is it better to hire for skills or attitude?

A reader writes:

I am a fairly new manager, and one of my staff recently accepted a promotion so her position is vacant and I need to fill it. My manager has told me to focus on skills when creating the job description — that it does not have to be the same exact position title or position as before.

I have two junior staff members on my team, and both of them have come to me about the position. One has the right can-do attitude, completes any task given to her, and is looking to move ahead in the organization, but she lacks technical skills. The other has more technical experience, and she told me point-blank that she would be resentful if the other junior staff member got promoted because she feels that she would have to train her to be able to do the job she is promoted to. I made no promises to either of them.

Is it better to have someone in a team lead role who has a strong work ethic and is all around positive and can learn the skills or is it better to hire someone based on skills only? What is most important — the skill set or the attitude and growth potential?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My boss gave my assistant a raise without discussing it with me
  • Is insomnia a valid reason to call in sick?
  • My employer is sticking me with part of the bill for out-of-town travel
  • Should you say something at a business lunch if someone has food on their face or in their teeth?

{ 221 comments… read them below }

  1. Jessesgirl72*

    OP1: If you have to hire internally, then choose attitude over skills. And tell the attitude problem one that any difficulties won’t be tolerated. But if you don’t have to hire internally, don’t, as neither internal candidate is qualified.

    OP4: Choose C. That is really ridiculous.

    1. Anonymoose*

      Yep, the ‘skills’ employee already sounds like a terror. Why would you then hand over people management responsibilities to someone who is already showing that they can’t even respond to a challenged expectation with grace? Don’t reward mediocrity.

      Make the position public and see what kind of awesome you attract!

      1. Why Don't We Do It in the Code*

        Did I miss the part where OP said it was a people management position? It would be best of course to have a combination of good skills and good attitude. This could very well be a very technical job where tech skills are what’s important. After all, the manager said to focus on skills. YMMV, but in my job the skills needed take years to gather. Attitude is important, nobody wants to work with a jerk, but in this case I don’t think the skills person said anything deal-killing.

        I’d open it up to outside people anyway but if I had to choose I would probably choose skills unless I think the attitude person can gather skills to the level needed fairly quickly.

        1. Annonymouse*

          I agree with Alison – it depends on the job in question.

          If you needed a brain surgeon and had a choice between a nurse with a great attitude and an actual surgeon with a poor attitude- well is there even a question?

          But if the technical skills are easily learned or don’t require years to develop/ previous experience then look more toward attitude.

          But of course the best person would have both – why limit your options?

          1. Zahra*

            I want neither, as the actual surgeon may not be aware of everything that would impact his procedure. People are actually reluctant to give information to people with poor attitude and that goes double when the poor attitude person is holding a position of authority.

          2. John Smith*

            I agree. I would rather hire someone with a good attitude who is trainable, than someone with a bad attitude from the start. That does depend on the position, though. I am in IT, mostly helpdesk with some on-site stuff, and this does require a certain level of technical expertise that can not be taught quickly or easily. If it’s a situation like that, don’t hire bad attitude, but don’t hire good attitude either. Look outside for talent, and you’ll get better results. Candidates who have the skills and a good attitude. On a side note, I’ve worked for places that will hire literally anyone with the right attitude, and it turned out to be a nightmare, as they had great customer service skills and a good attitude, but had no clue how to properly trouble shoot a computer or document a case, or even escalate a ticket

            1. John Smith*

              To expand, if that’s not the case and the lack of skills isn’t that big of an issue to train them on, I would say I’d rather promote the good attitude person rather than going outside the company. It leads to employee loyalty and makes them feel appreciated. In general, I believe it’s always better to promote from within. The bad attitude person is right out, because that whole “I’m going to be mad if you give it to someone else” is a red flag to me, always assuming there is not more to the story.

              All this is just my opinion, though. My management experience is mostly limited to a gas station, and interviews and hiring were done at corporate level

              1. John Taylor*

                I totally agree, I have worked different jobs and found that the reason they need additional staff (based on skills) is because some managers decided to take the chance by hiring new staff with the right attitude. Guess what, we have 4 level 1s (out of 6) who have great people skills but have bad resolution time plus most of the calls get escalated to the Level 2s.

                When these 4 fellas went through training (actual MS certs), they just don’t seem to get the troubleshooting part right and kept trying to pacify the clients.

                We had a number of complaints from clients who had the same sort of response “great customer service but unable to resolve my problems and wasted my time on the phone”.

                So the “Right” attitude approach is the WRONG approach for Technical Aptitude. The company I work in now hires people with the RIGHT skill-set(thank-god) and we do not have complaints such as “such a simple issue and can’t solve it and I have to deal with a higher level tech, why don’t you get your act together and bring some of the level 2s to come down and work as level 1s, we want it solved not sweet talk us on our problems”.

        2. Sparrow*

          “Attitude is important, nobody wants to work with a jerk, but in this case I don’t think the skills person said anything deal-killing.”

          I know I’m late on this, but I totally agree, especially if no people management is involved and the skills person is otherwise a good worker (and I assume OP would’ve mentioned if that wasn’t the case). Maybe I have a bad attitude, too, but I would be resentful in that person’s situation. In fact, I suspect they may already be resentful and feel that they’re carrying the other person when it comes to the technical aspects of their work. Promotion aside, the supervisor should be sure they know what’s going on in their current dynamic.

      2. Jutta*

        I wonder if there’s a background story to this. There might be valid reasons behind the skilled employee’s trepidation.
        Reminds me of how favoritism within families often produces a “golden child” and a “scapegoat”. Golden child gets the promotions, scapegoat gets all the grunt work.
        It can be terrifying to see a completely under-qualified person be groomed for a promotion simply because she has the right friends, angel face and perpetual fake smile plastered on her face. (I work in a predominantly female field). Fellow employees clam up and ignore the favorite daughter’s mistakes because “she might be my boss next month”. Princess never gets trained properly, and is unable to train new employees properly. “Good attitude” on her part might only be displayed towards to coworkers she likes, or administrators she wants to impress.
        Experienced something similar in two offices I’ve been in– and the fallout was a huge turnover in the office.
        Favoritism is a bad thing. Unfortunately, the best actors seem to get ahead the most quickly. These same kind of individuals enjoy back-stabbing the hardest workers in an effort to get ahead and look good.
        My guess is that it might be better to hire someone outside.

      3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        If you make the position public, but either of the internal candidates can do the job – you’re potentially asking for trouble. And if you were to do this you’d be passing over both of them – not because they can’t do the job – or assume the job with a little guidance and training – but because you might be thinking – “ah, I’ll avoid a conflict this way. NO PROBLEM! Yeah, that’s the ticket!”

        Uh, you end up with TWO resentful employees. Both who might get their resumes ready. You are then asking the BOTH of them to —

        – train the person you hired
        – accept being passed over
        – say “make up and play nice” and tell them “it’s all water under the dam!”

        What if the new hire CAN’T do the job? What then? If you have to replace Ms. Newhire, how do you tell the two survivors if they’re still there — do you admit you made a mistake in passing them over? (Danger = LOSS OF FACE alert!) Do you continue to pass them over, further fueling resentment?

        IMHO – the better tech person may have a better attitude if she’s promoted into the job and you can tell the other person – it was technical expertise reasons. Unless the ‘skills’ person is actually a terror —

        Often attitudes change for the better with a promotion and vote of confidence. Not that a bad attitude should be an incentive for promotion but if people sense you don’t have confidence in them – and refuse to advance them – that can adversely affect attitudes. Note analogy – “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

        1. BWooster*

          Conflict avoidance is not why you open up a position to outside candidates. Getting the best candidate possible is. There are things seriously lacking behind door number one and door number two. There might be excellent alternative lurking behind door number three. Not opening it to avoid looking like you’re conflict avoidant is ridiculous.

          Also, giving out promotions in order to encourage better behavior is recipe for disaster. No person of any skill and promise will want to work at a place that gives out promotions on that basis.

          1. The_artist_formerl_known_as_Anon-2*

            I agree, BWooster, but in reality, a lot of managers do just that.

            It has several effects one, it looks like the manager is “empire building” – when passing over internal incumbents, the manager is stating to all that the people in-house aren’t promotable, and that it’s better to pass them by. The consequences of this can be devastating, for the reasons I’ve already stated.

            Two – it can send a deadly message through the organization = WE DO NOT ALLOW ADVANCEMENT FROM WITHIN. I was once in an environment where two very qualified people were passed over for a position – in favor of an unqualified “buddy” – and the company was going through a major transition project. It started a ripple effect of resignations. “Abandon ship! ” attitude.

            Three- overall morale is destroyed. Yes, I know that some management texts may actually encourage morale reduction — I laughed at the posts – “how can I maintain morale after a layoff?” but if the purpose of the layoff was to destroy morale and scare everyone, you can’t.

            NOW – I agree fully – you can’t reward bad morale or bad attitudes with promotions and you should not. But it should be known, if you decide to dead end your loyal employees while rolling the dice on external candidates, you might be setting yourself up for something worse.

            1. Julie Noted*

              Wow. Being open to considering people from outside the organisation alongside internal candidates sends the deadly message–shouts it, in fact–that the organisation doesn’t allow advancement from within? Destroys overall morale? If that’s happening, there are serious problems with the organisational culture already.

