update: my employee gets stressed and frustrated and snaps at me

It’s officially update season! From now through the end of the year, I’ll be running updates from people who had their letters answered here in the past. We have a ton of updates this year — and I’m still taking more so please email yours in if you haven’t already.

To kick it off, here’s an update from the person whose employee kept snapping at her when he was stressed or frustrated.

Thanks to you and the community for the wonderful feedback – I took it all to heart. The day after the article ran, I was having a check-in with my employee and we were reviewing a deliverable. He was supposed to be producing, say, a glaze for teapots and had decided on his own to pivot into puffy paint for decorating your own teapot. When I told him that we actually needed glaze (but that I’d be happy to discuss puffy paint another day), he … started to argue with me, then rolled his eyes yet again, and said loudly “I get it! You don’t have to talk to me like I’m a child!.

I responded based on the script you had suggested (which I had ready to go in my head, THANK YOU!) and basically said, “We talked the other day about you rolling your eyes and raising your voice when I give you feedback. I’ve been fairly lenient about this because I know that you’re new and you’ve been struggling. It just happened again, so I want to be clear that this is a serious problem that can’t continue. Receiving feedback is an important part of any job, and I need to be able to give you feedback and have it be received without eye-rolling and argument.”

I then paused, and he went into a torrent of frustration about how I don’t treat him like an equal and how his ideas aren’t sufficiently appreciated. I let him speak until he ran out of steam, and then I said, “Thank you for sharing that. I’m always open to your feedback, and we can talk more about that at our next check-in. For now, however, we need to focus on how you receive feedback. You’re smart and capable, and I understand that it can be hard to hear feedback about your work, especially when you’ve put in a lot of effort. I’d like you to understand that in the workplace, constructive feedback isn’t necessarily a negative the way it is in school – it’s just a piece of information to help us all move forward together more effectively. I need you to find a way to receive feedback constructively going forward. Do this make sense?”

That was basically the end of the conversation, but unfortunately not his poor behavior. He continued to be passive aggressive with occasional requests (e.g., after emailing him a deliverable request, he would respond with “It seems like it would just be easier for you to do it yourself”). That said, the situation became easier for two reasons. First, I got a lot better at calling out unacceptable behaviors immediately, in fairly direct / blunt ways combined with short and simple directives. (For example, after the “It seems like it would just be easier to do it yourself” email, I responded with “When I send a request like this, I need you to focus on turning around the work in the requested timeframe rather than providing input on who you think should own the deliverable.”) After two months of this, the behaviors I wrote in about slowly tapered off. In retrospect, as you pointed out, I made a major mistake in not addressing the behavior immediately. Lesson learned!

The second reason the situation became easier was because I gave myself permission to not care about his emotions. I realize this could sound bad, but after reading your response and all of the comments, I realized I was investing way too much energy in trying to make my employee happy/successful. When I stopped caring about his experience and just focused on everyone getting their work done, I immediately felt lighter. I hadn’t realized what a weight I’d been carrying.

So what happened? All of the behaviors I wrote in about eventually stopped, and I realized that my team’s work wasn’t a great fit for his skills. We identified other areas of interest and I found him opportunities to explore those interests elsewhere in our company. Last month, he transitioned into that team full-time; he is adding significant value in his new role, feels great about his efforts, and his new manager says all is going well so far.

As for me, throughout this process I had little to no support from my manager (which is an entirely different letter). I’ve become pretty disillusioned with my company overall over the past year and am now ramping up a job search.

{ 174 comments… read them below }

  1. AnonAndOn

    That’s great! Glad to hear that you called him out at the moment. Your feedback to him is not only an opportunity for him to grow, but you made growth in how you managed him. Kudos!

    Sorry to hear about your having to find another job though.

  2. Anon From Here

    I gave myself permission to not care about his emotions

    What a great gift for the holidays or any time of year! :D

  3. Detective Amy Santiago

    It’s wonderful to hear that Alison’s scripts worked and that the feedback you got from the community here helped you feel better about things. I’m sorry that you didn’t get much support from your management though and wish you luck in your job search.

    1. Letter Writer

      I can’t say enough how supportive the feedback from the community was. I tried to be explicit about what I said so that community members could see how their language was incorporated into the final “script”. And thank you for your support & good wishes.

  4. AdAgencyChick

    Wow, that ending is not where I thought this was going! I really thought OP was going to have to fire this tool. Glad to hear he stopped being a tool eventually, although I’m sorry to hear that your own job isn’t going great, OP.

    1. Hills to Die on

      Oh, me too! Hopefully, he will be able to look back on this one day and thank his lucky stars that you did not shitcan him for acting like a child.
      (And oh the irony of this comment from him: “I get it! You don’t have to talk to me like I’m a child!” Uh, yes, OP apparently would be justified in doing that because just look at your behavior.) He is a lucky duck, and I wish you the best in your job search!

      1. fposte

        Yeah, I was thinking he might be posting to an AAM thread in future about embarrassing past work behavior.

    2. Ali G

      Yup! “You don’t treat me like an equal!” Well sorry, dude, you are not an equal in this relationship – she’s your boss.

      1. Observer

        Yes. But, the OP’s response was PERFECT – much better than explicitly calling out that, no he’s actually NOT the OP’s equal in this relationship.

        1. Not So NewReader

          Agreed, OP did a perfect job.
          I have noticed that there are some people that you really cannot say, “I am the boss” they just don’t get it. I am wondering if OP kind of knew she had to use a different set of words to reach this person.
          That said, OP you really did way above and beyond to help this guy. Hopefully, you changed the course of his life as he is now more employ-able.
          I do know that when we go out on a limb to help someone like this we eventually get paid back later. I am sure you will make out very well in your next job.

        1. Letter Writer

          There *might* have been some mid-day messages to my husband along the lines of “YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE WHAT HE SAID THIS TIME!!!!”

          1. designbot

            yeah but that’s a great outlet for venting. Venting can keep you from escalating, as long as you vent to the outside.

