my employee says her errors are just “enthusiasm”

A reader writes:

I have a new employee who just finished grad school but is not new to work because she worked a few years between college and grad school. Some of the people we work with have been put off by her behavior.

She is asking a lot of questions in meetings and making a lot of suggestions about things she knows nothing about yet, rather than sitting back a bit, listening, and learning.

She seems to believe that everything has to be done quickly and does not check her work before giving me a “finished” product that has not been checked for errors or to see if it looks okay. As a result, I am getting a lot of things that are not finished enough for me to review them and have to give them back a couple of times. In addition, her writing skills are substantially below what I would expect from someone with her level of education, but she does not take feedback on her writing well.

She has also taken it upon herself to do some things I told her I would do and offended a couple of good clients in the process. She annoyed these clients enough that they mentioned it to me.

When I have spoken to her about these issues, she has said she is enthusiastic and just wants to get things done. She always uses the term “enthusiastic” to describe what comes across as pushiness. I am planning on sitting down with her and nicely telling her that this behavior is not productive. However, how much should I invest in a new employee with what seems to be ingrained behavior?

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.

{ 214 comments… read them below }

  1. Jen*

    I mentioned this in an earlier comment today, but one of the hardest things for me when I was first supervising was learning that I sometimes had to be “mean” or harsh to get a point across. Some people do not get that criticism or clear instruction is not optional when it is delivered harshly. Now you have to know the employee, some take all comments super seriously and do not need this. But some definitely do. You sometimes are doing no favors by being nice.

    1. Jen*

      To be clear, when I say “mean” I do not mean yelling or insulting people but “at this point, this level of error is unacceptable. Do not submit anything to me again without proofreading it.” Or returning a draft saying “this is not ready for my review. Please review this again and send it back to me by noon tomorrow.”

      1. Luna*

        I definitely agree, and the LW should make that effort very clearly if she hasn’t already.

        Unfortunately even being mean does not work on everyone. I worked with a person like the LW’s employee not too long ago, and no amount of constructive criticism, big picture talk, little picture talk, or flat-out meanness (my boss can be unnecessarily harsh) was able to fix the problem. Good luck to the LW, I hope she has better success.

        1. I'm A Little Teapot*

          I have a friend who was put on a PIP, and still didn’t get it. She was blindsided when she was fired. In retrospect, from comments that she’d made for months, she was warned. Repeatedly. She was just too sheltered to understand what was happening.

          1. all aboard the anon train*

            When she was put on a PIP, was she explicitly told that if she didn’t get better she would be fired? I’ve known more than a few people who were put on PIPs and who didn’t understand what a PIP truly was because their managers never said anything more than, “you’re going on a PIP”

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              I recall a letter here from someone who was on a PIP, and wanted to know how to get off the PIP and get a promotion and raise instead.

                1. Falling Diphthong*

                  That’s it. “I know a PIP is usually step one in degradation of trust.” Aboard’s friend wasn’t the only person to view a PIP as a minor sign there might be some small issues.

              1. Anon for this*

                I had an employee who was put on a PIP by a prior manager (who thankfully continued with the coaching when I took over the team), when the PIP was over he asked for a raise! His rationale was partly that he had missed the (small) increase most people got to partly cover cost of living as part of their annual reviews, and partly “Look at all I’ve DONE!”–meaning survive the PIP. I was speechless, which anyone who knows me would tell you is a rarity. He didn’t last.

                1. MsSolo*

                  I do think it’s ridiculous to ask for a raise after a PIP, but a cost of living increase feels different – it’s like saying “well, you survived the PIP, but we think you deserve a lower standard of living* than colleagues you are now, in theory, back on the same level as. I guess it depends how widespread the increase was (our salaries usually go up by 1% a year across the board, sometimes excluding the Execs if they’re feeling generous, which is well behind inflation but definitely makes a significant difference compared with colleagues at similar organisations who are still earning 2008 wages) and whether it was framed as cost of living increase, or just as a raise.

                  *obviously, for some salaries, it would be a case of telling someone you survived the PIP but we don’t intend to help you survive period, because food and housing costs have outstripped their wage in the meantime.

                2. Yorick*

                  I agree with MsSolo, I don’t think a cost of living increase should even be tied to annual review. Does a bad performer really deserve to have their salary effectively decrease due to inflation, while average to good employees deserve to not have that happen?

            2. I'm A Little Teapot*

              I do not know. I just remember being shocked that she’d been on a PIP for months and was still blindsided. To be honest, while she’s a nice person, she’s been significantly stunted by her mother (emotionally and general adulting).

              1. SusanIvanova*

                I don’t know whether Coworker Coffeecup was blindsided when he got fired after failing his PIP – one of the things on it was to fix just one bug per day. Not knowing anything about this, the day after he was fired I went down his list and fixed a dozen in one morning.

                I do know he was blindsided at being taken off the joint project he and I were on: after I spent 2 weeks waiting for him to do something on a system I hadn’t used in almost 20 years, I googled, found the answer, got some help from a third engineer, and had it done in 2 days. He was so upset that he “wouldn’t get to use his skills on that system”. What skills?!

            3. Elemeno P.*

              This happened to me the only time I was fired. I was told that I was on an improvement plan, but they softened the language so much that I didn’t know what that meant. It wasn’t until I saw that I had access to my file (a physical folder with my name on it in a filing cabinet I also used; not exactly high-level snooping here) and opened it that I saw a handful of write-ups (half of which I had been spoken to about, but half that I had not) and realized that it was serious. Then my boss told me how much better I’d been doing, and then he fired me a week later.

              It was…confusing! Just be straight with people, honestly. It’ll feel mean to say it so directly, but it’s kinder to let someone know exactly where they stand.

              1. Been There, Done That*

                Confusing–yes. A former boss once spoke to me about an error I’d made, then went on to say overall I was doing a good job and she hoped I’d be with the company for a long time. Four days later the CEO came to my office, abruptly ordered me into his office and fired me. He said my boss had been in his office “many times, complaining” about me. Whatever the hell her complaints were that warranted my firing, I was never told. You’re right, it’s kinder to let someone know where they stand. Unfortunately, being the boss doesn’t make you a good or ethical boss. There had been 3 people in that job in the preceding 2 and a half years.

          2. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

            I don’t think PIP sounds as ominous as what most employers actually intend it to be. I know the first time I heard “performance improvement plan” I just thought it was a way to well, help us improve. Not something that was going to be used as a determination of whether or not we got to keep our jobs.

            1. DanniellaBee*

              I agree! At my first job out of college a peer was put on a PIP and told me about it. Neither of us actually understood what it really was signaling until we googled it. HR did not explain it at all. They didn’t even address with her why she was being put on the PIP just that she needed to improve. It was bizarre.

            2. all aboard the anon train*

              That’s how my previous company used them. They were a plan for improvement, but no one had ever gotten fired if they didn’t improve.

            3. Kelsi*

              If I didn’t read AAM, I would have NO idea how serious a PIP was. Especially for people who don’t have extensive work experience (and even for some people who do), the words don’t come across as big red flashing danger sign. And if your employer just assumes you already know what it means….well, it doesn’t help anyone, employer OR employee!

              1. SarahKay*

                And, just to complicate things, occasionally it’s not that serious. My company requires anyone who performs below average in their annual assessment to be put on a PIP. Bear in mind that we’re effectively graded on a curve, so there are always some people in the Below Average section.
                Typically, they complete the PIP and move into the ‘Average’ section, ready for some other poor soul to be Below Average next year.
                We’re a UK-based part of a huge global company though, so this may have a significant effect on the less-serious-nature, since it’s much harder to fire someone here. Perfectly do-able still, but requires steady documentation of poor performance, or egregious misbehaviour such as theft, etc.

                1. Kim*

                  (This is a response to SS Express)
                  What do you refer to, when you say ridiculous requirement? tha tfact that SarahKay’s company always has some people on a PIP, or that a company needs actual grounds to fire someone? Because if the latter, trust me, many people in my (European) country think it’s downright inhumane that someone can fire their employees in the USA because their tie is wrong or other petty reasons.
                  I for one am glad for the legal protections afforded to me as employee in my country.

