a government employee was conducting official business on a personal email account shared with a spouse.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            The smaller communities around the US could give you 80 hours of work per week, if you so desire. While I totally get what you are saying, not everyone is like me. Additionally, in smaller communities, the employees cannot finish the tasks that they are already committed to by regs, to add one more task such as learning a new email is absolutely overwhelming.

            I am supposed to work at one job around 15 hours a week, when I start getting around 30 hours my friends “yell” at me. We had to learn a new email system. I think that week I did over 40 hours and got paid for 15. Government keeps adding more and more regs but no one increases the employees’ hours to accommodate the extra work.
            I don’t think OP has this problem, but when I call tech to ask about the new system, I hear, “Oh that is not happening.” or “Yeah, there’s a glitch, just deal with it” and so on. I am wondering if OP is relatively new, maybe the old IT person sucked at their job and he thinks this is still the case. Not an excuse really. But it might help to explain why this is happening.

            1. Temperance*

              I’m from a pretty small town/backwards area, and it was very common for government employees to be older and very set in their ways. Not so much that they had too much work to do, but that they were insisting on doing things a certain way, because that’s how it had always been done, and they weren’t going to learn computers, gosh darn it.

              I’ve been having a war with the jury selection people where I grew up for the past … 10 years. I haven’t lived with my parents in over 15 years at this point, yet once each year, like clockwork, I’m called to jury duty in a place where I do not live and have literally never voted (because I vote in person, and do so wherever I am living). When I call to complain, and ask to be taken off the list, they get all huffy and explain exactly why they can’t do it, because they’re a small town, blah blah blah.

      6. LCL*

        If you end up keeping him, and I am betting that you will, here is how to deal with the won’t use email group. I have had to do this more than once for persons in my group. In our group, email is used in an attempt to keep all of the different shifts up to date on things. All of their contact with the public is in person or by phone.
        1. Sit down with him at a workstation. Preferably not in your office.
        2.Tell him you will log in first and show him a few things. Log in and show him your email and what is expected. Show him how to customize things to his liking. Extra emphasis on how to sort things. If you are really prepared, have a few emails with attachments waiting in your inbox and show him how to properly save them. 2.5 if using outlook, show him how to use the reading pane, and where the controls are, then turn it off. I have found that with inexperienced users, the reading pane just confuses them. and HIDE ALL THE COLUMNS NOT IN USE!!!!!!!!!

        3. Log out and have him log him. Talk him through sorting, cleaning, customizing and organizing his inbox.
        4. Have him log out and log in again. Show him how to send an email. For the sake of us all, show him how to use the directory, and when and when not to CC.

        As to why he is doing this? He is probably intimidated by the technology. The default display for Outlook is unreadable and unuseable. Fonts are too small, too many columns, not enough contrast. All of that is changeable, if you show him where to find this stuff he will be a lot more interested. Also, if he has been there 17 years, he is the age where eye problems are starting to show up, and people will deny those. When I am working with a computer avoider, I always start by asking them if they like the display like that, with such a small font. They always respond that they didn’t know such things were changeable. I change everything I can to 12 point type, then you both can move so you are sitting at least 24″ from the monitor, and you are ready to rock.

        1. Chinook*

          LCL – you gave the best description of how to teach new technology. I am part of our roll out team here and have managed to allow them to let me lead 3 hour sessions on how to use SharePoint. Everyone goes 3 HOURS!!!!! and panics. I then explain they have 1 hour of theory and how we use it and 2 hours where they play in our computer lab with the program in a sandbox environment. I let them go when they feel comfortable doing 3 specific tasks that they will need to do. No one has needed the full 2 hours but every single one of them (from summer students to directors) have thanked me for giving them the time to actually learn how to use a program. Some people just need time and others need to be walked through the same steps 5 times and take detailed notes on the handouts I give them, but having that time to troubleshoot what is causing them problems has allowed me to increase how SharePoint is being used here.

          It is such a successful method that I have been tasked to do this same thing with a few other programs because nobody complains about the program when I am done.

          1. animaniactoo*

            This is a tad hysterical to me, because it’s become my unofficial job within our department to figure out any new technology/software we have, and then set it up to work best for us and show my co-workers how to use it. Sharepoint is one of the things I did. We generally don’t get much rollout, it’s more “Here’s new thing you’re supposed to use.” and then up to us to fiddle around and make it work.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I used to really hate Outlook with the heat of 10 suns. I am down to about 5 suns now, since my own email turned so crappy. My own email is up to 4 suns. Luckily for Outlook, another email platform has become just as annoying to me.

        3. Cassie*

          I like this solution – some people aren’t very tech savvy and if you leave it up to them to figure out a new email system, that just might never happen. Just a couple of years ago, it took some time (and prodding) to get our ~50 faculty members (who are in a STEM field) to just change their outlook or thunderbird pop settings from @oldsystem.edu to @newsystem.edu). Email instructions were sent out, reminders went out, they mentioned it at faculty meetings, and there were still about 5 people who didn’t do it. I ended up having to go to the offices of the 5 profs and walk them through the steps. And I’m not even in IT!

          It really makes me wonder how the transition from no email to email was like – I’m pretty sure some of the faculty members had their emails set up back in the early 90s and never fiddled with it again. If there was any problems with email, they’d just call up IT and the IT staff would come to their offices and fix it for them. In this case, IT wouldn’t help each person – they expected them just to follow the instructions.

          I had to explain to my mom that she should check her work email more often. Just leave outlook open and scan it a couple of times a day. She doesn’t get much email, except once in a while when her boss lets her know she’s going to be out.

      7. Lily Rowan*

        OK, that’s actually a drastically different scenario. Using a joint personal account is 1,000,000 times worse than just ignoring electronic communication.

      8. Quilter*

        Do you have any idea if the employee is still using his personal email for work reasons? I get that he wouldn’t see what others are sending to his new address, but since he had an email account previously, he either never (or seldom) had to send email, or he’s using a non-work account to send them now.

        I don’t think you’re being unreasonable. It’s just like any other expectation at work. If your work implements a new process or program, you don’t just get to opt out of doing it. You can’t expect everything to be okay when people suddenly realize you’re not participating in said process or program.

        I would also just want to make sure he’s not continuing to use his personal account *in addition* to not using his new one.

  20. Mona Lisa*

    We actually encountered a similar situation to this when I managed a database migration at the awful non-profit. We invested a lot of time and money into training staff on the new system and putting instructions together for when it went live. After a month or so, we were noticing that there was a dip in service being provided in one of our regions. It turns out that two staff members (including one director) had either never accessed the system or had set up her account and not used it since then. They were siphoning off the work to another employee who had made an effort to learn the new system and making her print off or export reports so they could look at and manipulate information in Excel sheets instead of using the database.

    This organization is notoriously bad about hanging on to ineffectual employees, but our CEO stepped in and let them know that using the system was not optional. They had to make concerted efforts to use it or they would be terminated. They never became great users and still relied heavily on the other employee until she left, but they did get their acts together (somewhat). Basically a real life version played out of what Alison suggests doing here. They’re probably not ever going to be great at the job, but they were able to at least use the database and perform the basic functions of their jobs.

    If you don’t have a lot of options for this guy’s position (difficulty recruiting to it, small applicant pool), then having him might be better than nothing. However, if there’s a chance to replace him, it might be worth the short-term hassle to find a way to do that. It sounds like the e-mail issue is symptomatic of the larger problem, and it would probably be better to have an employee who can adequately perform the job functions.

  21. atleast*

    Email is new to him?!? Is he a time traveler?

    Email at this point is an older technology. There is no excuse and I fear that any leniency will further enable this guy to avoid using email and think that that’s OK, which is unacceptable (and would have been unacceptable 15 years ago FFS!)

  22. hi.*

    In 13 years since college, I have never worked in a position where I wasn’t chained to my email. I receive an average of 200 “real” emails a day (filtering out the non-essential company announcements, “leftovers in the kitchen!” or “I’m WFH today!” notes that are immediately trashed). Nearly all of them with action items for me or questions that need to be answered, deliverables, meeting requests, etc. – it’s the primary means of communication and record keeping (and it was even worse before Slack, Skype, and daily standups!). I’m so in my own bubble here in project management world that I can’t even fathom a job where email isn’t at the forefront. It’s like this major epiphany – you can go to work and NOT be on email all day? What do you DO? Is it amazing?! It sounds amazing.