              Every single vacancy for a permanent position that I’ve ever had has been open to external candidates and well as internal ones. Frequently an internal candidate gets a promotion, and frequently someone new is brought in. I’ve applied for promotions myself as an internal candidate and sometimes I’ve come out on top, and sometimes an external candidate is chosen ahead of me. Morale is fine. I work with professionals.

              1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

                Julie – I was referring to a situation where there might be an advancement opportunity, but sometimes managers rationalize not hiring from within – “well Betty has all the skill A, B, C , D but doesn’t have E. She might be able to pick up skill E, but I’ll go outside.”

                And because the external candidate writes his/her resume saying he has all of these, that person gets the senior job. In IS/IT I’ve worked where some people pad their resumes, they get hired for senior positions, and they DON’T have those skills or that knowledge base, and you have problems not just with your new hire but those you passed over!

                Then what? Tell those you passed over that you made a mistake, and that you’re going to back track? That generally only happens in the movies.

                1. Candi*

                  That’s the fault of the manager, and them not interviewing or testing properly (and especially not checking references). It’s not the fault of opening the process to outside candidates.

        2. Graflex*

          Is there a way to acknowledge the skilled persons technical skills at the same time, without a direct promotion/raise? Some small title, a reason to buy them a nicer desk chair, etc? When someone feels valued, you’d be surprised how their attitude can change. (In this case, I was thinking of something like “senior technical advisor” – maybe that means that for a few hours a week, they’re available to work with the upper level manager on technical things – that might mean helping the newly promoted manager with their technical skills some of the time, and a chance to do some internal professional development at other times.) The fact that it’s scheduled implies the fact that you’re acknowledging that bringing the new manager up to speed will take some of their time, but it also gives them a higher bar and standard to try and rise up to.

          At my current job, we just had a similar situation. . . we had two pretty much equal-level managers, “Curly” and “Larry.” We had a bit of a shake-up in the office, and Curly got promoted to Teapot Floor Manager – and is now Larrys boss. Larry is doing the same function that he and Curly used to do together, though some of the responsibilities have been handed off to other departments (because of the volume of work, not qualifications.) Management came up with a new title for Larry – Dean of Teapots – to go with his raise. He still does pretty much the same thing he did before – but the title is important to him, because it recognizes the things that he is genuinely good at. (It also was a good excuse to re-evaluate his specific job duties, because there were a few things he just wasn’t handling very well, or that just never got done.) We’re not an educational organization. I have NO clue where a “dean” would usually fit in to an organizational chart – but the title works, and everyone seems to be happy!

    2. Graflex*

      Define “difficulties.”
      A printer that sometimes skips pages, or frequently jams, is a difficulty.
      A fridge that’s just slightly too small for everyones lunch is a difficulty.

      Getting paid the same amount, to train a co-worker at an equal level as I am, who is going to be promoted, and paid more then I am, because of the information I taught them, is not a difficulty. Its a pretty clear sign that my skills and knowledge are not valued the same as my colleagues. (Remember, we’re not talking about an outside hire, but a promotion from within.) That’s potentially what the more skilled junior-level coworker sees. That’s not a difficulty – the difficulty is calculating how long before I start dusting off my resume. If you chose to change the job description of the position (for BOTH employees at that level) to provide technical support to their boss, that’s one thing. Creating a situation where one colleague is isolated in this duty is not.

      I don’t know how the skilled colleague brought this up to the OP – but I think its a perfectly reasonable concern. I wouldn’t use this is justification to hire one over the other, but I wouldn’t hold it against one or the other either.

  2. Ted Mosby*

    I would be highly suspicious of anyone you comes to you and tells you she’ll be resentful of a choice you make. As a junior staff member, telling you who not to hire is way out of line. Telling you she would resent you is even worse. She’s essentially told you she’s willing to let negative emotions get in the way of her doing her job, and trying to use that fact to manipulate you. I’d be very care about promoting her.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s pretty normal for employees to have to train people, whether or not it’s specifically part of their job description. That includes having to train new managers — not on managing, but on team-specific stuff they’ll need to know.

          1. The Supreme Troll*

            And Alison, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you mean training the new manager on the general duties of the job and the norms in the office, not the very core fundamentals of the job (the incoming manager should know these already).

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yeah, I mean training them on a piece of the job — a particular software, or how the team does X, or the process for Y, or how this database works. Not training them on how to manage the team, which is the core meat of the job.

      2. MoinMoin*

        I also kind of disagree, but because I don’t think being honest about that is necessarily indicative of a poor attitude. If there’s a pattern to it and you have reason to believe she would be exceedingly difficult in this situation, that’s something to address. Ideally you’d be able to explain why the other person was chosen, but if you can’t imagine that conversation going well, I think that should inform her performance overall both in the current role or for potential promotions.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          “I don’t think being honest about that is necessarily indicative of a poor attitude”
          I don’t in general, but I do in this case. You can resent someone for getting a promotion you wanted and thought you deserved. That’s a natural human reaction. But you need to not tell that to your manager preemptively when you’re saying you want the job (and also, you need to work to get over that). To me, that the employee couldn’t stop herself from saying that, or alternatively that she thought this might be a threat* she could use to edge out the other person, is a sign of an attitude the manager needs to be wary of. If the employee were asked about it, and she said she’d resent it at first but she’d get over it, I would chalk it up to being honest and wouldn’t be worried about it

          *threat is too strong a word, but I’m at a loss for the right word for what I mean. Maybe leverage?

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Someone below pointed out that we don’t actually know how this came up in the conversation. If the employee didn’t bring it up, and if she softened the statement by saying she could work with whoever was hired, then that would change my feeling on it.

            1. Koko*

              True – there’s a difference between being pushed for your feelings and saying, “Well, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t resent it a little, but I would still try to make myself helpful to the new manager,” and saying, “Honestly, boss, if you hire Sally, I’m going to resent coming to work and having to spend my time training her to do work I was perfectly qualified to do myself!”

            2. MoinMoin*

              Makes sense. I interpreted the conversation differently but I think we’re in agreement depending on the specific circumstances.

        2. emma2*

          I feel it was tactless to voice out loud that she would “resent” it if the other got promoted, but being resentful when you see someone less qualified than you get promoted over you is normal in my opinion. If the OP does go with the “better attitude” employee, I wouldn’t be surprised if the other employee eventually left the company for a better paying job elsewhere.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Well, there are different meanings to ‘qualified,’ and not all of them have to do with technical skills. To say that the person with the technical skills but not the attitude is more qualified is disregarding the value of attitude and soft skills.

            1. emma2*

              That is true. However, in this case, it seems like that less-than-perfect attitude employee perceives herself as being more qualified than the other person. And since we already know of her opinion, the possibility of her leaving the company is there. That being said, what other people are saying about hiring an external person with the best skill set makes a lot of sense.

              1. Emac*

                But the possibility of the attitude employee leaving shouldn’t be factored into the decision.

                Also, it sounds like there’s a possibility that the job might change, at least a little, from what it was before. So the attitude employee might not have the best insight into how qualified she is for the position.

            2. the gold digger*

              The head of customer service at my company is switching to attitude over skills – and the CS folks are all experienced engineers. “The tech skills, I can teach,” he said, “but I cannot teach someone to stay calm while a customer is furious that the line is down and costing a thousand dollars a minute.”

              1. Another Lauren*

                I’m curious how you feel about that. I tend to agree with your head of CS, but wondering if there’s something I’m missing there. I’ve taught my staff (who were hired for CS skills) the technical skills of their job and it seems to be working so far… do you think there’s another shoe about to drop?

          2. Ted Mosby*

            But you don’t know that she’s less qualified. You know she has more of one skill. A lot of companies and roles hire more for soft skills that are harder to teach and quantify. There’s no evidence here that she DESERVES this promotion, or that she’s being underpaid for skills she has. Your extrapolating a lot from her thinking she deserves a job more than a coworker.

            1. emma2*

              I didn’t say she is currently underpaid – she might consider herself to be if she gets passed over for the promotion, and react accordingly. Whether or not this employee is correct in her self-perception, if she is dissatisfied, she might choose to jump ship (not that I know whether managers should factor this into their promotion decisions.)

              Also, the OP described this employee as having more technical skill, which, if it is central to their jobs, counts towards being qualified in some capacity. I did miss the part earlier about the promotion being for a team lead role, which would probably require more people/attitude skills in addition to hard skills. Obviously, the OP knows more about this situation than I do, being the manager.

        3. Ted Mosby*

          Work is not the time and place to be honest about all your feelings. Telling a superior you would resent their hiring decisions is out of line.

          1. tigerStripes*

            I also think that it’s one thing to think you’d be resentful and a whole different thing to tell your manager.

          2. Candi*

            There’s also several ways (many on this site) to tell a superior you don’t and wouldn’t like the situation and how you perceive it in a polite, professional way that addresses career, opportunity, and workplace concerns, without coming across as someone who has a poor attitude for all their skills.