                2. Cookie Monster*

                  I used to work for a huge global company that wanted all employees in the bottom 10% on a PIP. I will never forget the year that the entire area was exceeding their goals (which was unheard of) and they still wanted the bottom 10% on a pip-I fought long and hard for my staff and won that argument

                3. Michaela Westen*

                  “the entire area was exceeding their goals (which was unheard of) and they still wanted the bottom 10% on a pip”
                  This is an outstanding example of the unthinking corporate stupidity that makes us distrust them.
                  Corporate executives, open your eyes, look around, be aware of the world beyond your suite! Please!

                4. One of the Sarahs*

                  About 20 years ago, I worked in a call centre for a huge telephone bank in the UK, and among the many, *many* targets they had, each section had a target % of staff to fire each year. It was baffling – I know they were really into having a certain amount of turnover, and IIRC their ideal was that call centre staff should only be in post for max 3 years (if not fewer) but it made no sense that they wanted to get rid of staff regardless of performance. Like Cookie Monster says, it meant that there was pressure to sack staff who were hitting all their targets.

            4. Artemesia*

              Yeah, it might be kinder to call it a ‘final warning’ because that is what it is. And bosses hate conflict and the very act of a PIP is painful to most of them, once they have dealt with the ugliness of starting formal proceedings, which a PIP represents, they are more inclined to just let it run to conclusion rather than having to go through the angst again.

            5. Flash Bristow*

              Exactly! “I’m putting you on an improvement plan” could be heard as “wow, at last I’m getting the coaching I wanted!” or even “cool, sounds like they’re putting me into the management training pathway at last!”

              It isn’t mean to say “this isn’t a punishment BUT it is a requirement; you’re not performing at the expected level in your job. This is a scheme which is intended to help coach you up to that minimum standard – but unfortunately if it doesn’t work out, your job is at risk, so please engage with the process and come to me if there’s anything you don’t understand.”

              It isn’t at all mean to be clear – quite the opposite. However, it would be kind to begin the conversation with “I need to tell you something – it probably isn’t what you want to hear, but please remember that I’m here to help you succeed. So [cont]…”

        2. Jen*

          The first time I had to let someone go was hard, I felt like a failure. But my boss reminded me that I had a high success rate with those I had trained and that it was just a reality that not everyone you hire is going to work out.

      2. Washi*

        Yep. I had an intern who kept giving me drafts that were fine in content, but riddled with typos. The first time, I told her she should look it over before giving it to me to make sure there are no typos. The next few times, I would glance quickly and hand it back the second I saw something and remind her to proofread. Eventually, when she went to hand me something, I didn’t take it, looked her in the eye and said without any trace of a smile “are you 100% confident that what you are handing me has no typos?” It felt quite harsh, but it was after that that I finally saw an improvement in her work, and I think she genuinely thought up to that point that I was telling her to proofread as a suggestion.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          That reminds me of the story about a writer (James Thurber, maybe?) who worked for either a magazine or a newspaper. He took his work to his editor and got a call back asking “is this the best you can do?” So he rewrote and left it with the editor again, and got another call back asking “is this the best you can do?” This went on until finally he took it to the editor and said “Here. This is absolutely the best I can do. I can’t write any better than this.” The editor said “Good. This one I’ll read.”

          (disclaimers: probably remembered wrong, probably apocryphal, etc.)

          1. Birch*

            It baffles me that people turn in work that is not the best they can do, barring a manager literally standing over you demanding the work NOW. If you have enough time that a manager is handing you back 2-3 drafts, why not just do it correctly in the first place?!

            1. tallteapot*

              But in many jobs, it’s not at all realistic for every piece of work you do to be at your best level of performance–and not every draft needs to be 100%. To expect employees to only turn in the personal best on every piece of work–especially when the investment of time and effort to get it from 80% to 100% there– is not worth the value of that 20% improvement.
              Sometimes–pretty darn good is actually good enough.

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                And sometimes it’s more important to get it done within a certain timeframe than to make it a work of staggering genius.

              2. Julia*

                It also depends on how much time you have. In interpreting class, the professor told us that sometimes, second or third best had to be enough or you’d fall behind looking for first best.

              3. LizM*

                This is true. Our regional director (my grandboss) has explitly told me that for documents intended for him, he’d rather things at 80% and have me move on to something else, than get it to 100%. Our workload just doesn’t allow for perfection on everything we produce.

              4. One of the Sarahs*

                Yep – it was a really important learning point for me to aim for “Good Enough” rather than Perfect. Still going for high standard, of course, but recognising when aiming for perfection hinders productivity.

            2. Free Meerkats*

              There’s a phrase I’ve used, probably more than I should, “Close enough for government work.” And most of the time, written so the intent is clear is perfectly adequate for the job at hand. Where something is going to companies we regulate, or to our regulators, it’s at 100%. Otherwise, CEFGW is perfectly acceptable.

              1. Jennifer Thneed*

                It’s another way of saying “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”.

            3. SS Express*

              I almost never turn in work that’s the absolute best I can do. Once I’ve got it to a stage where it’s good enough to do what it needs to with no issues, I focus my attention on the next thing. I’m a bit of a perfectionist by nature so it goes against my instincts to work this way, but learning to do it has made me a much better worker capable of achieving a lot more.

              1. Michaela Westen*

                Creative work is prone to being paralyzed by the effort to make it perfect. A painter who won’t let the painting go, keeps adding/tweaking details.. and if they were allowed to keep doing that, no one would ever see it.
                Programming is prone to this also, so is writing, design, making reports… Sometimes the boss has to take it away from them and get it where it needs to go.
                I make analytical reports and my boss likes them to look pretty. He also likes me to not spend too much time on things. I had to train myself to make it look pretty enough with the colors that are handy, not spend a lot of time on borders, layout, etc… get it nice enough and send it out. I tear myself away – I’m a putterer by nature, I can putter around with a one-page report for half a day if I’m not stopped. :)

            4. Lucy*

              There are definitely some people who go overboard in trying to make a document or a product ‘perfect’ – except of course, they won’t be able to get something perfect especially if they aren’t completely familiar with the requirements of their field or their manager. My old boss always wanted to see drafts of reports at an early stage, to give an opportunity to course correct if someone had veered way off course- which in the field of policy research people very much did.
              So for some people, ‘80% is good enough’ is good advice.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Using this as an example though, I don’t think that question, “Is this the best you can do?” is a guiding or leadership type question. It sounds more like a reprimand from a parent or a teacher. My belief is that as a supervisor if I kept getting the same response then I needed to change what I was doing. Anything less is a waste of my time and a waste of the employee’s time.
            Additionally, if the employee is on company time, doing endless makeovers to the work, that is a waste of company resources, including the salary paid to the employee.
            To me this looks more like the boss wanted the writer to stand up for his work. He could have just told the writer that instead.

            1. Jennifer Thneed*

              It was a terrible editorial response. How’s the writer supposed to know what the editor thinks is sub-par?

      3. Yvette*

        That is not “mean”, that is clear and concise. One of the best things I read by Allison on this set was “Make the implicit, explicit”. That is what you did and what is called for here.

        1. Emily K*

          I think she meant more that if you come from an avoidant/soft/ask style communication culture, or in many cases if you’ve been socialized as a female, being direct can feel mean at first until you get comfortable with it.

          When you’re so in the habit of making sure to be polite and gentle in social communications, dropping the niceties can feel more…pointed? Like if you entered a room with five people and said hello to four and ignored the other one, although you haven’t said anything rude to the fifth person, because you made a choice not to exchange pleasantries with that person it will reads as passive-aggressive/hostile. If you’re really accustomed to softening your language, suddenly not doing it can feel similarly like you’ve suspended your usually good manners, so even though you aren’t being outwardly rude, you’re clearly excluding this person from a social nicety you usually extend to everyone, which you fear will read as hostility.

        2. Mephyle*

          Both of the above comments are very true and apt.
          ‘Direct’ is not the same as ‘mean’ and ‘harsh’ – unless you’re from a culture where they are; where anything negative is considered mean and harsh by definition unless it is softened and the directness removed.

          1. Stargazer*

            You can also be in the fun position of being told that you’re both mean and harsh for being calm and direct in communications without any softening or fluff, because we’re all under a deadline here, by a boss who routinely screams, yells, slams tables and even swears if you haven’t done things fast enough or to his exacting (yet not always communicated) standards – but it’s okay because he’s the boss and male and that’s how guys/bosses are…

      4. Wintermute*

        I don’t think that’s mean, I think that’s clear.

        We’re often taught that an excessive amount of hemming and hawing is what equals politeness, and in a large part that’s true in many circumstances.

