what to say to a chronically late employee

A reader writes:

I have a new salaried staff member who is a manager-in-training for a new location we are opening up. She has worked for us for a week now, and is having child-care issues causing her to be tardy or have to leave earlier than expected. I would like your advice on the most professional way to handle this.

The nature of our business doesn’t allow for flex-time, and we are a semi-warehouse environment, so we don’t allow children inside the location. Location managers are also expected to be the last one out the door at night, which means sometimes you are going to be working 10-20 minutes later than you expected. She knew all of this before when she accepted the position.

The last four days, she has either been late (because the sitter was late), or she’s had to leave before other non-managerial employees in the evening to pick her child up. She’s a single mom, so I understand that she’s in a tough spot. The first time I had a conversation with her about her tardiness, she burst into tears. My boss spoke with her the next day, just to reinforce what I had said, and she burst into tears.

What’s the best way to have a crying-free conversation with her about tardiness and that as a manager, her schedule is firm, and that she needs to understand that some evenings she’ll be expected to work a little later?

I don’t want to scare her off or to think she’s not capable of doing this job, but I also can’t risk a phone call from the client complaining that she hasn’t been there when they expected her to be, or from other employees saying she wasn’t there to unlock the door, making them late.

I answer this question 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.

{ 271 comments… read them below }

  1. Stop That Goat*

    It’s a tough situation but sounds like it may just not be a good fit if she’s expected to be there early and then last to leave. I imagine that the ‘schedule dance’ has to be difficult with kids and even moreso with single parents.

    1. Justme*

      Speaking as a single parent, it is. In this case, the schedule was known when she was hired for the job. I had a job once throw “mandatory overtime” at me (that I hadn’t been told as a condition of employment, and was unpaid since I was exempt) that caused me to not be able to get my kid on their first day of school. I felt like a horrible parent and started looking for a new job.

    2. Anon today...and tomorrow*

      I’m not a single mom, but every June and September I struggle with the “schedule dance” due to the change ups in our family routine. I’m lucky…my start time isn’t set in stone and I can make up those 10 minutes at the end of the shift, but it would be a different and upsetting story if that weren’t the case. Looking forward to next year when both of my kids have to be to school before my work day starts and there’s no scrambling back and forth for the commute. We have one family car that my husband and I share which makes things that much more challenging!

  2. kittymommy*

    I know this might make me a horrible person, but I just can’t with the crying at work. I try to be understanding, but internally in just rolling my eyes. It might be due yo the fact I worked with a woman who cried at everything. You tell her to stop playing music on her phone while she was in an exam room with patients, she cried. You tell her to stop falsifying her time sheet, she cried. You marion in conversation it was to cold in the office, she cried. The worst was when I finally, explicitly told her to stop buying me food (I and my boss had been telling her this a few times) and that I could afford my own lunch if I wanted it ( half the time she got something I’m allergic to or don’t eat), she cried for a half an hour and had to go home.

    1. Ty*

      Sounds like maybe she had more going on then just being an ‘at work crier.’

      I also find crying at work to be pretty embarrassing though (except, of course, if someone has just found out something devastating like terminal illness or death of a loved one), but I tend to cry when I’m angry. I ended up doing that in front of my boss one day who was trying to pin misconduct on me. Its like an auto response or something, so hard to control but still embarrassing. (Also I now have a different boss, so you can see how that turned out).

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Yeah, it’s happened to me once or twice. I wasn’t bawling but I definitely teared up. It nearly happened several other times. It’s always when I feel angry and helpless–something really unfair has happened but absolutely nothing I could do about it, like when your boss tried to blame you for misconduct. It’s embarrassing, and I always hope nobody notices it.

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          I have it for the same reason, anger plus helplessness. I get ashamed when I feel the tears welling up but they’re really hard to stop; one of the few things that works quickly is doubling-down on the anger feelings but that’s hardly productive, so I have to try to hide and wipe when possible.

          1. Hrovitnir*

            Yes, anger + helplessness. Plus once I’m aware I’m starting to tear up, that makes me angry and makes it worse. Eugh.

        2. Amber T*

          There was a question a couple of weeks ago (the OP cried at work when she was sick) and it brought up a good discussion about random bouts of crying at work. I’m a crier, if I feel any extreme emotion (really happy, scared, nervous, angry), I cry. I can handle it at work most of the time, but I’ve cried. It happens. And if it does, I try not to let coworkers see, because I do think it’s overall not appropriate, but at the same time, walking in on someone tearing up because *reasons* shouldn’t be a mark against them.

          That being said, kittymommy – working with that colleague sounds like a nightmare.

          (I may or may not have teared up at work a couple of times because I watched a video of an animal being rescued or one of a pet greeting their human for the first time after a long time, and a coworker may or may not have seen…)

          1. NotTheSecretary*

            Complete tangent but when I was pregnant I would tear up over stupid stuff ALL THE TIME. The breakroom TV was always no American Ninja Warrior when I got to work and I broke down into sobs over one guy who fell off on the first obstacle. He just seemed so excited to be competing and then he fell off. My coworkers had no idea how to handle it but I managed to explain that it was Frustrating Pregnancy Hormones and got them to laugh it off with me.

            1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

              LOL! I feel you! I threw a full blown temper tantrum in the supermarket literally the day before I gave birth to my son because I couldn’t find the Little Debbie snack cakes. My husband, used to these outbursts though never that bad, just rolled his eyes and went to find me what I was looking for. My sister actually laughed so hard at me that she had to run to find a bathroom. To this day she says that the sight of me with my out to there belly, hysterically sobbing in the middle of a grocery aisle, stomping my swollen feet while angrily saying “I want my little debbie’s” is something that she won’t forget! FWIW, since giving birth I haven’t done that again, but yeah…pregnancy makes you do some crazy stuff!

        3. Bolt*

          I’ll never forget the time I cried in the office when confronted by my boss about something I know I did but they took me by surprise.

          I was so angry and ashamed that I felt the tears coming, the more I thought ‘don’t cry’ the quicker my face contorted into ugly cry pose. Once the first tear escaped all hell broke loose! I started crying to the point I couldn’t hold back the tears to any degree… my boss had to awkwardly grab toilet paper from outside his office and bring it in to me to compose myself.

          I was humiliated and I still worry that they thought the tears were just a big show and attempt to manipulate myself out of trouble. I apologized and kept on saying ‘I don’t know why I am crying’ but I know my supervisor was rolling her eyes behind my back.

          Then yesterday (new job) my boss sort of came at me when I told him that a deadline he wanted wouldn’t work. I started tearing up but kept my cool… I’m not sure if he noticed my wet eyes. I was able to keep the tears back until I could dart into the copy room and start dabbing with a tissue.

      2. kittymommy*

        That’s what we thought at first as well, t turns out she had a history of using that (and other behaviors) to manipulate her bosses. One of a long list of issues.
        For the record I am actually a crier.

        1. Getting There*

          I hired a woman once who cried, loud ugly sobs and wails that could be heard from her office all over the building. I tried to approach her with the fact that it was very unprofessional and made everyone uncomfortable, while trying to exhibit understanding at the mess she had going on in her personal life. Much of the crying was manipulative, which personality trait was also behind much of the drama going on in her life that ostensibly led to the crying.

          It all came to a head one day when she was arrested at work for threatening someone. That’s a story for another day, but, that experience has left me with less patience for work crying. I sometimes get uniden tears in my eyes when angry and frustrated, but, I try hard to keep it to myself.

          If I were the OP’s boss, I’d approach her holding several tissues, and hand them to her one by one as I continued to say what needed to be said. Certainly, being a single parent with childcare issues is hard, and, having been there myself, I’m not unsympathetic. However, the requirements of the position, including arrival time and departure times, are not something that was just “sprung” on her. I hope this is just an adjustment period as she transitions into this new job, and that she can get things sorted quickly. Let’s also hope that the crying is situation specific, and not her usual go-to way of reacting to stress.

            1. Susana*

              Ah, we knew what you meant! But while we’re on the topic of word choice…
              I’ve noticed on this forum and among LWs that people use the expression “burst into tears” to describe anyone crying. Well, any woman. Don’t think I’ve ever seen a man described as anything other than “tearing up.” This expression basically conjured up a dramatic and very abrupt – let’s call it even irrational – reaction, like Blondie when Dagwood criticizes her cooking. How often is that really the case? Maybe they just cry, or tear up, or even weep softly. But I feel like women who cry are made out to be these hysterical creatures, to use the gendered phrase.
              Now, it drives me batty when people cry at work, too – and maybe women more, because I know she’ll be judged for it a lot more than a man would. I also am on Capitol Hill a lot, and I assure you – it’s the men who cry! It was Biden and Boehner and now others. And nothing wrong with it. I’m just saying I think the female congressmembers don’t cry because they have been trained not to, or be perceived as weak.
              Anyway – back to point – let’s choose our words carefully when we’re describing behavior we’re examining and judging (even when it merits judging!)

              1. fposte*

                I think it often feels more dramatic to the crier than the cri-ees, too. A red nose and some tear spillage hardly trips my radar when it’s somebody else, but I know when I’m the one in that position I feel like the waves are crashing over me.

      3. Spreadsheets and Books*

        I was at work when I found out about my little brother’s terminal illness, and I reacted pretty much as you’d expect. I was mortified when my manager noticed (although he already knew about brain surgery that occurred prior to diagnosis, so it wasn’t a huge shock) but he took me right downstairs to the train and told me to take as much time as I needed; the company would understand. His empathy and kindness was really appreciated, and if he judged me for it, It never got back to me.

        I’ve gotten a little weepy over the same issue in the months since, but I try to keep it to the bathroom. Sometimes, it’s just hard to help.

        1. sunny-dee*

          I’m sure he never judged you! There is a huge difference between “cries because her beloved brother is dying” and “cries every single time she doesn’t get her way / has negative feedback / doesn’t like the bagel selection.” One is human and understandable (and I’d honestly judge you if you didn’t cry!) and the other is irritating.

          1. Oh Behave*

            My mom died last week. When I called to tell my boss, I know I had to have been incoherent. I did manage to get it out though. He was so sad for us. I was out all last week and came back this Monday. I was ok until our Ed Dir came to ask me how I was. Floodgates. Then yesterday they asked when the funeral would be, and again the tears. I have decided to let them come when they want. It’s very hard to stop them when they start though. Of course no one wants to cry at work, but it’s just a physical reaction that’s 100% natural. I spoke with my MIL last night and called her mom; I started to cry.

            I do agree that grief/shock crying is a whole different ballgame than crying because you don’t get what you want! Any boss work their salt will be completely understanding.

            1. Mananana*

              I’m so sorry about your Mom. I hope you’re extending grace towards yourself when the tears come.

            2. Teapot Librarian*

              Oh goodness, I’m so sorry about your mom. And echoing Mananana about extending grace to yourself. And don’t expect your grief to follow any sort of a timetable.

            3. Bethlam*

              I’m sorry for your loss and can empathize. My mom died last month, 1000 miles away, while I was at work. My brother was there, and my sister and I already had plane tickets to go the next day and I was trying to clear my desk. The 3 of talked frequently during the day, discussing Mom’s situation and expected outcome. We jointly decided to let them just make her comfortable and let her go, and she died a few minutes later, while I was still at work.

              My employer and coworkers have been great. I’ve had floodgates, too. I found a message in my work voice mail from her yesterday and listened to it – luckily it was at the end of the day because I started crying at work, cried the whole way home, then just sat in my car in the garage and cried.

              I know it will take time, and I have good days and bad days. I’m so glad that everyone here is so understanding in the meantime.

      4. MCMonkeyBean*

        I also am someone who cries in anger or frustration (especially during certain times of the month), which is the WORST because then you get embarrassed about crying which just makes me more angry/frustrated!

        Thankfully I don’t get angry/frustrated at work too often, and the few times I have I have mostly been able to keep composed until I can get to a bathroom and cry in private.

    2. JB (not in Houston)*

      Most people who cry at work do not want to cry at work, and most people who do it don’t do it often. You don’t have to be a big fan of it, but don’t let this one coworker make you roll your eyes (internally or otherwise) at people who are mortified about their crying.