      3. Koko*

        Work should always be delegated to the lowest-paid person who can competently perform it. If junior staff member is capable of training someone new, then it’s preferable to have her do it than a senior staff member like OP whose time costs the company more. Her time should be spent on higher-skill things that the junior staff person is not able to do.

        1. Jutta*

          Meh, unless the work is completely out of the lowest-paid person’s job description.
          This kind of thing happens *a lot* in different jobs because the lowest-paid individuals are the most vulnerable.
          Example, in healthcare– the person who works in the file room shouldn’t be calling in prescriptions for patients. Unfortunately, things like this happen because the degreed medical personnel would rather surf the net or talk about their vacations, “I’m too important/too busy to do this, just make the grunt do it”. Next thing you know, patient is upset because wrong medication and wrong dosage is at the pharmacy.

      4. Ted Mosby*

        When you’re in a junior position, your job is doing whatever your manager asks you to do and do it with a good attitude.

        What if the situation was slightly different: Jane and Sara have always worked together. Boss asks Sara to train Jane on some basic software use, and Sara says “that’s not my job. I’m going to resent having to do this.” Obviously inappropriate.

        The above would suggest that the real issue here is she thinks she deserves the job more and is going to be angry if she doesn’t get it. Few people are objective enough to judge if a colleague of similar standing is more deserving of a specific promotion. Implying that you are the best judge of that and you’ve made up your mind in your own favor is immature and poor judgement.

    1. Chickaletta*

      And if you do promote the employee with skills but bad attitude, what are you going to do in the future when she becomes resentful because she wasn’t assigned to project she wanted, or chosen to go to a conference, or whatever? Her bad attitude isn’t going to suddenly go away just because she got the job she wanted. In fact, no matter who you hire to fill this position, you’re going to have to figure out how to deal with her demands in the long run.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yup. I’d go with the employee with the best attitude. You can (usually) teach someone how to do a job, but it’s much harder to teach someone how to be a pleasant coworker who doesn’t suck the life out of the office and everyone around her.

        1. NonProfit Nancy*

          So disagree! I think Alison’s point is more accurate: you need someone who can do both, and if neither of these candidates are meeting that bar, OP should look outside. But it’s not true that you should promote the sweet, well meaning employee who doesn’t know, let’s say, coding into a coding job (especially over other staff who know how to code!) on the assumption that someone can teach her those skills. That is going to waste a lot of your time and resources and may be an exercise in frustration all the way around.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Of course you should want an employee who has both – I was responding to Chickaletta who was speaking about just these two employees in particular. If I had to choose between them, I’d choose the one with the better attitude. Presumably since she’s even being considered for the job, she has the baseline skills required to do it, otherwise, OP wouldn’t have even brought her up. She’s just less skilled than the second employee who’s been there longer.

  3. Zip Silver*

    Personally, I’d prefer a mediocre employee with the right attitude over and employee who’s excellent at the technical aspects job but doesn’t quite click with the team or whatnot.

    I manage a customer-facing department though. I imagine it’s different on fine-tuning like tech or accounting.

      1. De Minimis*

        Even in accounting, they tend to focus on attitude when it’s entry level. The general consensus is that skills can be taught [also, if someone has a degree in accounting they are more likely to know most of what they need to know to do entry-level work.] The way people approach learning new things, teamwork, attitude towards change in the workplace–those are the things they really look at.

        1. turquoisecow*

          Yeah, and if the person is not eager to learn new skills, it’s going to be a pain to work with them and to train them on those skills. As an entry level employee, they’re basically going to be constantly learning. If they have the wrong attitude, that’s not going to work out – even if they have the technical skills (for example, they know how to code) – they’re going to need to learn other things (like whom to go to for what issue, how to navigate the building, or just how the company does things).

    1. Erin*

      I agree with Alison, it depends on the type of work. If it’s highly skilled technical work, hard skills, go with the person who is more knowledgeable. If it’s a customer facing position,where soft skills are needed more go with the great attitude. It’s like a car dealership, they need mechanics and sales people. I don’t care if my mechanic is a rough around the edges if he is great at his job. But I want my salespeople to be polished and have great attitudes.

    2. copy run start*

      I agree, even in a technical position. (I’m in tech.) No one likes to work with Groucho, even if he does know the answer.

    3. Rebecca in Dallas*

      Yes, when I hired for customer service positions I always said, “hire for will, train for skill.” Obviously this may not apply to all types of jobs (the heart surgeon someone mentioned upthread is a good example) but for a lot of jobs, someone with the right attitude will learn the technical skills needed.

    4. John Taylor*

      Hi Zip,

      With customer Service —> YOU ARE 100% RIGHT. RIGHT ATTITUDE WORKS.


      WITH TECH FACING WORK—> you can hire right attitude (with mediocre skills) while servers are crashing, emails not working, and then YOU get your RIGHT ATTITUDE guys to calm the users/clients.

      HOWEVER with average attitude and HIGH SKILL SET—-> server crashes get fixed, emails start working right, customers/clients are happy THAT SERVICE WARRANTY and UTILITY gets a 100% check -mark and YOU Save your company from a lawsuit.


  4. Roscoe*

    For #1, I can understand both sides. I can see why someone wouldn’t want to have to train their new manager for a position they were up for. Specifically if it is someone already there that just doesn’t have the skillset yet. I think it would cause resentment, and you could risk losing that person as well. I’m also wondering what it is about her attitutde that makes you think she can’t do the job? Or is it that you just prefer the attitude of the other person. I don’t think that being upfront about resentment you may have down the line is necessarily an indicator of a “bad” attitude.

    1. Purest Green*

      Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m not sure the promotion is even to a management role, and if that’s the case I do understand the resentment from the higher-skilled employee (like if it were a promotion from a junior role to a senior role requiring advanced knowledge and higher level projects). And I agree that expressing said resentment doesn’t necessarily mean that person has a bad attitude, but I think OP should consider this person’s behavior broadly.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        She says it’s for a team lead role. It’s possible someone could be great at that but still need training on, for example, how the team uses a particular database or the process for dealing with X problem.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        See, as I mentioned above, I can’t imagine a circumstance where it’s appropriate to go to your manager to say that you want X job and then add, unasked, that you’ll be resentful if your coworker gets it instead. You can feel that way. And you can tell your manager that you think you’re better qualified than your coworker because Reasons. But the way it appears that the person relayed that information in this case would be a definite warning sign to me. Your personal resentful feelings about not getting a job you want and someone else getting it instead are feelings that are yours alone to manage and are not a good reason for you to get a promotion, so there’s rarely going to be a reason you should share them with your manager.

  5. LSP*

    I’ve dealt quite a bit with insomnia in my life as well, and I’ve always framed it as, “I don’t feel safe driving, and am far too at risk of making costly mistakes if I try to work without sleep.” I can go one or two nights with little to no sleep before I get to this point, and when that’s happened and I have to call out of work, I will usually use the afternoon to address the issue with my doctor.

    1. MommyMD*

      I have insomnia and see this as my problem. I’ve always been up all night with sick infants and have gone to work, as have many parents. I would not be so explicit in my call off. I think also once a twice a year max for this.

      1. LSP*

        I’ve been up all night with infants as well. For some reason, I find myself less exhausted if there is a reason for my not sleeping, rather than the frustration of lying awake in bed staring at the ceiling, begging for sleep to come.

        While I agree this is something each individual needs to find a way to deal with, in the moment, after perhaps several nights of no sleep, it honestly doesn’t feel safe to leave the house. I don’t go into details like that when I call out, but framing it as a safety issue to myself helps me feel better about calling out over something that can be solved with just lying in bed.

        1. caryatis*

          I think everyone who drives should have a Plan B. Whether it’s insomnia or the car breaking down or a need to reduce expenses, it’s best to have public transit or biking or Uber as a backup. That way you’ll always be able to make it to work, or wherever you want to go, and you never need to think it’s “not safe to leave the house.” (!) Unless you live in South Dakota or somewhere where it’s truly not possible.

          1. a different Vicki*

            I love public transit, and I have made a point of living in places where that’s a plausible way to get around. There are, unfortunately, commutes for which transit isn’t feasible, and others for which “take the train to work” is shorthand for “drive a few miles to the commuter rail station and take the train to work,” which reduces traffic but doesn’t address this problem.

            Also, “it wouldn’t be safe for me to drive, so I’m going to bike to work” seems problematic from a safety viewpoint. There are almost certainly going to be other commuters using that bike route, whether it’s a dedicated bike path or part of the regular city streets. Yes, the hypothetical crash is less likely to be fatal, but if you expect to crash, you shouldn’t be biking or driving.

            1. bikes*

              I do find myself much less likely to doze off on a bike, though, then when I am in my nice warm car sitting down.

          2. Arjay*

            I have a 45 minute highway commute (just over 20 miles) in a sprawling metropolitan area, i.e., not in South Dakota. I’d get killed biking, public transit would take about 2 1/2 hours to get to work without options for me to get back home at the end of the same day, and Uber would run about $30 each way at non-peak pricing. It’s cheaper for me to stay home if I’m not well enough to drive.

          3. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

            For me, when I don’t sleep, I don’t think very well, either. So even if I was at work, I wouldn’t be productive. It’s good to have a Plan B, though (if possible) for getting in to work.