        But in an employee/employer or employee/supervisor relationship, directness and clarity is kindness, and I think it’s better to be kind than to be polite. Because the takeaway message from “I would appreciate it if you would spend more time proofing your work before submitting it because it’s causing extra work” is that it’s semi-optional and applies to overall polish, it would be nice and a favor to you because you don’t want extra work to do. Compare the less-embroidered but far clearer, “When you sent me the WENUS report [placeholder courtesy of Friends] the number that should have been in the “users” column was in the “processes” column. We use the WENUS to allocate budget for systems and determine the profitability of clients, and this mistake caused alarms at the head office about the Blackstone account. You cannot submit a WENUS with errors for final entry again, or I’m going to need to escalate this issue to have the numbers corrected.”

        The second one is more dire, sure, but it’s a dire subject, the error was causing analytics to misunderstand the profitability of an important client! It lays out the expectation, the reason the error is a serious one, and the potential next step if immediate corrective action isn’t taken.

        In the first case if it happens again, they’d be gobsmacked to find that a director was now involved and they were facing a written warning. In the second case, they would be forewarned that A) this was a serious error B) it never should have re-occurred C) why they needed to ensure it never re-occurred D) why someone of senior level is now involved and E) why this is now leading to disciplinary action.

        Also, by being clear you help alleviate anxiety because people know when it’s a big deal they will KNOW it’s a big deal.

    2. The Person from the Resume*

      I have that problem too and am doubling down on my efforts to make my expectations clear to my team members.

    3. all aboard the anon train*

      I wish my manager realized this. He tries to soften his language towards a non-manager male employee who has a habit of micromanaging women and trying to mentor them even after they say no. Manager says Male Employee is a good worker and looks so sad when these concerns are addressed, and Male Employee thinks whenever management talks to him it means they’re helping him be better so he’s next in line for a management position. It’s a mess. Management just needs to be “mean” and tell the dude to stop trying to micromanage and mentor women.

      1. Laurelma__01!*

        all aboard the anon train :
        They need to address that one before they are faced with a lawsuit. Wonder if a discussion with HR would be amiss. Many people have learned to do the puppy dog look, or come across with managers as being helpful when confronted about behavior; usually when they know they are in the wrong. The man in your office has learned how to manipulate your manager. Would you manager take offense if you told him, that the non-manager is manipulating him? How would he take it? Take offense? deny it? think about it? or deny it when told, but the bug you planted roam around his brain awhile? or actually take what you’ve said as a serious concern?

        1. all aboard the anon train*

          They’ve already had a lawsuit. HR has already been involved. Manager would definitely take offense because it’d be a critique of his managerial style.

          It’s honestly a battle that will be lost if anyone tried to fight it at this point. I’ve given up and have just taken to warning new female employees to push back and say no if he hassles them. My Male Employee displays this behavior, but he’s pretty weak willed at the end of the day and if someone snaps, he’ll get hte hang dog look and back off. Unfortunately, it just means there needs to be someone with a backbone around, which my manager doesn’t have.

          1. Laurlema01!*

            I feel for you. This would drive me crazy. I would be one of these women that would keep my mouth shut to keep peace for a period of time, than turn around and tear his head off.

            I hate being forced into being rude. It makes me get even uglier.

          2. AKchic*

            Ugh. I’ve worked with many of that type of Male Employee, both as a coworker, an underling, and as a volunteer underling. They tend to avoid me when they realize I’m not going to be managed (let alone micromanaged) and I’m not letting somebody lower than my position try to mentor me when I clearly don’t need and didn’t ask for one in the first place.

      2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        “Male Employee thinks whenever management talks to him it means they’re helping him be better”
        And there’s the problem.
        “Oh, they are offering me so much guidance and support. They want me to be better at what I’m doing, not change what I’m doing.”
        Sounds like a nightmare.
        “When you speak to staff about their daily task list, be open to each person having a different means of prioritizing” is not, “STOP REVIEWING YOUR STAFF’S TO DO LIST EVERY MORNING.”

          1. all aboard the anon train*

            Nope. He just really, really, REALLY wants to be a middle manager.

    4. A username for this site*

      Problem is, being “mean” in the “direct/blunt/harsh reality” sense requires backing from your supervisor as well. I have had several times where I had direct conversations with someone, ex: “You were 30 minutes late today which made us shorthanded for [program.] You need to be on time if you are going to work [program]. If you have an emergency or an extenuating circumstance on one day, that’s fine but please call or text so we can plan so [program] is adequately covered” and then the person who I spoke to went to my boss to complain about me being “mean” to them, and my boss would take their side, blame me, and tell the person they did not have to listen to me because I was “picking on” them.

      Managers who are not using Managerial Best Practices may not have a choice if they want to stay in good graces with their boss.

      1. happened to me, too*

        ugh I had that recently. I spoke in a “this is serious” yet even tone and the person went to someone else (not my superior) to complain about it. That person suggested I apologize (I didn’t because I did not do anything out of bounds).

        1. Julia*

          I was in charge of delegating (but not managing) people in my last job, and one of them snapped and yelled at me for “always bossing him around and telling him what to do”. He usually pretended to be doing yard work, but would go out for coffee during working hours instead.
          My boss suggested I “soften my language” when talking to him. We were extremely busy at the time and running around frantically, and I didn’t feel like coddling a grown man to do his job, so I refused and told them they were absurd. I quit a few months later.

          1. Been There, Done That*

            Same as my situation in my job, or at least how I was told it was going to be. I’d lead a team, delegate, make sure everyone got certain things done. Boss would say, “Have your team to this, make sure your team does that.” But the others didn’t like taking instructions from me, complained to my boss about it, and she slapped me down. Now we have relatively new employee who’s like OP’s on steroids–always piping up about what the office should be doing, when she has neither standing nor experience and knowledge to make any kind of call on it. She can be a major smarty-pants know-all, and my boss sees her as a go-getter.

    5. smoke tree*

      I think it might also help people in the LW’s position to avoid the “nice/mean” framing altogether. As Alison says, it’s actually nicer to your employee to give them a clear sense of how they are doing and how they can improve. I don’t think there is anything particularly mean or harsh about delivering criticism clearly and without softening language, in cases where an employee isn’t absorbing the softer message. It’s just a departure from the way a lot of people are used to communicating so it takes a bit of practice to get used to it.

      1. Jen*

        It may also be a function of being a female supervisor. I remember once getting screamed at for being “mean” when in a college job, I firmly sent a staff member home to change for unsafe shoes. A lot of female supervisors have been specially conditioned to be “nice” and it can be a problem.

      2. Jennifer Thneed*

        We need to get better at the difference between “nice” and “kind”.

        Nice is inoffensive, but often we should be kind instead. It’s *kind* to an employee to make sure they know how they are messing up so they are not in denial about it.

    6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah. Sometimes you have to sit someone down, have a CTJ talk with them, and tell them that their behavior is completely unacceptable. I’ve had to work with a law fellow who steamrolls everyone, oversteps her bounds and has bad judgment, but she thinks this shows her competence and enthusiasm. I have had to put her in her place more than once, and some of that involved completely shutting her out, including throwing her out of a meeting. It’s not pleasant, but sometimes it has to be done.

  2. MuseumChick*

    It sounds like you need to have a “Big Picture” talk with her and explicitly lay out the expectations for her role. All of Alison’s scripts are great. I might add “I need to see you stop doing X, Y, and Z and start doing A, B, and C. I want to be very straightforward with you, if I don’t see these changes it could effect your position here,”

    1. aka Duchess*

      If what the few customers complained about was especially egregious – then I would mention that too, like “until you can show me you are taking this feedback to heart and are making these changes, I will have to ask you to no longer sit in on customer meetings” or whatever.

      1. MuseumChick*

        Yes, I would definitely mention the customer complaints to her and make it clear that until things improve she is bared from interacting with clients unless specifically told to by the OP.

        1. Jen*

          Third-ing this. Upsetting customers and refusing to see that was wrong is definitely a fireable offense. That kind of disregard can threaten the organization.

          1. irene adler*

            Agreed. Hopefully she is mortified to learn that she has, in fact, upset the customers.
            And, she wants not to repeat doing so-ever again.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Or she’ll be like the manager earlier this week who was appalled that he had offended the wife (by calling her whenever the husband didn’t pick up his phone) so he switched to texting apologies.