    I remember my old company bringing in a time management consultant to talk to project managers. One of her best “secret tips” for time management was to only spend 10 minutes twice a day on email, because it’s distracting to your other projects. We all just stared at her blankly, like, lady my JOB is to send and receive email – there ARE no other projects. EMAIL IS THE WHOLE JOB. I haven’t touched a piece of paper in 7 years, my phone isn’t even plugged in, the only programs I use are scheduling software and Word, all I DO is email. We tried to explain it to her and she just didn’t understand – she kept saying email was a distraction to real work and we should stop using it so much. And we were like “how else are we supposed to send daily schedules and reports out to 100+ stakeholders? How do we send feedback to designers in the UK about creative assets for 20 projects a day? How do we communicate corrections to typesetters and technicians in Chennai and Manilla for 30 projects a day? How do we answer client questions that we are required to respond to within 8 hours? How do we send meeting requests to our internal colleagues?” She stood by her assessment that email was a distraction and we should only do it for 20 min a day. OKKKAAAAY.

    Anyway, this is just me rambling but if I didn’t check my email for 60 days, I’d have 20,000 unread messages. :)

    1. Rex*

      Are you me? Yes, this is the reality of modern office work. 200 emails a day is pretty average, in my experience, a lot of people get a lot more.

    2. Cat Steals Keyboard*

      Yeah, email is an integral part of my job. Retail is the only job I’ve had where it wasn’t.

    3. Whats In A Name*

      Sounds to me the problem here is your company’s choice in speaker or preparing them for their audience.

      1. hi.*

        well i certainly wouldn’t categorize it as a problem. it was an anecdote i chose to share and it happened 8 years ago. it was just a memory.

        she was my former company’s go-to HR consultant, hired for short contract periods to travel around doing outdated, irrelevant presentations and workshops for employees in other offices. she was a dinosaur. when they laid us off, they brought her in to do a workshop and she gave resume and cover letter advice that would make alison puke. she also told us “don’t ever work at a startup, they’re all unstable and you’ll lose your jobs so fast your head will spin. it’s practically a guarantee. the WORST thing you all can do is go out and work for a startup, you’d be better off collecting unemployment because then at least your resume won’t be a laundry list of short term failed positions.”

    4. sunny-dee*

      Gah, 200+ was a normal day at OldJob. Then mailing lists for projects, totally another 300-400 a day.

      New job? I get, like, maybe 10 a day. Maybe. It is still freaking me out, like, maybe something is wrong. I seriously sent myself a test email this morning. It is nice, though, to only check twice a day and to actually be on top of everything I get.

    5. JKP*

      When I go to work, I don’t even have access to the internet (or a phone for that matter). I’m a hypnotist, and when I’m with a client, I have to focus on what I’m doing in real time with no interruptions. Can’t have the phone ring in the middle of a session either, so the ringer is off (but 99% of the time I can’t get reception in my building without stepping out into the parking lot anyway). It is amazing to just deal with live people all day, but the downside is I still have to deal with all the emails when I get home at the end of the day.

      But there is a bit of a disconnect sometimes when clients who are used to email/texting all day assume that’s I should see/respond to their message right away. The worst is when someone doesn’t show up for an appt, and when the receptionist calls them, they claim they texted that they needed to reschedule. When you’ve been to countless appts at my office and sat in my waiting room watching the receptionist answer calls on a landline switchboard, why would you assume that number could even receive texts?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        They don’t text me. They call, on their cell phones, from places that have marginal to no cell service:

        “Hi NSNR! this is garbled, garbled. I need to do garbled, garbled. Please call me back I will be at 123- garbled, garbled, garbled, 7.”

        If I am lucky their phone garbles in the same manner when they call me and I recognize that particular garble.

        1. JKP*

          Yes, that would totally drive me nuts. I imagine you have to figure it out by matching voicemails to callerIDs. Luckily, I don’t have to deal with voicemail. I have 24/7 phone answering, via receptionist on site and after hours service off site (and I answer calls when I can too). So at least if they are unintelligible, the receptionist can ask them to repeat. In my line of work, people sometimes abuse voicemail to deal with issues in a passive-aggressive way instead of just addressing them directly. Those are the ones who call at midnight, intentionally wanting to get voicemail instead of a real person. I always make sure to answer those calls myself if possible, and boy are they surprised to be talking to me.

  23. Amy*

    My division recently ran a report on how often sales people were logging into our CRM system. I was pleased to see I was in the 10% of users. (Some people only log in once a week – crazy!) Then I drilled in the data and saw that I am in the system most nights from 9-10:30pm. Which is both depressing and a little creepy in a chart for all to see.

  24. LBK*

    All considerations of whether it’s reasonable to expect someone to just jump right into email after apparently not having used it before, it’s completely, unequivocally wrong to just ignore it completely and not ask for help, and to not at any time in two months say “Hey, am I supposed to be doing something with these?” To me, that negates any leeway this guy had. Can him.

    1. SenatorMeathooks*

      Considering the incredible dysfunction of that place, it’s entirely possible he didn’t understand it’s importance or that it applied to him. OP should ask the supervisor why his direct report didn’t check his email for 60 days.

      1. LBK*

        OP’s clarification above about all the information that was provided and the numerous occasions on which it was made clear that everyone had to use the new system make this very unlikely. If he somehow didn’t receive the message from multiple meetings, a demo, provided instructions and intern assistance, that’s also a big problem. What does OP need to do, tattoo it on his hand like Memento?

    1. Ange*

      Depending on the job that isn’t all that surprising to me. I work in healthcare, at a non-management, non-consultant job and I get maybe 10-15 emails a week. Mostly all-staff bulletins, occasionally notifications from my boss that something has changed about our procedures. Almost never anything that needs urgent response because my job is not to answer queries, it is to do clinical work on patients – in fact my boss doesn’t want us to check email from the computers in the patient rooms in the clinic. If I do get a query someone has usually spoken to me about what they want and is then emailing me the details so I’m expecting it. I have in fact forgotten to check my email for several days on occasion when we’ve been busy in the clinic and it’s never an issue. And I never check it at home. I don’t need to send emails most days either. It’s the same for other people with my job title in my department.
      I guess what I’m saying is that sometimes email is really not that big a part of someone’s job.

  25. mt*

    My thinking is that if nothing that important has shown up in his email in over 60 days, that required any followup, then there must not been anything too important in there.

    1. Anna*

      My thinking is we don’t actually know what needed following up or not and neither does the employee, especially since his performance is described as “mediocre” which is probably a direct result of not checking email and knowing what work needed to get done.

  26. Djuna*

    I remember starting a job with a computer company back in 1997 and being shocked that some of my fellow new hires didn’t have an email account and had no idea what the internet was.
    But that was almost 20 years ago.

    Regardless of whether email at work is new to this guy, it’s part of his job. If anyone ignores a part of their job for 60 days, they’re asking for trouble. Even not asking about his lost credentials is a huge flag, it looks like an effort to avoid being held accountable.

    To add a little to Alison’s answer, I wonder if he’s like this precisely because of tenure? I’ve started noticing more and more at my own job that employees who have five years plus tenure often think it’s up to them how they choose to do their jobs and that rules don’t apply to them. That doesn’t happen in my department (we have a superb manager) but other departments have been asking us to do things because “tenured employee blah” thinks they shouldn’t have to deal with it. Often the thing they “shouldn’t have to deal with” is a major part of their job, and their manager is escalating to us because it’s easier to say we wouldn’t do it (blame them!) than to manage the employee.

    The other day I had 90 mins of back and forth with a manager and was millimeters away from telling him that pulling his complaining employee into a room and reminding him of his job duties would take 10 minutes and be easier on everyone in the long run. I didn’t do it, but I do believe overly-soft handling of things like this just makes the problem bigger.

    1. KR*

      This happens a lot with small government agencies, I hate to say. Many of them are ahead of the times and using technology with great success but I’ve encountered many employees in my work that resent change of any kind and are determined to never learn how to use their computers.

  27. Scott M*

    Just to play Devils Advocate here…

    If he has gone 60 days without looking at email, and only has 88 messages in the inbox, and *no one noticed until now*….just how important is email to his job?

    I’m not saying there shouldn’t be some disciplinary action, especially given the other issues with this employee. But someone might want to look at how his position is managed also.

    1. AW*

      This is a good point. I’m particularly curious about the online training. If he never read the email with instructions on that does that mean he never did that either or what?

    2. EB*

      I was thinking that too. This could be a government employee whose job is to be at a desk handing forms to the public, or taking fines or something to that effect (particularly if the office is “low tech”).

      It could be that this guy works on the computer all day, but his computer is locked down and he only has access to the programs he works with. I worked in a library as a student once where I had a job where I used the computer all day, but the computer was locked so that we could only use the library record programs to discourage employees from web surfing instead of checking in and out books and editing records. I can see someone at the DMV or another area with access to people’s personal records working on a computer that is heavily locked down to avoid the possibility of having sensitive information leak. You wouldn’t even want email on that computer.