      1. Jeanne*

        Thank you. Even when I swore I wouldn’t cry, I still would. It’s a physical reaction as much as emotional. Somehow if my reaction was to clench my fists and get red that would be more acceptable. Just keep having the conversation.

      2. myswtghst*

        Most people who cry at work do not want to cry at work

        Exactly this. There are a minority who do use it to try to manipulate coworkers / bosses, but most of the time it’s something the crier really wishes wasn’t happening.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        Thank you. It’s mortifying, and I wish I did have better control over it, but I do sometimes cry at work. I guess I’m just lucky that I’ve had understanding bosses who know that I do stellar quality work and just occasionally hit my break point because no one’s ever rolled their eyes at me and it’s not held back my professional career.

      4. LiveAndLetDie*

        This exactly. I don’t cry often at all, but when I do it’s usually because I’m frustrated, stressed, and/or angry, and it is a really hard to control involuntary crying. There are a handful of times that it’s happened at work and every single time it is MORTIFYING. The trouble is that once I can feel it starting there isn’t a lot I can do to stop it, it’s just how my body reacts to extremes in those feeling sets. It doesn’t stop me from having the conversation, it just means I need a tissue while having it.

      5. MillersSpring*

        Thank you. People who are irritated by criers need to be more sympathetic.

        I cry during stressful conversations. It’s as uncontrollable as someone who blushes or their ears turn red.

        Also I worked with someone who uncontrollably cried in response to sweet stories–someone would tell a story about their kid or their cat, and she’d weep. Listen, when people can’t control it, others need to be kind.

      6. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        YES! I’m naturally empathetic, and it’s not at all uncommon for me to tear up when I’m talking to a client having a difficult time. It’s not unusual for me to have to take a minute or two after some calls to compose myself. It’s not like I’m incoherent, but I don’t want to be sniffling on my next call!

      7. Burst into tearflames*

        I am definitely a crier and it’s something I’ve always struggled with. It’s very much a physical reaction I can’t control and very rarely, even when I’m giving everything not to, it can devolve into what some might consider “sobbing” (i.e. those uncontrollable hiccuping type sobs when you’re desperately trying to hold everything in.) It’s not that I’m a thinned -skin person. I cried at the Lion King musical and it wasn’t when Mufasa died. Nope, it was the opening number because it was such an incredible performance and I was impressed. My body just seems to react that way over little emotions like that.

        I’ve developed little techniques over the years to deal with it. I wear glasses, so it’s sometimes easier to hide. I’ll cover it up by doing things like laughing and pointing it out: “Oh my gosh, a bug just flew straight into my eye! Ow!” Or complaining about allergies if it’s springtime. I’ll turn on my laptop and look closely at the screen instead of using my monitors or dip my head into my purse like I’m looking for something.

        Sometimes, though, it’s not a momentary thing, and I have to escape by going to the bathroom (and hoping no one is in there) or proclaiming that I left something in my car and run out to grab the non-existent object. I know that those techniques aren’t available in every work setting.

      8. Nic*

        THIS. At OldJob work was horrible, I was burned out, and they kept piling it on me. I cried at work about once a week for a while because I was absolutely at my wit’s end. Every time I went to the bathroom, hid in a stall, and if someone walked in I did everything I could to be silent. Mortified is exactly the right word for it.

    3. Princess Carolyn*

      Knowing that people are likely internally rolling their eyes is what makes me cry harder, tbh. It’s always a few boo-hoos about whatever’s actually bothering me, followed by a whole freak-out about how lame and unprofessional I am for crying at work. Turns out, my number 1 trigger for crying isn’t sadness, it’s shame.

      1. afiendishthingy*

        ^^^^ THIS. This is why it is SUPER HARD for me to recompose myself if I get teary in a difficult connversation with my boss. It sucks.

    4. mrs__peel*

      Crying is not necessarily something that people can help– it just happens to some people more than others, like sneezing many times in a row or other involuntary types of actions.

      Being judgmental about it is kind of illogical– it’s not very likely that the average crying person at work is doing it *on purpose*, unless they’re (I dunno) deep into method acting or something.

      1. fposte*

        Though it’s worth finding ways to minimize it at work, too, if you’re a crier, because it’s a tough thing for other people to ignore.

        1. designbot*

          It’s weird, I thought I was just a work crier and while I tried to do things to minimize it (I’d do math in my head when I felt it coming on, look away from the person talking to me, etc.) I’d also on some level accepted that I was just a crier and would likely deal with that always.
          But then I changed jobs. And nobody blames me for things that aren’t my fault here. And nobody plays power games with me. And I’m valued. And guess what? I don’t cry anymore! What I’d internalized as being something that was my own failing was completely situational due to the toxic horrible workplaces I’d been at in the past. 1.5 years without a tear in the office, when I used to cry probably every couple of months.

          1. A Canadian*

            I can really relate to this. My ex boss would make me cry on purpose and then lecture me for getting emotional. I do cry easily, but ever since I left that job it’s gone down from a few times a week to max once a month. And never at work/about work issues.

          2. Cercis*

            I can relate. Once my cortisol hits a certain level, I’m going to cry when I’m frustrated and angry. Turns out having the employee manual changed 3 times in 6 weeks and being punished for violating the policy that wasn’t in place at the time I made the “violation” really ramps up my cortisol. And it’s one of the things I’m still dealing with in therapy because my body absolutely remembers that cortisol reaction and releases more when I think about the situation.

            But when my cortisol levels are at “normal levels”? I can get really really frustrated and angry and not tear up even a little bit. And of course, when you’re angry about crying, it just makes it that much worse.

          3. EH*

            This! I log my time in a personal notebook (along with notes about mood, etc.), and finally had to add a category for periodic crying jags as my last job deteriorated into a massive dumpster fire of toxicity. I’m pretty lucky in that I can usually postpone crying until I can get away from people, but that shouldn’t be something I’m dealing with on the regular.

            In retrospect I wish I’d gotten more serious about finding a new job when I realized I was crying about work more than every once in a long while. I think the amount of shame I feel about crying made it hard to see that it was a symptom of a bigger problem.

        2. Jeanne*

          What would those ways be? In a difficult conversation (like finding out I might lose my job in OP’s scenario), I end up crying. I have a therapist. We have tried different techniques. Many different techniques. For many of us it’s like saying don’t let your face get flushed. How do you do that? Now of course after the conversation if I needed to bawl I would go to my car. But I’d really love to know how to stop an autonomic reaction.

          1. fposte*

            Tears are an autonomic reaction; crying with vocalization isn’t. Crying amounts are hugely culturally influenced (one of my favorite stats is from a study that showed Nigerian women crying less than American men). I’m not saying that it’s an immediate thing and that if you know the trick you’ll stop crying, but that over time most people can retrain their vocalizations and even their crying amounts.

            1. Twilight Sparkle*

              Huh, this is not a distinction I would think of. To me, someone with tears quietly running down their face is “crying” as much as someone who is sobbing loudly.

              When I have cried at work it’s been tears and quiet, not loud sobbing, but I still just think of it as crying. I wouldn’t be more specific in discussing it usually. I didn’t assume that the crying others mention is loud either.

              1. MCMonkeyBean*

                Yeah, I have always cried pretty easily but I rarely cry *loudly* unless I am extremely upset by a serious event or during/after a very emotional fight.

              2. fposte*

                And what I’m suggesting is that either way it’s not fixed from birth that we cry when we do and how we do.

                1. Cat*

                  I think, to be fair, that there is a difference between “fixed from birth” and “involuntary” though – cultural conditioning is pretty deep rooted and there’s not necessarily a fix to something that you’ve been trained in since birth.

                2. Winter Soldier*

                  OK, but that was hardly the point of my comment so I find this response rather odd. Perhaps I am missing some critical cultural reference, not being a crying American.

            2. Kathlynn*

              I think the vocalization really depends on the type of tears. I rarely cry (I suppress it). When I am crying because I’m heart hurt (like after a serious arguement with a family member) or sick staying quiet, it’s horribly hard.

            3. Nic*

              That’s really interesting.

              I’ve had someone tell me that I was crying in a fake way once when I was sobbing in frustration over something (not at work). I was vocalizing, because that’s what needed to happen at the moment. The friend told me that people who are really crying don’t vocalize.

              I will look into this some more. Fascinating.

              1. Hrovitnir*

                “Really crying” or “you’re doing it to be manipulative” is the worst. I am next-level uncomfortable with showing weakness in public so don’t vocalise when my body overrides my faculties, but it’s definitely part of the whole process of dealing with overwhelming emotions for some people I think. Trying not to make any noise when you’re alone and letting yourself feel the thing is pretty close to impossible – for me, anyway.

            4. Hrovitnir*

              I was (and am) assuming most people here are talking about the former though. I am not someone who cries in front of people: I do not share things that upset me enough to make me cry, as a rule. However, due to an abusive upbringing I find one-on-one criticisms short circuit my brain to an internal explosion of anger followed by shame, and I cry. Intellectually I can take criticism, but willpower has not yet stopped me producing tears and being unable to talk steadily*. I most certainly do not vocalise but trust me, being unable to talk normally is bad enough.

              *To be fair, I’ve only had this issue at work twice, but I have a similar problem with relationship talks. *sigh* I have improved over time but I’m not super hopeful about my PhD defence.

    5. Jen*

      Some people seem to cry at the drop of a hat or whenever criticized though and that makes them very difficult to manage. While crying in a difficult situation is one thing, if someone cries every time someone tries to address real problems with them, it just isn’t going to work out. I have had the rare crier and it is extremely awkward, but I elected to push the tissues over go “you okay?” And keep going. When I was a new attorney I made sure to keep crying to the bathroom or closed office.

      1. PlainJane*

        Yes. Other threads about work crying on this blog have helped me learn to be more patient and tolerant (thanks for that!), but big emotional reactions to routine work stuff forces people around you to manage (or at least deal with) your emotions as well as their own. That gets pretty exhausting.

    6. MuseumChick*

      I worked with someone like this, cried a the drop of a hat. It really does desensitize you to crying overall.

      1. AfterBurner313*

        I’m right with you.

        There is a huge difference between your mom died, Frisky had to be euthanized, your car engine blew up or your spouse ran off with the nanny tears, and I tell you to quit burning popcorn in the microwave and you dissolve into a pile of tears.

        The first batch of tears is a normal response to life changing events. Second batch of tears is just rotten coping skills and worse being manipulative.

        OP, the woman’s life is a dumpster fire, but remember a lot of that was her choices. You are running a business, not charity. If the bottom line is, if you absolutely can not change anything about the time constraints, you are going to have to have a Come to Jesus meeting with Ms.Crier.

        It’s gonna suck. Have two boxes of tissues and a bottle of water for her. She starts the tears, push ahead. Slide the box of tissues to her. Offer the bottle water, and continue the meeting.

        After 30 years of working, my sympathy for “normal work place issues” criers is almost zero.

    7. Insert name here*

      In that case that woman obviously had other issues. But people aren’t robots…sometimes there are terrible circumstances in their lives and they might dare show emotion at work…although most people, including me, sequester themselves in the background along with an additional inner monologue of “you’re such a failure for falling apart at work, get it together!” When my aunt that I was very close to died I spent a month crying in the car on the way to and from work because I really hadn’t dealt with it at all…but occasionally I’d tear up at work too and go off to the bathroom to rein it in.
      I’m sure that’s all just excuses and drama to you but some people can’t suppress emotions 100% of the time in public. Sorry it bothers you so much.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I am sorry for your loss.

        There are tears that come from sorrow or tears that are used to manipulate people. I think most people understand that your tears are pure sorrow. Added wrinkle, some people may totally understand BUT they may not know what to say. Other people seem to know the exact words. I am not sure why some folks can just say the exact right thing.

        I have told myself that the people rolling their eyes at me will have their turn. It’s part of the human experience. No one gets out of here without having at least a few heart-wrenching stories. While I did not wish anything negative on anyone, I also realized that there is no escaping the heartaches in life.
        I hope you found some supportive people, who helped you to feel anchored while you grieved.