  3. wheee*

    “Yup, we need less ‘enthusiasm’ and more accuracy and following instructions. Starting right now and from this point forward, without exception, or there will be consequences.

    It amazes me when people think they can dictate the requirements and parameters of the job they have been hired to do and are being paid for. It’s. Not. Up. To. You.

  4. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    It must be Gumption! Thursday :)

    hahaha… this type of employee brings to mind the phrase ‘helpful like a puppy’. I’ve been successful by drawing clear boundaries with swift and unambiguous feedback if the boundaries are crossed.

  5. SandyS*

    Please tell her clearly what she must do. And I would say, “Continuing to do X will jeopardize your job,” not “would jeopardize.” Giving her clear guidelines is your job. (She may decide the job isn’t the right fit for her.) But it seems unfair to me not to be very clear and then come back and say, you should have done A and B, but you did Y and Z, so we have to let you go.

    1. irene adler*


      Personally, hearing that something I did “would” jeopardize my job is enough for me.

    2. Luna*

      I think she should also try making sure certain things are written down. Like when she says the employee is doing things that the LW said she would take care of herself- next time this type of conversation happens follow-up with an email to the employee that says something along the lines of “as we discussed, I will take care of X and Y.”

        1. Laurlema01!*

          Yes! Make them write it down. The work studies do not take notes, and come back to me with questions that I’ve answered before, or fail to read the binder listing responsibilities, how to transfer calls etc. Easier to ask versus looking up.

      1. Laurlema01!*

        Maybe I’m nick-picking, but the manager shouldn’t need to report to a subordinate what they are and are not doing, unless it’s a piece that the employee requires in order to complete their duties. I think the message should be something cover overstepping boundaries, etc. It’s just the tone I’m thinking of. This individual hits me as I go ahead and do, and apologize later, versus asking permission. Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but this individual would get on my last nerve. I’ve worked with someone that thinks they know better and runs with it. Couple of times we got stuck paying for something we didn’t plan on, he bought and requested reimbursement for. We ended up declining to reimburse him for something that cost around $2,000.00; because he didn’t follow procedure after being warned. We had a contract in place, would have cost 3/4 of what he paid.

        Sometimes someone has to take a hard hit before they follow procedures.

        It’s always a question of …. is this employee work the time I’m putting in supervising & training vs, get rid of her and start over?

          1. Laurelma01!*

            It changed in reference to budget items. He has a lack of respect for women. He would do everything he can to work around our department chair. He resigned recently. It would blow up in his face occasionally, but her being angry at him wasn’t a concern. I doubt he would have been given tenure.

  6. nnn*

    I mentioned this in another thread, but this is a situation that would also be a good candidate for “err on the side of” guidelines.


    – “Err on the side of delivering work later and error-free rather than sooner and without having been proofread.” (If your workflow and deadlines permit, I’d even explicitly instruct the employee to let everything sit overnight and give it a final edit the next day rather than turning it in as soon as it’s done.)
    – “Err on the side of checking with me before you do something I say I was going to do.” (If this were my team, I’d say “I delegate heavily, so if I specifically say I’m going to do something, there’s a reason for it.” Not sure if this applies to your team.)
    – “At this point in your career here, you should err on the side of listening and learning during meetings rather than speaking up before you’re absolutely certain the thing you’re about to suggest hasn’t already been considered.”

    1. Pollygrammer*

      This is a good point. I also think direct questioning might be helpful.

      “Do you think that getting work to me very quickly is more important than submitting it error-free? Because if that’s the case, then I think we should clarify priorities.”

      (I’m not sure this would actually do any good, but I would want it as a CYA in case she makes accusations that she isn’t getting clear instruction.)

      1. irene adler*

        Yes. In the absence of absolute clarity with instructions, sometimes people get notions in their heads that make them do strange -and unproductive- things.

      2. Laurlema01!*

        Reference lack of proofreading, etc. She causing you to do more work, she’s supposed to make it easier on you. She should be producing documents that saves you time, versus wastes it.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      “And never ever ever ever contact clients unless I tell you to.” I feel like this should be a given – I always ask for permission to do so – but I guess it’s not.

  7. Traffic_Spiral*

    That’s when I’d get snarky and be like “well, you need to be more enthusiastic about putting out quality work, and less enthusiastic about jumping in where you can’t contribute and putting out half-finished product.”

    “Enthusiasm” plus “not qualified” usually just means “dabbling in the fun bits until I lose interest.” I strongly dislike that in the workplace – that’s what hobbies are for!

    1. Jen*

      The other thing is that submitting a half-finished product to a supervisor basically means you are leaning on the supervisor to do the extra work you didn’t do in proofreading and double checking your decisions.

      1. Clorinda*

        Oh yes. That’s why LW should give it back without corrections, just instructions: Clean this up until it meets the standards you were given.
        Now, WAS this person given standards? Probably so. If not, give her some. But it is far below LW’s paygrade to be the employee’s proofreader.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      Agreed–enthusiasm does not mean “I like doing whatever I want and because I enjoy it so much I don’t need feedback’. This annoyed me just reading it.

      1. Laurlema01!*

        I’m taking enthusiasm as a way of dumping it back on the manager. Look I’m so cute, give me a pat on the back.

        Sorry, I’m displeased ith my current work study. She’s just summer only, but doesn’t follow directions. Wants me to hand feed information versus using the campus directory. She knew this was summer only, but is making a minimum effort. Was planning on training someone so that they could find a position elsewhere on campus, and it would be an easier transition for her & future supervisor. She will not put things back up.

        1. Tuxedo Cat*

          I got a vibe that the employee is trying to make it the manager’s problem or at least absolve herself of blame.

    3. Phoenix Programmer*

      Eh. Part of the motto of grad school is “done on time is more important than perfect”. Since OP doesn’t state she has been explicit that accuracy beats timeliness she needs to have a sit down talk. No snark required.

  8. ErgoBun*

    I swear I terminated this exact person earlier this year. Clear, direct feedback and directions only corrected her a little. She was 100% focused on what she thought was the right and best way to accomplish things, and what anyone else wanted was irrelevant — because she had (less) work experience (than all of her co-workers) and a graduate degree.

    Tread with care and document!

  9. The Ginger Ginger*

    Yeah, you want her to be enthusiastic about DOING THE JOB WELL. Not just…..enthusiastic in general. It’s like having a well trained dog who LOVES to chase balls or something. The enthusiasm is uplifting and enjoyable because it’s focused and productive. A dog who’s just enthusiastic will jump all over you, knock over valuable furniture, dig up your prize azaleas, and joy-piddle all over the floor. That’s not enjoyable or useful, it’s frustrating. Now, I’m just trying to compare valuable and not valuable enthusiasm, not compare this employee to a dog, of course. But the point is – enthusiasm for the wrong thing is not an asset. If she values her vision of herself as an enthusiastic worker, you need to firmly and explicitly tell her that for her enthusiasm to be helpful to her role and appreciated by the company it needs to be appropriately channeled.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      You immediately put me in mind of a very enthusiastic golden retriever we used to meet on walks, who believed that barreling into people’s knees was how you show you love them and whose owner probably would have described him as “enthusiastic.”

      1. Persimmons*

        A neighbor’s dog jumped all over me and peed down my leg last week, and I can confirm that I would have preferred he give me a typo-ridden report instead.

        1. It's me*

          on a related note, I used to have a neighbor who would pick my 5 pound squirmy dog up without asking and I was always worried about her falling and breaking a bone or something. One time, she went to scoop up little pupper who had yet to do her doggy business. That neighbor put her down very quickly and I saw she had pee all over her shirt. She never did it again!

        2. Alex the Alchemist*

          Honestly I’d be impressed if a dog gave me a report, no matter how many typos.

          1. run with it*

            “What’s that, Lassie? Timmy’s sales have exceeded quarterly goals by 3.5%?”

    2. fposte*

      Enthusiasm is essentially a deflection here. It sounds really positive, so it’s effective, but ultimately this is just a variant on being defensive about feedback. The OP shouldn’t let herself be deflected.

      1. Washi*

        Yeah, I feel like this person has watched too many chick flicks where the quirky underdog main character breaks all the rules and steps on toes of stuffy people who don’t get her and through some deus ex machine twist of fate saves the day with her out-of-the-box thinking and gets a raise.

        1. Artemesia*

          But that usually involves just a quick thing on the internet, a few keystrokes that save the business.

      2. Let's Talk About Splett*

        It’s the workplace version of the blind date who grabs the restaurant check out of your hand because he’s a “gentleman”.