      2. MM

        Yes, I would have had a hard time not saying “Well, you’re not my equal in this context,” which probably wouldn’t have helped so much. But on the other hand, I feel like this guy is incredibly lucky to have had a boss who was so willing and invested in helping him be better. A lot of people would not have given him the chances, long time frame, and then additional investment (!) to move on. In the scenario where I’m this manager he probably ends up fired, and I don’t think hypothetical me feels bad about that, but it’s lovely that LW was able to go above and beyond this way.

        1. TootsNYC

          It might have helped him, actually, to hear that–and your “in this context” is a very good way to phrase that.

    3. Jen S. 2.0

      I fully expected Tool to get canned after: “he would respond with “It seems like it would just be easier for you to do it yourself””

      Like … whaaaaa? OMGWTFBBQ. And Tool is still employed? At this company? I feel like I now can be WAY less concerned about some of my less-than-perfect workplace habits if people are mouthing off to their bosses like that and coming out smelling like a rose.

      1. RUKiddingMe

        Right? Yeah it might be easier for you if I do it myself but that’s not gonna happen. Either do your job or get your stuff and GTFO.

      2. Lance

        At least it’s far, far from the worst example we’ve seen of someone getting moved to something they want to do after some absolutely unforgivable behavior. And honestly, in this case, as long as he was still doing his work, I don’t think it’s such a bad conclusion that he be moved to somewhere that fits him better, and he won’t have his little meltdowns (especially for having toned down said behavior in the time leading up).

      3. Nay

        +1000 – I read this and immediately thought the letter was going to culminate in employee getting fired, because really how can you be this blatantly disrespectful and not get fired!?!

      4. Something Clever

        My jaw dropped at that. This must be a government job. Government makes it extremely difficult to fire people for stuff like this – we just pass the trash, instead, like what happened here.

        1. Letter Writer

          It’s not government… just a small, “family” environment where decisions are less – shall we say, distributed? – than they are in other, larger organizations where I’ve worked.

        2. lost academic

          I work for a multinational company and this would (and does) absolutely happen for us too. I had an employee very similar to this one, but wasn’t able to get the behavior in line before he quit.

      5. LBB

        LOL, if I spoke to and acted like that with my boss she would give me one chance to correct myself, if it continued after that she would have given me a box and my last check.

      6. designbot

        I can actually remember both saying and hearing versions of this over my career. It usually happens when a boss is making demands that seem to random to the employee that the employee has no way of anticipating them, combined with them being so small in scale that they’re spending a lot more time talking about it than it would take to just do it.
        So, I take that specific one with a grain of salt and if I hear it ask myself whether my feedback is reasonable.

      7. SavannahMiranda

        Yes! My mouth gaped open at that and I literally had to get up and walk away from my computer before I could come back.

        That’s not passive aggressive, that’s snotty and insubordinate. If people get away with stuff like this, what kind of things could I get away with that I don’t even try?

        LW you really did go above and beyond in disciplining and ultimately educating this employee on what is and is not acceptable in a boss/subordinate relationship. You seriously took one for the team here. The team of all his future employers, and probably the people in his private life. This was a LOT of emotional labor on your part.

      8. Emily K

        This is actually something I worry about a lot! My team is fairly flat – mostly a bunch of individual contributors who are subject matter experts, with a couple ICs having a direct report who does the junior version of their role. As a marketing team we’re an internal service provider and have a lot of external vendors we work with, too.

        I have one of the longest tenures on my team, which means that vendors and people in other departments frequently bring requests to me because I’m the person they have met and worked with before. And usually, it’s stuff I know how to do simply because I’ve been here so long I’ve been exposed to most of our operations, and sometimes it’s a 5-minute task. I struggle so much with my confidence in redirecting those tasks, especially when I’m not totally sure who the appropriate person is, I just know it’s far afield from my actual job description, and after years of turnover and me becoming the default contact in my department for more and more people, these “quick” tasks were adding up to hours of my time every week…and it’s often work that’s sort of invisible to my boss because we are not a CC-on-everything/boss-needs-to-know-everything-you-do culture – for quick stuff like that it would be seen as weird to bring him a list of 20 5-minute tasks I easily completed without needing any input from him. He has a rough sense of it and I will always let him know when it’s spiraling into an unmanageable percent of my time, but I’m definitely not getting any points on my annual performance evaluation for these miscellaneous tasks that don’t contribute towards my official goals or responsibilities.

        Even still I always feel like I’m trying to stop myself from over-apologizing for redirecting “quick” tasks! Like I’m always afraid that response is going to be someone’s reaction – “Emily is so lazy she can’t just take 5 minutes to do this herself!”

    4. Observer

      Yes.

      But it’s a perfect example of what Allison always says about it not being a kindness to allow bad behavior to continue. By pushing back on it, it stopped and it enabled both the OP to do a better job and the guy to actually get into a better job. If that hadn’t happened, it’s a good bet that the guy would have remained miserable and possibly lost his job without learning anything useful about working in a reasonable workplace.

    5. JB (not in Houston)

      He stopped acting like a tool, but I don’t know that he stopped *being* one–he’s merely demonstrated that he can behave as long as he gets what he wants.

      1. Letter Writer

        He was actually never a tool… I thought from day one, and continue to think, that he’s actually a lovely person. He just developed some really poor behaviors at his first full time job, that I unfortunately enabled for a time.

        1. Formerly Arlington

          Please don’t take the blame for enabling such bratty behavior. I have had brand new hires and am a gentle manager and never got that kind of attitude!

      2. AdAgencyChick

        But if he behaves properly, does it matter what’s going on in his head? I would argue that it doesn’t.

        1. Airy

          Exactly. There’s no way to improve someone else’s personality. Whether they’re doing it for the noble reasons I would like or for some more venial reason of their own, I’m just pleased if they pull their socks up. I think a lot of people refuse to be satisfied because they don’t believe the other person feels as they should, or is sorry ENOUGH, when it’s just time to high-five yourself and move on.