      If most of the emails are from the boss “providing updates on our programs and activities” then this guys job needs to evaluated to see if
      1. he needs the email (because some jobs actually don’t, depending on what you are doing),
      2. what email would be used for (is email is just used to communicate company policies and “sign your timesheet reminders” or does he actually get contacted regarding questions about the tasks he fulfills or is given directions electronically), and
      3. what access does he have to a computer with the email program on it ( I can see computers in various government offices only having access to the programs used for the tasks, I can even see some people using old DOS legacy programs to enter paperwork given that some governments are strapped for cash).

      1. KR*

        These are worthy things to look at, but I think its still up to the employee to say that they aren’t checking their email or that they have trouble accessing it or whatever.

      2. Anna*

        I’m going to assume the OP, who is the IT person for their department, knows whether or not this is the case and would take pains to figure that out if it were the case. I’d also point out that it’s up to the OP to determine if email is required for the work their people do and the OP has decided it is and that’s really all that’s important here.

    3. Lily Rowan*

      Yeah, if no one could tell he wasn’t reading email for TWO MONTHS, he doesn’t need to read email!

      1. LBK*

        I dunno, a few missed emails from the public might not be enough for those people to cause a stink about it, but I think they still deserve to have their queries answered. Given that it’s a government agency and those often have a reputation for inefficiency, I’d guess most people just gave up waiting for an answer. And for the internal emails, you might be able to get by with others reminding him about meetings, events, etc. but that’s a pretty annoying way to work around someone being too lazy to just check their email.

      2. Temperance*

        I vehemently disagree. It’s ridiculous to exempt someone from a basic job function because they haven’t been doing it.

      3. Anna*

        The OP has decided it’s important, made it abundantly clear to everyone working in the department that there was a new system going into effect and that the people working there needed to access it. In this specific case, the OP gets decide whether or not he needs to read it.

    4. OP*

      We deal with occasional emergency responses and other sensitive issues which often require me to send out talking points and other direction for how to handle public inquiries. He needs to get these, so no having an email is not an option.

      The online training deadline hasn’t passed yet, so he still has time to make that one.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I think that just because email is not being used much right now is not an excuse for not learning it. I would assume that there is a plan in the pipeline for mailing lists and Mr. Mediocre needs to be on those mailing lists. Changes like this happen because other changes are coming along shortly. If Mr. Mediocre misses this step he will be unable to do dozens and dozens of other things later because he has lost communication with his group. What looks like a minor thing right now could morph into a situation where he is no longer able to his job because he no longer knows what is necessary.

    5. Calacademic*

      Someone else made the point that if people know their messages aren’t getting answered, they might seek out other ways to contact him other than email. So 88 messages in 60 days might be artificially low.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        If he turned his back and refused to speak to 88 people in one month the path to his boss’ office would be well worn out by now. He needs to speak when spoken to, it’s part of the job.

  28. Karina Jameson*

    If it was 1996 I would be more forgiving but IT IS 2016 PEOPLE! Holy cow. Email at work should be a given, not some crazy, new-fangled “suggestion.” That along with not giving good customer service really irks me.

  29. Bibliovore*

    Hah! I win! I inherited an employee who had been working at present job for six years. She didn’t check her email, respond to requests (public facing) AND never set up her voicemail.

    1. Scott M*

      The voicemail thing, I understand. Our company voicemail system converts the messages to text and sends them to our email. If you don’t set up a outgoing message, the system just uses a computer-generated default message using the name associated with the phone number. So lots of new employees never touch their actual voicemail account and have no idea how to access it.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I have a passionate hatred for VM. I don’t have an office anymore, so I have my computer hooked up to headphones, so I have to put on the headphones, turn my sound off mute, then listen to the VM. . .or I could scan the same thing in an email in 2 seconds.

          I have a client’s engineer who either 1.) thinks voicemail is awesome, or 2.) has been told to always VM me, or maybe 3.) doesn’t want to leave email tracks. Either way, I was fairly pissed last week when this guy started calling around to my project team when I didn’t call him back by 1:00, from his 11:00 VM. Perhaps if you had used EMAIL I could have checked it during my meeting that I was in the entire time. We get VM notifications in our inboxes, but they aren’t converted to text. Just clueless. Bugging my structural engineer about mechanical stuff because I “hadn’t returned his calls.” (Hint: I also can’t see your 3 missed calls on my desk caller ID when I’m not at my desk.)

          [sorry. . .got a bit ranty there]

        2. Bibliovore*

          yes, unless you have a job that requires you to answer telephone inquiries and respond to them. At least with voicemail, the employee isn’t chained to the desk.

        3. irritable vowel*

          There is a special place in hell for the people who leave a lengthy voice mail and then say at the end, “Well, I’m going to put all this in an e-mail to you as well!”

          1. Kyrielle*

            I do that, usually when dealing with someone whose habits I don’t know, because _so many people say they don’t even listen to voice mail any more_, they just call the person back. If I don’t know someone’s habits, and I don’t know if they’re working but out of the office (for example), then I don’t know if they’ll get email or voice mail first. I call first; if they answer, I’m good. If it goes to voice mail, I’m going to leave a message and also email. (Again, if it’s urgent. If it’s not, I wouldn’t have been calling in the first flippin’ place. I’d just email and move on.)

            I *try* to remember to put that up front on the message, but honestly if I had the topic front-of-mind for if they answered, I may not tack the email bit on until the end.

            If I know for sure that I’ve got someone’s cell phone, that they listen to VM as soon as able and don’t read emails whilst in a situation where they can’t pay attention to VM, then yeah, I’ll just leave a VM and that’s it. But otherwise? So many different habits around VM mean I can’t assume someone will listen to it, or do so in a timely fashion.

      1. hi.*

        Ha! I’ve disabled voice mail at my desk phone and work mobile. 2 years strong and no one has called me out yet. Every single person I communicate with at work knows my slack, my skype, my Lync, my google hangout, and my email, and they text me if it’s urgent. No need for it, and I HATE listening to messages!

        1. Elizabeth West*

          We have CallPilot so I can get VM even if I’m working from home. And I do have to have it, because sometimes customers call me when they need help accessing their material. But usually, the only messages I get are from this one admin who likes to leave a mass voice mail about company stuff WHICH COULD TOTALLY BE PUT IN AN EMAIL.

      2. Bob Barker*

        I have been trying to wean my colleagues off voicemail reliance for ages. The passive-aggressive method (“Oh, I haven’t checked my voicemail, which you left during the 30 seconds I was down the hall, because apparently peeing is illegal here”) isn’t working, so I’m thinking about how to implement the aggressive-aggressive method. It’s a conundrum. Some people are painfully wedded to the phone, to the extreme detriment of their own time-management.

        1. hi.*

          you could set your outgoing voice mail to be like this:

          Hi, you’ve reached Bob Barker’s voice mail. I’m away from my desk at the moment. You can try me again in a few, or you can leave me a message at the [3 minute blast of an air horn].

          Betting people won’t stick around for the beep! :D

          1. LBK*

            I just snort-laughed at my desk. Also this reminds me of the running joke on Archer about his elaborate outgoing voicemail message pranks.

        2. Kyrielle*

          You could just ask them not to leave voice mail.

          If it’s urgent, I call. If no one answers, I leave a voice mail. This is…really normal and standard interaction, IMX. My leaving a voice mail doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have gone to pee, it means that when you’re back from whatever-you-are-doing (could be lunch, restroom, snack, talking to a coworker about the previous fire someone called you with *or* how much you hate voice mail), I hope you’ll listen to my message and get back to me about it.

          1. LBK*

            Yeah…it sounds like the issue is more that they’re following up with you too fast before you have a chance to listen to the VM, not the VM itself.

      3. Anon for now*

        I haaaaaaaaaaate my open office workspace with a passion, but it has one benefit: I no longer have a desk phone and so I no longer have to deal with inaudible voice mails. The few people outside the company who have my cell phone are people I don’t mind talking to on it, and most of them know I would rather email anyway.

  30. Rex*

    OP, you almost certainly have the ability to go into his email account right now and see what messages he missed. Depending on their contents, you might be able to make an even stronger case to him about the seriousness of this. (And also make him aware that you will be watching this closely going forward.)

  31. Mike C.*

    I know folks are reacting strongly because this is email, but I can think of a million times where “something new” came through the office, it was a huge pain in the butt, and then a few weeks later no one ever said anything about it, folks went with it or not and it had no effect on my current job.

    I’m not saying it’s great, I’m just saying that I can understand. Have the serious talk, actually enforce it and go from there. It seems a bit much to fire someone straight off the bat for not doing something for two months when there wasn’t any follow-up.

    And the rest of the stuff? Say something about that as well. If not, why should they change?

    1. LTR*

      I agree with this.

      OP, you’ve been with the agency for two years. When did you notice Fergus’ less than polite interactions with the public? When did his manager notice? Have you directed Fergus’ manager to address this or addressed it with Fergus directly? I don’t mean to sound accusatory, but if no one has told Fergus that any of these things are problems then he’s probably going to be pretty shocked if you fire him on the spot. I being clear about what needs to change going forward, or else his job will be in jeopardy should suffice. You might still have to let him go, but at least he’ll have a chance to correct those things/be made aware that they’re problems.