        1. Hrovitnir*

          Heh. I definitely understand the feeling of not knowing what to say, as I am a helper by nature. However my preference and thus how I treat others, is to pretend it’s not happening. There is nothing in the world you could say to me that would not make me more uncomfortable.

          You can be slightly overtly kind if someone is clearly dealing with grief: the vet I preferred to put my animals down when I was vet nursing was both because he was very kind and because he would be slightly nicer but ignore it if I were red eyed afterward (generally you’d leave euthanasia until the end of the work day but sometimes you can’t. I kept pet rats so this was something that came up rather more than I would prefer.)

    8. Business Cat*

      I have anxiety that borders on ptsd-like behavior at times, and even though I’m working on it, I can get flustered and cry at the drop of a hat. I totally understand that it can make a lot of people super uncomfortable, and trust me, I am just as uncomfortable about it as you are.

      What makes this incomparably worse is when someone who is NOT a crier looks at you bewilderedly and asks, point-blank, “Why are you crying?” My body responds intensely to stress and I have very little control over that, which is TMI and more than I want to discuss with anyone at work! If you want to do a kindness to the insta-criers of the workplace, a gentle, “Hey, if you need to step out for a minute, that’s fine.” That gives them the opportunity to go do breathing exercise things or rinse off their face or recite their mantra or whatever their calm-down schtick is without putting them on the spot.

      1. Gina Linetti*

        I’m a very easy crier when embarrassed or stressed and my least favorite thing is when I get it under control and stop crying and then someone, with good intentions, says something like “are you okay?” Sets me off all over again and I can’t help it. “Why are you crying?” makes me more embarrassed and it’s a big ugly cycle of me trying not to cry and then crying more.

        1. Amber T*

          If anyone is nice to me when I’m holding back tears, there will be a good chance I’ll start crying. I hear niceness, and my body decides (completely involuntarily) “this is a safe place to cry, so let it out!”

          1. Havarti*

            Oh gawd, yes. Sometimes I have to tell people not to hug me or anything because that will make the crying worse.

            1. TheLazyB*

              I was amazingly somehow self-aware enough at 22 in my first office job to say to my line manager before I told her I’d split up with my boyfriend ‘please be very matter of fact and don’t be sympathetic or I’ll cry’. She was a lovely person and if she’d gone with her natural instincts I would have ended up going home unable to work for crying.

          2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Church is the one that gets me. It’s like my tear ducts go “hey, this is a place full of nice people! If you have any emotions, time to start leaking them down your face!” Still trying to train myself out of this.

            1. Cercis*

              Therapy for me. I’ll go to therapy and think “wow, I’m feeling really centered and great, I’m not sure what we’ll talk about” and then 15 minutes into session I’ll be crying.

              1. Not in US*

                I figure in therapy that’s a given – at least it often is for me. I often feel like the crazy lady at the back of my church – I went through a long period of crying frequently in church so I hear you Countess. I hate crying at work, but I do sometimes and like many people here, I feel like I’m failing if I cry. My father taught me that if you cry during a fight you aren’t fighting fair – but sometimes I just can’t control it. Thankfully my husband seems to get it and it doesn’t really bother him.

              2. Hrovitnir*

                Haha, the fact I’ve never cried in therapy is probably related to the fact I clearly don’t relax enough. (And this doesn’t mean I don’t share horrible things, it means I’ve been over them enough to be matter-of-fact about them.)

            2. PlainJane*

              I’m a church-crier too, though I hardly ever cry anywhere else. Glad to know I’m not the only one.

          3. ThatGirl*

            For me, too — I can be mostly keeping it in and then someone asks me if I’m okay or whatever and BOOM! waterworks.

          4. Not So NewReader*

            Am smiling. I remember my aunt and I talking about this. Why do some people provoke our tears when others do not?

            She said she thought it was the softness of the person. That gentle voice with gentle, well-chosen words can really get the water works running.

            I agree.

            I have had to talk to a few crying people. While it is not fun, it’s not my emotion to process. I have enough of my own tears I can’t borrow other people’s. So my strategy is to talk in a lower voice, so as not to be overheard and so I don’t sound intimidating to the crier. But I stay on-topic and I stay matter of fact. The overall template I use is “X happened. We need to fix it.” Or “X happened and we can’t do that because [reasons].”

            I get to the solution side of the story as soon as I can. The solution may be that they have to redo their work. Or the solution may be that that they realize they have just had a verbal warning on X behavior. The most torturous thing I come up with is when I ask them to participate in building their plan to prevent X problem from happening again. That is hard, but somehow the tears usually stop on the way to building a solution.

            When people are routine criers, I think if they know they can avoid difficult conversations by crying, it makes it much easier to cry the next time. It’s better just to go into the conversation and not let it drag on for days. In OP’s setting, it’s probably better to sit her down and talk with her through the tears. Ignore the tears except to pass her a box of tissues. Then keep talking with a steady, calm voice that projects the message, “We are just going to continue on talking here, you do what you need to do as far as crying. But we will keep talking.”

            I have mentioned it before, but I would rather deal with a crier any day than deal with an angry person. Anger, cussing, throwing things are behaviors that bring out a different response from me. This is a person who is not ready for conversation and not ready to look for solutions.

        2. Cercis*

          I generally just say “darn allergies, huh?” and go on as if things are normal (whether it’s me tearing up and sniffing or them). But I live in a place known for year round allergies so it’s a convenient excuse.

    9. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think it’s important not to assume bad intent, though. It sounds like the woman you knew had other issues at play that led you to believe she purposefully cried to manipulate others.

      But that’s also a really sexist stereotype that people deploy against women, even if those women have no desire/aim to manipulate others. For some people, crying really is just an uncontrollable stress response, and although folks can/should work on trying to minimize it at work, sometimes it’s just not possible. I guess I think it’s better to approach people with empathy and compassion, first, instead of internal eye-rolling.

      1. Myrin*

        In fairness, though, I think it’s totally possible to react both with an internal eye-roll and outward compassion. The former is the spontaneous reaction you feel inside yourself (and that you can’t really control), the latter is what you show to others and how you behave.

        I actually experience this somewhat regularly since I’m not particularly emotional. For example, I find big romatic gestures completely ridiculous. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t understand that others derive joy from them or that I can’t be supportive of someone who likes them. My sister is the exact opposite from me in the “overt romance” department and when one of her exes sent her a schmoopy text that made me want to burrow myself underneath my bed from secondhand embarrassment, I still commented how that’s very thoughtful of him and that I’m glad she got texts like that that make her happy.

        1. Mananana*

          Myrin, I’m right there with you. An ex-beau did the whole “rose petals strewn about the room” thing and all I could think of was what a waste of flowers and what a pain it was going to be (for him) to clean it up. But I kept those thoughts to myself.

        2. Health Insurance Nerd*

          Yes, all of this! I’ve been accused of being cold on more than one occasion because I’m not a big crier, and my demeanor is more “matter of fact”. That isn’t to say that I don’t get sad or that I don’t have empathy for people and tough situations, and I DO cry, but for me it is a pretty rare thing.

      2. Aurion*

        Serious question: does socialization come into it at all? All the people I know who cries with extreme emotions (stress, upset, fury, what have you) are all women. I’ve never known a man who cries due to extreme emotions except for grief, and I’m curious as to why.

        1. fposte*

          Crying is still kind of underresearched, but there’s some strong evidence for socialization–as I note below, there’s research that indicates crying amounts vary by country as well as by gender.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            I remember a study about this regarding Navajo populations–doctors who had internalized knowledge of certain levels of visible pain/distress (including tears) in their Anglo patients would chronically underestimate pain/distress in their Navajo patients, because of cultural differences regarding expressions of distress (in short, the Navajo patients had to suffer a great deal more pain before they would begin to cry, due to differing cultural standards–so doctors had to adjust their set points for what constitutes ‘visible distress’ as a diagnostic tool). I believe similar studies have been done for other cultural groups as well.

            1. Optimistic Prime*

              Yep! There are lots of studies showing that African Americans and Latinos are underprescribed pain medication because they express pain/distress culturally differently than white people, and most doctors are white and used to studying pain expression from white patients. There’s also a lot of other unfortunate racism/stereotyping that drives this (people in general, doctors included, believe that African Americans particularly have some kind of superhuman traits that cause them not to experience pain the same as white people, for example).

            2. Hrovitnir*

              Eugh, “visible distress”. Sorry to be all over this thread, but these are discussions I have experience with! I am pretty much incapable of being anything but calm with a medical provider? (I am white-passing and culturally white.)

              When I had my appendix out they would have put it off a day if an emergency had come in as I wasn’t showing that much pain – it was hours from perforating when they did the surgery. I went into hospital with probable-kidney stones and I tried to make myself say “this hurts as much as when my appendix nearly burst” but I just fall back into being calm and cooperative even when I’m breathing funny and rushing off to vomit from pain.

              In other words: I desperately wish ED staff wouldn’t rely on the loudness of patients to determine need. :/

        2. A nonny*

          I think it might be a testosterone thing? Definitely anecdata here but I have read a decent amount of personal stories where people who start on testosterone say one thing they notice is that it takes a lot more to make them cry than previously.

          1. Samata (Formerly Whats In A Name)*

            I don’t know about testosterone, but I was on the depo shot for about 13 years and even I was aware of how UN-emotional I was about just about everything. I went off of the shot about 5 years ago and damnit if I don’t cry every Sunday during CBS Sunday morning. And for random commercials…and every feel-good story…and every story about loss…and when I’m mad…or happy….or WHATEVER. It border on ridiculous to me.

            All that said I have never cried at work, even watching a video on my lunch. Not sure where my brain draws that line.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            I was really run down and weepy. I went to the doc and he said “you are low on testosterone.”
            Being female and young, I did not think this was a big deal. I did not believe him but I tried what he said to do.
            Sure enough, my energy came back up and the weepies went away.

            It only happened that one time but I was under extreme stress.

          3. Hrovitnir*

            It’s variable. Pretty sure there is a hormonal component, but some trans dudes find they start crying more easily when they start T. (Many find the opposite. Same with things like sex drive.)

        3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Yeah, socialization is a huge part of it. There’s plenty of research on how men in the US often have really messed-up relationships with their own emotional landscape because they’ve gotten the ‘boys don’t cry/get scared/get sad’ indoctrination and it makes it very hard for them to admit that they are scared/sad/upset/stressed.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Women get the same message about men.
            I thought I was a modern thinking person. Yeah, right.
            I went to a funeral that was very, very hard for me. I got there and the MEN were crying. Oh my. The men are crying. It startled me.
            It took me a minute but then I realized, that is what validation looks like sometimes. The men cry, too.

        4. ThatGirl*

          My husband occasionally cries when he’s very, very upset or at something emotional (e.g. the beginning of UP, the scene in LOTR when Aragorn says “my friends, you bow to no one”) but it’s still fairly rare for him. And he’s definitely not the most macho/super-masculine guy.

          1. Turquoise Cow*

            Hmm. I tend to cry at emotional things like movie scenes or songs more at certain times of the month, but less at real-life things like illness or the threat of death or whatever. I sometimes cry for no reason. However, I rarely cry in front of people, and find myself emotionally shutting down in public. (Funerals, however, usually break through that mental shield).

            My husband is much more likely to cry at real life events, like when I’ve been hospitalized or at our wedding. I think that, even though he’s supposed to be the strong man in the relationship, he grew up in an environment that was much more accepting of crying and expressing emotions. My family isn’t very good at that, so when I cry, I then immediately feel horrible and try to shut it down, sometimes leading it to come out at random times for no discernible reason.

          2. Chinook*

            My grandfather, a former sergeant major (and an intimidating one, from the stories he told), was known to cry at the drop of hat over real life situations. We would tease him about it but we accepted it as something he couldn’t control. Some of us grandchildren have inherited the “emotional crier” gene and have yet to find a sure way to control those tears rolling down our cheeks and are forever jealous of my grandmother who was always stoic. I saw her cry once and that was only because I was living with her after my grandfather died. When she cried, she did it in private.