      3. Lissa

        Curious as to why you think so – do you think people who demonstrate jerky behaviour are always just intrinsically jerks forever, or was there something specific that made you think he’s bad to the bone? I wonder because a lot of these comments seem almost affronted that he stepped up and stopped his bad behaviour, rather than getting fired, whereas my view was more “that’s awesome!” so wondering if I’m missing something.

        1. Birch

          It doesn’t sound like the jerky employee ever acknowledged his bad behaviour or that he was trying to be better, he just stopped outwardly expressing it so much but still got what he wanted in the end. People tend to want acknowledgment from the jerk that they’ve understood the problem and changed–otherwise you’re just sort of waiting for the next outburst.

    6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      This was definitely a surprise ending!

      And it sounds like OP had the chance to really level up. Unfortunately, it sounds like their employer isn’t leveling up with them, but this story is amazing and makes me want to toast OP. OP basically shifted their practice and mindset, and it paid huge dividends and made them (and their problem employee) more effective. That’s seriously impressive. I’m sending OP warm wishes and good mojo for their job search.

  5. Leslie knope

    Wow, I can’t imagine replying to something my manager asked me to do telling them it’d be easier for them to do it themselves. Yeesh.

      1. Jadelyn

        Same! How does that come out of your mouth and you think that’s an okay thing to say? I might think that to myself, but I sure as hell wouldn’t SAY it.

        1. Jen S. 2.0

          And even if you DO think that, it’s a thing that happens in the workplace, as it absolutely should. It might indeed be easier for the company president to answer her own phone and not the receptionist, but her time is better spent on other things. There are reams of things your boss is perfectly capable of doing, but she has asked you to do them, so you do them.

          1. Kyrielle

            This! My boss could do most, if not all, of the things he assigns to me. Assuming he could focus on them, I’m pretty sure he could do them *faster* than I could.

            But the things he would be not-getting done would be things that aren’t in my job scope at all, some of which I probably could do and some of which I couldn’t. (And some of which I wouldn’t want to; I have no aspirations to manage.)

        2. So long and thanks for all the fish

          Worse than that, in an email! I can almost see it coming out of someone’s mouth if they had been incredibly overworked and stressed, but putting it in writing?!

    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

      I know right!? I mean, let’s be honest, we all think it from time to time, but to write this in an email, I can’t fathom this.

    2. Antilles

      Especially not over email. If we were chatting in person, I could maybe imagine someone getting completely fed up and unthinkingly snapping a sarcastic response…but definitely not in an email where you have to literally type it out, see it on the screen, then click send.

      1. Close Bracket

        If we were chatting in person, and I were the right level of seniority, and it wasn’t one of the things that was previously spelled out as quite clearly always my wheelhouse, I might say something like, “I don’t know if I can fit that in, is that something you can take care of? If not, it’s going to be a while before it’s done.” I’ve certainly been in environments were people could say no to things, but it was not typically the people who were fresh out of college.

        1. Antilles

          The reason I mentioned it being ‘in person’ is just that I could understand it better if it had been an instantaneous “ugh, no” off-the-cuff reaction. Being over email means that he had time to read the email, respond, type out a response, re-read the response, then click send…and at no point did he stop to chill.
          Also, as a general comment about environments, I actually think the issue here isn’t his seniority or even his ability to say no; it’s the passive-aggressive phrasing and flat refusal. Even as a junior newbie, he could probably have gotten away with something like: “Hm, it seems like there’s a lot of client specific requirements here, so it might take some back and forth. I’m more than willing to prepare this document, but given the complexity, would it make sense for you to handle this directly since you’re familiar with the client needs while I take another task off your plate with a less demanding client?” It may or may not have worked, but it’s something that he could have said and probably gotten away with saying…rather than his flat “just do it yourself” refusal.

          1. Jen S. 2.0

            And the reason your phrasing works is that it gives a good and valid reason for offering the task back to the boss, while both offering to do it if necessary and suggesting a logical trade. That makes sense; the speaker is happy to do the task, but might not be the best person for it.

            The response given was somewhere in an ugly grey triangle between “I don’t feel like it,” and “that sounds like a you problem” and “how dare you give me orders.” Ugh.

    3. SunshineOH

      Right?!?! The nerve of this guy.

      Him: “Looks like it would just be easier to do it yourself.

      Me: “You know what, you’re right – it would be easier. Remind me why I need to employ you?”

    4. ThankYouRoman

      I would fire someone immediately if they ever shot back a response like that. If I didn’t have the option to terminate (I would leave like the OP is aiming to do) and at very least send the person home for the day. I have no use for anyone who straight refuses to work.

    1. Jadelyn

      Right? I’m not sure I could’ve coped with that for two flipping months. OP deserves a medal for working him through it instead of just shitcanning him, and I hope in later years that employee looks back at OP as The Boss Who Gave Him More Time and Effort Than He Deserved and Turned Him Around.

    2. Letter Writer

      Thank you! It was definitely not the easiest 2 months (added to the months that came prior), but I felt good about stretching my own communication muscles. It was a lesson I needed to learn, and great practice for so many things.

  6. WellRed

    “I don’t treat him like an equal”

    Dude, you’re fresh out of school. She is your boss. You are not, actually, equal.

    1. kittymommy

      I would have had a hard time not responding with this answer to the employee. I said it to myself while reading the letter.

    2. CM

      You are, though. You were hired to do different jobs and make different kinds of decisions, but you’re equal as human beings and colleagues. It sounds like this guy was really bad at dealing with conflict and accepting that some decisions weren’t his to make, but that doesn’t make him lesser than his manager and, if he thought she saw him that way, I can understand why he’d feel insulted.

      1. JSPA

        You seem to be conflating “equal before the law” (or “equal in the eyes of god” or some other, non-situational definition of “equality”) with the relevant definitions:
        1. being at the same level or status in a hierarchy
        and
        2. being similar in resources, ability, quality or aptness for a given task

      2. Birch

        There’s a difference between treating people like humans of equal worth and treating people like employees of equal authority. You should always do the former; there’s a lot of entitlement that comes with the latter.