  32. OG OM*

    This baffles me. On one hand, saying he has worked for the office for 17 years sounds like a long time (and it is in the sense of a single job), but 17 years ago was 1999. I was shocked to find out that some of the senior staff members of the office I was interning for in ’99 had appalling computer skills, but those were people who had held their jobs for 15-20ish years prior to 1999. Even back then, they were considered outliers and they were still expected to keep up. Again, this is 2016. Even my mother, who does not really use the internet, uses email and secure systems for her health and bills stuff by now.

  33. AW*

    has not approached me to ask for help in getting access (I am the IT person for the office)

    This, to me, is the kicker. Why isn’t this employee asking for help with this, especially if the OP is telling them all that they’re being emailed things in meetings? Not knowing what the standard is for how often to check email doesn’t explain why he thinks he straight up doesn’t have to do the online training or need the extra project info.

    Is it possible this employee is afraid to ask for help? Not just from you but apparently his peers. Everyone else is checking their email, right? Would they not be willing to explain to him how to get into his account? (He’d probably still need your help if he no longer had his password but still.)

  34. I'm not a lawyer, but ...*

    I work for the government and 1/3 of the people in my office only have email at home because their spouse or child handles it for them. There are a few HR things that must be done on the Internet and I have to do it with them or it won’t get done. They are great with clients and we’d be sad to lose them, but they have no idea what to do with a computer. Of course in other agencies everyone must be highly computer literate, but not ours.

    1. Bob Barker*

      I mean, yes, this is also true of my mother (not a government employee). She is the type to see an error message and evacuate the room in case it means the machine is about to explode.

      That said, with sufficient incentive (eBay), she learned. Maybe not well, but well enough to get what she needed, which was gewgaws mailed to her from around the globe. The problem appears to be that this dude does not find “receiving policy messages from my bosses” or “getting my job done” sufficient incentive. “Not getting fired” might be sufficient incentive, or it might not.

  35. James*

    What I’m wondering is how he’s addressing other forms of communication. What immediately strikes me is the potential for this to be a passive-aggressive way to ignore direction in his job, or to ignore parts of his job that he doesn’t enjoy. This person is obviously a very poor communicator to begin with, and sounds like he has a chip on his shoulder. Not good.

    The thing about follow-up, especially with the public, is that often if they don’t receive follow-up, they move on. Ever watch Kitchen Nightmares? This is a common point in that show (I STRONGLY recommend the British version, as it’s far less “Let’s show how insane everyone is” than the American version)–a lot of restaurant owners say “I don’t get any negative reviews, so things can’t be that bad.” Ramsey’s response is universally “But your business is failing. That’s why you called me. The review is the people not showing up.” This is similar. There’s some justification to saying that obviously nothing important happened since there was no follow-up, but that’s not necessarily true. Follow-up comes in all shapes and sizes, ranging from a response email to updating a record-keeping protocol, to a customer asking a question. If the customer doesn’t get a response, they go somewhere else. This being a government position, this could have some pretty drastic consequences–but you’d never hear about it, at least not in association with the email.

    1. KR*

      This! He might not be getting more emails because he doesn’t respond! And if other employees know they can email him documents and updates, they might be tempted to email him more or include him on projects.

  36. RT in DC*

    The thing that I’m wondering is, why isn’t the supervisor also on the hot seat? There should be more involvement by the supervisor to engage the employee, make sure that he is following through with assignments and changes, offering training if needed, etc.

    Also, had the supervisor been doing so, he or she would be able to provide OP with needed info to help determine the best approach and action to take.

    1. James*

      A certain amount of common knowledge is assumed–and “check your email every once in a while” falls under that heading. It’s the employee’s job to handle this stuff, and if the manager needs to baby-sit the employee to make sure they do it the issue isn’t lack of management, it’s a bad hire in the first place. Or at least, that’s how upper management is going to see it. There is NO WAY ON EARTH training budget or time will be allotted for this, and if there’s no time or money for it it won’t get done.

    2. Rocky*

      Yes to this.

      We had a situation a while back where I kept hearing that a older and less tech-savvy employee was missing meetings and urgent information because he wasn’t checking his email regularly. I asked his supervisor what was going on and she said, “Well, I’ve been reminding him that it’s important and he needs to do it.” After observing for a while, I figured out that she was enabling him by trying to manage his email and Outlook calendar for him (I think she was afraid he wouldn’t/couldn’t do it, and wanted to protect him). I told her to stop doing that and to say, “It’s your responsibility to manage your own calendar and email.” She actually did that, and he improved a lot (not A+ or anything, B maybe). It troubles me sometimes that it would have been so easy to conclude that the employee wasn’t competent or was ignoring directives.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Wasn’t he ignoring directives though? To the point that the supervisor felt compelled to cover for him?

        Really there are only two choices here for our OP, he is ignoring the directive or he does not understand how to work in this email platform. And of course it could be a blend of the two. But he did attend a meeting to learn how to use it and he was told to ask for help.

  37. Allison*

    It’s 2016, e-mail has been around for decades! My parents bought the first family computer in 1995 and it was primarily so they could check e-mail at home. At this point, it should be accepted that if you work in an office, you have an e-mail address and an inbox that needs to be checked at least once a day! If you’re an intern, maybe you don’t have your own but you have to manage someone’s inbox; if you’re a high-level executive with an assistant, maybe they check yours and pass important messages on to you as needed. But simply not “doing” e-mail isn’t an option anymore, and someone’s refusal to get with the times needs to be met with “Fergus, checking your e-mail and responding to important messages is part of your job now; if you don’t start doing it, we’ll need to let you go.”

    1. Sheepshank*

      I wonder if this employee works in an office, though. Local government covers a broad range of jobs. Just to pick an example, if this employee is an Animal Control officer in this small town then they might spend the bulk of their time on the phone (with police, veterinarians, etc.) or out in the field, and their email account is on a government network that’s only accessible via one computer shared by five other people.

      It doesn’t really excuse the situation, but we can’t just assume that everyone who does anything on a computer at work is a 100% office worker who stares at a screen and has their hand glued to a mouse all day.

      1. Government Worker*

        Yes, this. Most of the employees in my government agency are not at a desk all day, and that’s common in agencies that deal with public works, transportation, parks, etc. Everyone in my agency has email, but I see posters up in field offices reminding employees of that fact and of how to log in (it’s used for pay stubs and benefits info, at the very least), so I’m guessing we have some people who’ve never checked their work email, or check it very rarely. We also have kiosk computers in some of our field offices to allow those employees to check email, because their job duties don’t require them to have a computer or a desk.

        1. a.n.o.n.*

          I work in the Public Works department of a local government, and we have some guys who can’t even read. Like they literally sign their names with an X. But HR and Finance still only communicate through email and get upset with them when they don’t check it.

          1. Editor*

            One of my former neighbors was a speech therapist who told a story about a principal who was offended that a couple of problem (known alcoholic) parents were not responding to letters from the principal in a poor, rural school district. The school secretary asked him if he had made the follow-up phone call she recommended, and she reminded the principal that as far as the staff knew, both parents were illiterate. The principal insisted they should still have known the letters were important and should have read them. He wouldn’t phone (which didn’t really matter because they didn’t have a phone), and he wouldn’t send a staff member to the house to advise them their kid was about to be thrown out of school. The principal would not budge and sent another letter. Ultimately, the secretary found a staff member to convey the critical information.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              My friend had a subordinate who had numerous small issues. One day everything fell together and my friend realized her subordinate could not read. The big boss decided, “no that can’t be true, subordinate CAN read”. And so the numerous small problems continued because the real problem was never addressed.

  38. designbot*

    I would also tell him that you expect when you have this meeting, that he will have accounted for all of the emails that came in during that time, assessed their priority, quantify the number of deadlines or instructions he simply missed, and be able to explain his plan for dealing with all of the outstanding items.
    For example, it turned out that from those 88 emails, 5 deadlines were missed, 35 reminders about new protocols or meeting summaries were not read, and 48 public inquiries are still outstanding–I’ve addressed 10 of them and plan to address five a day until they are complete.
    Make him see how reading his email is necessary to doing his job by holding him accountable for the contents.

  39. Snarky Librarian*

    I want to live in a world where I only get 88 emails in two months! I have a week long vacation coming up and I’m already dreading how many emails I’ll have to wade through when I get back. OP I sympathize with your shock and frustration but what stands out to me in your letter is “local government agency.” I worked for one of those and I can almost guarantee that firing him for this is impossible. We had a 20 step progressive employee discipline plan we had to follow to deal with problem staff and termination wasn’t even mentioned.