          4. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            That’s a lovely sentiment. There are vast areas of the country and plenty of jobs where it just isn’t feasible, though. Mine’s one of them: teaching in a small town 45 minutes from where I live (where there is no bus service) and then working at the college in a different town also about 20 minutes away from mine.

          5. puzzld*

            So I see you’ve been to South Dakota. SNERK. I’ve made friends with the co-worker who lives nearest, so as to have a backup.

            As for calling out because of whatever… I don’t care why you feel you can’t work. Please DON’T tell me about your symptoms, hangover, need for a restroom. Just call in, tell me you’re not well able to work. Don’t always call in on a Monday or Friday and don’t use more leave than all of your co-workers put together, and we’ll be good.

          6. excel_fangrrrl*

            “I think everyone who drives should have a Plan B. … That way you’ll always be able to make it to work, or wherever you want to go, and you never need to think it’s “not safe to leave the house.” (!)”.

            the thing is, my super fun insomnia/narcolepsy combo makes it quite literally unsafe to leave my house some days. i get so strung out from lack of sleep that i loose track of the days, do not recognize myself in mirrors, and don’t trust myself to unlock the door to go onto my patio because i’m not sure if i will wander off or where i’ll and up.

          7. Mike C.*

            I’m not sure about you, but if i can’t drive, there’s no way I’m going to be able to analyze data or do other things at work. You’re functionally drunk after so many hours without sleep, so how does this sort of “plan b” help?

          8. aebhel*

            There are a lot of places where this isn’t feasible, tbh. I live in NY, and there’s no way I could reliably get to work without a vehicle. My commute is twenty miles, the closest bus stop is six miles from my house (and it’s for a bus that runs once a day and doesn’t go anywhere near my workplace), and calling a cab to come all the way out there would be ruinously expensive on a daily basis.

            I have a spouse who also drives to work, so if something happens to my car I catch a ride with him, but really, outside of densely populated urban/suburban areas, public transportation is really often not an option.

        2. Yetanotherjennifer*

          Yes, when I was up with my baby I was up doing something semi-active: feeding, changing, rocking, etc. When I’m up due to insomnia I’m lying in bed hoping to fall asleep. I know it’s best to get up after about 20 minutes of not falling asleep but I’m not very good about doing that.

        3. Anonymoose*

          “I find myself less exhausted if there is a reason for my not sleeping, rather than the frustration of lying awake in bed staring at the ceiling, begging for sleep to come.”


    2. Lora*

      I always just say I am sick and won’t be in. “I cannot come in, I will be useless, I feel like hammered sht.” It’s my PTO, nobody is owed more detail than that. If you’re sick then you are sick.

      1. On Fire*

        I’m actually doing this today – I took one (ONE!) NyQuil gel last night, and it knocked me out for basically 12 hours. I woke up enough to realize it would not be safe for me or anyone else if I were to drive (there literally aren’t other transportation options), and decided to use a sick day. And tonight, I’ll take something besides NyQuil. (I have a low tolerance for most medications, but it has never hit me this hard. Over 18 hours since the dosage, I’m still somewhat drowsy.)

    3. Sabine the Very Mean*

      I have moderate to severe insomnia. I sleep an average of 15 hours per week. I call in on the days when I am hallucinating or otherwise having delirious thoughts. It bothers me when others say, “oh yeah I’m tired too”. Oh no, I’m beyond tired. I would love to know what simply feeling tired feels like. But I have not had any issues with my work. They are fairly understanding.

  6. AuburnL*

    On the travel reimbursement question, I don’t know if any other states have laws like this but in California an employee is entitled to be reimbursed by her employer for all business expenses. That includes equipment, materials, training, business travel and even uniforms.

    1. DCGirl*

      California stands almost alone in mandating that employers reimburse employee business expenses. Two things that the poster may want to look at are minimum wage law (if expenses reduce the employee below minimum wage) and taking tax deductions for unreimbursed business expenses.

      1. Quinalla*

        Yes, I was coming to say this to make sure you are at least taking a tax deduction for unreimbursed business expenses. If they won’t agree to reimburse you for a reasonable amount (you aren’t out eating $500 steak & lobster dinners every night, just trying to stay in a reasonable hotel and eat something), then I too would try to find another job too, but while you are there, at least get the tax break you are due.

    2. zora*

      ommmgggg, really?! At HorribleNonProfit job they only paid for airfare and hotel, I had to pay all other travel expenses myself, and I traveled several times a year. Would I have been able to force them to reimburse me for food/transportation costs when traveling?

      That job cost me hundreds of $$ out of pocket, and I was getting paid well below a living wage on top of that. Gggrrrr….

        1. Sabine the Very Mean*

          Not trying to one up you, just want to tell my experience. I have insomnia. I go to sleep therapy and sleep specialists. I sleep only 15 hours per week. I call in about three times per year. Missing one night would be heaven for me and for others in my boat. If I didn’t call in those days, I’d be speaking in tongues with delirium.

        2. Uzumaki Naruto*

          “One per year” or your modification below to “a couple” times per year is odd. What’s the basis for this arbitrary, hard-line stance? Surely “up all night” insomnia qualifies as something that a sick policy covers. So then it’s just a question of whether you have the time under your policy, as well as situational factors like whether there’s something you really can’t miss.

    1. Natalie*

      Eh, I think it’s fine if that rule works for you, but we’re all snowflakes and not everyone reacts to insomnia the same way. If there are excessive absences, then obviously a manager would have to address that, but it would be just as true if the excessive absences were from picking up a cold every month or from having recurring insomnia.

        1. LSP*

          I think it’s really an individual thing. If you feel like you can be safe (if you’re driving) and productive without putting your employer at risk for critical errors due to sleep deprivation, then that works for you. Everyone has their own tolerances. It certainly sounds like OP has been dealing with this issue long enough to know her limits.

          1. Retail HR Guy*

            …and the government and the employee’s health care provider, if the employee is eligible for FMLA.

          1. caryatis*

            Because you never know whether you’re going to get seriously ill or need surgery in the future, and you might be sorry when you’ve used up all your sick leave (and all the patience of your manager and coworkers) taking leave you didn’t REALLY need.

            Limiting it to once or twice a year is a little arbitrary, but certainly sick leave for insomnia should not be a frequent thing.

            1. Natalie*

              Why not make the same argument for bad headaches, or period cramps, or a few mild colds?

              Perhaps I have the resources to take unpaid leave in the unlikely event I need emergency surgery, and prefer to not work impaired by insomnia now and take my chances.

              It’s still not your business, unless you’re this person’s manager.

              1. Marillenbaum*

                Precisely. Sick days are there because you aren’t always well enough to come into the office, whether that’s because you have to get a tooth pulled, or your cramps are murder, or you’re so tired you’re functioning like a drunk person.

            2. fposte*

              I have 139 sick days in the bank. I think I’ve got plenty left if I need surgery.

              Obviously this is relative to how many sick days you get–if you have none, you go in with norovirus; if you have 5, you go in with a bad cold. Neither of those things mean that norovirus or URIs aren’t legit reasons for sick days; just that a person with few or no sick days can’t afford to take them off.

              But you don’t have to stash them ridiculously just in case something happens, either, and it’s not like you’re less likely to need surgery in December if you’ve taken 6 days off for the flu than 6 days off for insomnia. You measure your debilitation against your job and your leave time and make the decision; I don’t think that means there’s an acceptable number of days for debility from any particular cause.

              1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                Agreed. And I think in a lot of cases, the name of what is wrong with you is a lot less important than how hampered you actually are (assuming that it isn’t contagious, which is a whole other issue).

                So for example, if I have a bad night and feel like a puddle of moldy jello, I’m going to base my decision to call in not on “how many hours of sleep did I get?” but rather “how confident am I that I can drive to work safely and do my job without mucking it up in some deep and serious way?”

              2. turquoisecow*

                Yes. You have to consider how you feel as well as how many paid sick days you get. (And/or how many unpaid days you can afford to take). If I came down with a horrible illness and could barely get out of bed, and had no sick days, I’d still take off. Others would have the same illness and get to work, because the illness wouldn’t affect them the same way.

                I’ve known women who have horrible menstrual cramps and used significant sick days on a regular basis. I’ve never done this, because they don’t bother me in the same way. I think it’s way too personal of a concern for someone to say “only take x number of days off for y reason” and have that rule apply to every person.

                1. Anonymoose*

                  + 1

                  I am one of those who takes off once a month for ladies issues and my colleague is the same. In fact, we’re on the same cycle now, which is kind of embarassing, but whatev. I like to compare our ‘reasons’ for taking a day off as they’re always so bullshit but so funny.

                2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                  I used to be practically crippled by mine — they only hit about 4x a year, but I could look forward to at least one or two days of being unable to function due to pain. Fortunately, that’s not the case anymore, but I absolutely would have been calling out if I’d been working at the time.

                  (There was one year I had to skip Thanksgiving dinner because I was in too much pain to keep food down. Not fun!)

            3. Marcela*

              But that’s kind of impossible to prevent. The time I had a surgery, I was supposed to be at home the same day, working just with my brain and fingers (I code), within 4 days. But I got peritonitis and I spent 18 days in the hospital, and I was not able to work immediately after going home, but more than a week later. My PTO was absolutely not enough to cover all of that, and there was no fault of my own that things happened that way.