  7. LadyCop

    I am not a patient person, but I really like how this turned out. It sounds like the OP helped redirect this guy’s frustration into finding something that is (hopefully) a better fit, whereas in many places he would have either been fired, or worse, left to ‘fester’ in his role and potentially develop even more toxic behaviors. Awesome first update.

    1. TootsNYC

      our Letter Writer definitely used those “patience” muscles, in addition to the communication and assertiveness ones.

  8. fposte

    This is a great story, OP. You committed to the management and kept it going in the face of pushback, and you ended up successfully coaching him into being a better employee. I suspect you’re better than your employer deserves, so I hope you find good new opportunities.

    1. Gerald

      I was thinking that this experience should really be brought up in job interviews as an example of the OP’s awesomeness – I hope that the right employer will be appropriately supportive and generous with a better job!

  9. LadyByTheLake

    “It seems like it would be easier to do it yourself” — that’s not passive aggressive, that’s downright aggressive.

  10. Dragoning

    torrent of frustration about how I don’t treat him like an equal

    Ouch. I mean. You might be equals as human beings, but in the workplace–well–you aren’t. You’re his boss. That’s not an equal playing field.

    1. Letter Writer

      Yeah… I had heard about the “millennial” thing before but had never really experienced myself. I have found myself wondering quite a bit how much of this was one individual’s poor behavior vs. different ways a new generation is relating to the workplace.

      1. ThankYouRoman

        He’s fresh out of school…he’s barely a millennial. We’re all pretty deep into the workforce now. I’ve been working since 2003. It’s not the generation. He’s just a schmuck.

      2. Ciara

        There are entitled and obnoxious people of all ages — I wouldn’t assign this specifically to his generation.

      3. IndoorCat

        As a millenial, I will say most of us really, genuinely aren’t like this.

        Although, I’ve noticed socio-economic class differences really impact millenial’s level of entitlement. I’ve sort of mentioned this before, but I’m a millennial who is doing better than I was (moving from impoverished to safely lower-middle-class, with a decent emergency fund, safe place to live, etc). Most millenials I know who are angry about being treated “unfairly” or entitled come from upper-middle-class, or wealthy, families. They are lower-middle-class like me, but instead of feeling like they’ve triumphed or succeeded, they feel like they’re being insulted because they were raised to believe that they deserve to be higher up the ladder or have better pay just for being themselves, so they begin to see every work situation through that lense.

        So, it depends on if you tend to hire a lot of millenials who went to private four-year colleges and other markers of coming from a “10%-er” type family, or more like me, who finally graduated from a state school in six years by taking 2-3 classes a semester, plus summers. Or, millenials who got 2-year degrees, or went straight into jobs with on-the-job training like 911 / first responders, entry level crisis line work, or apprenticing to an independent artist like a tattooer or cosmetologist.

        Obviously it isn’t 1-to-1, there are people from low income families who attended more expensive schools and just took out loans and got scholarships. Likewise, there are people from upper-middle-class families who chose other career paths, and there are people from upper-middle-class families who aren’t entitled. Just, that’s the correlation I’ve observed regarding millennials and entitlement.

        1. Indigo a la mode

          Especially since you’re a millennial, why would you support any us-vs-them mindset like this? There are lots and lots and lots of millennials who came from well-to-do families and are kind, hardworking, generous members of normal, not-debutante society. Making snap judgments about people who went to “fancy” universities or whatever is just as ungenerous as older people making snap judgments about people who appear to be under 35.

          1. Jennifer Thneed

            Wow, that was really unwelcoming of you. This is a person sharing their own personal experience of their own cohort and all you have to say is “Stop judging people”?

            As for that “us-vs-them mindset” – this is a thing that human beings do. We notice who counts as “us” and who counts as “them”. Our brains are optimized to categorize things as a form of decision-making shortcut. There is nothing wrong with this tendency as long as we recognize it and not fall prey to it.

            1. Indigo a la Mode

              Well, I have just as much personal experience with the exact same cohort. I agree with your last statement, and felt that the person whose comment I responded to fell prey to it. Suggesting that an entitlement problem comes from hiring millennials who went to fancy colleges vs. millennials like them who worked their way through education (which are certainly not mutually exclusive) falls directly into that trap.

              To me, it’s like that favorite argument about the millions of people on welfare “just looking for a handout” and feeling entitled to our tax dollars. Not true, not fair, and not helpful. Entitled people come from all walks and no “class” background should be involved in hiring decisions.

            1. Hmmm

              I would argue that though it isn’t a snap judgement, it does seem like an unfair characterization of a large amount of people.

            2. Indigo a la Mode

              Thinking “Oh, you have a bunch of millennials from fancy colleges, no wonder you have an entitlement issue” is indeed an prejudgement.

              1. Phoenix

                Especially when some of those “fancy colleges” have better financial aid programs than state schools. I went to an Ivy League school entirely because it gave me the best financial aid package of any school I applied to – my own state schools included. It was a complete no-brainer, and my parents didn’t (and couldn’t) pay a cent for my schooling. I’m far from the only person I know in this situation – private schools are sometimes just better funded, and willing to use that funding on students from lower income brackets.

        2. ThankYouRoman

          I see it as a backlash from growing up having “go to college, you’ll skyrocket to the top of every organization!” that was crammed down throats by “well meaning” teachers.

          Now they went to school and are shocked that they’re still being told to work their way up.

          I’ve seen it from every single class for the last 15 years. Meanwhile my self taught, rags to mediocre riches story stuns them all. How dare I be the boss or 2nd or 3rd in command when I’m a rag-tag rough neck from the wrong side of the tracks. Because I fought like heck and did what I was asked without any pushing for being treated like an equal, it just happened that I found the right business owner that trusted me with his most prized possession.

          1. Airy

            I don’t know, I was late Gen X and even we weren’t told that we would go straight to the top with a degree, just that we would be able to get professional jobs with stability and decent salaries.
            Excuse me while I choke on that one a little.