    1. designbot*

      I know, that was one of my first reactions too! If I didn’t read my email for two months, people would start getting bouncebacks because I’d exceeded my storage limit. Heck, that might happen in two weeks. It’s normal for me to be in meetings for a morning and come back to 20-30 emails.

  40. Menacia*

    While I don’t think this is acceptable what I did not read was where they gave the employees training and support for this new software after it was implemented? That would have been the perfect opportunity, once that was done, and he still did not use his email, to actually have some leverage in this regard. I’d be interested to hear if the employee uses that as a reason why he has never used email… Not sure why this is not as important to his immediate supervisor as it is to you, especially given he receives important communications in this manner. We’ve had our share of users not wanting to use the technology provided, but the bottom line is, it’s part of your job, if you won’t use the tools (after training and support are provided), then you need to find another job.

    1. Sheepshank*

      I think the most telling part of this letter is where the manager states that the employee lost the email access instructions…but nowhere is there a mention of whether the employee got another copy of them in the last 2 months. Can’t check email you can’t get into. Serious lack of management here. I get the feeling that this Boss Who Is Also The IT Person is managing IT but not managing people.

      1. designbot*

        But if you’ve lost the instructions for something you know you need to do, would it be acceptable for you to just not do it? Take the technology out of it and say that your office explained that everyone was going to have to clock in and out every day, or take out the trash every day, or fill out a certain form every day–would, upon losing the instructions, you just go two months without doing what you knew you were required to do, despite seeing everyone around you doing it? That would absolutely not be acceptable in my office. I would think that within a couple of days he should have reached out to someone for help.

        1. KR*

          Yeah, this was on the employee to reach out and ask for help. A clue for him that he was missing something should have been when the OP referenced important emails being sent out with information he needed to know.

    2. KG, Ph.D.*

      The OP commented above and said there was plenty of training:
      “Fergus had a shared private account with his wife that he used for work purposes prior to getting his new work specific one. So he understands the basics of email. We talked about the new email system at 3 consecutive monthly staff meetings prior to activating it. I did a live demo during one of our meetings to show everyone how it worked. I provided a written (on paper) copy of new email instructions to each employee. And I assigned (and announced) a tech savvy intern to oversee any technical issues after the initial roll out. I am the office IT person, and with a staff size of under 15, Fergus has direct and instant access to me to fix any log in problems.”

      I think we should take the OP at his word that this was the case, and that Fergus was truly shirking his responsibilities.

  41. Anon today*

    I think there is an order of solve here. First, ask the employee why he didn’t set up or check email and dig a bit deeper on hot the outcome came to be. You might proceed differently if you can ferret out whether he’s just clueless having been tech ignorant up until now vs willfully dismissive of instruction. Either one is clearly grounds for termination if you are so inclined, but I like to have all of the info including what his motivations may have been. It might be the difference between immediate term and a real come to Jesus last chance. The direct supervisor may own some burden here as well (as others pointed out, how did that individual now know his employee was not checking email?) and that may influence next steps.

  42. Always Anon*

    I wonder if this employee even knows how to use email or a computer.

    Several years ago, we hired someone who had no idea how to use email. We incorrectly assumed that she did because she had come from an organization that I had also worked for, that used email heavily. Our IT manager had to give her email lessons for the first month. Because she couldn’t work out how to open her email, how to compose an email, or how to send one. She hated technology and resisted at every step at using email, our internal database, and other work related tech. She left in under a year.

    So I wonder if some of this isn’t because this guy simply is afraid and/or resist to technology and email. And is too embarrassed to admit that he doesn’t know how to use email? It’s not acceptable, and as others have mentioned at the very least he needs to go onto a PIP so that he can work on all his performance issues. But, I tend to have a little more compassion for someone who truly doesn’t know how to use something and is afraid versus someone who knows how to do something, but choose not to.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      OH my. You’ve worked with one of my former cohorts. (No, not really. But sure seems that way.) Every day I had to turn the computer on for her. I tried telling her no, but it was a half hour. Finally I got sick of it and not only did I tell her no, but I refused to teach her again. So we moved to how to open up Word and how to use Word.

  43. RVA Cat*

    Not to derail, but I wonder if one takeaway from both this letter and the one earlier this week (about the husband afraid to move on from ToxicJob he’d been at for 15 years) is that staying in one job for too long becomes harmful to both employee and employer. I worry about stagnating and I’ve only been in my role for 5 years – is it already too late….?

    1. designbot*

      There can certainly be a danger, but it can also be a real opportunity for growth! I fear that I haven’t stayed somewhere long enough because when I look around at people who have attained impressive positions at a young age–think Director of Teapot Design at age 30–the common thread is that they’ve been at the same company for 5-10 years. If you’re worried about stagnating, identify specific areas that you want to make sure you keep your skills or knowledge fresh in and find ways to do it. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      The guy who was afraid to move on had a job that wore him down at his very core. Is your job wearing you down because of the nastiness?

      This guy here, in this current letter, has become complacent. Do you think you are complacent? How do you do with change?

      In both these cases there are extenuating circumstances that make the job harmful to the employee or employer. What happened each time was NOT just because the person was a long term employee. It happened because of decisions each employee has made.

      In the first case, the husband, this could happen to any one of us. We get a job that beats us down and we start to believe that no employer would ever hire us. In the second case, this employee has deliberately chosen to slack off on the job.

      Let’s assume that your job is going well, you get good reviews, you change what you are doing when told, for the most part you have good working relationships with people and so on. This scenario is yet again different from Husband and Mr. Mediocre.

      In a situation where things are mostly going well, you can think about where you want to be in five or ten years. Do you still want to be at this job? Do you want career progression?

      For immediate purposes, do you keep up with all the changes at work? Do you take on extra work or work a little outside your norm? If you need classes in anything do you take them? Do you volunteer to go to optional training sessions if available?

      In short the response to worrying about stagnation is to figure out what you will do so you do not stagnate. And the answer could be that you feel you have a full life and you like where you are so you will stay put and learn whatever is assigned to you. Going the opposite way you could conclude that you absolutely MUST get out of this job because there is no way you want to grow old here. I suspect your answer is probably in the middle, you’d take something for better pay, better hours, better benefits, etc. So shop around, see what is out there.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Thanks for the advice. My thought is to sit tight for a while as there has been a lot of change the last few years in my personal life (marriage, motherhood, possibly a 2nd child and a new house in the near future). I do want progression but need to be honest in analyzing my strengths and shoot for an individual contributor/subject expect path, as being an introvert with perfectionist tendencies doesn’t bode well for going into management.

  44. Kore*

    I’d look at how email was implemented – things that seem intuitive may not be intuitive to everyone, especially if he was doing his job function without email for years and this isn’t an email-heavy job. In a previous a few years back we implemented a new request system through an email form rather than our previous system. Our new system was by all accounts a lot easier, faster, and better in almost every conceivable way, but because it was new it took months to roll out and to sunset the old system. If email was just dropped in his lap and he was expected to learn it and use it in his daily job functions even though he hadn’t used it before, I can imagine it taking some time, especially if people didn’t follow up on it.

    1. NW Mossy*

      While I see your point, there are situations (and I think this is one of them) where a leader has the right to put a hard stop on Practice A and say “From this point forward, we are using Practice B. There is support available to you if you need it, but continuing Practice A is no longer an option and we are relying on everyone to speak up if they need help.” A well-managed transition will give people the opportunity to test the new approach, give feedback, and develop a comfort level before the cutoff date, but the cutoff date still needs to exist. Otherwise, you end up running two approaches in parallel, which creates confusion and triggers additional risk.

      My org is often changing processes in a significant way, and we are particularly serious about it when the driving reason is because the existing process has an unacceptable level of risk associated with it. In circumstances like that, we don’t have the luxury of a timetable that allows the most change-averse to proceed at their ideal pace – we have to change right now. While good leaders will be sensitive to the change-management needs of all their staff, sometimes the thing that has to give is that people pick up the pace on embracing change.

  45. Moonsaults*

    I was just utterly shocked awhile back when my boss told me that someone at his other business admitted to their VP that she had ‘been too busy to check the email for two days’. First of all, it’s part of her job, so it’s difficult enough to chew it down but also, I’ve never lived in a world where anyone doesn’t at least check their mail once a day.

    Granted I encountered a job candidate who took two days to get back to us about an interview, then another two days to get back to us after a job offer was extended.

    This is up there with “oh I never check my VM, I just call back someone if I see I missed a call on the caller ID.”

    Administrative brain just sends sparks everywhere and my eyes glaze over and the voice in the back of my head whispers “Is this the Twilight Zone? Is this real? Is this a joke?”

  46. DragoCucina*

    I could have written much of this story. There was a long-term employee (LTE) that had been sheltered by the previous director. As in Money Penny had to go behind her and make sure the details of her job were in fact done correctly. LTE was notorious for saying no one told her or claiming that she was being singled out. She did not check her emails or return phone calls for weeks.