            4. Emac*

              I don’t agree. Everyone’s reaction to insomnia is different – some might be able to work okay the next day, some might be in a total fog and completely useless.

              So besides the fact that I think sick leave is a benefit that employees should use when they need it, going to work after not sleeping just because you want to “save” your sick days could be essentially cheating the company out of a full day’s work.

    2. Koko*

      This doesn’t quite make sense to me. If you have a chronic condition that’s bad enough to call off sick, surely it’s going to happen more than once a year? What would be so special about that one time that makes it worth calling off when the other 20 times are not? It seems like just imposing an arbitrary limit without taking into consideration the actual situation at hand.

      1. LSP*

        Yeah. I have migraines. Sometimes my prescription meds work, and I can get through the day without much of a problem. Other times, I just have to throw in the towel and hide in a dark, quiet place. I’d love to say that I would only take off twice a year and no more for this, but that’s not something I can control.

        I don’t think there is any difference between this and insomnia, or any other chronic health issue. You can only do what you can do, including make it as less of a burden as possible on your employer and coworkers, and get the medical attention you need to try to better the situation.

        1. Rebecca in Dallas*

          I also have migraines. I’ve had to call out of work a handful of times over the years, either because the migraine was so bad that I was throwing up OR the dosage of medicine I had to take meant I couldn’t drive safely (much less think through any complex problems at work).

          I think insomnia is the same way, if it’s affecting your life to the point that you are calling in sick more than a few times a year, you need to work with your doctor on finding a solution.

    3. Lora*

      If someone is sick, for any reason, including if the reason is “drank too much last night” or “can’t deal with the stress of the intern telling me I’m not hot enough to sexytimes”, then don’t waste time making me think you’re doing work that doesn’t suck. I don’t want ANYONE who is remotely impaired doing lab work or heavy machinery work, even if it is for a reason I believe to be irresponsible. That means more work for me having to babysit things and supervise and hand-hold to make sure the impaired person isn’t screwing up. Which I do not care to do. So stay home. I’d rather do the thing myself and get it done properly than try to drag someone through a crummy day when they should have stayed in bed.

      1. Government Worker*

        Yeah, Alison didn’t address it in her answer, but it really depends on the type of job. If your job is at all safety-sensitive, then stay home. We have a fatigue policy for our safety-sensitive positions that allows people to call off mid-shift if they feel that they’re too tired to continue, even.

        For office jobs the amount of energy and focus that you need to get through the day and be moderately productive really varies. In some jobs it’s easy to spend an off day clearing easy tasks off the to-do list, but in others you really need all your concentration and focus and should call in sick if you aren’t going to be able to do any productive work.

        1. Spoonie*

          Was just coming to say this.

          On Really Bad Migraine Days, you will not find me in the office because I will be hiding in the darkest room in my apartment. On Not So Bad Migraine Days, I’ll be toughing it out, cursing the overhead lighting, and tackling the simplest items on my to-do list, all while hoping I don’t get dragged into any meetings where I’m forced to think quickly/critically.

          1. Purple Dragon*

            I do the same but either wear my sunnies at my desk or a baseball cap (shades my eyes from the light). People I’ve worked with for years know they’re going to get a much better response if they email me instead of asking me so I can think about the answer.

            I also suffer from chronic insomnia and at the moment I’m only sleeping every second night, if I’m lucky. I’m still coming to work because we’re very short staffed. My work is not 100% but my boss is taking some of the more tricky things off my plate. When I’m this exhausted I can’t juggle things at all – I can only focus on one thing at a time. But if we weren’t short staffed I’d probably have called out yesterday because I felt like complete crap and it felt like I was thinking through cotton wool. I have several months of sick leave stacked up and if I spoke to my doctor I could get a medical certificate for multiple days off without any issue.
            TL/DR – Insomnia is a legitimate reason to call out – you just have to know your company/manager/work culture and take into consideration your own situation in regards to benefits.

            This is a bit long and rambly – another symptom of my lack of sleep – sorry.

            Also – I’d like to send heaps of love to this message board – I’ve not seen anyone offer advice on combating insomnia. Thank you so much :)

        2. Mike C.*

          I don’t see why an “an office job” should be any different. You take a huge risk driving into work and if you make it there, how is any of your work going to be useful?

    4. Mike C.*

      Ok, but why?

      If you can’t function at work due to lack of sleep, why waste everyone’s time and take a huge risk trying to get to work and so on?

      1. Candi*

        I’ve seen a couple articles over the past year about ‘person with insomnia gets maybe one night of sleep a month and does Amazing Thing during usual sleepy time’.

        Heck, I saw my first story on that theme on a show called “Incredible Sunday” back in the late 80s/early 90s. Guy had massive chronic insomnia, and used llama hairs to paint pictures on the head of pins. (No angel pics were displayed on the segment.)

        But people who can function without regular sleep are noteworthy because they’re rare. Most are what are described in this thread: Functionally limited in all but the most basic tasks after just a few nights.

        So they can call out as often as they need to as long as they make sure that things are well prepared for those covering for them. (Since it’s a predictable occurrence, if not a predictable timetable.)

  7. MommyMD*

    Not being completely reimbursed for travel? That’s terrible. No way does a hundred bucks even cover a room. Start job searching. Food not covered I can live with because you have to feed yourself if at home but the room should be fully covered.

    1. Justme*

      I have to feed myself at home but I guarantee that I can feed myself cheaper at home, preparing my own meals, rather than eating in a restaurant for 3 meals a day.

        1. Marisol*

          But it’s not right to have to limit oneself to junk food or inappropriate portions due to a company policy. I agree that not covering the hotel is wrong, but I go also think not covering nourishing meals is wrong.

    2. zora*

      I do a fair amount of travel booking, and I doubt there is a single city in this country where you can find a not-gross hotel room for less than $100 a night. OP’s company is the worst.

  8. Anna the Accounting Grad*

    OP5: As someone who’s had the stuff on their teeth, I second the advice to just say something and not make a big thing about it.

    1. fposte*

      The great Miss Manners advice is to seem slightly unsure, like it’s not so egregious everybody’s noticed. “There might be something on your chin–it wouldn’t hurt to quickly check.”

      1. Purest Green*

        I like that. I’ve tried to catch the person’s eyes and make a gesture to let her know yet not draw everyone else’s attention to it, but that doesn’t always work.

    2. Memy*

      I’ll be the lone wolf. I prefer when people I don’t know don’t say anything to me because it allows me to maintain the fantasy that they didn’t say anything because they didn’t notice. Then I’m way less embarrassed than if they said something.

      Friends and co-workers, though, they need to say something to me immediately.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        My rule (and I probably got this from Miss Manners) is to say something if it’s something that can be fixed but not if it isn’t. So food in the teeth–say something. Stain on their clothes–don’t say anything. I used to be embarrassed if people said anything, but now it only bothers me if they dwell on it or make a big deal of it. I find that the more I’m willing to say something to others, the more I don’t mind if they say it to me. I always try to immediately continue on talking about something else. “Oh, I think you might have something in your teeth. So, yeah, this new French show on Netflix is pretty entertaining.”

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          Yes, you likely got that from MM, and I agree. Pointing out the huge stain is not helpful. Pointing out the spinach in teeth is. Good manners is supposed to be about making others comfortable.

        2. Parenthetically*

          Yep. This is the one I teach my students, because they (young adolescents) are FOREVER saying stuff about each other’s unibrows, pimples, bad haircuts, stained shirts, etc., and I have to keep after them about it. My rule for them is, “If it can be fixed on the spot, it’s rude NOT to point it out; if it can’t be addressed, it’s rude to point it out.”

        3. Sparkly Librarian*

          I had the same reasoning this morning when I saw the bleach stain on my coworker’s shirt. She probably already knew about it, but couldn’t go home and change, and couldn’t fix it at the office. Why say anything? And I know I’d feel awful if I had an issue like that and MORE THAN ONE person commented during the day, even if they were trying to be helpful.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Right? Here’s this thing you can’t do anything about, but I just want to make sure you know that I totally noticed!

      2. Regina 2*

        I’m with you, even with friends and co-workers. I just don’t like being called out, even though I realize it’s totally NABD and innocuous.

        I feel the same way with direct feedback at work, which puts me at odds with 99.9% of the commenters here. I intellectually understand you’re right; but it will never change how I feel. :-)

    3. Sydney*

      Me too! I’ve eaten at a fast food restaurant – walked out with mayo on my face, went to the library, checked out books, walked through the office and discovered when I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. So embarrassing!

  9. Not a full year*

    Isn’t whether or not the expenses are taking them below minimum wage a factor as well, for OP4?

    I have a very tight budget and there is legitimately no way I could afford to do this and eat the rest of the week at home. So for me I would have to make it clear that it is an issue of can’t not won’t.

  10. Jessie the First (or second)*

    For #1, yes I’d be turned off if a junior employee told me she’d be resentful of a hiring decision I made. But OTOH, I can completely understand being resentful if someone else is hired instead of me, and then Boss turns around and *has me train that person*. I mean…. that says directly “you are the most qualified and this other person is not, and you can absolutely do the job but we aren’t going to let you. And here, let me add to your current workload by having you train the underqualified person we hired instead.”