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          And then he stiffs the server on the tip, and you don’t realize it until the next time you dine at your favorite local restaurant and for some reason the regular staff is more abrupt and you feel awkward and then find out a month later that they thought it was you.
          If that makes any sense.

      3. The Ginger Ginger*

        I agree. I guess I kind of buried my main point, which is – if she’s entrenched herself in the idea that she’s ENTHUSIASTIC, and is reluctant or unwilling to dial that back, then it may be easier to firmly and explicitly tell her how she’s expected to use her enthusiasm productively and appropriately. The feedback is the same and the intent is the same on the part of the manager, it just, allows the employee to continue to cleave to their self-evaluation as enthusiastic if that’s something they’re super invested in. It gives you a way to say “Okay, Debra, I’m not asking you to not be enthusiastic, I’m asking you to channel it appropriately” so the employee can’t dig in on the BUT ENTHUSIASM argument and tune everything else out.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          “Debra, if you were enthusiastically fired, would that be okay with you? After all it is enthusiasm.”

        2. Been There, Done That*

          Lordy, this is why I hate to see Enthusiastic! as a preferred characteristic in a job posting. Esp. w/ a less experienced person like OP’s employee, it can be misunderstood what is appropriate workplace enthusiasm and what is obnoxious pom-pom waving when it’s time to get to your desk and get something done. I’ve always felt I demonstrate enthusiasm by fulfilling the work requirements. However, some managers do like the cheerleaders.

    3. Specialk9*

      My family member was permanently crippled by a dog barreling into his knees. Just to reinforce your message. Enthusiasm can maim.

    4. Tabby Baltimore*

      Reading this comment immediately conjured for me the image of some medium-sized short-haired breed “joy-piddling” on my kitchen floor, with a gleeful-looking smile and a lolling-out tongue. And now I’m determined to find a way to get this into a response email the next time someone messes with my work product.

  10. MK*

    Also, I think it would be useful to point out that mistakes due to enthusiasm are still mistakes.

    1. Oh So Very...*

      Right? “I hope you enjoy your work, but I’m not paying you for your enthusiasm. I’m paying you to turn in accurate work.”

      1. irene adler*

        Makes me wonder how she handled her school work.
        Was it full of errors – but turned in early or on time?

        1. Anon7*

          Based on my personal experience with students, probably. I once had a student turn in their big final paper in the 2nd week of a 16-week class, and never mind the fact that I hadn’t even explained the details of the assignment to him yet. I refused to even grade it.

          If this IS a trend from the employee’s student days, and she’s been getting away with it all this time, it’s going to be harder to train her out of it. If she starts deflecting about how accepted/encouraged/helpful her “enthusiasm” was elsewhere, OP might benefit from making the point that this workplace might have different needs and expectations than she’s used to.

          1. Bea*

            She needs to be fired a time or two to make up for the teachers who refused to flunk her.

        2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          It was given the rest of the group who cleaned up, finalized her part of the project because “she was so on top of it,” they just had to “clean it up a little.” In addition to doing their own parts.

        3. Properlike*

          I have so many students – including MFA students in a writing program – who bypass proofreading. Or ones that say “I deserve an A” despite all the typos, because “you asked for five pages but I wrote ten!”

          But there are also teachers and even department heads unwilling to be “mean” and who say “but they’re LEARNING.”

          What they got away with I school, they will expect to get away with in work.

          1. SarahKay*

            Then clearly they need to be ‘LEARNING’ to follow directions properly.

            I have a friend who did English Lit ‘A’ level (exams taken at age 18 after 2 years’ study) many years ago, and for the first year of the course her teacher deducted 10% off the mark they would have got for every 20% increment over the suggested word limit. So if they were asked for a 1,000 word essay and handed in 1,199 they were fine; 1,200 words lost you 10%, 1,400 words lost you 20%, etc.
            She said it really cured her of just writing indiscriminately, and, for that matter, of not reading the question very carefully and following any associated instructions.

            1. Birch*

              Yes, this! There’s some weird idea amongst overachievers and enthusiastic people that if you just give SO MUCH it doesn’t matter what the work actually is or whether you followed directions or not because you are just SO SPECIAL. I used to be like that. And then I learned that following directions is important because it’s not actually doing a good job if you are not doing what the job actually is. Which requires following directions.

              1. Marion Ravenwood*

                These are the people who saw Hermione Granger as an academic role model when they were younger. (Source: I was that teenager.)

            2. Clorinda*

              I do this with my students. Their essay assignments have a length range, and going over gets the same penalty as falling short. If I wanted to read ten pages, I would have asked for ten pages. (I do not want to read ten pages.) I’m taking a class right now with a teacher whose length requirement reads only, “Does not exceed two pages double-spaced”–no minimum length specified.

            3. Alison K*

              Heh, I had a university lecturer who, alongside word limits for assignments said, “You can write more if you want, but you need to know I’ll stop reading at the word limit”.
              It was very good for focussing the writer’s mind on what was important – I still use that prompt today, when word limits are an issue.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Yep, I have seen profs stop after they hit the page limit or they gave the entire paper back because it was too long. The smart profs announced this before the paper was due rather than waiting to be in the moment.

            4. Julia*

              I wish my teachers had done that. It feels really demoralizing to hand in your perfectly adequate length essay (teacher says two pages, so you hand in two pages) and then have the teacher praising whoever wrote ten pages and ignored the instructions.

          2. Tuxedo Cat*

            I had so many students who took deadlines as time for negotiation instead of their work being due.

            Unfortunately, many faculty where I was teaching were okay with students turning in work as late as humanly possible.

            1. Properlike*

              That’s the problem, especially when you’re an adjunct: you’re not allowed to impose consequences. I suspect most students would get it after the first F.

  11. LKW*

    This is about what is FUN and not about what is the work. Spreadsheets? Work. Ideas and new ways of thinking? FUN!

    No. Just no.

    I’ve had this conversation with people. I usually frame is as ” At this time, you haven’t shown me you have mastered the basics of this job, delivering client-facing / leadership-facing deliverables, understanding the day to day way we work here, etc. Until I see that, you should not be doing these things. This will impact your performance review, employment.”

    I’ve also had to coach people new to the firm on some of the “codes” they may be unfamiliar with like “Let’s take that offline” said to a coworker or teammate actually means “Shut up right now and do not continue this line of discussion” or “Let me ask a stupid question is ” code for “You need to get your stuff straight so I’m going to ask basic questions to give you the chance to clarify the doublespeak you’ve got going.”

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yup. It’s really “I just want to do things that make me feel enthusiastic,” which, sorry, sometimes you just gotta stick through the boring bits.

      1. SarahKay*

        That’s what I was thinking. I have an “I Love Spreadsheets” mug, which I love almost as much as I love a good spreadsheet.
        ‘Ideas and new ways of thinking’ on the other hand – so not my strengths.

        1. many bells down*

          I don’t work with spreadsheets, but I do love forms. All those neat little boxes to fill in. It’s why I enjoy doing my taxes. So I can totally see spreadsheets being fun!

      2. Specialk9*

        Haha me too. I’ve learned pivot tables recently, thanks to people here recommending it, and ((sigh of delight)) they’re dreamy.

      3. Marion Ravenwood*

        I love spreadsheets. And databases. One of my projects earlier this year was cleaning up our press contacts database ahead of GPDR coming in, and I LOVED it. Stick my headphones in, set my Pomodoro technique timer, and I can quite happily power through a day of this stuff.

    2. J.B.*

      Yes. I’m in a field not known for social skills, and think it’s a good idea to give explicit descriptions to someone who isn’ If they aren’t trying after that point, time to cut loose. During a round of layoffs at my first firm, someone who always complained got let go and I got handed her project.

      1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

        ‘That’s an interesting angle, and we might get back to it some other time.”

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Wait. But there are times where I actually do have a stupid question. LOL. I suppose that context is what defines the intent of the sentence. If I am focused on sorting out where my knowledge gap is that would become apparent in a minute or two.

    4. LGC*

      You actually mentioned something really interesting – the fact that New Employee may not be up on the culture, or (on the flip side) what you might perceive as severe criticism within the company may not sound like it to outsiders.