    I use a 3x method for non-emergency changes. I tell everyone the standard. Everyone must check their emails at least once a day. Emails and phone calls need to be responded to within 24 hours unless there’s a reason you tell me about. (I’m going to send this report, but I need at least a week to gather all the data. That’s fine, just let Q know you’ll get it to him by the end of the week.) If people slip into old habits I remind them that this is the standard. On the third time we have a sit down to discuss why the standard isn’t being met.

    Because LTE often responded by saying she was never told I began documenting every conversation. There were emails, informal memos, formal memos, counseling sessions. I demoted her. When I had to fire her for gross negligence she made age discrimination noises including a visit from her and her lawyer. I was able to show her signature on just some of the memos and counseling sessions.

    Set the standard, be clear on the standard, but document, document, document.

    1. animaniactoo*

      This makes me wonder if LTE was related to my former uncle. Who dragged out a divorce case for 5 years, during which time he failed to show up when he was supposed to so that he could let my aunt into the house as per signed agreement for her to retrieve business records she needed. She called the cops and a locksmith, and was allowed in to get her records. In the next court session he protested that she had “illegally” entered. He was shown his signature on the agreement and promptly said “How do I know that’s my signature? That might be forged!” To the judge he’d signed it in front of.

        1. animaniactoo*

          The judge eventually ruled that every single motion and proceeding that had to do with that case would be heard by him.

          His final ruling was about 3 times as thick as a normal ruling. He expected it to be appealed and he wanted to be really really sure that there would be no reason grounds for anything to be overturned. Document, document, document…

  47. Is it Friday Yet?*

    OP, please write back and provide an update on what this employee’s response is! I’m curious to know what happens after the meeting. Only you can decide if you should cut him loose, but I agree with what Allison brings up about his mediocre performance.

    If this employee does not use email in his personal life or is not tech-savvy, I personally would have SOME sympathy. However, I still think it is inappropriate that he did not ask for help when it sounds like you made it pretty clear this was a requirement.

  48. mreasy*

    One time I didn’t check my voicemail for 4 months. It was a job where certain contacts left voicemails, but I just willed them to email me if they really needed to talk to me. When I finally checked it (I hated checking voicemail! And I had forgotten my password!), I had a lot of voicemails, and some of them had been urgent. I remember telling my then-boyfriend (now-husband), who worked at the company about it, and I said “that seems like a fireable offense, right?” and he said, “I mean…yeah.” But otherwise, I was great at my job! That does not make my failure to use one of the communication technologies of my position acceptable. I was simply lucky that it didn’t get me into trouble. (Later, I was laid off, but it was unrelated to VoicemailGate.)
    TL;DR: I relate to dude; dude is still way in the wrong.

    1. Moonsaults*

      I’d rather someone never check their voicemail and I had to reach out via email or call and hope they picked up again, than the dreaded “This number was on my caller-ID, what do you want?” return call. Especially when it’s someone who called me and I was returning their call, I had answered their questions in the voicemail and now I have to talk to an unpleasant turd who has no manners, lol.

      I had a short stint with one company that never told me how to check the VM, so I’m sure it piled up the couple months I was there. So it can happen. I hate VM too but I have been in an office as the only one to answer phones long enough that it’s just one of those tasks that I grit my teeth and listen to people ramble, not leave enough information, mutter, etc and sign to myself. This is me in the morning “*takes off coat, puts VM on speaker* *pets office cat and glares out the window, wondering if this will ever get to something important…* *listens to the call-ins from guys who get way too TMI in their descriptions of why they cannot make it to work…*

  49. Senior Hi Flyer*

    My work sends constant emails about upgrades or new way of doing things that are going to be implemented. There is often a group meeting where they introduce the workflow, then handouts of screenshot following the process, then many follow up emails about trouble shooting, very similar to what OP has done. NONE OF THESE HELP ME! I need someone to sit next to me, walk me through step by step for the set up then have me practice with feedback until I get familiar with the process. It’s like I have a learning disability for technology. Once I learn, I do great with excellent efficiency. My boss really helped me when he asked me to become an early adopter of any changes so my slow learning curve won’t hold me back.

    1. NW Mossy*

      And that’s a much better way to handle this sort of thing! You identified the roadblock (a learning style that doesn’t jive with how rollouts happen at your org), talked with your boss about it, and found a strategy (early adoption) that allows you to get what you need to learn without a wholesale change to how rollouts happen. I don’t think anyone would think ill of the OP’s employee if he took your approach; it’s the “I hope I can kill this change with the sheer force of how hard I’m ignoring it” stance he opted for that’s raising hackles.

  50. Tacocat*

    This is all I can think of with this exchange from the tv show Parks and Recreation: “Oh my god, Jerry! When you check your email, you go to AltaVista and type “please go to yahoo.com?” “How else would I do it?” “Jerry, you don’t deserve the internet.”

    1. SL #2*

      In all honesty, this letter could be a scene in Parks and Rec.

      (Not that I don’t believe the OP! I actually do believe the OP completely and I want her to be able to fire this guy for using a joint personal account for government work purposes, not to mention ignoring direct orders and instructions. But it’s really sad that a hilarious sitcom scenario can be so close to real life.)

  51. Milton Waddams*

    Not sure if it helps, but imagine it this way:

    You get a new boss. The new boss says that from now on, his primary mode of communication will be QQ, and he provides instructions for how to register on the website. You go to the website only to discover it is in Chinese. Your boss (who is really only a few doors down from you) regularly talks with you about how he is QQing you, even though strangely (in your mind) he never seems to talk about the actual subject of his QQs, even though being in the same office one would think this approach would be easiest.

    You’ve tried to navigate the Chinese website, but it really makes no sense. Your boss is staring down at his phone QQing up a storm maybe 5 feet away while saying “Check out that latest QQ, it’s got urgent information!” and you are doing your best not to say, “OK, then why not look up and talk to me?”

    This is likely how your older employee feels about your email initiative.

    Instead of anger, the best bet is to discover the roadblock.

    1. Thatgrrl*

      @Milton Waddams

      I disagree completely! Your example was “new boss” which would change the dynamic of communication. This employee that the OP posted about is not a boss but a non-management employee who is essentially insisting on accommodations while he is ignoring what has been expressed to him as a requirement of his job. Everyone else in that office has to follow the same rules, so why not him? Why should the OP give him leniency when he is simply being insubordinate? That was my take anyway.

      1. Milton Waddams*

        They specify that they are a high-tech boss in a low-tech office, so I think they are in fact the boss — the letter seems to imply that they are the older employee’s supervisor’s boss, although perhaps I am mis-reading.

        Sameness can be deceptive. If every customer support representative has to greet people with “Welcome to Teapots Inc, home of the Sneezing Puppy Teapot, now 14% cuter, how can I make your day a great one?”, why isn’t that the first thing the foreman on the Sneezing Puppy Teapot manufacturing line says when workers approach them? After all, everyone else in the office has to follow the same rules; why not him?

        If one asks the question earnestly, rather than rhetorically, one often finds that one is trying to compare things without appropriate context. For instance, in the time it takes the foreman to say “home of the Sneezy Pyppy Teapot, now 14% cuter”, 3 defective teapots could have passed through the line; would simplifying it to “What’s wrong?” really be insubordinate?

    2. ArtK*

      It doesn’t sound like this was any kind of new initiative; the office simply switched e-mail systems and dude hasn’t bothered to check it. He hasn’t bothered to ask for help if that’s the issue. He’s just ignored it. Comparing this to a boss who is sitting there talking to the employee about checking their “QQ” at that moment is not a good analogy. That’s especially true since there are e-mails from *the public* in his in-box. I doubt very much that the public e-mailing questions is some new thing.

      1. Milton Waddams*

        QQ is sufficiently related to email that you could call adopting it “simply switched e-mail systems”. :-)

        Most large companies I’ve dealt with funnel the public through a public-facing email (contactus@teapots.com, etc.) I could easily see the older employee never getting an email from anyone who they have not provided their email address to. As the OP pointed out, “Many are from me providing updates on our programs and activities.”

        The way that was phrased, it sounds almost like the emails are not even directed to the older employee in particular, but are part of a newsletter the OP is responsible for, since there are usually very few employees in an organization that urgently require broad updates on all of the organization’s programs and activities.

    3. Cordelia Naismith*

      Except the OP clarified in the comments that this employee has been using email — he just was using his personal email account (one he shares with his wife). He only stopped checking email when forced to switch to a work email account.

      There might be some differences between, say, Gmail and Outlook, but not enough for using Outlook to be like an English speaker trying to read Chinese.