    That would be a mighty tough pill for most people to swallow, and I can understand why it would cause resentment.

    Plus, OP calls that specific issue out as the attitude problem – no indication of a general attitude problem. So I really, really highly suggest and cannot stress it enough that NEITHER should be hired. Seriously. If you do not like “attitude problem person,” that’s no reason to hire “does not know enough to actually do the job person.”

    1. Gandalf the Nude*

      I can understand feeling resentful about it, but we’re adults doing our jobs, and expressing that resentment is not necessary, helpful, or professional.

        1. Gandalf the Nude*

          I’m not speaking on any specific action, which hasn’t been described. A lot of comments seem to be implying that skilled employee’s resentment would excuse a lapse in work ethic or professionalism. And I’m having a hard time picturing a context where “I would be resentful if my coworker got the promotion I wanted” doesn’t give me serious concerns about that person’s professionalism and attitude, unless it also included “But I will do my best to keep a lid on it.”

          1. Parenthetically*

            Someone mentioned upthread that it might be different if the employee had been really pressed for her specific feelings about that scenario. “Well, I’d probably kind of resent having to train her, to be honest, but I’d get over it,” when pressed, seems quite different from someone introducing the topic with, “If you hire Shivon, I’m going to resent it.” That’s about the only situation I could see it being ok, because I agree that it’s very unprofessional otherwise.

      1. The Supreme Troll*

        The 2nd candidate could have been relaying an honest sentiment, which a reasonable manager could understand. It doesn’t necessarily mean that she would try to actively sabotage the 1st candidate’s training should that person get the job.

          1. Emac*

            But I think the point is, if the junior employee came out and said that to the OP without any prompting, it’s not professional. Which is how I read it, as the OP says that the junior employee told her “point blank”. She can feel that way, of course, but if she’s bringing it up to her boss like “Oh, by the way, I know that Jane is interested in the job, too, but if you hire her instead of me, I’m going to resent you.”

            Really the only reason I can see doing something like that is to try to manipulate or threaten the OP into hiring her.

    2. Lass*

      I don’t think it says “you’re the most qualified and this other person is not”. It just says, “You know how to do this part of the job.” I may have the hard skills to complete tasks, but I may not have the soft skills needed to interact with clients.

      1. Kyrielle*

        This! Several years back, a member of the team very junior to me was promoted to team lead while I remained a member of the team.

        At least one person asked me wasn’t I resentful. Um, no. I had the skills and knowledge to be a great individual contributor. I would have made a lousy team lead for all sorts of reasons – my soft skills are not to that level, but also the organization factor and lack of interest in the tasks. The man who got the job had good technical skills also – not as much “institutional knowledge” as I did, but still very good technical skills and a fair amount of institutional knowledge – and was both more interested in and more skilled for the other tasks the team lead role added on.

        Now, the difference here is that the technically-capable employee who isn’t-quite-there for the other skills *would* like the job (whereas I didn’t want it).

        The best case scenario for the OP is probably an external hire, followed by telling the technically-capable employee that they were a strong contender for technical skills, and that working on areas X and Y would be a good way to position themselves to move up in the future. And tell the go-getter that while they have a lot of potential to do that job, they need to improve their technical skills in Q, R, and S if they want to have a better shot at a similar role in the future.

        But first you need a good external candidate….

        1. Purest Green*

          Yes! No matter the outcome, OP needs to have a conversation with with both employees about how they can improve.

    3. fposte*

      I’ve done it. It wasn’t that big a deal. The skillset for the office tasks isn’t the same thing as the overall job qualifications.

      1. Koko*

        Yes, a new employee can be a lot to the table and still need training if for no other reason than every company has their own policies and procedures for doing things. As an example in marketing, I might be very skilled at digital marketing and have a lot of experience with CRM software, but my new company uses a software I don’t have direct experience with. Just because a junior employee there might be asked to train me on the CRM doesn’t mean they can do the marketing manager job I was hired for. Shoot, even if I had experience with that exact CRM I would still need the junior employee to train me on how this particular company uses it.

    4. SarahKay*

      I’ve been in the position of having to train the person who got the job I went for. The fact is, though she didn’t know the specifics of how we did things in our company, she knew far more than me about how to be a manager, which was what was really needed. I didn’t resent training her, although it was certainly helped by the fact that within days I could clearly see that she was the better fit for the job.
      From my point of view doing a good job of training her was good for my reputation within the company overall. On top of that it gave me a headstart in building a good working relationship with her, and she taught me a great deal about how to manage a team.
      Would I have liked to get the job – yes, of course I would. And if the new person had been a bad manager, or bad worker, I’m sure I’d have felt very differently; I’m not a saint. But to go in feeling disgruntled and acting unhelpful isn’t going to benefit anyone, least of all me.

    5. Marmalade*

      I tend to agree with you here. The letter heavily implies that the role requires certain hard/technical skills, and the OP’s boss has asked her to focus on those when hiring.
      A regular team lead job is a different case, but here it sounds more like a Technical Lead/SME than people-centric Team Lead. So yes, I think Resentful Employee would be justified in being annoyed if the promotion is primarily hard-skills based and they have to train the team lead in these things.

  11. TCO*

    I know these questions are older, but someone in OP #4’s situation today could also look into something like Airbnb to see if cheaper options are available that way.

    $110 is truly ridiculous for hotel and meals in most places–even government employees tend to get (much) more than that. I wonder if OP’s boss doesn’t travel much herself and so is out of touch with current travel costs. OP should definitely be clear in asking for full reimbursement and consider moving on if she doesn’t get it.

    1. TreeSilver*

      This. I wonder if whoever’s setting the per diem is doing something that’d be the equivalent of allowing the GSA-standard “meals and incidental expenses” amount without realizing that the lodging per diem is a separate, additional amount?

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        Yeah. Even 10-15 years ago, I was getting $100 per diem for meals and other expenses, separate from the hotel, which was booked and paid for by the person doing the travel arrangements.

        Even in the midwest and not a big city, $110 for hotel and meals would be really tight. Half of that, minimum, is going to go for a cheap-but-clean hotel.

      2. Anonenony*

        I also wondered if the employee was misunderstanding the “per diem,” because I always thought the term meant meals, cabs, incidentals, and that lodging costs were separate. It seems unlikely that the employee misunderstands but perhaps someone in the billing hierarchy does? In my experience, the hotel is on the company card, reserved in advance, possibly booked by someone else in the organization who knows room rates and so on. Do they also require plane fares, mileage costs, rental cars to be within the per diem . If so, that is unusual.

    2. caryatis*

      Yes–some bosses are just out of touch with what things cost. If the manager insists that “a hotel room only costs $50”, ask them to find the hotel room for you.

      1. zora*

        Yeah, not in this century! I can’t remember the last time I saw a hotel room that was actually only $50/night, especially factoring in taxes.

        1. Candi*

          Last time I saw a Motel 6 advertising a $65 room was 2002. And that was a crappy part of town. (Bus route.)

    3. paul*

      Yeah, my first thought was “110 for food and incidentals?!” but if that includes the room…even a motel 8 in a small town is going to be 50+ after taxes and in a convention city it gets worse (try finding hotels in Chicago for that…)

  12. this*

    #1 – “My manager has told me to focus on skills when creating the job description — that it does not have to be the same exact position title or position as before.”
    I took this more along the lines that LW is not constrained by the description of the current position. That she should decide what she needs (both technically and fit) and write a job description and hire for that.

  13. Nobby Nobbs*

    #3, if you drive to work or have a job where your own or others’ safety depends on your alertness, please call in sick. Even in the worst case scenario, where your boss is totally unreasonable and fires you (highly unlikely, and if you think it’s possible you can just say “I’m sick” and leave out the details), no job is worth your life.

  14. The Supreme Troll*

    For the OP in #1, you did not say whether or not the 2nd candidate had a negative attitude or was a disruptive force at work, just that the 1st candidate had a very positive & cheerful attitude, which I’m sure on the surface makes interacting with her very pleasant. In the long run though, the 2nd candidate’s superior skill set might be more valuable for this particular job. Obviously, you know best.

    Alison is right, however, to look beyond just these two candidates to see if there isn’t a better balance out there.

  15. mamabear*

    What’s unclear in #1 is whether the junior employee has a poor attitude overall, or whether they were just honest about their feelings about *this particular situation,* and that’s what is being labeled as “poor attitude.”

    If the role is heavily technical in nature, I think you’re making a mistake by passing up the objectively more qualified person. If I were that junior employee who was passed over for someone who is nice but doesn’t know how to do the job, I’d be resentful, too. It’s one thing when you’re in a technical profession and you know you were passed over for someone with more experience and better skills; it’s quite another when the reasons are more personality-based.

    1. Temperance*

      I was thinking the exact same thing! I would feel resentful in that situation, too … especially if I could see myself not only having to train the other person, but serve as her backup and do her job for her if she couldn’t get the hang of it.

    2. The Supreme Troll*

      Exactly. The OP in letter #1 has not said that the 2nd candidate has great skills but a lousy, downer attitude. If passed over for reasons that could well be out of her control, it would be natural to feel some resentment – as long as that resentment is not felt by her peers or her superiors.