      The examples you gave do NOT sound harsh on their face, even though your definitions were quite harsh – I’d initially think that “let’s take that offline” means “let’s review this at another time” (as opposed to “shut up”) and “let me ask a stupid question” to mean…possibly what you meant (“explain the stupidity that just came out of your mouth”), or more commonly “I know this is a basic question, but…” Obviously, tone is VERY important, but people don’t always read it accurately, and you lose a lot of it through electronic communication.

      Also, count me as Team Spreadsheet.

      1. IO_BIO*

        Furthermore, the harshness of a comment like “let’s take that offline” can vary from workplace to workplace. In my office, it certainly means, “stop derailing this meeting and wasting other people’s time on this off-topic or too-detailed train of thought”, but it’s sincere in picking it back up in a more appropriate context, e.g., one-on-one meeting.

  12. Pollygrammer*

    There are things in this letter that can potentially be corrected, but LW mentions sub-par writing skills. I don’t know if that’s something that can easily be overcome even if this employee was open to feedback.

    If she’s just not a good fit for the role in terms of skill, I don’t know how much effort I would put into correcting her behavior/attitude.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      I believe writing skills can be improved, just like any other skill. It just takes time, practice and effort. At this point, it’s a concern that the effort for much of anything is fundamentally lacking.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’d say it’s more that they usually can’t be improved significantly in the amount of time that’s reasonable for a manager to invest.

        1. Observer*

          That is true. But when you can’t get to first base, there is no way to know whether this is reasonably fixable. If the person is otherwise good, the boss should be able to point out the problem – then coach and / or take some writing classes or workshops.

        2. TootsNYC*

          not to mention that this person’s schooling should have offered her LOTS of opportunities to improve those skills. So if she hadn’t already improved her skills, she’s not likely to.

          1. Specialk9*

            My family member works in education across the US. The number of kids who make it through high school without being able to READ is breathtaking. Being able to write well is a far harder skill.

        3. Djuna*

          We talk about this a lot at work, especially since we’re hiring a writer at the moment, and I agree 100% with Alison.

          The most common issues I see are where someone genuinely cannot see anything wrong with their own writing. They’re tone deaf, they’re writing in a weirdly formal way, or their sentences are unwieldy and/or clunky.

          If they can’t tell that there’s something off about their work in comparison to the rest of their team, then it’s going to take a very long time to coach them into being able to see it. Then another while to help them correct it, and so on. That kind of time is a luxury most teams can’t afford.

          1. Cassie the First*

            I agree. I think it’s difficult for people who don’t write well to understand *how* to write better. Some things can be fixed – e.g. having the staffer use a style guide – but the vast majority of issues can’t be fixed easily. If they knew *how* to write better, they probably would.

            Unless you can send the person to some writing classes (who has the time and money for that?!) where they can get teacher and peer feedback, it’s really difficult to train someone to write better.

            If possible, I would suggest using standard language / templates so the person has to write very minimally (think MadLibs), but that won’t work for every situation. In our case, we had a staffer who learned English in a different country so although she could write English okay, she would use words or phrases that wasn’t standard in the US. Not sure how to get her to write more “American”, if you get my drift.

    2. Observer*

      Actually, with a decent level of education (and barring language difficulties or the like), it’s not that hard to improve writing skills – if someone is open to feedback and willing to make the effort

      That’s really the key to this. If she’s not open to feedback, the OP should not waste ANY more effort. If she’s open, then pretty much everything, even the writing issues, can improve.

      1. Washi*

        It may not technically be impossible, but in my experience, teaching someone how to improve their writing is a skill that not all managers (including me) have. For example, I can look at someone’s writing and tell that it’s unclear and poorly structured, point out the parts that don’t make sense, and give them some examples to look at, but I don’t really know how to explain how exactly to write something in a clear and logical fashion next time.

        1. Observer*

          That’s true. But a lot depends on what the problems are what the employee needs / can do. I’ve been in the position of dealing with someone whose writing skills were not up to par. I told them “You should really consider taking a writing course.” And they did!

          Again, the key is whether the employee is open to feedback. If they are, then you may be able to fix the problem and it may be worth the effort. Yes, it’s not definite, and it may not be possible to salvage the position, but it would be worth looking at.

          1. Luna*

            They need to be open to feedback, but more importantly they need to be able and willing to invest their own time and resources into improving. They can take writing classes, but that’s something they should do on their own dime. It’s such a basic, non-job-specific skill, that the company and managers shouldn’t be the ones training them how to do it.

            1. Observer*

              I put them in reverse, though. If the employee s open to feedback, and is serious, there is a high chance that they will find the resources to fix the problem. And the employer could even conceivably be willing to pay for X Course to improve the skill. But, no matter how much time and money that employee has (even assuming she were independently wealthy and just working for “the challenge”) if she won’t hear it it’s not happening. It doesn’t matter what resources are needed and available.

              A smart employee WILL take a writing course or two if they get pointed in that direction.

    3. Traffic_Spiral*

      Well, it depends on what you need. “Here are guidelines for how to write reports?” Sure. “You need to spend more time error-checking?” Often, yes. “You need to learn the art of putting the words on the page in a consise, understandable, and interesting way?” Yeah, that’s not happening.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        Depends… I cheat. If I have an employee that can’t get across clear information (this applies to email) I pretty much tell them to write in bullet point format. It hides a lot of sins with writing style.

        Obviously this won’t work for reports and such, but it can for most regular office communication.

  13. Bea*

    This sounds like the guy that ended up being my unraveling my last job. I even made flowcharts and check lists and details were missed, I had to pick up slack and the people who owned the shthole wanted to keep giving him chances.

    They fired him about a month after I left and nobody was there to deal with his inability to do his damn tasks fully. We weren’t supposed to give him work back he ef’ed up though after doing that originally he started claiming it was unfair and he just got more and more anxious. Argh.

  14. Gotham Bus Company*

    In other words, she has no time to do it correctly but lots of time to do it twice.

    No, that won’t work.

    1. Clorinda*

      She’s not really doing the work of doing it twice. She’s doing it badly, LW gives corrections, employee follows the corrections (mostly, I would guess), and then they have a second round of corrections. This means the employee is making the changes LW tells her to make, but is not doing it correctly out of her own skills and knowledge. The pedagogical word is transfer. She isn’t able to transfer knowledge from one task to another, which means she isn’t really learning.

      1. Gotham Bus Company*

        My office had a guy like that once. He would ask how to do a task, we would tell him, and then he would ask the same question again two days later. We would tell him to donthe same thin he did earlier, to which he wpuld say, “But today is Thursday.” No, we don’t have different data analysis procedures by day of week.

        Eventually, we started answering all of his questions with “What did Boss say to do?” He always responded with “I didn’t want to bother him” (which was clearly code for “I didn’t want Boss to know that I still haven’t learned this by now”).

        1. Been There, Done That*

          This reminds me of a new coworker I had to train. She asked EVERYTHING three times before she got it. Boss would give her direct instructions, and she’d do something else instead. It wasn’t even as if she thought she knew more. Boss called her a bubble brain, and I’m sorry to say I had to agree. We concluded she had to go but thankfully she quit. We found out later she had ADD and had stopped taking her medicine for it.

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      A few months ago, I had someone call me for after-the-fact approval of a process that I should have been involved in from the beginning. Her exact words were “I know I should have called you first, but I didn’t have time for all the red tape.”

      Shockingly (not at all shockingly), her process was full of errors, and produced data that was completely unusable and had to be thrown out. My boss, her boss, and her grandboss all got involved, and there were some Serious Conversations about her future in that particular role.

      Now, tell me again how you “didn’t have time” for the ten-minute phone call with me that could have prevented all this in the first place?

      1. Eloise*

        Ooh, yes. I recently had someone dismiss the work our group does as “administrivia,” but guess who’s having to re-do an entire project because they didn’t bother to listen to us about all those boring, tiddly details? WE WERE TRYING TO HELP YOU, DUDE.

        1. Decima Dewey*

          “Didn’t have time for all the red tape” = “I didn’t want to take the time to do it right.”

          The red tape could be there for a reason. While the reason could be “we’ve done X this way because something we don’t do anymore required it”, the reason might also be “if we don’t it this way Other Department will screw it up.”

        2. Specialk9*

          In defence, some places really are rife with process for the sake of process and personal gain. Whenever I’m in an org with tons of complicated steps to get something done, but none of it is written down, I start making an SOP. Over time I’ve realized that the whole point of the ‘complicated + unwritten’ thing is usually a matter of control and seeking job security, rather than actually necessary. Some people really do create barriers deliberately out of red tape!