      1. Milton Waddams*

        To me, that makes it even more clear that he hasn’t been using his email — it sounds like he might have been sending emails through his wife. Sort of a new variant on the old “typed from dictation” practice that executives who didn’t understand typewriters used to use to get their memos out with the aid of their secretaries.

        1. NW Mossy*

          At least the secretaries were employees! If he’s been asking a non-employee to do part of his job for him, this situation is even worse than its initial presentation.

          1. Aurion*

            Yeah, I’d consider that a firing offense. At least with secretaries, it was understood that typing from boss’s dictation was part of their jobs and the boss wasn’t expected to draft their own letters. If the task is considered part of your responsibilities and you’ve been getting your wife to do it? Nope, nope, nope.

    4. Aurion*

      The OP posted updates which indicates that this is not the case.

      But even without the OP’s updates, your analogy makes no sense to me. Presumably the UI of Outlook/Gmail/whatever is in a language the coworker can understand. Someone who doesn’t know Chinese will not be able to parse the meaning of the characters and thus can’t navigate QQ, but someone who is proficient in English should be able to parse what “Compose” and “Send” means.

      1. Milton Waddams*

        Certain practices become invisible to people who grow up with them. I’ve met people who can’t read cursive, for instance — to assume that since they know English of course they should be able to parse English words in cursive would be a mistake. If cursive was a normal part of their daily life, they might not even immediately see the difference between “writing” and “writing in cursive”.

        You see this with folks today and typing. People who have typed since they were toddlers see no difference between typing and writing; if you know how to write in English, you know how to type in English. But that assumption is basically the same as the older one about cursive.

        1. Aurion*

          It’s really not equivalent. And I say that as a person who learned English as a second language, I was not an early adopter of internet or technology, and I’m definitely not at the cutting end of technology right now either. Cursive (which I also learned) is an entirely different visual presentation of the alphabet and words. If I cannot read these squiggles as S-E-N-D, the best English comprehension isn’t going to help me parse what those squiggles represent and the meaning thereof. But assuming the UI is presented in a language he knows, and he can read the word “send”? It’s not remotely close to a foreign language in which the words are presented in an entirely different manner and he cannot understand what the word conveys.

          Technology improves and people do struggle to catch up. Typing is a different way of entering information than writing. My parents still struggle sometimes with folders, double vs single clicks, etc. because their foundational computer skills are lagging, so if the struggle is with those underlying computer skills then I’d be a lot more understanding. It’s not whether the UI is written in Arabic or English or Chinese that’s the point, it’s that they don’t intuitively understand folders, drag and drop, etc. But seeing as this guy has been working here a while and has his own personal email, it doesn’t sound like computer literacy is the problem. And in that case, if the guy has basic computer literacy and experience with email, and if the UI is displayed in a language he understands, then yes I expect him to understand “send” and “receive”. It’s not remotely the same as trying to read an entirely different language.

        2. Observer*

          Actually, if you can write English you can type in English. Maybe not WELL but you can do it. I know MANY, MANY people who didn’t grow up with typewriters and / or computers who had to be taught the basics of computer use. None of them had a problem learning how to do basic typing. It’s not that there is no difference, but if you know what a typewriter is, you have used email, or been around computer use, you know enough to get the basics of typing going.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      But the “new” (2 years new) IT person did explain it to him, she did give him notes in hard copy and he does speak English. Additionally, he has been told to ask for help if he needs help.

      Anndd, in response to “look up and talk to me”, he could be getting group emails from higher levels of government. My capital is over 50 miles away, looking up and talking to them is not going to work out for me. He could be receiving emails from all over his state or his job could now require that he receive emails from other departments of government. I would hope someone at the training session asked why the need for change if they did not understand OP’s explanation for the change.

  52. Thatgrrl*

    I work in a small non-profit with fewer than 20 employees. We had a co-worker like this for about three years (!) who not only refused to use the email system we were all on, but refused to post what she was doing on the shared calendar we all have, continuously citing that “she wasn’t tech saavy enough!” She would keep a written calendar with her that only she had access to! She continuously caused issues that the rest of us had to cover or to deal with on top of our own workload which was at the very least inconsiderate. I really think that beneath it all she disliked her job and was depressed (clinically), but I also believe that by inserting her will in refusing to be cooperative with the rest of staff she somehow believed she had control over things in her life. A few weeks ago she was finally let go. Funny thing is, as painful as it became to have her there, now that she has been gone a few weeks things were immediately calm.

    I don’t want to seem unkind, but I believe that at the end of the day excuses don’t accomplish anything, regardless of the environment you are working in. Your outrage and points are completely valid! What if you had that chat along with said person’s boss and Mr. Employee so that it would be completely clear that his behavior is no longer acceptable?

  53. LibraryChick*

    Gah! I complained about instructors not ever returning my voice mail messages while attending an administration meeting at a community college. I was “informed” that some of the tenured instructors refused to use voice mail, and the suggestion was made that I should just walk over to their office and see if I could catch them inbetween classes. I was seriously stunned.

    1. Patty*

      Funny thing is, until they changed to a system that would send an e-mail of the voice mail, I didn’t interact with my voicemail very often. Send an e-mail and I’m likely to respond within an hour or so, not so much with the voice mail.

      I’m tenured faculty at a community college :).

  54. Anny*

    He wasn’t using email for 17 years, so I’d expect that his job doesn’t require him to send emails frequently, if ever. The clear exception is that he’s been getting emails (most of the messages in his inbox) from the LW, who is understandably concerned that their communications are not being received.

    That doesn’t mean he’s breaking some fundamental rule of society. Email is my preferred method of work communication, but I work with a good number of people who mostly rely on phone calls. Some of them are older. A lot of them live and work in rural areas and/or work outside a lot, and it’s easier for them to pick up the phone than to sit down while they’re at a job site and compose a message, even if they have a mobile phone with email capability. This guy works in an office, but I’m just making the point that jobs are different, and different people work different ways. It’s telling that the majority of his emails were from the LW; it suggests to me that other people aren’t used to doing business with him that way.

    So I do think there’s a problem (LW and potentially members of the public think they’re reaching no-email-guy by email, but he’s not actually reading the messages), but I don’t think it’s outrage-worthy.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Email is the modern version of a phone. If a person refused to answer a phone when it was the primary way of connecting that person could be fired for refusing to do their job.

      It really does not matter what he thinks of the whole thing, because he was instructed this is what everyone must do and he is refusing to do and refusing to ask for help. Basically it’s insubordination and insubordination is a fire-able offense.

    2. ArtK*

      Where do you read that he wasn’t using e-mail before? He was using his *personal* e-mail and apparently is objecting to the switch to the organizations new e-mail.

  55. No work email here*

    I have worked for my local government for over 10 years. I most work at the window serving customers. I don’t have a work email account or use my personal email for work. The only people who have work email addresses and need to use email for work are the supervisors. I don’t even use a computer at my job. (I’m not saying that it was right for him to disregard instructions and use instructions of course, he shouldn’t have done that)

  56. EGdub*

    I was a temp at a non-profit organization during a changeover in their board, and I assisted with the email handover (all board members got email addresses for the organization, e.g., “treasurer@org.org”). One outgoing member noted that her email would appear unread because she exported it to another account, so when I saw multiple new board members with huge numbers of new, unread emails I gave them the benefit of the doubt. One day, a month after one member had joined (voluntarily, run for election, voted in), she stopped by the office and asked when their meetings would be. I said the director and board president had sent out a survey to find good meeting times for everyone, hadn’t she been on that email thread? She said, oh I haven’t had time to access the email yet and probably won’t for a while, let me know what they decide about meeting times so I can see if I can make it. I was speechless.

  57. Patty*

    I work with faculty who refuse to answer or check e-mail.

    I’ve also had faculty who have given the same technical BS excuse for ignoring e-mail.

    I can’t discipline them, so I cc their Dean on all important e-mails and then, when they ask about the project, I tell them I’ve e-mailed them the information, That usually stops the discussion.

    Most of the ‘I don’t e-mail’ faculty are retiring, thank goodness!

  58. Michel*

    About 75% of my colleagues never check email. And most have never installed it either.
    We get around the same amount of emails each month as the example in the O.P.
    None of them essential to our job. Most of them are notices of maintance of some it systems like email we don’t use anyway.
    We could in theory receive email from the public, but this is highly unlikely and not our function.

    We had new mid level managers come in who all of a sudden saw the light and wanted everyone to start checking email. Never really worked out, because if email is your main concern in an organisation where it has no real function maybe you are not doing the managing right.

    Not all jobs are administration like desk jobs, not everyone needs email, not everyone is in front of a pc all day.
    I have no idea if the OP situation is like ours, but it sounds like it.

    How many useful management has the employee received over the past 17 years for his mediocre performance?
    How is his problem of being rude to customers being worked on?
    Is there a system in place where employees get evaluated and helped to improve?