    3. Koko*

      Personality-based makes it sound like, “Jane laughs too loudly and has weird interests,” which I agree would be an unfair reason not to promote. But, “Getting Jane to take instruction is like pulling teeth, she resists or refuses to help her colleagues, and she complains frequently” is not personality-based. Attitude is different from personality. Attitude is a job skill, they’re just soft skills instead of hard one. Soft skills are necessary for just about all jobs and especially critical for some, and it’s completely valid to base a hiring decision on them. Even if the person with the rotten attitude is a whiz at teapot-sculpting, are they so much better at sculpting than the next-most-qualified person that it will outweigh the hit to morale and department efficiency you’d be taking by choosing them? There are real costs to hiring a difficult employee, and I like to think anyone can choose not to be difficult in the workplace. Being rude, stubborn, excessively vocally negative, etc. not an immutable characteristics of a person’s self. They are bad behaviors that a conscientious person avoids.

      1. mamabear*

        Right, but #1 didn’t indicate whether that’s the case. We have no way of knowing whether there is a broader attitude problem or if it’s limited to one — albeit, poorly phrased — conversation.

    4. Marisol*

      Well put. I don’t really understand the strong objections to what the employee said. I’m imagining a conversation that is respectful overall, where she just had a moment where she was frank about her emotions. If she started yelling or was obviously insinuating that her resentment would impact her work, if it were truly a manipulative ploy, that would be a problem. But if I were a manager I think I’d want an employee to feel comfortable giving frank feedback about how my decisions affected her. I just don’t get why simply addressing one’s emotions is so bad–I wonder if those objecting are more aligned with an authoritarian management style than I personally would be comfortable with.

      1. Koko*

        Yeah, there’s definitely some gaps to fill in the letter. I had an opposite interpretation – that OP wouldn’t even be wondering about whether the employee’s attitude is a dealbreaker if it was just frank feedback that OP herself had prodded for. It seems like if OP had really invited that feedback, it would be weird for her to then turn around and penalize her for it…which I’m sure plenty of bad managers do, but then wouldn’t that type of manager be more confident of their decision and not writing to an advice blog asking for insight? That OP is struggling so much with the decision makes me think it’s a substantive one that goes deeper than the example she gave. But it really could be either!

    5. emma2*

      I agree – I understand not wanting to promote a totally obnoxious employee regardless of skill. But some managers over emphasize how outgoing and bubbly a person is over their skillset, which is annoying (although I don’t think that is the case with OP1.)

      1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

        +1 to the over emphasizing outgoing/bubbliness. It’s obviously a good thing in many roles, and maybe necessary in some roles (customer service/public facing roles in particular). I do think people tend to gravitate towards or overvalue extroversion/outgoingness/bubbliness without realizing it. Is that really necessary for the role or do you just “like” the person more on a personal level?

        Don’t promote a jerk with better skills over a moderately skilled employee with a great attitude (when those missing skills can be learned/taught). However – if the choice is between a reserved employee with better skills vs. a moderately skilled, but overtly friendly worker – maybe think it about it a bit more and make sure unconscious biases aren’t in play.

        1. NW Mossy*

          On the flip side, coach reserved employees on relationship skills – don’t leave them awkwardly stuck because that missing piece is holding them back.

          One thing that’s so, so, so common with reserved employees is that outside of a small circle, no one in the organization knows their name or what they do at the company. They’re the sort of people you see in the breakroom 4 times a week but wouldn’t notice their absence for weeks if they left the company. They can be wonderfully competent, but when the time comes to promote, the decision makers see their names and think “Who?”

          The wonderful thing is that getting on the short list is not as hard as it might seem – it’s really just about being known at a pretty basic level. You’re not trying to be best buddies with anyone; all you’re trying to achieve is for people to hear your name, be able to picture your face, and then think, “Oh, yeah, I know her, she’s good.” That’s relative easy to accomplish simply by introducing yourself to higher-ups before meetings, participating in projects with people from other teams, loaning out your expertise for training and presentations, and just plain saying “Oh hi Jane, how are you?” in the break room.

          1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

            I think this is kind of exectly what I was uring people to look past. I was really urging managers/folks deciding on promotions or hiring to think past “who am I friendly with in the break room” or “who did I have the best chemistry with in the interview process” and to think more critically and objectively about which skills are actually necessary and uneccessary for the role and which candidates have those skills – not personality traits that you just happen to click with, but are not actually necessary for the role.

            Sure – if you’re a manager and think one of your employees is being held back by their reserved nature, then sure mention it to them.

    6. NW Mossy*

      But for a team lead role, many of the skills someone needs to be successful are “personality-based” to some extent – the biggest is the ability to build relationships with others. There can be a perception that these interpersonal skills “don’t matter” or are just “playing politics,” but they’re actually fundamental to helping a team succeed.

      We’re all part of organizations, and organizations are made up of people and relationships, even in technical roles. We all report to someone. We all have teammates, colleagues, and/or clients that we work with regularly. Those that don’t invest in those relationships will find that there’s a hard ceiling on their ability to get things done because they don’t have the foundation from which to ask for things or get help.

      In the OP’s shoes, I would worry about her technical expert being ready to make the leap because she sees training and mentoring as a burden. Being a mentor is a crucial job function of team leads in many organizations, and openly saying “I don’t want to do that” can be a sign that the employee doesn’t entirely understand how her duties would shift in the new role and that she’d need to bring different skills to bear to be successful.

      1. Sparkly Librarian*

        My understanding of the technical expert’s comment is that she would resent training a less skilled person who moved into the role she was hoping to be promoted into, while she remains at the junior level. Perhaps she would have no problem at all with training or mentoring if she were receiving the recognition and pay that go along with that responsibility. I think that your point about that being part of the role would be something to cover during interviews.

    7. Jules*

      Well, as the more senior member of the team with 10+ years more experience who got passed over for a promotion because the leader wanted a Yes Man who was 3 years out of college (he doesn’t have enough experience to be able to say, here are the things we need to keep in mind if doing X, Y or Z. I can totally understand feeling resentful. I had a co-worker who went to our leader to protest/officially say something and she was tagged a troublemaker. He really is not qualified to take on that job. We both knew that. I never said anything, I found another job and left.

      The perspective majority mention here is why I never said anything when management does sketchy things like that. Because I am technically competent and able to take up that role, if I had said something about it, I have bad attitude. So, when a recruiter came knocking, I left. The person who said something was above 40 and female. I am female and minority. You would think they would think twice about promoting a young guy to this role. He has bad attitude towards his peers and not much technical competency either. But because he polishes the right apples, he gets a promotion. But the 2 of us end up doing all his work because he is not capable and his boss has no time to train him either. 6 months after I left, my other co-worker left too.

      It’s not always ‘attitude’. I agree with AAM, post the position. You would be surprised by the pool of candidates.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Truth in what you say … what some people see as “opportunity for new blood” can lead to a lot of “I’m outta here, no reason to stay…”

        Also – if someone is resentful about being passed over – and leaves – the best way to frame it when you leave

        – “How can you accuse me of having a bad attitude? I thought I was the best candidate for that position, but management disagreed, and hired Bozo (Fergus’ cousin). Bozo will do well in that job, I’m sure. I am reacting to management’s decision, to be sure, but not contesting it, not saying anything in the workplace, and I wish you, the management team, and Bozo the best of luck. I have career goals to reach, wanted to do so here, but that was out of my control. ”

        Now if they need you to rescue Bozo, they’ve closed the door for that.

      2. Liz*

        Word. I have to cover or clean up the mess of a colleague who is not qualified at all for the job but constantly gets away with it because he’s a magnificent actor and sucks up to the right people. Every time I bring it up to management, I get a look of disbelief and gets brushed off for trying to ‘instigate’ because they never see what’s really going on. So I kept quiet and will go if an opportunity arises.

        I think finding an outside candidate is a good solution to avoiding conflict with both junior workers. But with the technical worker, I think she’s just being honest with you and some truth can be harsh to hear resulting in the bad vibes you’re getting.

  16. TheBeetsMotel*

    #1 is a real struggle for me too; we either seem to have employees who are great at doing the work, but whose attitudes stink, or who have a can-do attitude, but are just never going to fully Get It beyond a certain point. Both situations result in me taking up more and more slack. Sigh.

    If push came to shove, I’d rather a good-attitude employee who I know I can give a 5/10 difficulty task to and they’ll do it, efficiently and cheerfully (but nothing more complicated than that), then someone I can give the 10/10 work to but who will grumble the whole time and drag their feet because they don’t really want to bother.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hmmm. Your company either isn’t hiring well, or needs to pay more to get a better applicant pool, or these people (and maybe the culture) need to more assertively managed. Possibly some combination of these.

      1. Uzumaki Naruto*

        It sounds like a people and culture management issue to me. In my experience, when all of the highly skilled employees who do good work are grumbly all the time, there’s a reason for that beyond mere coincidence — and it’s likely that something in the work environment is making them feel grumbly.