          That said, I follow processes when I know they exist!

          1. Matilda Jefferies*

            Well, we do work in government, which is well known for having red tape for the sheer joy of it. ;) But in this case, the process and the reasons for it are pretty clearly documented in our P&P, and also in provincial legislation. She may not have liked the process, but it’s a pretty transparent one!

            Also, a tip I wish I could give her for next time. Even if you do think a particular process is nothing but “red tape,” saying that to the person whose job it is to manage the process – probably not such a good idea!

  15. Construction Safety*

    I’d make her repeat back the instructions after I gave them to her to ensure the message was getting though on some level.

    FWIW, I don’t think the conversation should either be “mean” or “harsh”, but should be firm and direct.

  16. Cordoba*

    “Enthusiasm” is only a good thing if it’s pointed in a good direction.

    Bernie Madoff was enthusiastic, as was Jim Jones. In both cases this turned out to be very bad.

    It seems odd to me that somebody with a grad degree and a few years of real experience would behave this way. I’d expect this out of an intern or maybe a just out of undergrad new hire, but this person should know better.

    1. RVA Cat*

      For a more benign example, Ed Wood was a very enthusiastic filmmaker. Didn’t make him a competent one though.

  17. Laurelma__01!*

    When I have spoken to her about these issues, she has said she is enthusiastic and just wants to get things done. She always uses the term “enthusiastic” to describe what comes across as pushiness. I am planning on sitting down with her and nicely telling her that this behavior is not productive.

    I would be insulted that she thought she had the freedom to “do my work” for me. Since she has the other behaviors, I would sit down and talk to her. And put her on PIP. You’ talked to her about the errors and being pushy verbally, now it’s time to give her a formal write up. That should be her wake up call, unless you’re reached your limit and are ready to get rid of her. If this was me I would take the tone of, “Did I ask you to do this? Her response, “No.” Did you think you could do a better job than me? I do not want to see this happen again. You are being put on PIP since you’re not responding to my prior requests regarding your behavior. If I do not see a mark improvement within the next month, you’re out the door.”

    I supervise undergraduates, it’s a pain in many instances. But the ones that shine, I want to keep forever.

  18. OtterB*

    This is making me think of the applicants we interviewed earlier this week. I’m not the hiring manager so don’t know who he’s making an offer to. But two of them had an aura of this. I think/hope they were trying to impress us in the interview and wouldn’t be like that on the job, but they focused on all the New! Cool! things they could do for us when I would have been happier with a greater acknowledgement of the fact that the position has a lot of routine support tasks that need to get done and that they were okay with that. Less process improvement, more process execution.

    1. Turquoisecow*

      My husband has an employee like that. When he’s asked to do something, the employee often goes on a long tangent of how x process should be automated or y process should be improved because of b issue. Ok, I’m glad you’re thinking big picture, but can you just do this task using the current picture because I kind of need it done today, and those improvements are not easy fixes.

    2. ArtK*

      I wonder if those applicants were following the “Pain Point” interview mode, where you identify the hiring manager’s pain point and tell them how you can solve those problems. I think it’s morphed from asking questions to determine the pain point and into deciding what the pain points are going in and showing “gumption” about being able to solve them. Process is *always* a pain point, so that’s an easy one to pick.

    3. Bea*

      I lost my cool on someone I eventually fired for going on about a procedure change that was in the works. “Well we’ll do it This Way later anyways so I don’t need to worry about it if things are out of place now”
      “That’s not how it’s done now. That change is months if not a year away? We’re bottlenecked in here and this is the stuff you’re doing? I need you to focus on today with hopes for the future. Unless it’s something I have the manpower and time to change right away, things take a helluva lot longer than you seem to realize.”

  19. Bones*

    I’m extremely wary of coworkers/employees/people who will talk your ear off before saying “I screwed up. Sorry, won’t happen again.”

  20. designbot*

    I’d also be clear about how her actions negatively impact the business—you can see this very clearly, but she probably can’t.
    * When you go around me and engage with clients in this way, it has offended them. This risks losing business for us, and that’s really dangerous territory. All of our jobs here are dependent upon keeping and building on the business we have, and you put your job in jeopardy when you did this. I was able to salvage it this time, but this is something that absolutely cannot be repeated.
    * When you are in a meeting with people of many different roles and levels of experience, that is an opportunity to learn. When you dominate a meeting like you’ve been doing, you not only fail to learn from those other people but you get in their way of being able to learn from each other. Each of us is just one piece of that, and there is a lot more you could be learning from that collective experience if you would do more listening.
    * When you submit work to me without bothering to check it over yourself, you’re wasting my time, which is better spent on (higher level issue). It’s all of our jobs to use resources, including human ones, efficiently.

    1. OhNo*

      That’s an excellent way to frame the issues, and I think it might have a chance of getting through to her. It makes the discussion less about whether or not she’s enthusiastic, and more about the actual consequences of her “enthusiasm” for others.

  21. Former Rampager*

    *grimace* This employee sounds (somewhat) like me when I entered the professional world. I was frustrated with how slowly certain projects seemed to progress, so I would push and pester others to speed things along. I wanted upper management to notice me in meetings, so I often over-spoke and missed more nuanced points of the conversation. I was a giant ball of energy and I wanted to show everyone that I was able to contribute on a larger scale.

    Thank God I had an excellent manager! He gave me kind, but firm, feedback and helped me tame my high-strung, Type-A tendencies. It couldn’t have been easy for him in the beginning, but he really invested in me. If it wasn’t for his guidance and mentoring, I never would have been as successful as I am today. I carried a lot of what I learned from him when I moved into management.

    I think a lot of managers hesitate to give strong feedback because they’re afraid of coming across as cruel or mean, but really, it’s the other way around. If my manager had let me continue rampaging around the office, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

    Of course, it depends on the employee, as well. I was open to feedback and wanted to be the best I could be, so I took what he had to say to heart.

    1. Mrs_Helm*

      This could have been me at the beginning of my career, as well! I wanted so much to help, contribute, & prove myself that I did sloppy work, got impatient a lot, and stepped all over people’s toes. It took a few incidences of embarrassing errors, and being told “you need to let other people do their job” , and “there are FACTORS in HOW WE DO BUSINESS that YOU aren’t privy to” discussions. It was a maturity thing to learn to step back and learn to ask questions outside of meetings, flag things for my manager, and get a feel for if my opinion/help was wanted before stepping in.

      I am positive I was an annoying, chirpy, entitled, overachiever. But with some clear direction from patient managers, and a few years being in the real world, I got the hang of things. I would encourage laying it out for this employee, possibly as a PIP, and see what happens.

    2. Remote Worker and Dog Lover*

      Yeah, I had the same impression! I was totally like this in my first job out of college, especially when I got promoted. Like Former Rampager, I had a patient manager who guided this behavior out of me. What’s weird here is that this person has significant work experience and went to grad school. I’m curious about what can realistically be fixed at this point for the LW, though I like Allison’s advice and the what other commentators have chimed in with.

  22. animaniactoo*

    “Enthusiasm is not a good reason for bringing me substandard work OR jumping on projects that you haven’t been okayed to work on. If enthusiasm is the cause of those things, you need to learn how to reign it in.

    I appreciate enthusiasm. but it needs to be effective enthusiasm to be a good thing, and right now yours isn’t. So when I tell you about something, I need you to stop telling me it’s because you’re enthusiastic and take what I’m telling you seriously and work on fixing the problem.”

    Potentially followed up with: “What did I just say?” when she starts going on about her enthusiasm again.

    1. Gotham Bus Company*

      “In fact, your substandard work reflects a LACK of enthusiasm. If you were truly enthusiastic about your job, you would be willing and eager to take the time to do it correctly.”

    2. Specialk9*

      A puppy is enthusiastic when it chews up my couch and poops on my rug. Cleaning up after your enthusiasm is just as welcome.

  23. Rusty Shackelford*

    “I need you to be enthusiastic about QUALITY. I need you to be enthusiastic about LEARNING. I need you to be enthusiastic about DOING YOUR JOB AND LETTING ME DO MINE.”

    I am planning on sitting down with her and nicely telling her that this behavior is not productive.

    I am planning on sitting down with her and assertively telling her that this behavior is not appropriate. <- Fixed that for you.

    I wonder what happened with this one?