            Ironically, both came from the exact same cultural pool (grew up 50 kms from each other), so it wasn’t a taught thing.

          3. Kathryn T.*

            I was in a position where I had to “watch” Fellowship of the Ring six times in six days (I sing with the local symphony orchestra and we were showing the movie and performing the soundtrack live). How many times did I cry at “My brother, my captain, my king” in those six days? All of them. In fact I’m tearing up now remembering it.

    10. Artemesia*

      I find this sort of thing grossly manipulative and would be far less sympathetic than simply angry at someone behaving like this.

    11. peachie*

      Ugh. I am the person you just can’t with, and I know, and I apologize. :(

      (Believe me, if I could never cry in front of another soul, I’d take that option in a heartbeat. I hate crying and I know it makes people feel uncomfortable in many situations. It also makes me feel uncomfortable. But for me, if it’s gonna happen–whether or not I have a good reason!–it’s gonna happen. I seriously, seriously cannot stop it. I’ve tried everything. I usually just say something like “Please ignore this thing that’s happening to my face; I’m absolutely fine but this is How I Am.”

      I honestly believe it’s tied to hormones, or at least to, like, neurochemical levels or something. Anecdotally, a friend is a trans man and he’s been on T for years now. He told me he was shocked by how much less frequently he cried/teared up after going on hormones. He believes it’s the hormones, and I’ve heard similar things from other trans folk, so I totally buy that.)

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Heart patients tend to be weepy sometimes.

        My father was big, manly dude. Until his bypasses, that is. After the heart surgery, he cried openly often. In appropriate situations, such as loss, but he never would cry like that before the surgery.

        I thought it was good that he opened up like that. It was not lost on me that you go through life broken-hearted, you end up with a literal broken heart. Those tears have to come out.

      2. Annabelle*

        I’m late to this, but I wanted to add more anecdotal evidence to the hormone factor. I was an easy crier for most of my life until halfway through my teen years when, for whatever reason, my instinct to cry seemed to vanish.

        This coincided with some gynecological stuff and I was ultimately diagnosed with PCOS/hyperandrogenism. So basically, way too much testosterone for a cis lady. Idk the actual statistics, but I definitely think crying has some sort of hormonal link.

      3. Lasslisa*

        I have always known when my period was coming because I would start crying at absurdly mild things. Just sitting there watching TV and then a commercial comes on and I’m like, “Aww, that poor mop, it’s lonely! … Good Lord, am I *crying*? What is wrong with me???” It wasn’t even that my emotional responses were any stronger, just that my eyes got leaky.

        But on the socialization side of it, after working in a male-dominated industry for a couple of years, I noticed that my reaction to unfair criticism had transformed from being hurt into being angry. So I’d blow up back at the guy in a really masculine-coded way – “that was never my job, your team was supposed to handle the — ” whatever – instead of tearing up and getting feminine-coded upset like I had fresh out of school. I don’t think it improved my blood pressure any, but it was really interesting to notice.

    12. cheeky*

      I would ask you to work on having compassion. Crying, for some people, is not really under their control. It really isn’t a sign of weakness. And for most of the people who have cried at work, it’s absolutely mortifying. I’ve cried at work and then wanted to jump off the top of the building in shame. As with anything, don’t let one person’s behavior color how you see and feel around other people.

    13. Middle Name Jane*

      The only time I’ve ever cried at work in front of people was at my first job out of college when my mom called to tell me my cat that I had had since I was 10 years old had died.

      I don’t get people who regularly cry at work, but I rarely cry at other times either.

    14. meat lord*

      I haven’t cried at work yet, but I know that I probably will. I’m usually good at keeping my emotions under wraps, but certain circumstances will bust through my calm, cheerful façade like wet tissue paper.

      I know people are going to judge me for it if it happens, which sucks. But, hey ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I got the insta-tears gene from my mother. Not much I can do.

      1. meat lord*

        That said, cries-at-everything lady sounds unbearable and manipulative. (Maybe unintentionally so, but manipulative nonetheless.)

  3. Myrin*

    I feel like this part of your answer: “In other words, be compassionate about her situation but realistic and forthright about what the job requires.” holds true in so many situations and is really perfectly worded here – I’m definitely going to remember it!

    1. Jeanne*

      It is wonderful advice. It doesn’t have to be all one side or the other. If she cries, it’s ok. You’re delivering tough news. You don’t have to say “stop crying.” But you keep having the conversation. Deliver the news. Ask for her response. Hold the whole conversation.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I have found it helpful to make a list of “stupid” things I have cried over. It can make it easier to be more patient with the crier, when I remember we all have our limits of what we can hold in.

      I think the real problem is the perception that if someone is crying the conversation must stop. And that is simply not true. The conversation does not have to stop.

      Agreeing with Jeanne, that you don’t have to say “stop crying”. Matter of fact, if you do tell them to stop crying, they will probably cry harder. Best to skip this step.

  4. irritable vowel*

    This conversation may also be an impetus for her to find a more reliable sitter or a different childcare option, if that’s not already something she’s working on. So I’d recommend including that as part of the conversation you have with her – it could be framed as “this person that you’ve hired is causing us to have a problem here.” That might deflect some of what she feels as criticism of her (when it’s about something that I’m sure is incredibly frustrating for her) that’s leading to the tears.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      I think that might be a bit of an overstep. She’s showing stress on the issue already; I don’t think it needs to be explicitly said that she needs a better childcare option.

      Unfortunately, childcare is often something that is not easy or quick to arrange. Most carers have waiting lists!

      1. Justme*

        Definitely an overstep. Unless the person saying that to me has a quality and affordable recommendation, it’s ridiculous.

        1. AthenaC*

          It’s definitely outside the scope of what one should expect of a manager, but in this situation if the OP knows of anyone (or any resources to find anyone) it would be a kindness to offer as an option.

        2. Judy (since 2010)*

          I’d say that only if you have an EAP that has childcare resources should you mention it.

          (I have worked at places where the EAP did have those resources, I’m not sure how good they were, but they were part of the services provided.)

          1. AthenaC*

            Different localities maintain lists of licensed childcare providers in the area. When I had a childcare emergency a little over a year ago I googled “Lake County childcare” (because I live in Lake County, IL) and I was able to find a list of licenses home day care providers near me. I took two days off, sent a dozen emails, had two emails bounce back, received “I have no spots” replies from six, no reply from three, met with one lady (loved her!), got my son’s paperwork in order, and got him into daycare after only taking the two days off.

            Now, it helped that I was pretty new at this point and not very useful yet, so my employer really wasn’t missing much by my absence.

            But I knew what to do here because I’ve had my life fall apart enough that crisis management is just my SOP. Other people may not know what to do; that’s why I said it’s a kindness to point people in the direction of avenues they might not know about.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              This. Sometimes bosses can find themselves offering advice on some situations. If a person is new to the area or if the person indicates that support at home is scant to none, the boss can toss an idea out almost without thinking.
              It’s human nature to want to help someone who is truly floundering. Sometimes a boss can feel they almost have to offer something helpful in order to retain the employee.

              I had my rule of one time. I would mention it once when it came up and then never bring it up again. I would assume the person found something that worked, unless they told me otherwise. If they came back, I would direct them to other resources to continue their search.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I’m curious if this is odd-shift type work. I worked in light industrial, and you could have a 6 am-2 pm schedule, or 3-12s 6 am – 6 pm, etc. Not the employer’s problem, but I do sympathize with a single mom who is trying to find a decent paying job, presumably close to where she lives/can afford to live, and who may be dealing with limited child care options.

      I would be inclined to give her a little longer to get the childcare straightened out, since she might have a single sitter coming to the house, and it could be a new arrangement with someone not working out.

      I don’t even work weird schedules, and my first sitter for my second child didn’t work out. It was an in-home daycare, but the woman had her own baby, and if that baby was sick, she closed. She only ran her daycare for 9 months and went back to work. She had a degree in chemistry and one in early childhood ed, and was a nice suburban SAHM. She seemed very reliable, but she totally wasn’t.

      1. paul*

        It’s a consistent issue for us with clients. Shift work is huge here–meatpacking plants, train yards, etc–but there’s literally *no* daycares open past, IIRC, 7:30pm in the city. There’s a few licensed child care homes but they’ve got waitlist a mile long. It’s a major hurdle for clients we’ve got that are trying to get employment.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          I have worked 2nd shift, and I’ve been the childcare provider for someone on 2nd shift.

          It’s a challenge, for sure, but that isn’t the employer’s problem. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s the reality. Not every place has the ability to flex, and people just have to work it out- whether that means an in-home sitter or a relative or even the child’s other parent. I worked someplace where literally thousands of other single parents were working it out somehow (and the divorce rate on 2nd shift is the highest) so you were expected to manage your own stuff and work it out like everyone else.

          And I knew a lot of people who worked an opposite shift from their spouse or even ex, just so they wouldn’t have to worry about it. (And then my mom took care of my cousin’s son, because they tried that with 3rd shift, and unshockingly, you can’t both sleep and supervise a 3 yr old, after all…)

          1. paul*

            Believe me, I know; I tend to be one of the ones on the blog that kind of pushes back on the idea that it isn’t reasonable to expect employees to be fairly punctual. I just get that it can suck for employees too.

        2. Gen*

          Yes, we’re a steel town with 12 hour shifts being very common, but no one childcare location covers more than 10, so kids get ferried between locations at an extra cost but that also causes multiple points of failure- childcare one is open but two is closed, both are open but the driver is sick etc etc it makes working very difficult for parents

      2. Is it Friday Yet?*

        That would also be part of the issue when trying to find a new sitter and/or daycare. It’s going to be hard to visit a place at 5am or 7pm. A sitter could at least maybe meet on the weekends or her off days.

    3. Sadsack*

      No, do not say this. As others have said, this is an overstep, but it also is not taking any blame from the employee to say “the person that you hired…”

    4. Observer*

      Don’t bring up the childcare. Talk about the specific problem, which is that her job simply does not have any options for flexibility and she needs to be there when she needs to be there. If she brings up the issue of her carer coming late THEN you tell her that she needs to find childcare that is reliable – you could even say that just as her job requires her to be there at certain hours, she needs to make that a requirement for anyone who works for her.

      And, if you know of any resources for childcare, pass that on.

    5. Kate*

      I guarantee you that she already knows this and would also like to switch to more reliable childcare, were it affordable/available. No parent wants to be in this situation, but sadly many are because they can’t shell out $1800+/month for reliable childcare during the hours they need. Saying this to her is going to come across like you think she’s clueless/unprofessional

  5. animaniactoo*

    You can’t control how they’re going to react. You just can’t.

    The best you can do is be respectful and as kind as possible WHILE still doing the essential function of your job which is to reinforce that her position is actually time-sensitive and there is a limit to how much you can allow her personal issues to affect her work performance in a negative way and keep her in the position.

    You can give her X time to get it resolved (another week?), but she’s got to get on it one way or another and work it out – and beyond that it becomes an issue that you just can no longer work around.

    If that causes her to cry, it does. You neither can nor should take responsibility for that. How she reacts is on her – and if she can’t control this, it’s also on her.

    If you have room for her in a different position, that would be good to see if that can work for her (and you – don’t forget it also has to work for you). If you know of somewhere else hiring that you could put in a good word for her, you can offer that.

    But your focus can’t be a “non-crying conversation” because you simply have no way to control whether she cries short of not having the conversation at all and completely abdicating your responsibility (and leverage) as her manager.

    1. CM*

      +1 to both of these (so, +2?)

      Ignore the crying and just focus on her words. Some people can’t help crying even though they wish just as much as you do that they could have a tear-free conversation at work.

      And sometimes it takes a while to adjust to a new schedule and childcare situation. I think it would be a kindness to give her up to a month to get it resolved (and be clear that this is a firm deadline), but you’re not obligated to.

  6. CR*

    Ugh, I really sympathize with this woman because I’m a crier in stressful situations too. I’m not actually a basket case, it’s just my body’s reaction and it’s hard to control. It’s happened to me at work and it’s always really embarrassing.