            1. ThankYouRoman

              I’m the very beginning of the millennial generation. So it makes sense.

              We were also told we’d never find any jobs if we didn’t have a prefect objective on our resume.

              I’m only non-college educated among my closest friends. They couldn’t find jobs out of school and just recently were able to find jobs…in retail :(

        3. Effective Immediately

          In my experience, this is absolutely true, and I’ve managed millennials (I am one myself) like this. Mine absolutely believed his job was ‘beneath’ him (and said so loudly), bragged about having negotiated his salary and making more than tenured staff and quite literally said the words: ‘I’m a middle class white guy! I should have a better job than this!’

          He was consumed with anger and self-pity, but truly believed he DESERVED a nice, very spacious place to live/car from his parents/above-entry-level role. It was intensely frustrating.

          My background (working-class, nontraditional student, etc) is more like yours, and I don’t doubt it colored the sincere lack of GAF I had about his whining.

          1. Helena

            That’s not a millennial thing though. I’m Gen X and worked with entitled arseholes like this in 1997….

            It’s just an entitled arsehole thing. More common in new grads, I agree. Probably because they either shape up or get kicked out.

            My entitled arsehole got kicked out, which as a physician is unheard of. But she was almost unbelievably lazy and insubordinate, to the degree that patients died as a direct result of her refusal to do her work or obey instructions from staff physicians because she knew better.

        4. SavannahMiranda

          This is very insightful, and you’re probably correct in laying part of this on the doorstep of economics.

          A lot of noise is made about how current generations are the first who won’t do better than their parents, etc. That’s not a new statement. But you brought up good examples of how those economic facts can play out on the small stage of individual lives. When people have the sense that they should be able to maintain for themselves the comfort to which they have become accustomed, and then find out they can’t or actually don’t know how, or that the opportunity simply is not there, it can come as shocking news.

          I was fairly sheltered, but I was lower-middle class and didn’t know it. My mom chose a very well-off school district I only later realized she couldn’t actually afford to live in. The prevailing class values around me influenced my self-image. I remember becoming deeply and grievously insulted when my aunt and grandma suggested opening a certain line of crafts and handiwork as a teen in order to start putting aside college money. Couldn’t they see, gasp, that would be like begging for money! Shilling for small change! Like making myself a charity! Dependent on the good will of strangers, like some hillbilly. I stomped around and pouted about being so insulted. It makes me cringe now. I was not gracious, kind, or understanding. I couldn’t even examine the concept. And I was old enough to know better.

          It would have been entrepreneurship, budgeting, banking, business relationships, marketing and advertising, and everything else that goes into independent economic activity. They wanted growth and independence for me, not charity. In addition, they were cluing me in that I was not part of the economic cohort I believed myself to be. My friends’ parents were going to send them off to Brown and Pomona and pay their whole way through. My mom was in the hole. I was going to earn a four year degree in six years from a state school, under my own financial steam. Once I finally got my act together and realized what was required from me to do it. I just didn’t know any of that yet. They did and were trying to help me.

          So I can relate to both the upper-middle kids who don’t yet understand what is really required to get along, get ahead, and earn their place in life. (Not to say that a good number of them won’t find out, they will. But it would be naive to say that all of them will find out. Some percentage manage to remain in the bubble and never do.) And I can related to the lower-middle and upper-lower kids who know how to grind their butts off, work and go to school, study workplace relationships in order to get good at them, and are determined not to experience housing or food insecurity again. And I’m not even a millennial. I’m on the cusp between the two generations.

          I agree that it’s economic and generational, in the sense that the generation does not have the economic advantages their predecessors enjoyed. That plays out on the individual level in people’s lives.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

            Oh, this is so interesting.

            My family has been an example of the storybook American class-climbing experience. A part of that was — and I hadn’t thought of this until now — that newly adult children were able to immediately meet or surpass their parents’ standards of living.

            My great-grandparents were deeply poor — and then their children learned trades and and joined the working class/lower middle class as soon as they struck out on their own. So my grandparents were working class — and then my parents went to college and, in their very first jobs, earned more than their parents ever had.

            So this generation (my generation, and the generations behind me) are the first that have had to work their way up to meet our parents’ standard of living. Given that, it’s not surprising that young people don’t always know what to expect — nothing in their experience has prepared them for that.

            I remember being so frustrated with my aunt when, upon visiting my newly-purchased house — my first — she kept making comments about how it was larger or nicer than her first home — the whole “when I was your age we walked to school in the snow” thing. I couldn’t help but respond by saying “Well, you bought your first house when you were 20 years old. I’m 36, and after two graduate degrees and like six promotions I’m finally able to afford the house you were able to buy on your first salary. So, forgive me if I don’t think of myself as a princess because my house has central air conditioning.”

      4. Indigo a la mode

        Come on…Alison has asked us repeatedly to not assign overarching characteristics to whole generations. That isn’t fair. There are millions of millennials around you, and you’ve only noticed these characteristics with this one guy.

      5. DoctorateStrange

        Please don’t. There is entitlement in every generation. Anyone that has worked in a restaurant can certainly tell you that.

      6. Genny

        I think it’s less a “this new generation relating to the workplace” thing and more a “young people entering the workforce generally are more idealistic and have less knowledge of professional boundaries” thing. I think most people enter the workforce brimming with optimism about the way things are/could be and then get hit with a dose of reality. Some become bitter and passive aggressive like this dude, others learn to adapt to the status quo, and some become activists to change the system.

        1. Sloan Kittering

          Yeah it’s unfortunate that “millennial” has just become a short hand slang for “new person who doesn’t know the ropes” (or worse, “entitled”) when it actually means a specific cohort of people who … aren’t even that young any more. I’m turning 35 this year, am I ever going to stop being lumped in with recent grads in their first jobs?

          1. Jen ID #89123

            Heck, I ran into far worse ‘entitlement’ issues in my early tech career, when I managed a help desk team that was about 50% men 10-15 years older than I. (Oh, the stories!) But they’re individuals and should be treated as such, not lumped into some homogeneous population.