    Or are you just angry about email? Because that is what happened at my place, no employee policies at all but a strange obsession with getting people to read email. I got the same vibe from OP, casually mentioning rudeness to customers, but paragraph of outrage about missing emails.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. People can do one/two/three annoying things, then that next thing is just the tipping point that kicks others over the edge.

      I agree with Alison that his whole performance should be evaluated.

  59. Retiree57*

    From the details, I find it difficult to tell if the employee had previously been using email while he was at work. It’s possible that his wife was doing all his emailing for him. If so, could it be that he doesn’t know how to read or has limited literacy? Some people manage to get by for years with just numbers or rudimentary basics. I haven’t worked in literacy myself but I’ve heard that it is not uncommon for people to be embarrassed and reluctant to seek help when they’ve been getting by for years. It’s probably not the case here. (And even so, if email is an essential function then reading and writing would also be. curious: does his job description require reading or writing?) With the collective outrage about how basic email is these days, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to admit that you can’t email because you can’t read.

  60. Chaordic One*

    It is certainly unacceptable not to open your emails for more than 60 days. OTOH, I do have a small bit of sympathy for employees (even old ones) who get these “new-fangled” tools foisted on them.

    In my old job at “Dysfunctional Teapots, Ltd.” we had a major computer downgrade which moved everything onto the cloud. It was part of a move to replace 3 or 4 different software systems used by different departments with a single one. The new program didn’t do anything as well as any of the systems it replaced, but it was the same throughout the company.

    At the same time, we replaced our email system. We originally used “Apple Mail” and it seemed very similar to MS Outlook. It was replaced by Google Mail, and while Google Mail is certainly usable, it lacked a lot of the features and capabilities that the previous system had. (I especially missed not being able to tab, like at the beginning of a new paragraph.)

    A lot of people in the office who didn’t have to use email very much, probably didn’t even notice the difference, but if you used your email a lot as part of your job, it had a negative impact on your productivity. And IT and management didn’t care. I’m glad I’m not there anymore.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I have a bit of sympathy too–when I started this job, some of the tech was over and above anything I’d used before, simply because WebEx etc. were management tools at my old jobs. And not being management, I had no opportunity to use them. Same with some of the hardware (projectors, etc.). I did learn, but I felt like an idiot for a while.

  61. Akcipitrokulo*

    If there are other issues, that’s one thing… but I can see someone who has never used email before thinking that it’s there to send messages from if he needs it, and not realising that people will be sending him mail unless that’s been specifically spelt out to him.

    Yeah, it seems obvious – but if that’s been his mistake, then that’s a “OK, let’s go through how this works from a very basic “your email is like your postbox; you have to check if there’s anything in it” and working up from there.” It’s not horrific for someone with no experience to miss a point that is obvious to anyone who has used it.

    (Used to work customer service for prepayment electric meters and now do testing – yes, people can do dumb things.)

  62. MW*

    It’s e-mail, not freaking snap-chat. It’s been almost 20 years since “You’ve Got Mail” came out. E-mail is so old that movies about its novelty now look cringe-inducingly outdated. I struggle to believe that this could be excused on the basis of e-mail being new technology.

    I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about government IT but they’re usually along the lines of “They still use IE6!” not “They don’t use e-mail”. If he genuinely has such big problems with technology I think he needs some training. I’d personally be suspicious that he’s computer literate and using it as an excuse to avoid work.

  63. JellyCat*

    I work for a government healthcare agency and it baffles me how many colleagues of mine don’t bother to check their e-mails even every couple of days… in a group supervision meeting a few months ago one of the women who had handed her notice in mentioned (when asked what we all thought of the previous supervision’s minutes) that she hadn’t checked her e-mails because her password hadn’t worked for FOUR MONTHS. Completely casually. I asked why she wasn’t worried about what she might have missed (there’s a lot of stuff goes in there… liaising with other mental health professionals, messages from our manager, organisation wide updates, emails letting you know you’ve done something wrong or inputted something late) and she said ‘oh it’s fine, I mean I’m leaving in three weeks so it doesn’t really matter’. I was pretty astounded that nobody, not even the supervisor sat right there, had picked it up or was bothered about it. It’s just a basic part of the job, communicate back to others in a relatively timely manner.

    I’m pretty suspicious about this guy’s motives, he can clearly use e-mail if he has a personal e-mail account so I doubt it’s technophobia… even if it were, if it’s been made clear it’s a job responsibility to check e-mails on a regular basis, he has a responsibility to request whatever training or advice he needs to ensure he can meet that. It strikes me as poor management too, that it’s been allowed to go on for two entire months.

  64. Callie*

    At my last university job we had a couple of very part time adjuncts who were student teacher supervisors. They would go into the schools where the student teachers were placed and observe them, work with their mentors, etc.

    For the first few years I was there, all of our evaluations were done on paper. All the record keeping was paper based. Then in my last year, one of my assignments was to transition us from paper based to an online portfolio system (think LiveText, tk20, Chalk & Wire, Taskstream, etc).

    We had a supervisor who not only did not use .edu email (he used an email account he shared WITH HIS WIFE, holy FERPA violations batman!) he also “could not understand” the online system, so he used the old paper-based forms and gave them to the department chair to then transfer his paper comments to the boxes in the online form!!!!!!!! I voiced my objections to the appropriate people and nothing was done because they paid these adjuncts so little that no one capable would take the job. (this supervisor gave excellent feedback to the kids and they liked working with him, but he failed hard on the documentation end, which is crucial for accreditation!)

    I have ZERO patience for people who refuse to learn new tech and then try to foist more work on other people to make up for it. It probably took more of the department chair’s time to do this workaround then it would be to drive out to the schools and observe the kids himself. Thankfully, because I was an adjunct myself, my job was just to set up the online system, not to enforce use of it. That fell on the department chair. I am very glad to not be there anymore.

  65. Michelle*

    I really don’t have anything constructive to add, just wanted to say that it would never get to 60 days if someone in our office were not checking email daily. 75% of our communication is by email, so Fergus would miss meetings, important announcements about everything relating to our jobs and running our company.

    I know *some* long term employees are resist to change, but seriously, Fergus needs to get with the program. Life is full of changes, so you have to learn to roll and adapt or you become stagnant. Fergus needs to decide if he wants to get on board with the changes or move on.

  66. Observer*

    A general note on all of the people who keep trying to excuse or “explain” this guy’s behavior on the basis of him being old and having a problem with “new” technology.

    This is actually an incredibly ageist attitude. Email is not new. Beyond that “even” people in the 60s, 70s, 80s and older can learn to use almost any technology. And someone who has been in a job for 17 years doesn’t even need to be that old – he could even young enough to not be protected by the ADEA, although that’s not likely.

  67. Tiny_Tiger*

    Sixty days?! O.o… I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped when I read that. E-mail is the main means of communication for the company I work with nation-wide, any day that we can’t access it, we’re effectively shut-down! Letting it go for a week might be explainable, but you have to think that his productivity must have dropped over the course of a two-month period that even HE would’ve had to notice a change in his workload! This is reeking of laziness and stubbornness. It needs to be communicated to him (and potentially to his boss) that, in no uncertain terms, is checking you e-mail or having an active e-mail address optional. In my opinion, if his boss expects leniency, he passed the point of leniency 5 weeks ago.

  68. Jill*

    I work for a government entity in which it is near impossible to fire crappy employees. I still don’t see why a manager can’t – for lack of better terminology – make their life miserable. Sure, it may be impossible to fire them, or transfer them out of your hair, but you can STILL make your displeasure known when expectations aren’t met. You can still be quite candid during performance reviews and let them squirm. You can still call them on the carpet when they show up to a meeting unprepared. You can micro-manage the hell out of that employee even if you don’t manage other staff that way. It may be exhausting, but at least your other employees will know that you’re acknowledging the problems instead of just giving up because firing/demoting/discipline is out of your control.

    In some cases, you can go around the bureaucracy. When I worked in city government, there was a guy well known to take a 10 minute smoke break EVERY HOUR. But he “couldn’t be fired.” Someone slipped a tip to the media, they posted a secret camera and did an expose and management had no choice but to finally fire the guy because of the pressure from angry taxpayers. It’s extreme. It has to be a well-crafted effort. But it is a solution.

  69. Ari*

    I think it’s worth delving into the problem and really focus on training the employee. In a rural area the candidate pool might be limited. On a staff of 15, I’m confident each staff person wears multiple hats. Email use is not the only consideration.

    Employee training budgets went by the wayside in tight economic times. Now staff and organizations are used to online training (probably effective for the tech savvy, but not all people), and expecting staff to train themselves/fund their own. Or orgs complain they can’t get skilled workers but don’t want to invest funds in training. That may not be our OP, but I think some focused help outside will put you in a good position. You will have documentation of your support if he still doesn’t comply, and there’s that chance a one on one approach could work.

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