    1. Not Karen*

      Same. I think non-criers often conflate crying with being extremely upset because they themselves don’t cry until they reach that level of upset, when in fact criers will cry even when they are not that upset. This is what makes us “criers” – it’s not that we are more easily upset, we just have a different reaction to being upset.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*


        There are times where I will start to cry at literally anything that makes me have a stronger emotional response than “meh.” It can be something like “oh hey, this song I like came on the radio — man, that time I saw the band live was awesome!” Whoops, crying.

        I’ve managed to narrow that down to times I really need some kind of catharsis, and my body is more or less going “okay look you ARE going to find some kind of emotional release so help me god” and the trigger just happens to be Battle Beast or a really cute foal in a field along my commute or whatever.

      2. PlainJane*

        I’m (usually) a non-crier, and you’ve helped me understand behavior that I usually find baffling. Thank you for that.

    2. cncx*

      this is me. i have cried at work so much over petty stuff, i just am a crier. it doesn’t mean i can’t handle my life, crying is just how my body does. i am usually mortified afterwards and check in with the person (if i hadn’t told them before casually) that i cry easily and it is what it is.

  7. Rachael*

    As a parent who recently had a child care crisis I recommend that you be as compassionate as possible. It was extremely stressful to find child care centers without years long waiting lists and having to ask for time off to make sure that there was someone who can watch my child. Securing quality childcare is not as easy as some people think especially in my city (Seattle).

    You may want to make sure that you ask her how long she will be having this issue. It may be very short term and, depending on your staffing needs, accomodations may be able to be made while she is figuring it out. It has only been a week with her new schedule so she may experiencing growing pains that will go away soon and get smoother.

    Yes, of course, you should think about your company and the staffing needs but it may be beneficial for you to work with her (if it is short term) and gain a loyal employee.

    As for the crying, just remember that it is probably very embarassing for her. She just started and is trying to iron the child care issue out and she can’t just leave the child with just anyone.

    1. swingbattabatta*

      I’m currently having childcare issues in Seattle as well. It is so stressful, and by no means do I want my work to suffer, but… I can’t just leave my tiny human to fend for themselves. I have sympathy for all involved here, and I hope that this is just a symptom of adjusting to a new schedule that will resolve itself quickly.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Side note, but there are retired women at my church who do babysitting / childcare just for a few hours a day, to fill in the gaps between when daycare ends and work schedules end. They don’t charge too much, and most of them have been vetted or background-checked since they’ve worked in Sunday school, vacation Bible school, or the church preschool. Try contacting a local church and see if they have any women in the church who would be interested in babysitting.

        If you have mostly child care but need someone to fill in from, like, 4 to 8 or something and can’t find a facility where the hours work, that’s what I would do.

        1. swingbattabatta*

          Thanks! Our current problem is that a daycare assured us they’d have space for us beginning in August, but we were just informed that September is now the earliest we can get in. That leaves us the entire month of August to figure out. I work full time from home, and I’m feeling a little panicky about figuring this out.

          All that being said, I do hope that the LW can show some compassion and flexibility in the short-term, if possible. If it just isn’t possible because of the job requirements, that’s one thing, but if there is concern about this becoming a pattern, please understand that the first week or two of a new job/childcare set up always has some growing pains. I sympathize immensely with working parents who struggle with these issues, and who have to rely on other people to be timely in order to meet their own schedule.

          1. Rachael*

            I completely sympathize. My husband, child’s grandmother, and I are taking turns providing childcare through PTO & working from home because nobody has space before September! My employer has been extremely helpful to the point of helping me find resources to cope with the stress. Of course, I don’t have strict start and end dates, but I would like to hope that an employer can be accommodating if it is possible.

            Good luck in your search this summer!

        2. SophieChotek*

          My church has free daycare and my understanding is they are completely vetted, etc. They provide this as s service to the community precisely to fill in the gaps. My church sits between a lower-middle-class/lower-income neighborhoods and my understanding is this is one of their “ministries” to the community. My understanding is that there is no expectation to be a member to use the daycare; what I don’t know if the church can take any more kids. But something like that might have possibilities too.

    2. AthenaC*

      I agree with this, but unfortunately it’s a requirement of the job to be on time and work set hours. So the OP can be as sympathetic as one can be but still come to the conclusion that it’s not working out.

      That said, would it be possible to give this employee a couple days off specifically to look for, meet with, and choose a different daycare provider? And be absolutely clear that going forward, aside from the occasional emergency, any deviation from expected hours would be a fireable offense?

      1. Cobol*

        I don’t know if it’s OP or Allison who labeled the new hire as Chronically late, but I don’t think the first week should be considered an indicator. Especially if they were unemployed before, it can take a bit to shore up childcare.

        1. fposte*

          If she’s late repeatedly in the first week, though, I think it’s still a fair label. She may be chronically late with a reason, but that doesn’t mean she’s not chronically late when she’s expected to be on time.

          1. Cobol*

            I disagree 100% with this comment. Chronically insinuates an ongoing situation. Its literal definition is persistent, reoccurring, or habitual. As Many have said child care is not something that came turned on or off. Calling somebody chronically late while they try taking childcare is like calling them chronically sick due to catching the flu the first week of work.

            1. AthenaC*

              So – childcare is a business with performance expectations and set hours just like any other. In that respect satisfactory childcare is something that is either there or not. Childcare either honors the hours they agreed to or they do not. If they do not, then you have the chronic lateness conversation with them, and if it doesn’t change then you say “it’s not working out.” Because their poor performance is putting you at risk.

              It does put the parent in a vulnerable position if the parent is in the process of figuring out that their childcare arrangements aren’t working out, but it is still the parent’s responsibility to manage that employment relationship with their childcare provider or hire someone else.

              As I’ve said above, the parent’s best path is probably to take a couple days off (get “sick” if need be) and handle this.

              1. Cobol*

                That is not what turns on and off means. I can’t today say I want child care (especially reliable childcare) and have it tomorrow. It’s literally impossible. If you think you hired the best person for the job give them a chance to get situated.

                1. AthenaC*

                  But they’re not trying to get situated. A person trying to get situated switches daycare providers if that person makes them late twice in a week, explains the situation to their employer, and asks for patience. Crying in order to shut down a conversation about one’s performance issues is not the same as “trying to get situated.”

                2. AthenaC*

                  “I can’t today say I want child care (especially reliable childcare) and have it tomorrow. It’s literally impossible.”

                  Really? Because I’ve actually done that three different times in two different areas. And no, none of those solutions involved family or friends. It’s a matter of knowing what to do and how to handle things.

                3. Zombeyonce*

                  @AthenaC Saying that she’s “crying in order to shut down a conversation about one’s performance issues” is a pretty big leap. Like plenty of people, she likely has cried at these conversations because it makes her worried for her job and she’s already experiencing stress from trying to make childcare work. All that stress and worry make it really easy for some people to cry in tense situations whether they want to or not. I don’t think it’s fair to claim that she’s crying on-demand just to get out of a problem.

                4. LizM*

                  AthenaC, I suspect this varies by region. I looked into hiring a backup nanny service to cover days when my son’s regular caregiver had to close unexpectedly (jury duty, her sick days), and that service had a 2-3 week wait list/onboarding process for new clients before you could start using the service. I’ve had to change caregivers 3 times in the last 3 years, I’ve never found a caregiver who could start in less than 2 weeks.

                5. AthenaC*

                  @LizM – You’re right, it does vary by region. And other types of care also vary in their availability – centers, home daycares, backup options, nannies, etc. But as I said, I’ve done it three different times, so Cobol’s statement that “it’s literally impossible” is false, at least in my experience.

                  @Zombeyonce – Maybe, maybe not. Either way, she’s not addressing the problem. I’ve been in desperate situations before, and let me tell you what I’ve learned – no one cares what you’re going through. It’s a harsh lesson, but it’s an important one. Solve the problem, ask for the temporary flexibility you need to solve the problem, and keep your own anxieties out of it. Although it’s more difficult to pull off in a desperate situation, it’s especially important in that desperate situation because you need that income. So the last thing you want is for people to put you in that mental “drama queen” bucket; it’s not fair, but it’s what happens.

            2. fposte*

              It *is* recurring. She’s had an attendance problem four out of five days there. The flu would be preferable because it’s self-limiting and unlikely to recur, whereas you’re not going to have better child care just by waiting a week and doing nothing.

              If you want to call it something other than chronic, that’s fine; I don’t think it changes anything. It doesn’t change the fact that she should be on her best behavior in her first week on a job and she’s already been unable to meet expectations on a regular basis. If she were writing in, I’d tell her to talk to her manager ASAP about how she plans to fix this problem, because her lack of acknowledgment of it is compounding it.

              It sucks to juggle child care and a job, and I’m fortunate in being able to give my staff flexibility on that. Many jobs can’t. And for those there’s only so much sympathy for the difficulty of the position can get you when ultimately you need somebody to meet the expectations of the job.

              1. Cobol*

                There’s no indication she isn’t doing anything. If it is chronic she should be let go, but one week is not enough time to determine. You can get sick again, but for me to assume you always get sick because you missed 4/5 days your first week wouldn’t be smart on my part.

                1. fposte*

                  There’s no indication she *is* doing anything, either, because she’s failing to meet expectations and doing a bad job of communicating about her problem.

            3. Toph*

              I disagree with this. While I have sympathy that there can be difficulty in securing childcare, the OP’s employee accepted the position with the understanding that it had zero flexibility on the hours. If the employee cannot meet the requirements of the job, however much I might feel for her that finding good childcare isn’t easy, if I hire someone to (it sounded like) be the only person with a key, who unlocks and locks the office to let everyone else in and out daily, if that person cannot reliably ensure they will arrive on time in order to do that, that is not the right job for that person. I think it is equally reasonable that there is little to no wiggle room on this. If I give someone five chances to show up on time, and five times they’re late, in a position where timing is crucial, that’s a dealbreaker. I’m not saying fire her on the spot, but if she does not already understand that this pattern is unsustainable, and I do think it’s enough to call it a pattern, she needs to get that message immediately so both sides don’t continue to waste each other’s time.

            4. Optimistic Prime*

              Well, you can have a good *reason* for being chronically late and still be chronically late. I agree that four days in the first week is too early to call it, but the reason doesn’t make someone *not* chronically late.

        2. paul*

          I may be off the norm here, but I’d consider the first few weeks to be the time to try your damndest not to be late.

          I sympathize with the child care situation; see my other post in this thread (just ctrl F). But at the same time it’s a really bad look in a situation where you don’t have any built up credibility or anything.

          1. Cobol*

            If her sitter didn’t show up at 7:00 am like they said they would no amount of trying hard will help though.

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              Yes, and as someone pointed out when this question originally went up — if the sitter isn’t there, she literally, legally cannot leave. So it’s a very rock-and-a-hard-place situation to be in, and I do feel like the response needs to acknowledge that. This isn’t like missing the bus on public transit, where ‘well, leave earlier’ is a reasonable option.

        3. Massmatt*

          I disagree. IMO “chronically late” is an apt description for someone who so far has been late and/or had to leave early 100% of her shifts. As I said below, you are basically on probation and should be showing your best behavior when you start a new job, if you aren’t cutting it with showing up then it’s unlikely to improve later.

          It’s like someone who’s rude or unprepared or otherwise obnoxious during a job interview. That is them presenting their best self. Don’t make excuses for them and assume it’s going to get better somehow; if they suck in an interview toss their application and move on to a better person to hire.

          1. Cobol*

            You’re talking about two different things. Being rude is something you can control by yourself, childcare is not.

            1. AMT*

              I agree that it’s much less under her control than rudeness, but at this level in her career, she should know how to communicate what’s happening. “My old daycare shut down and I’ve been having my neighbor watch my kid, but he’ll be starting a new daycare on the 30th” sounds a lot better than just being late every day with only a vague explanation and no timeline on remedying the situation.

              1. Cobol*

                I agree with this. As much as I feel for her these are her job requirements. If she’s not changing anything this isn’t the right job.