            Now if only I could stop spending all my money on avocado toast. /s

          2. I’m actually a squid

            One friend was recently complaining to me about entitled millennials. She was confused when I pointed out that she and I are millennials while the new employee she was venting about is firmly gen z. I don’t know that it helped but it did make me chuckle.

      7. Blue

        I think it’s typically an experience thing. I work with college students, and while this kind of behavior isn’t common, when I do see it, it’s almost always from younger students. With more experience, they typically learn proper boundaries and behavior. Most absorb it organically over time, some require more explicit expectation-setting, and, yes, occasionally they just don’t adapt. I had one extreme example of this kind of thing, and even he learned enough that he sent me an email during his junior year to apologize for how he acted at the start of his college career. It sounds like your guy hadn’t encountered someone willing to have those difficult conversations, or he just resisted all change. Either way, good for you – and it will be good for him in the long run, too.

      8. Jadelyn

        It’s…really, really not a “millennial” thing. I say this with all kindness, but please do yourself a favor and stop reading management books/sites/articles about How To Deal With Millennials In The Workplace. Especially as millennials are mostly in our thirties now, we really can’t be lumped together under Those Darn Kids anymore. Plenty of millennials have worked our way up and are quite capable of professional behavior.

        (Plus, even if we take it at face value that millennials are entitled or what have you…who raised them to be that way? Maybe that’s where responsibility should fall, rather than on those who are theoretically a product of their environment.)

      9. Hmmm

        The term millennial is just the current way for older generations to bash on “those kids” for not being whatever they were… It covers a huge age range, and over than for marketing purposes, can’t be used to generalize large groups of people.

        And I’ll be honest, though your patience is so impressive (I mean that!), I don’t think you should have to put up with such a difficult employee for so long. If you want to that’s fine, but really, you can care more about your feelings, and hold him to basic standards of behavior – he was so rude! Happy you’re moving forward.

      10. Effective Immediately

        I’m a millennial, and I’m mid-career, but as I said below: I can’t imagine ever saying this to a boss, even early in my career.

        I promise this is not a ‘millennial’ thing, this is an entitled jackass thing.

  11. Kallisti

    When I read this letter, and again just now, I can only picture this employee as Craig Middlebrooks (Billy Eichner) from Parks and Recreation. I just wanted to share that.

    I’m glad it worked out, OP, and good on you for sticking with it and not snapping back!

  12. IT But I Can't Fix Your Printer

    What a great update for both the OP and the employee! Except that the OP needs a new job. But it sounds like you’ll have an awesome story for your interviews. Best of luck!

    1. CM

      Yes! I would be wildly impressed with a job candidate who used this as their “how I dealt with a challenge at work” example.

    2. WakeRed

      Just piling on to say that Letter Writer, you did such a great job of turning this frustrating experience (for both of you, but – let’s be real – especially you) into an opportunity to learn and grow as a manager. I will remember this when I want to disengage from managing my more complicated employees. Congratulations on your personal development and good luck on your next gig!

  13. buffty

    “I need you to focus on turning around the work in the requested timeframe rather than providing input on who you think should own the deliverable.”

    Bravo, this is a beautiful response. I’m sure I will find myself using a version of this at some point.

    1. Letter Writer

      I had to really give myself a pep talk to be this direct – it’s not my normal style of communication, and I probably would not have had the courage had it not been for months of reading this blog. Thank you.

      1. Someone Else

        Having the forethought to even come up with that as a response to how abrasive he was being there suggests you had more chill in that moment, possibly than I’ve ever had in my entire life.

      2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter

        It’s great that you did! I have a very direct communication style and I don’t understand small hints easily. I try to learn how to understand people who are less direct, but it tends to make me a bit paranoid – I overanalyze and worry about hidden meanings in every single word! So for me to succeed at work, I need a boss who’s capable of being somewhat direct when needed, and I’ve started saying it in every single interview. It’s great to hear that someone who doesn’t usually communicate that way, can still be able to do it.

        1. Clisby Williams

          I’m like that too (or was, I’m now retired.) The response wasn’t at all rude – it was just direct, and I wish more managers would do this instead of weaseling around.

  14. Close Bracket

    passive aggressive with occasional requests (e.g., after emailing him a deliverable request, he would respond with “It seems like it would just be easier for you to do it yourself”).

    That’s not passive aggressive. To be clear, it’s not appropriate. Even if you had the kind of working relationship where you discussed division of labor, that’s a bad way to bring it up. However, it’s not passive aggressive. It’s actually right to the point, just phrased in a way that he probably thought was soft. “It seems like…” is common softening phrasing. Again, I’m not saying it was acceptable or trying to excuse it. The point is that to address his behaviors, you have to be able to correctly identify he’s doing. He’s under the misconception that his assignments are something he has feedback into. This:

    how I don’t treat him like an equal

    Yeah, that’s bc he’s not your equal. I suggest working an explanation of how the manager-direct report relationship works into your ongoing feedback discussions. Your response to “It seems like it would just be easier for you to do it yourself” didn’t actually lay out that he doesn’t get a say, or gets very limited say, in who does what. That might be something to make explicit.

    1. Observer

      I don’t agree that the OP wasn’t direct enough. The OP says that they responded with “When I send a request like this, I need you to focus on turning around the work in the requested timeframe rather than providing input on who you think should own the deliverable.”

      I’m not sure how you can get more explicit. When I do X, I need you do A not B is about as straightforward as you can get. And, it seems to have worked, even in an environment where the OP is always supposed to find a way to “make nice”.

        1. Observer

          I like the OP’s framing better. It’s explicit: It tells the employee what they do NOT get to do, ie weigh in on who gets to do the work, and what they DO need to do, ie to do what the boss said. Which provides clear instructions in a format that doesn’t allow for any argument.

        2. R.D.

          Actually, I don’t think it is.

          It’s allowing the employee to derail the discussion. Instead of discussing what needs to be done, the LW would then have been into a discussion about what her role is vs the employee’s role.