      2. TheBeetsMotel*

        1, yes, 2, yes, and 3, the culture is actually super micromanagy, which makes things worse – treat people like babies and they either a. Don’t progress beyond the “baby stage”, i.e. being a trainee (ugly phrasing, I know), or b. Do progress ,and resent those whose slack they have to pick up.

  17. PK*

    I don’t think resentment in that situation would be unusual. Personally, I would feel some resentment being passed over on a job and then expected to train the newbie. I’d do it because it’s a task assigned by my boss but I’d be gritting my teeth the whole time. Might be a better idea to find a different employee to train if possible.

  18. Stephanie*

    When I was working second shift, calling out (or leaving due to) insomnia was a perfectly valid reason. A simple “I’m too exhausted tonight” usually sufficed if we weren’t swamped. But it might be a bit different in other offices. I would just call in sick if you have the flexibility.

  19. TotesMaGoats*

    #5-I was once at a gala event. Full on ball gown/tux event. Was chatting with a fellow attendee when I noticed that his fly was open. And open such that it was immediately noticeable. I ended up saying something to my male boss to have him speak to the guy.

    1. fposte*

      The fly is a trickier one, because even though it’s really easy to notice an open fly with a casual look at somebody, it’s hard to raise it without feeling like you were looking at their crotch.

      1. Marisol*

        Ha! Knowing me it would be someone at the office I have a crush on that I was trying to act superprofessional around.

  20. moop*

    LW1 needs to prepare for the contingency that, should they choose the less-skilled go-getter over an external hire or the more-skilled inhouse hire, the go-getter may not be able to gain the missing skills, or may not be able to gain skills anytime soon. This could be due to the go-getter’s natural limitations or because the skilled person may be upset enough to find a new job before training the go-getter.
    Think long and hard about the type of skills missing and how long it might reasonably take to train someone. If it’s just on how to use a specific program or process that is fairly simple and has user manuals, that’s one thing, it’s entirely another if you’re expecting her to learn how to code or write or sell things.

    1. rubyrose*

      Yes to this.
      Somehow, you need to be very sure that the go-getter has the aptitude for the skills they need to obtain.

  21. Alexandra*

    I just want to put this out there: Make sure you’re not confusing “having the right attitude” with “having a personality I happen to like.” A person may objectively have a good attitude, but if you don’t have as good a chemistry with that person as with another, it can be easy to chalk up your preference to one having a better attitude than the other. This can be how implicit biases play out.

    Not saying that this is what is going on here, but it is worth really examining the evidence for attitude differences before making a decision.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Or “is someone I just like more, can’t put my finger on it.”

      And as I said in the Al Davis adage – if you don’t like their personality but they can do the job – remember that you don’t have to take them home with you at night.

  22. Anonymous Educator*

    Unless the person with an excellent attitude is a total incompetent and the position requires very little person-to-person interaction, I would definitely go with the excellent attitude employee.

  23. Mimmy*

    #1 – I honestly think you need a bit of both. Sure, it’s fine for a person to have a can-do attitude and assure you that they can quickly learn the skills, but it doesn’t always come as easily as expected *coughguiltyofthiscough*. If it were me, I’d consider seeking out external candidates since neither person seems to be the right fit.

  24. Critter*

    I remember the day that I met with my new boss; I was coming in before my start date to complete my paperwork with HR, and my new boss chatted with me and walked me around to introduce me. She told me that some of the other applicants had more education and experience than me, but they had decided to offer to me because of my attitude, my “energy” is how she put it, I think. I’ve always remembered that; the intangibles are important, and whether or not that will swing a choice is dependent on the type of work you do as a department.

  25. writelhd*

    For #1, I’ve seen the bad consequences of either! Had a guy with the technical skills but who didn’t want to do his job (respond to customers, spec the project the way the customer wanted, he had his own ideas and wanted to spec the project the way HE wanted instead, and didn’t think calling customers back was necessary) and spent a lot of time sitting in my office complaining that nobody ever used his ideas, until he quit in less than a year. Hired someone to replace him who had a background in customer service (so she would actually respond to customers), a stated to deal with difficult customers in particular, and a really hard working attitude, but who, months later, still struggles to get the technical details right or stay organized, even though she’s putting in a lot of hours and expressing a lot of willingness to learn. It’s a mixed blessing because she’s not actually learning very fast– it is definitely an improvement to be responding to customers at all, but it doesn’t yet free up coworkers time back to their their own work if she isn’t picking up enough of the technical stuff to be able to give customers helpful responses without relying on coworker to help her understand things.

    In another position, hired somebody who had no experience in the industry but whose attitude showed a far better cultural fit than any of the other candidates, and who made a good case for his transferable skills. He had management experience and that’s what we needed, so we let him manage people doing things he’d never done before in an industry he’d never worked in before. He did prove to be an effective manager overall–scheduling, asking questions to understand the situation to be managed and making a common-sense decision in it, figuring out priorities, basic administration, motivating and managing staff, so overall, that was probably the best outcome. Every now his staff gets a little frustrated that he’s reticent to actually step in and do the work his staff does with them on occasion (because he doesn’t know how to do it to the level that they do) but that’s not a requirement of his job, just something more common in the culture of this industry than in the one he came from, and something his predecessor did. He’s made it clear he’s not interested in doing that.

    1. Smushed Avocado*

      I once had a job where my manager had *no* soft skills. He was, to put it politely, an insufferable jerk, but he was put in that position because of politics. He bullied and ran over everyone. I stood up to him, but kept it very professional – like the time he lied about me to a colleague, in an email on which I was copied, I confronted him, professionally and privately, outside of that email chain. He finally apologized, but docked points from my evaluation because I “handled conflict poorly.” >:-( Truth was, he would have seen anything as unprofessional simply because I had the nerve to call out his lie.

      The head honcho later told me, in so many words, that he (HH) put me on that team specifically because he knew I had the “strength of personality to stand up to” jerk manager, and someone needed to do so. Wow, thanks for the vote of confidence, but that didn’t help on my evaluation and its dependent raise.

      Those two were the main reasons I left a job I’d held for several years, and which I had loved until they came in.

  26. Lord of the Ringbinders*

    I’m not sure I would promote either of them.

    It’s okay not to have skills. It’s okay to know less about some tasks than people you manage. My manager would categorically not be able to do my job. But her job is to be the manager of the people doing my job and she is good at that.

    I actually think the OP has created a false dichotomy as it’s not really about attitude v skills but the right set of hard and soft skills to be a team lead. The resentful employee definitely lacks these – so far they have suggested they are emotionally immature and not a team player. Does the other one? No idea yet because OP first needs to pin down the job description.

    OP I would stop thinking about which person suits the job and focus on writing the job spec. What does this position involve? What are the essential duties? Which skills and competencies are essential and which are desirable but not essential?

    Then look for someone who fits the description. Don’t start with a person and try to match the description to them. You need to have a profile for the job before you work out who should get it.

  27. snuck*

    I’d be looking at the duties of the role… and the skills of both… and also consider opening up for applications from elsewhere.

    A team lead doesn’t need to know all the technical stuff – generally there will be a technical lead somewhere in the team (officially or unofficially).

    What is the majority of the job role about? Team leads are normally people who need to motivate others, have the ability to manage people through good and tough moments, develop skills and train others and have a strong sense of self. Do either of your current possibilities meet those?

    If not… advertise – internally or externally. Nothing says (I assume) that you have only these two to select from. You might find someone who is a wonderful team lead from another part of the company who wants to come over already, you might find someone who stepped out to another role wants to return to your area… you might find someone outside the company… what you hopefully WILL find is the right combination of people soft skills and technical skills/ability to learn.

    I personally believe it’s easier to teach technical skills to a person than people skills… and if in doubt I’d err to the person who has better people skills… if the technical person’s nose is out of joint then I’d have a quiet, diplomatic word with them that this is precisely the skills I want them to work on so I can promote them in future… No one owns that promotion, it’s yours – to give to the person who will do it best (and thus save you the most work in the long run – because you don’t want to have to manage that team as well as your own job right?).

    1. Mrs. Fenris*

      It definitely depends on the priorities of the job. Support staff in my field is VERY skills oriented. I’ve worked with a whole bunch of very nice people with poor technical skills, and a few somewhat abrasive people with good skills, and the truth is that I’d rather have the person with skills. (Of course, I’ve had the pleasure of quite a few who had both, and the hellishness of people who had neither.)

  28. Beer Thirty*

    #2 – How would you feel if you were a manager and one of your direct reports was not only given a raise but also promoted to supervisor (over 3 of your former direct reports) without your knowledge or input? That recently happened to me. Can’t say I’ve been terribly motivated ever since.

  29. ilikeaskamanager*

    Re: Travel reimbursement–I wonder if the LW could “ask for help” in finding accommodations that fall within the reimbursement range. Sometimes people have no idea how much stuff costs because they never look. Once the supervisor spends a little time trying to find accommodations that fall below the per diem, maybe they will be more open to increasing it.

    On another note, my son worked last year for a company that reimbursed him 10 cents (yes ten cents) per mile when he ran errands for the boss or attended mandatory out of town meetings. I happen to know that this company was paying 10 cents a mile in 1990. Talk about clueless–it’s a small personally owned business and the CEO is either clueless or does not care.

Comments are closed.