    3. Princess Carolyn*

      I’m definitely in favor of giving this employee a little more time to figure out the childcare situation, if it’s at all possible. It’s clear that showing up late and leaving early aren’t going to work in this position in the long term, but it’s not clear that the cause of the tardiness is long-term.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        +1 to this! Alison is right on w/having a frank conversation w/the employee but we don’t know if she’s trying to figure out another solution for childcare or not. I hope that OP gives her a bit of time to make this work.

    4. LizM*

      This is an excellent point.

      I had several good friends who thought their childcare was lined out when they came back from maternity leave, only to find that the people they’d hired were themselves unreliable.

      Also, when a child starts daycare, it’s inevitable that they come down with something, and then you’re in a bind trying to find backup care.

      None of this is to excuse someone not meeting the minimum qualifications of her job, but if she’s otherwise a good hire, finding out if this is something she acknowledges as an issue and is actively working to fix may shed some light on how you move forward.

  8. Stellaaaaa*

    One thing that stands out is that her tardiness was preventing other (hourly?) employees from punching in and earning their paychecks. Could someone else be trusted with the keys until she worked out child care? I guarantee that morale among non-management was already suffering. Unfortunately there isn’t much wiggle room for accommodation when the hourly workers are punctual but cannot earn their wages because a salaried manager is late, even if the company covered the lost wages.

    1. cncx*

      this was my issue at two other jobs and a really good point. If OP wants to give time to the employee to work things out, it may also be worth giving keys or something, or giving someone an “assistant manager” type role. One of my retail jobs, i lived closest to work (a seven minute walk). I was entry level but when one of the bosses was a chronic oversleeper, i was “promoted” to assistant manager to be able to open and close while that person was on their PIP.

      In another job, i worked with a single mother who also had the expectation of being there when she said she was going to be there. It never worked out, and it meant i had to stay late every single time which gave me anywhere between 12 and 16 hour days because of her inability to sort her childcare because i was already in the office. I burnt out. I get that single mothers are in a bad situation, but it also isn’t fair for other workers to have to carry the can either. That said, i don’t blame the mom in that situation, i blame management for letting it go on so long.

  9. NotTheSecretary*

    I’ve had this conversation with two employees in industries and roles that simply have no room for schedule flexibility (temps in an industrial setting). It was really, really rough. I wish I’d had Alison’s advice on it because I was young and got WAY too involved in trying to help one of them try to solve her issue. It would have been better for both of us to just be candid about the role and hours not being a good fit for her.

  10. RueBarbe*

    Who takes over as key holder when she’s goes on vacation? Couldn’t that person open & close for the next week while she gets the childcare sorted? Sounds like a temporary problem or a matter of getting used to the new routine.

    1. Massmatt*

      The OP should arrange to have other people open and close for the new hire? What does she do when that person says oh, I can’t open or close, because reasons? Where does this end? Or must everyone else be dependable and show up on time while the new hire shows up or leaves whenever?

    2. Antilles*

      Having done similar jobs in the past, I can assure you that “taking over as key holder” is something that’s *much* more difficult to address than you’d expect. In most cases, it usually means that either a higher tier person has to come in to do it OR another manager needs to come in from another store/area (possibly on a day they’d normally have off) to get things opened up.
      Would they figure out a second key holder if she took vacation or caught the flu? Yes, they would. But that doesn’t mean it’s the way that they should operate on a regular basis.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Taking over as keyholder doesn’t solve the problem of the manager not being reliably on-site during the needed hours, though. Other employees not being able to get in is only part of the situation–the other part is that she’s expected to be there during X through Y hours and she’s not.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I had a key holder position in one of my early retail jobs. I was paid extra for having a key. There were only three of us with keys. We had to cover each other. For the most part this went well. But once in a while someone would be sick and need coverage. There was only the other two people to call.

      So the norm was to work your hours. If you did not then you would really be asking a lot of someone else.

  11. Jen*

    This may be harsh, but if these kind of hours are required for the job, which they seem to be, and she can’t do them, the job isn’t going to work and you should part ways. I would give her a chance ti try tonsort out childcare but if this goes on for weeks on end it will negatively impact workers and your clients. Personal circumstances can be reasonably accommodated but something like a keyholder job with strict hour times? It is just too important to the people who need to let in and out.

    1. NotTheSecretary*

      I worked a job where several chronically late keyholders were allowed to continue on for years and years. I always opened and often sat for well over an hour waiting for them and then was held responsible to have certain tasks completed before a certain time with no acknowledgement that my time for the tasks had been severely impacted. I was once written up for not having the tasks completed though I managed to have to thrown out because it was entirely out of my hands. There was even quite a bit of push back when I asked that my clock-in times be adjusted to match when I got to work rather than when when the Chronically Late Bosses decided to roll in but I was losing up to five hours a week to this behavior.

      It was demoralizing and soured me to a job that I otherwise liked a lot. OP, don’t let this person ruin the job for your other employees or you will end up having to replace a whole warehouse instead of one manager.

      1. Jen*

        When I was an hourly pizza maker in high school I had a problem with a manager who was late or had to leave early too. The store manager did try to write me up for late clock ins because of her and I would have to rush like crazy to get stuff done when I closed with her because she would want to leave and never helped with closing duties. I believe she was fired shortly after I quit to go to college.

    1. jm*

      Sounds like it didn’t bode well for the employee, either. It’s hard to turn a childcare situation around in a week.

      1. Is it Friday Yet?*

        That was my thought as well. I hope the employee is able to give some sort of explanation. For instance, “My daycare does not allow drop offs that early or pick ups that late. I hired a babysitter but s/he has proven to be unreliable. So I’m quickly looking for a long-term solution, as well as a back up plan, but could you be lenient for the next couple of weeks?” Or maybe OP could grant the employee a couple of days off to find a solution.

      2. Observer*

        It depends on the situation. I’ve had a few “interesting” stories, and have always managed to swing something fairly quickly. A key thing here is that she’s dealing with someone who is coming to her house, not a center whose hours she can’t control.

        I had a baby sitter who canceled last minute literally minutes before I was going to head out the door – and I could have easily left before she called me because it was after school care. The new babysitter started two days after the second incident. This was before the days of practical remote work, and my transportation wasn’t flexible, so I had to take the day off. Which was better than her not calling me at all, or not reaching me till I got to work. I actually have a friend whose baby sitter for after school care didn’t show up in time to take the kid off the bus. She also found another sitter within days (at which point the first sitter’s mom called to ask Mom to reconsider!)

        Obviously, each case is different, but it really is much different when you are dealing with an individual rather than with companies that have their ways etc.

    2. LBK*

      Agreed, I hope she was able to make it work. I’ve had a couple great employees who were single moms and it was always tough; I felt so proud of them for wanting to work hard to provide a good life for their kids, but it sucked when taking care of those same kids they were trying to support stood in the way of them being able to move up to the next step that would require a more serious time commitment. It was such a catch-22 and felt like it created this unsurpassable socioeconomic divide.

      1. fposte*

        The OP gave a lot more info in the comments (she was really cool and thoughtful); I’m not sure if there was an update after that but I’m looking.

        1. Is it Friday Yet?*

          I’m confused. Was this posted before? I didn’t see any comments on the linked article.

  12. Dragonfly*

    In OP’s shoes, I’d automatically delay the rest of the talk and would first of all want to know why the employee was crying. She might not want to go into it, but that question would have to be asked once, I should imagine. The answer to the question just might point to a solution to both the crying and the tardiness.

    1. motherofdragons*

      Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see how the reason why she is crying is relevant, or how it would change the solution. It sounds rather intrusive to me, for those reasons. Could you elaborate on what you are thinking might come out of that question?

      1. LBK*

        Yeah, I’m not sure I understand the aim of this question – crying doesn’t seem like a totally unusual response to your manager sitting you down to have a conversation about your job performance, and I think we could easily extrapolate from the circumstances that she’s probably stressed out about trying to succeed in this new role while taking care of a kid. I guess I’m not clear what other info you’d expect to uncover by asking why she was crying; the info we already know feels like sufficient justification to me.

      2. Observer*

        Agreed. I can’t see any way that the answer to the question will help point the way to a solution – unless it’s firing her / letting her quit. But I don’t think that the employee would see that a “solution.”

    2. LiveAndLetDie*

      Delaying the conversation because of tears risks delaying the conversation forever, though — it sounds like the employee is just a crier, and the conversation needs to be had regardless of why she is crying. Alison’s suggestion of offering her a tissue and a moment to compose herself while continuing onward with the conversation is more productive.

    3. DCompliance*

      I am not sure I would ask “why are you crying”. If the OP’s company refers people to an EAP, this would be the time to do so.

    4. CM*

      Please don’t do this! It sounds like an attack on someone who is already crying. Just assume that it’s in response to a stressful situation. If not, then the crying person will most likely tell you, “Sorry, I’m not crying because of this conversation, I’m crying because I just got some bad news.”

      1. Is it Friday Yet?*

        Agreed and some people can’t control it. They don’t want to cry, but they physically can’t help it.

    5. LizM*

      As a crier, please don’t do this. I don’t cry at work often (maybe 3 or 4 times in the last 10 years, and I can usually get to the bathroom before it starts), but if I do, it’s either for an obvious reason (I’m upset with how a conversation is going) or a not obvious reason that I don’t really want to share (I just got some bad news and am being more sensitive than normal).

      At most, if the crying is distracting, you can offer the employee a few minutes to collect herself. But typically, keeping the conversation focused and emphatic is what I’d prefer. Asking a person why they’re crying typically makes the conversation more uncomfortable because it puts them on the spot and draws attention to their uncontrollable physical reaction. If someone is being empathetic and offering space in the conversation, the person will share the reason they’re crying if they are comfortable doing so.

      1. Dragonfly*

        Sorry, I just imagined asking “why do you cry” to be a natural response to seeing a person cry. Passing a tissue to the person is thoughtful in a practical way, redirecting the conversation to where it should ultimately go is managerial, and accepting the person may not want to discuss the reason(s) is polite. But there are benefits to be had with asking, too: first of all, by giving them the opportunity to expand on their behaviour, you let them actually be bold and reveal that they are making you feel guilty and then using the feeling of guilt to manipulate you, that is, if this is what the crying individual has in fact in mind. Then you know, and you’re able to make a better judgment about suitability. On the other hand, should the tears be just a reaction to the stress of the situation or a mere reflex, the person will let you know and you can then give them time to compose themselves. Also, by bringing ‘the crying’ up, you are able in effect to remind the crier that there is nothing to be embarrassed about since crying is in any case ‘human’. I mean, why keep it hushed up, when it’s so obvious the person’s eyes are wet! What is to be gained by ignoring tears! Finally, it is just possible that the person has not thought about the real reason, the sadness that’s inside them and which has a true cause, and which has been pushed back deep inside for so long it’s turned into a sort of a bad lump. In which case you’re making them think about it. And yes, the next step may then be, offering actual professional aid that may be available through the workplace. It IS human to be inquisitive, I always think.

        1. Lucia*

          What is to be gained? You do not humiliate, embarrass, shame or further upset the person who is in emotional distress and is trying their hardest to remain professional.

          Being inquisitive may be human, but it is still often exceptionally rude.

  13. Newby*

    “I don’t want to scare her off or to think she’s not capable of doing this job”

    It doesn’t seem like that should be the goal. It is possible that she is not capable of working the hours required. That’s not a personal failing, but it is something that needs to be accepted. Personally, I can’t take a job with a rigid schedule for health reasons. I go into my job searched with flexible schedule as my top priority.

    1. A Non E. Mouse*

      I might be that the reality of the hours if just not going to work with the resources she has at hand.

      Personally, I’d tell her that she could take another week to find reliable childcare, but that the job itself has a core set of hours, with possibility of frequent overages.

      If she can’t find reliable childcare in that week that will cover those hours, then tell her you’ll be glad to basically pretend this never happened – you can part ways with no hard feelings.

      1. DArcy*

        I think that’s overly generous given that she explicitly knew about the hours when she signed up for the job. While it’s kind to be understanding about childcare difficulties, the bottom line is that she’s falling short of her professional responsibilities and does not appear to be taking the deficiency as seriously as she should.