  15. Goya de la Mancha

    Update Season is truly the most wonderful time of year!

    I really wish that dealing with constructive criticism was taught in elementary school…along with taxes, basic banking, and other real world adult skills in high school – but I digress.

    1. George

      I’m (fairly) new here—does Update Season mean that all we get are updates for the rest of the year, or are they just going to be more frequent for the rest of the year? Thanks!

  16. Hey Karma, Over here.

    I really liked the part about letting him talk himself out of steam, and not fueling the engine. “OK, yes, that is how you feel. Now here is the work you will do.”
    OMG. Salute.

    1. Letter Writer

      lol, thank you. The theme of “not feeling heard” had come up a few times – of course, my internal response was along the lines of “yes, you’re right, I’m not interested in hearing your thoughts because (1) I understood where you were going after about 10 seconds and didn’t need to hear the rest, (2) it’s not actually helpful / additive / correct, and (3) I just need you to do it the way I’m asking for it based on 10+ years of experience and I don’t have the time or inclination to debate this subject any more.” But… that didn’t really help with the whole “not feeling heard” vibe.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.

        I’m still thinking about this letter and what I’ve learned. What a great example of acceptance. You really did 100% accept that he was going to be upset any time you told him anything. And he accepted that you were going to acknowledge that, not debate it, and move on.

      2. Just Employed Here

        Haha, it’s funny to read in this comment that you were actually thinking all the same things I would have been thinking in your situation! (And, unfortunately, I know for sure I would have, because I have a budding problem employee like this of my own.)

        I’ll just have to think of this update and channel you and Alison if I end up in a *situation* with said employee again…

    2. LKW

      I know right? It’s like letting a toddler scream until they’re too tired to do anything else but whimper.

  17. ThankYouRoman

    This slapnuts sounds like he’s related to the Your Mom jokes dude, only marginally better because no crude sexist jokes involved. I’m glad he’s off your team and God speed to finding a new job!

    1. Hills to Die on

      And this is why I know better than to be drinking anything when I read AAM–I almost choked on a laugh. Slapnuts is now my new favorite insult. Thank YOU, Roman!

      1. ThankYouRoman

        Bringing 1997 back, it’s just my style.
        ____
        |You’re |
        |Welcome |
        | ____ |
        (\__/) ||
        (•ㅅ•) ||
        /   づ

  18. Michael

    Do you know how he is in one-on-ones with his new manager? Are they more hands-off, or is he more into discussing work with them?

    1. Letter Writer

      Such a good question! The work the other team does is a lot more straightforward than the work my team does – think teapot manufacturing vs. teapot design + pricing/sales strategy + competitive analysis + + + . This makes the management conversations very different, as the work is essentially small, discrete task-based vs. needing a lot of collaborative brainstorming.

  19. LadyPhoenix

    Tis the season for the updates
    Fa la la la la la la la laaaaaa

    I am glad you were able to polish your polite spine (as etiquette hell calls it), or rather your managerial spine, and get him into a direction and eventually a better fitting job.

    Pwrhaps it is the same reason you realized you’d rather take your talents elsewhere as well?

  20. Hei Hei, the Chicken from Moana

    All the high fives to you! You rock! Best of luck in finding a place that you enjoy and that will benefit from your skills and management!

  21. Alfonzo Mango

    It’s the most wonderful time of the year! I love updates.

    So glad this is resolved. Well done on remaining calm and in control, LW!

  22. TootsNYC

    “don’t treat him like an equal”

    Like, buddy, you’re NOT an equal.

    “easier for you to do it yourself”

    Like, buddy, I’m the boss, I just told you to do something.

    I would have had THAT conversation: “I am your boss. You do not talk back to me, you do not argue with me, and you do not refuse to do work that I have delegated to you.”

    I mean, there’s sensible feedback, and then there’s pushback. He gets to start giving you sensible feedback once he’s mastered not pushing back.

    I had that conversation with someone one, in which I said, “I am your boss. And when I ask you a question, I want an answer.” And i’ve sometimes said, when hiring people, “I like give and take, and I like people to have autonomy, and I like people to be able to tell me when they think I’m making a mistake; I count on it. But with all that openness, there will come a time in which the fact that I am the boss will be the important factor. And if I ever have to SAY to you, ‘I am the boss,’ we are in a very bad place.”

    1. LKW

      Yeah, only once did I pull out the “Yes, I hear what you’re proposing and it’s an idea with merit but we’re going to do it my way because that’s the way I want it.” followed by “That wasn’t an invitation to convince me otherwise, please do it the way I want it because that’s the way I want it and I don’t feel like continuing to debate this further.”

    2. CM

      I think the OP’s approach worked better here. If you have somebody who’s openly challenging your authority and you say, “I’m the boss!” I think you would escalate the conflict and their behavior would just intensify. Instead, the OP calmly said exactly what she needed from him, and that she did not need his input on other matters. Calm, collected, and very direct, without providing ammunition for him.

      I would NOT react well to your “I’m the boss” speech, and I’m someone who is generally very aware that there is a hierarchy and certain decisions belong to someone above me. On the other hand, if someone said to me, “I understand your concern, but this is my decision. I need you to focus on X instead,” I would appreciate the feedback.

      1. Letter Writer

        This. Much like with small children, more words never once helped the situation. Things only started to improve when I started using fewer words. Like, way fewer. And infusing those fewer words with full boss-power. (e.g. “I need you to do this in the next hour and send it to me as an email attachment. I won’t be available to discuss between now and then – if you’re not sure about how to move forward, just go with your best guess.”)

        1. Sloan Kittering

          Yeah I think there are people who respond best to warm and squishy encouragement – I know I do myself – and some people who respond better to tough love, and if you give them squish they just spin out worse and worse.

  23. Shay

    He complained about not being treated as an equal??? Well that is because he is not your equal.

    Do it yourself? OK, so what do I need you for … Your Fired!

    1. LKW

      One day someone is going to use that or a similar phrase and if he has any shred of self-reflection he’s going to do a big face palm.