  24. AdminX2*

    This one is cringingly close to home. It took me a LONG TIME to realize how to force myself to slow down and sit back. I still work better when I’m given a lot of rein to just get stuff done efficiently, but I can now see the good in holding back and getting perspective for awhile before charging ahead with what I’ve decided is best.

    And I’m just naturally fast at things, which leads to stupid easily checked errors. It gave me a quick easy “what’s your weakness” answer which I could talk about improving, but it really is hard, especially when things get stressed and you revert to old habits.

    Still not an excuse, still need to push back on seriously.

  25. 653-CXK*

    Having gone through this myself (PIP, warnings and the eventual axe falling down), this story describes me to a T.

    (Backstory: I was in a production environment for Everlasting Gobstoppers, and Quality Control would check various Gobstoppers at random. If there were imperfections in more than three Gobstoppers, or we weren’t producing Gobstoppers in a timely manner, we would be ‘deficient.’ Hence, we would get counseled, then put on a PIP, three warnings (initial, second and final warning), and then the termination.)

    My fault that was I was trying to please a lot of people by getting the Gobstoppers done quickly, not realizing that the slightest imperfection would be an error (slight chips, Gobstopper being too hard or too soft, etc.) This was because if you have few to no imperfections, and produced a lot of widgets this way, you would get a monthly money bonus (and a nice merit increase at review time). The only problem with that was that if you did the bare minimum in quality and production, you would not get as good a bonus or a merit increase compared to others.

    My boss cared enough to say, “if you keep on doing these things, these will be the consequences; just slow down and take care of what you’re doing.” I tried to do that and be more conscientious, but I couldn’t keep up and the consquence was my dismissal.

    I would have The Serious Talk, but also add some positive things to talk about to improve. “You do great in X, but right now, I’m requiring you to do better in Y, Z and W.” Have her work on the writing skills and reducing her pushiness so she isn’t seen as obnoxious to your clients. When she makes those goals, say, “You’ve improved dramatically on Y, Z could use a little more work, and you’re still struggling on W.” Only if she is not willing (or not understanding) of the above conditions would I begin to do the formal writeups. If she still doesn’t follow through, it’s time to dismiss her.

  26. mayfly*

    I worked with a person like this, and it was bad, toxic even. She was junior staff but definitely had overly optimistic views on her abilities. Her work product (both technical analyses and written reports) were poor. She overstepped with clients in an effort to promote herself, but due to her complete lack of self-awareness, ended up being very off-putting to them. Worst, she really wanted to be a manager, so that she could be more senior and delegate to those “below” her.
    However, she was very capable at putting on a good face for higher level bosses, so that when she did see the PIP writing on the wall and leave (thankfully), there was confusion as to why we didn’t try harder to keep such a “good” employee.

  27. AKchic*

    “You need to have the enthusiasm to do your job correctly, with no errors. If you cannot do that, we will need to re-evaluate your employment here.”

    “Enthusiasm” is not carte blanche to do whatever you want with gleeful abandon because you’re excited to branch out from your possibly boring routine.
    Proofread your work. Make the appropriate edits and turn in a polished piece.
    Do your own work and don’t step on your coworkers’ or boss’ toes, especially when they have already stated that they will handle something, especially when there are deadlines or clients involved. If you weren’t asked to do it, don’t take the initiative. You could screw it up and cost the company a lot, which could cost you (and others) a job.
    Be dependable and reliable, not an “enthusiastic” wild card who can’t even be depended on to turn in decent work.

  28. X. Trapnel*

    In my last corporate job (and the one that finally swore me off doing corporate jobs ever again) I got a row from my manager because I didn’t “contribute” anything to a meeting I attended. I’d been in the job two weeks, the meeting was about stuff that had happened six months ago and I’d met many of my colleagues for the first time at this meeting. I took it as an opportunity to listen and learn; boss thought I was “lacking in enthusiasm”. You can’t bloody win. This is why I milk cows now.

  29. Rhoda*

    I remember being told to “ask lots of questions” in my first jobs as a young adult. It was supposed to show that I was engaged and interested. I didn’t know what questions to ask because I was new at it, so people would ask me why I wasn’t asking more questions and I didn’t know how to answer.
    It sounds to me like this employee is getting advice from some sort of generic book on careers.

  30. Lucille2*

    The advice on “listen & learn” in meetings can seriously backfire. If her confidence is really shaken by this feedback, she may hear that she shouldn’t speak up in meetings. And eventually be reluctant to even when she has something meaningful to contribute. You may just need to limit her involvement in certain meetings until her performance improves.

    1. Maya Elena*

      Even if the employee over-corrects by being too reserved, ok – she’ll get her new feedback from the same or future boss and adjust, eventually settling into a happy medium a few years into her professional life. If either feedback sends her into a tailspin of self-doubt and anxiety that forever destroys her self-confidence, she has much bigger problems than her manager can or should fix.

      1. IO_BIO*

        I disagree, this is an overly-simplistic view of the way people “should” take criticism. As someone who started out her career full of enthusiasm and ideas (still have ’em, but went through a rough period), I needed coaching on the rhythm of meetings, not a “shut up” message. [For context: I had years of getting silencing messages for being an opinionated woman; I was a high performer unlike employee in question.] Getting the message from my immediate boss when I was 23 that I talked too much at meetings was…dispiriting. At my exit interview (left for grad school), a high-level director flat out told me my ideas were good and welcome and I should speak up, not let insecure managers flatten me out. That made a world of difference in how I saw myself and take criticism, not to mention my confidence in speaking up (something that my current EVP manager has told me several time he values). A middle ground, while the employee in question learns the cultural norms of not disrupting meetings, is to ask the employee to take notes on her ideas during those meetings and then give her a hearing one-on-one after the meeting to sincerely review her thoughts, encouraging her to share the best of her ideas at the next meeting. It’ll take an extra 10 minutes out of the day, sure (which can add up if there are multiple meetings), but it’s a way to coach instead of just silencing.

  31. Argh!*

    “She seems to believe that everything has to be done quickly”

    Is this because she isn’t being given deadlines? Or that coworkers have given her the impression that “by Tuesday C.O.B.” really means 30 minutes from now? Is everyone in a race to get their work on your desk before everybody else’s?

    I have a supervisor like this. She gives me no deadlines, complains if things are late & complains if things are not perfect. I have insisted that I need dates and times to organize my work, and she thinks I should understand her vague instructions “because everybody else does.” I learned that they don’t. They have been burned in the past and drop everything when she asks for something from them. If they’re in a meeting they apologize profusely for being “late.” Naturally, they didn’t tell me this when I joined the staff. I was supposed to “just know” what to do.

    My #1 rule of supervision: if you don’t tell them what you want, you have no right to complain when you don’t get it.

  32. Just Jess*

    I actually feel kind of bad for the direct report. It sounds like she would do quite well at my current organization. Habits like quickly pushing out as much work as possible regardless of quality or usefulness and “proactively approaching” people outside of the team to push high visibility projects through are valued here.

  33. Lauren*

    I can relate to the OP so much. I regularly hire and supervise recent college grads who are in their first professional role. I recognize and embrace that the roles I’m hiring them for are very much a learning experience, so I don’t mind investing time in teaching them professional skills (and also having the occasional conversation about what is business casual and why they cannot send me work-related questions via Facebook Messenger). I also firmly believe that part of my responsibility as their supervisor is to prepare them for their next role, whether it is on our team or elsewhere (this is a traveling consultant job that most people will stay in 1-2 years and move on).

    I’ve had an employee who has struggled with professional writing and was frequently submitted “rough drafts” even though I had clarified he should be submitting what he considers final copy. It’s taken a while, but I’ve been able to supply him with some sample reports/documents written by other staff members that are in line with my expectations. I also have to point out to him when he makes the same error repeatedly, but my biggest struggle has probably been to step back and make him fix things on his own rather than spending my own time going back and forth on endless edits (and virtually rewriting some of his reports).

    I was a little concerned with the OP’s criticism of the new report asking questions and making suggestions “About things she knows nothing about”. Isn’t that a good thing? She’s trying to learn and engage. She’s also giving you a lot of useful information about where you can teach her things about your organization – sometimes we get so stuck in the muck of our daily work that we forget that our employees don’t know everything we know, so her questions and suggestions are a great reminder and a great opportunity for her to learn (Which it sounds like she’s willing to do).

    1. IO_BIO*

      Great point about providing example work from peers. Done right, it could be eye-opening for the “enthusiastic” employee.

Comments are closed.