  14. spek*

    I am probably opening myself up to some vitriol here, but why is the fact that she’s a single mother part of this conversation? This always seems to be a go-to excuse that entitles you to some sort of extra consideration. You get a basic amount of sympathy from me, but really, long term, how is this different than “my water heater burst” or “car trouble”?

    1. Is it Friday Yet?*

      It’s a factor because it’s not as if her spouse can come to the rescue when she is unable to drop the child off, pick them up before daycare closes, etc.

    2. Cobol*

      Because there isn’t an alternative like taking a bus, or waiting a couple of days to get the water heater fixed. Literally every day somebody needs to watch the kid. Single mothers (or fathers) often are the only ones who can handle it. Two parent families at least have another person who may be able to help.

    3. a different Vicki*

      Long term, the difference is that she needs a long-term solution that she can rely on every day. A burst water heater is a serious problem, but it happens and is dealt with quickly. A single parent has to solve the child care problem for now, and next month, and next year.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yep, the likelihood of a recurrence in the near future. I have been in this house for 25 years. The water heater broke twice. Both times I managed to set things up so I did not lose time from work. Dealing with living beings is much, much harder.

    4. LBK*

      It informs what the viable solutions might be and it’s also something that requires a longer-term solution rather than a one-off problem like a water heater bursting or car trouble. Plus I think empathy is more important here when we’re talking about a child’s life – presumably most people understand the importance of taking care of a child and why that can’t be as easily put off the way other commitments could be.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        I can have all the empathy in the world, and it does not change the business needs- a business that multiple other people, some of whom are single parents- rely on still being in business so they can support their children.

        So no, it’s no different than a water heater, except that because everyone points out that it’s an ongoing problem, the OP would be justified in firing the Manager, instead of thinking this is just a one time freak accident and giving her a chance to take care of it, since it’s a only 1-2 days.

        Also, since the divorce rate among people with children is slightly over half (besides all the ones who never marry), single parent is likely the status of over half your staff at any given time. And yet, everyone else is managing their child care.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          The receptionist’s parent dying doesn’t change the fact that you need someone to cover the front desk, so while it’s the same as a broken water heater for purposes of coverage, it’s . . . not the same as a broken water heater. The end goal may be the same, but how you approach it probably shouldn’t be.

          Also, for some parents who are single parents because of divorce, if they have an amicable relationship with their former partner, it’s possible the former partner can help out for emergency coverage. With other single parents, there’s nobody who can or will help. So “single parent without backup” is likely not the status of over half your staff at any given time. Common, but I doubt it’s that common.

        2. Cobol*

          Single parent and divorced parent can be different things (the can be the same as well) new hire could be the only one raising the child.

          From a pure business perspective though it’s worth giving the new hire time to see if she can square away childcare. 1) There’s always a cost associated with filling a job, so why not wait to make sure you need to? 2) somebody who has a child is more likely to stay in a job because they have less of a safety net. (This is very very generalized of course.)

        3. LBK*

          JB and Cobol covered the single parent vs divorced thing so I won’t belabor it except to concur that single parent generally refers to the number of parents taking care of the child, not the marital status of the parents.

          As for the empathy piece, it changes how you address it. I’m absolutely not suggesting that you should look the other way indefinitely because you feel bad for them or whatever, I’m saying you might be more considerate of how much you’re willing to meet in the middle or see what accommodations you could make for them.

          The reason doesn’t change the fact that at the end of the day if she can’t do what the job requires, then she can’t do it, but it might make you more willing to change what the job requires. Maybe you can work it out so she only has middle shifts that fit in better with her schedule. Maybe you deputize someone to be a keyholder who can hang out to catch the late clients on days this employee can’t stay. Empathy opens the door to thinking about these options – but again, if you review these options and you decide that there really isn’t anything you can do and she really just has to work the schedule as it’s laid out now, then that’s what you have to do. But it’s pretty heartless to not even consider alternatives.

          This is especially true if she’s a good employee you have an interest in retaining and developing, which it sounds like she is considering she’s being groomed for management.

          1. paul*

            Rearranging every other keyholder’s s schedule to accommodate them may put other people in the exact same situation too though; if you have to shift person A and B half an hour or an hour each way to help person C, you can be majorly inconveniencing person’s A and B and putting them in the same spot C was in.

            1. Jessesgirl72*

              Yeah. That is not a reasonable accommodation. There may not be a reasonable one, and the woman might just have to go, if she couldn’t do the job she was hired to do. It definitely isn’t “heartless” to not consider disrupting everyone else’s schedule in order to make allowances for someone who hasn’t even worked there a week.

              Especially when those same allowances wouldn’t (and couldn’t, because of licensing) be made for the forklift driver or almost anyone else on the floor. If you let it go for Management and not for her reports, you are going to have a huge morale problem.

              1. LBK*

                I think it might sound like a bigger deal than it is; when I was a keyholder I had a wide open schedule and I was happy to shift it around to accommodate the others who had more strict schedules.

                It definitely isn’t “heartless” to not consider disrupting everyone else’s schedule in order to make allowances for someone who hasn’t even worked there a week.

                And again, I’m not saying you have to do it or try it. It literally costs you nothing but a few moments of your time to think about whether it would be a possibility. I don’t understand why that’s apparently some egregious burden.

        4. Optimistic Prime*

          Small but important point: the denominator in the divorce rate is number of marriages, not number of people. In other words, even if about half of marriages end in divorce, that doesn’t mean that half of people who have ever been married have been divorced. Actually, people who get divorced once are far more likely to get divorced again, and the divorce rate for second and third marriages is much higher than the rate for first marriages.

    5. LS*

      Equating the challenges of being a parent, especially a single parent, to a mechanical failure is disingenuous. People, especially small and vulnerable ones, are not pieces of malfunctioning machinery which can be set aside and dealt with later.

      1. spek*

        And once you exhaust reasonable human empathy, neither one is the responsibility of the business or the other employees.

        1. Soon to be former fed*

          These little people are the people who will be running society one day. Their care is everybody’s concern. We must get out of our bubble and realize this.
          Employers, especially those with no flexibility, should receive big tax breaks for providing onsite child care. America really needs to catch up with the rest of the developed world.

          1. paul*

            Should? maybe, but they don’t right now. They’re operating in the world as it is not as we want it to be

    6. Soon to be former fed*

      Because child care in America sucks, for all parents single or not. This same woman would be told to get a job if she went on welfare because of child care issues! I was fortunate as a single working mom to have my mom for child care. I’m extremely sympathetic to this employee. Give her a few days to sort it out.

      There should always be a Plan B for openings and closings, thats just good business practice.

  15. MassMatt*

    I’m surprised so many seem to want to let this slide. I’ve worked many jobs with rigid start and end times; if you were tardy you got warned, after warnings you got written up, if you persisted you were fired, period. I get that being a single parent is tough, but being single with a kid doesn’t make work attendance optional. If she can’t get there in time to open or stay to close this is not the right job for her. And if she’s chronically tardy/unable to stay IN HER FIRST WEEK it’s unlikely IMO she’s going to improve. If she gets away with this why should she bother showing up on time later? There are many in- and under-employed people that would take the job and show up.

    Honestly I wouldn’t have a conversation with her, she knew the demands of the job, she’s already been warned by her boss and grand-boss, she’s still not adhering–I’d just fire her.

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      A lot of the commenters here have high-salary exempt jobs with lots of flex time. When I read this site, I filter it through my impression that many of the regular readers might not have a lot of firsthand experience with hourly working class jobs. It’s not a bad thing. It is what it is.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        That is not my impression of the commenters at all. They do seem to be mostly white collar, and a lot of us are exempt. But I don’t know about high salary. As for “lots of flex time,” I guess it depends on what you mean by that. You probably didn’t mean it that way, but it kinda sounded like you think most of the commenters here live in elite bubbles and are Marie Antoinette-ing their way through life.

        1. paul*

          No, but there’s a huge preponderance of commentators that seem to expect that *most* jobs can/should have a fair amount of flexibility with hours worked, and it isn’t always the case.

          1. LBK*

            I don’t think that’s what people are suggesting in this case, though; the comments seems to be pretty understanding that this is a job where punctuality/presence isn’t negotiable. People aren’t saying she should be given flexibility indefinitely but rather that one week might not be enough time to be certain this is a pattern that will never be fixed, and that it’s at least worth talking about it with the employee.

    2. JB (not in Houston)*

      I don’t think most people want to “let this slide” so much as perhaps see if the childcare issue is just a glitch while the employee works out a childcare plan that works with her new schedule. I don’t think anybody is suggesting that the OP should have let this continue much longer and without a serious conversation about it.

      1. kb*

        Agreed. I think if the timeframe were longer (2 weeks instead of 1), more people would suggest it’s time to let her go. As it is at 4 days, I think commenters realize that isn’t always enough time to arrange better childcare. Also, it could literally be the unluckiest week of her life. I know other commenters have shared stories of being extremely ill their first week. While it’s understandable that a company may desperately need the coverage above all else, it would be a shame to be written off as an unreliable employee when you were just extremely misfortuned the first week.

      2. Is it Friday Yet?*

        Agreed. I don’t think anyone is saying this is ok. Most commenters sympathize because finding reliable childcare isn’t always easy. It’s not as if the employee is waking up late or being tardy due to her own carelessness.

      3. LizM*

        This is where I’m at. I’m also assuming OP hired the manager for a reason, and that OP may not be excited about starting the hiring process over. I think this is a situation where life happens, and looking at the pros and cons of an immediate firing, I’d be willing to ride it out for a little longer if I had a serious talk with the manager and was confident she (1) understood this was an issue and (2) was taking concrete steps to make it stop being an issue.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          It had only been a week. I bet the 2nd or 3rd choice was still available. No need to start from scratch!

    3. Soon to be former fed*

      This woman needs to work. It is unlikely that her child care problem is unresolved. Present day America is making it so difficult for women. Restrict access to abortion and birth control, but if you have the child, don’t expect any help with child care either.
      I bet this woman is not the only employee facing this problem or the other end of the spectrum, elder care issues. Single parents are here to stay and deserve to be able to support themselves and their children. A minor inconvenience for a limited period is not the end of the world, for heaven’s sake.

  16. AB*

    This may not be a good fit for her. I am compassionate to her situation, but it isn’t the employer’s issue.

    I entered the workforce as a single mother of 3 children aged 6 and younger and was very aware that I needed to have my kid situation under control in order to be successful. I eventually got a position that required 20-40% travel and it was hard to juggle, but I was sure to not make it my employer’s issue. She needs to have contingencies in place that aren’t “be late to work, leave early”. Kid gets sick, the nanny or family member gives them Tylenol and Gatorade until I am off work and can take them to urgent care. Kid gets in an accident and needs to go to the hospital, I will take off and consider that reasonable for the employer to accommodate. The children are of course important, but so is having a job that allows the parent to provide for them. Being late or leaving early 4 times in the first week isn’t setting that up for success.

    1. Chinook*

      “This may not be a good fit for her. I am compassionate to her situation, but it isn’t the employer’s issue. ”

      I know there is a case before the Canadian courts right now about a Navy woman who is a single parent who feels that she is being discriminated against because she can’t leave her child to go to sea for 6 months or a year (because she is no longer in contact with the father and her parents live 2 provinces away). While I get where she is coming from, but it is also what she signed up for when she joined the Navy and it is she who wants to change the terms of her employment, not the Navy. I get that it sucks that she may have to leave a well paying job for the sake of the child, but is it right for her to get paid the same salary as everyone else to do a job that she can only partially do?

    2. Time Bomb of Petulance*

      “Kid gets sick, the nanny or family member gives them Tylenol and Gatorade until I am off work and can take them to urgent care.”

      Not everyone has a nanny or family nearby.

      1. Optimistic Prime*

        Well, sure, but I think the point is that if you have a job with a rigid time schedule you have to find childcare that works out for you and can take care of minor emergencies/contingencies – whether it’s a nanny or family, friends, a backup sitter, or a really understanding day care or whatever else. If you can’t, it may not be possible for you to work a job with a very rigid time schedule.