      1. Letter Writer

        One can only hope! Unfortunately, I’ve felt that way for years about my sister-in-law and it doesn’t seem to have happened yet…

  24. Anon for this

    I feel like I could’ve written the original post myself, but sadly, not the update. I’m so glad to read a positive outcome for both the problem employee and OP. I would’ve expected termination to be the only reasonable outcome after bad behavior went on this long. Sadly, my problem employee is still in the same old position, making some other manager’s job hell. Needless to say, I’m not the only manager who enabled his bad behavior. This is reason #1 why I’m now following this blog and wishing I had discovered it years earlier.

  25. Arctic

    Hopefully, this dude will look back at this time as his “I can’t believe I did that/behaved that way” work moment. Rather than a continuing thing.

  26. Tabby Baltimore

    One thing’s for sure, Letter Writer: during your job search for a new managerial position, you are going to absolutely ace this interview question: “When was the last time you had to have an awkward or difficult conversation, with either a subordinate or a superior, and did it end satisfactorily for you? If not, what issues do you think contributed to that outcome?” Truly, please accept my sincerest congratulations, all the way around.

    1. TalosIV

      Tabby’s got it right on. OP, know that when you sit down to interview, there will be a whole army of us AAM readers behind you doing the slow clap! :) Go gettem!

  27. AngryOwl

    I love update season!

    Good for you, LW. I’m impressed with your patience. Hope you find a better job soon!

  28. cwhfstl

    I feel like the LW should be named some sort of patron saint of managers. Bravo!

    I would not have had the patience; I mean seriously, I wanted to scream “if I do this myself, why the heck do I need you? You’re fired!” Also while everyone is human and deserves to be heard, to think that you as a newbie on his first job should have your thoughts and ideas considered equal to your boss with 10+ years experience is absurd. I really don’t think he’s a nice guy; he seems very arrogant but it seems he’s learned to hide that better.

    Best of luck LW in your search, someone will be lucky to have you as a manager.

  29. I edit everything

    Hey, LW, you now have a great story for a “Tell me about a time when…” question when you interview for your new job! Best of luck to you!

  30. Dragonfly

    This most readable update feels like a choice piece of fiction, a Lolita or a Turn of the Screw, in that the reader senses there must be or there already is another narrative at work, and that the double narrative has the flavour of realism. I just came on to say good work, LW, and thank you.

  31. Anancy

    Bravo! I am so impressed at how you handled it and the scripts you used (thank you for sharing yours!) and I will be pocketing your words for future use. I’m sorry your own manager was unsupportive and wish you well in your job search.

  32. JulieCanCan

    Excellent update!

    It’s great to hear that you were not only able to use Alison’s scripts to better manage your report’s emotional and inappropriate outbursts, but to also let go of the weight of worrying about their happiness/satisfaction in their roles was probably such a wonderful feeling. Unburdened of something like that, you can now better focus on your job search and also doing your work and managing in a way that doesn’t involve babysitting.

    And at least now you’ll know how to cut this kind of behavior off immediately should it ever occur in the future at your current company or your future employer.

    Yay!

  33. ..Kat..

    Wow, LW, this is amazing. You helped him be a better employee AND you really upped your management skills. I hope this employee realizes how much you helped him be a better employee.

  34. Effective Immediately

    My mouth literally fell open when I read this: “(e.g., after emailing him a deliverable request, he would respond with “It seems like it would just be easier for you to do it yourself”)”

    I am senior enough that I can be fairly direct/blunt with my bosses, but DAMN. I cannot imagine having the audacity to say something like that, let alone at entry level! As for his complaint that you don’t treat him like an equal? Well, bruh, you’re NOT equals. Holy moly.

    I have a sneaking suspicion gender plays a role in this, which ruffles my feathers even more. You handled this so gracefully, OP, much more gracefully than I think I would have. I’m glad you unburdened yourself from managing his feelings, and I’m happy it worked out but whew.

  35. Kathenus

    I had a supervisor who was so supportive with me at a point in my career where some of my interpersonal skills were getting in the way of my succeeding further. She told me that this was the only thing that could hold me back, and that she wanted to help me so that I could achieve all that I wanted to in the future. She could easily have focused on just the communication issues and the negative aspects of them, but instead she chose to focus on the potential she thought I had and constructive ways to improve. I was at a place in my life where I was ready to hear it and ready to work to improve myself, and I did. This was about 15 years ago and I still use her as an example to others, and to myself, of how trying to coach an otherwise good employee to a higher level versus just focusing on the negative can have great positive results.

    I was a lot further along in my career than this employee, so had built up a good foundation of other skills and abilities. But regardless of where he was in his career when the Letter Writer took this constructive approach, I think a time will come in his life where he looks back at her as someone who helped shape his professional life in a good way. Great job Letter Writer!

  36. The Tin Man

    Wow, this ended up a better update than it initially seemed it would be. As it was going i thought for sure his behavior was escalating and would lead to him being let go. It sounds like he really responded to hard boundaries, though it took some time for him to adjust to the “new normal”.

    And as you look for a new job you have a great example of managing a difficult employee for interviews!

  37. Elizabeth West

    I remember commenting on the original thread that he really did sound like me when I was dealing with anxiety and had zero flipping clue what my triggers were and didn’t understand what my reactions meant. This update reinforces my opinion. If Fergus was struggling in the role, that would only exacerbate his anxiety, and defensiveness is a big part of that. I’m glad he seems to have found the right fit. But he is very very very very lucky he did not get fired.

    OP learned a really valuable management skill and regardless of outcome seems to have deployed it perfectly. Way to go, OP! \0/ I’m sorry the job isn’t turning out very well for you and I hope you find something awesome quickly.

  38. Kali

    I keep thinking of that Heathers quote; “When teenagers complain that they want to be treated like human beings, it’s usually because they are being treated like human beings”.

  39. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived

    That was some seriously top notch management OP. Well done!
    Learning to constructively receive feedback is one of the hardest work skills I’ve ever learned, but 1000% worth it!

Comments are closed.