    3. Soon to be former fed*

      You were fortunate to be able to afford a nanny, most single parents can’t. And many have no family support system either. This is why government supported day care is so important.

  17. Employment Lawyer*

    I don’t think AAM has really touched on the potential danger of letting her stay. People who are aware they’re about to be fired will sometimes do all sorts of things to try to preserve their income. Those people are very risky and that alone mitigates against keeping her. (This is why I advise clients to put people on paid leave most of the time.) Also, if someone isn’t having a professional demeanor, and is acting unprofessionally, it’s unrealistic to expect them to intelligently sit down and concede that they “can’t commit to the schedule you need.”

    So I would say “Jane, you’ve been late four out of your first five days. I’m sorry, but you’re fired.”

    If you really feel obliged to give her a second chance (Why? Aren’t there other potential hires who need a first chance? Why would you put her interest in front of business interests?) then I’d say “Jane, you’ve been late four out of your first five days. That is a clear violation of job requirements. If it happens again, you’ll be fired.” And then I would stick to it.

    1. LBK*

      Is this really a thing that happens often in your experience? I wonder if there’s some element of confirmation bias happening here given that people don’t generally contact an employment lawyer unless the situation is pretty serious. I’ve admittedly only worked with a few people who I knew were on PIPs/were otherwise on thin ice and I never saw any shady behavior like what you’re insinuating.

      1. Employment Lawyer*

        Yes and no.

        Most people do not do anything bad.

        But of the people who do bad things, a higher proportion seem to be people who are looking to avoid or delay their own bad outcomes. (Just as tenants who are about to get behind on rent will often choose that moment to start making reports to the board of health, etc.)

        The lower the risk of bad behavior, the greater the likelihood. An employee who is sure she will be fires (and who will never have this company listed as a reference, it being so short a time) has few risks. Also, well…. odd people gonna odd.

        The company has no real obligations here; the employee is demonstrably odd (and not in a good way) w/r/t behavior; and therefore I would not even consider keeping her on.

        1. LS*

          I’m not sure that crying from the stress of having a childcare failure during the first week of a new job, and potentially losing that job as a result, qualifies as “demonstrably odd” or means that you will try to sabotage the company. It’s not great but it’s understandable.

        2. Observer*

          I’m with LS. And I also suspect that the more cavalier, unempathetic and downright heartless the company is, the higher the likelihood that someone will do something bad.

          On the other hand, if someone knows they have one last chance with someone who acts like a decent human being, I think they are much more likely to do their best to fix the situation.

    2. Is it Friday Yet?*

      This seems dramatic and unnecessary. I’m failing to see how she’s so “risky.”

    3. LS*

      It’s not in the company’s best interests to have to go through the hiring process *again* if this is a situation that can be resolved. Also, a bit heartless.

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        It’s also heartless to mess with the incomes and recorded punctuality of everyone who works under this manager. They have all paid their dues with the company and should be given priority.

      2. Jessesgirl72*

        Again., It had only been one single week.

        I’m am sure some of the other top candidates were still available.

        1. Observer*

          That’s a fairly big jump. It’s a week that she’s working, not necessarily a week since the other candidates were told that they were not being hired.

    4. Soon to be former fed*

      Maybe to be a decent human being and corporate citizen that’s why. This woman did not go into her new job thinking that the first week would be so horrible.

      There have been horror stories of desperate mothers (always mothers) leaving their children in cars and other undesirable situations. They are then villified without any attempt to understand the desperation these mothers feel. With the antipathy toward children in this society, abortion and birth control should be freely available at no charge.

      This topic is making me a little ragey, so I’m going to step away. OP, its ok to balance being a human being and a manager. I agree that the crying is a distraction, I would probably be silent until she gained a measure of composure, and then continued on with the conversation. It’s not doing her any good to blow smoke up her rear end, so be realistic about what you can and can’t so. But as Alison said, be kind.

  18. consultant*

    She has been working for you for just one week. I imagine she is working on the arrangements to make her childcare situation better. You write you have talked to her about it already (how many times?).

    I would definitely leave it like that for 2-3 weeks more and only then escalate if that’s needed. Give her some time to adjust to the new situation. Further conversations on that will only stress her.

    1. fposte*

      I don’t think stressing her is necessarily something that has to be avoided, though, and if she’s going to be fired if she can’t get her schedule together in three weeks, that’s information she should have.

    2. Stop That Goat*

      Eh, it’s a problem and it needs to be addressed. First week or not.

      Honestly, I couldn’t imagine being late even once during that first week. Let alone 4 times.

      1. consultant*

        And it has been addressed according to the letter.

        But searching for a new baby sitter can probably take a few days. And standing above somebody reminding him of the requirements of the job every day isn’t to solve the problem.

        I’m childless, but find it difficult to accept some comments on here. Sometimes it takes a few days for a new employee to organize their work, that’s normal. This is especially true for situations in which major accommodations are necessary. I was late several times on new projects, because I didn’t know the city well enough to predict major problems with public transport for example (and to expect that it can take me twice as much as the website says it will to get to the office). These things happen a lot.

        1. Stop That Goat*

          Yea, but the schedule isn’t new. The parent knew it when they accepted the job. Childcare should have been taken care of by now.

          Taking the kid completely out of the picture, it’s not unusual for someone to be reprimanded their first week for consistently causing a problem….4 times. Yea, it sucks but I really can’t think of many jobs where this wouldn’t warrant someone being spoken to (and multiple times if it kept occurring).

    3. Dust Bunny*

      I noticed the letter didn’t actually say the childcare situation was new. The job is, but if she’s coming from another job, this could, in fact, be a chronic problem that existed before she took the position.

      1. consultant*

        It said that the job requires her to come earlier and leave later than the rest of the employees. That’s probably a new requirement for her.

  19. LS*

    I think it’s useful (maybe others will disagree) to find out whether the childcare issue is an ongoing problem or a short term issue which has unfortunately reared its ugly head during her first week (perhaps her sitter has the flu). If the former, she may be hoping that the job entailed more flexibility than you indicated, and when push comes to shove she really can’t keep to the schedule. If the latter it may be less of a problem, as long as you make it clear that she needs a plan B when things go wrong, and that plan B cannot be “come in late / leave early”. I hope you find a solution for both of your sakes.

  20. Aphrodite*

    OP, I’m curious about something. How much time did she have been being notified she got the job and the day she started the job? I ask because if there was, say, two weeks then she had a fair amount of time to find a solution. If just a couple of days, then she hasn’t and I would go along with those who suggest giving her a few more days to try and stabilize her childcare situation.

  21. Dust Bunny*

    No everyone can do every job. We had a discussion recently on a listserve related to my employment field: Someone asked about a job applicant who had a strong professional background but asked about accommodations for someone who couldn’t stand for long periods or lift things over (x small number of) pounds. Well, my job is one that does involve a lot of sitting . . . until it doesn’t, like today when I spent all day on a ship’s ladder shifting 30-pound boxes on shelves 12 feet in the air. The position in question was in a small institution where the applicant would be the only full-time member of the department, with occasional help from volunteers (mostly elderly local ladies). The conclusion was reached that the person was basically unable to do something that actually factors pretty significantly in the position, and probably wasn’t a good fit.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      A weight-lifting requirement was included in the job description (this was also a factor in my job, when I applied. 50-pound boxes) but the applicant asked if it could be waived. The conclusion was reached, I think, that it could not.

      1. Soon to be former fed*

        There is a difference between an inherent job requirement and an ancillary one.

  22. something*

    First of all, I am stunned by that wonderful sponsored-content video of the Stratolaunch 2-fuselage, 6-engine, flying monster of an aeroplane. It played and I stared, for about 6 loops.
    There are 2 issues in play:
    1. The late-past-4-days issue is one that can only be fixed by replacing her. Used to work for a tiny startup years ago. Had summer jobs for local college students where we told them we needed them 40 hours/week for the whole summer. Had one guy who preferred to work 4-day weeks with either Monday and Friday off but he didn’t start doing it until summer school had started so most of the students were in school, or working summer jobs, or had gone away for the summer altogether, i.e., our labor pool had shrunk drastically and we couldn’t easily replace him. His absences didn’t kill us but it would have helped if he was at work the full 40 hours/week. Seems harsh but LW and Tardy Employee should part ways. If LW really needs TE on location at specified times without fail for the vast majority of the time, it’ll never work. Part ways. Mercifully if possible. Perhaps TE can work a job that does not require her to open or close the facility?
    2. The more serious issue is TE’s crying. LW should have a talk with TE re. how her crying is viewed by this and future employers. TE has to learn to deal professionally with negative evaluations for her own good regardless of whether she stays at this position or leaves. It won’t do and she’s not helping the situation or herself, especially if she expects to succeed as a manager.

  23. ArtsNerd*

    I’m frustrated by the comments lacking compassion for just HOW HARD it is to line up reliable, affordable childcare in contemporary American society. I see that some people have been in tough situations themselves and managed to work out solutions that didn’t impact their employer in any way, and that’s great!

    But it doesn’t make it moral or character failure on the part of those who really don’t have viable options and *do* have to make difficult compromises at work.

    Can we please, collectively, agree that “it isn’t the employer’s responsibility to accommodate her schedule challenges ” is not mutually exclusive with “this issue is more due to the well-documented childcare crisis than on any particular failure on the part of the employee”?

    I’m tired of reading judgments on people for being “wrong” in the ways they cope with the massive, institutionalized barriers to their ability to live.

    1. Kathryn T.*

      Thank you.

      I’m currently a stay-at-home parent. The elementary school my children attend has shifted its already late start time to be even later next year; school doesn’t start until 9:40 AM. There is currently no plan to provide onsite before-school care, and all of the daycares in this area have six-month waiting lists at least.

      There are four families on our street with early elementary aged children and working parents who have to be at work before 10 AM. So for next year, I’m taking six extra children into my own house for an hour and a half, feeding them breakfast, and then walking everyone to school. I’m doing this for free even though it sucks because the child care crisis in this country is terrible and this is how I can help. But “just find someone to provide free domestic labor” isn’t a workable solution on a large scale basis.

      1. Gem*

        9:40 am? With no before-school care offered? What were the administrators possibly thinking?

  24. Chatterby*

    How many shift-managers are there, and are they all required to be present at once?
    Also, how late has she been?
    I ask because, if there’s more than one, and you really only need one of the many to unlock or lock the door, and she hasn’t been an hour plus late or leaving early, perhaps there is some room to be a little flexible.
    There may be another shift-manager who would be willing to show up and leave 10-30 minutes early, in order for allowing this woman to show up and leave 10-30 minutes late (or vice versa) Not a perfect solution, and it would only help insure she’s on time at one end of the day, but it may be an option if this employee is otherwise worth the hassle to keep.
    If not, then, unpleasant as it will be, she needs to be given a time frame to straighten everything out (just saying “you can’t be late” won’t magically fix the issue; she needs a week or two to make arrangements and plans), and let go if that doesn’t happen.

  25. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Amy: I’ve removed your comments and set your future comments to moderation because you’ve been rude to fellow commenters. You need to read and follow the site rules in order to continue posting here.

  26. seriouslythough*

    OP: Perhaps an on the job or nearby daycare facility sponsored by your firm is long overdue. Not everyone can handle pressure stoically and not everyone is made of stone. She’s doing the best she can and she is struggling to survive possibly with very little support or backup of family or friends. Not everyone has a support system or someone to lean on, and while I’m not condoning her actions, it’s not like she’s out wanting to party and hang out.

    You don’t mention how she’s been doing on the job, and after just a week it sounds like you have pretty much had it. I don’t know if anything we say here is going to change your mind, as it sounds like you already have to let her go but still feel slightly bad because she’s a single parent with a kid that relies on her.

    Why in this day and age do you not have something like a childcare facility on the premises or nearby (like across the street or down the block) is something I would like to know. Has it been explored? Do you want to make it happen? I think it would help alleviate problems like this because I doubt she’ll be the only single parent you will be dealing with.

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