employee goes into emotional spirals, interviewers who ask if you’re applying to other companies, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My anxious employee goes into emotional spirals after even mildly negative feedback

I’m a new manager and recently hired my first junior-level employee. I could tell she was sensitive during the interview, which was fine, but didn’t find out until she started working that she has awful, awful anxiety. I feel for her, but she’s struggling to get through her training without things like very mildly negative feedback sending her into emotional spirals that last for hours. The only way I’ve been able to get her to be able to work again is to spend a ton of time reassuring her, but I don’t feel comfortable having her rely on me for that, and I’m swamped as it is.

She’s opened up to me about her difficult background, and I really do empathize, but I wasn’t prepared for how hard her anxiety would make balancing her with the other people I manage, let alone my own daily duties. And she’s still on her probation period, so she can’t access the EAP yet. Her work so far is good, when she has the confidence or if I push her hard enough to get over her anxiety to at least give it a shot. I want her to do well and don’t want to let her go, but I need to find a way to do it in a way that doesn’t leave me this emotionally exhausted. I’m just tired.

You can’t have someone working for you who stops working for hours after mild feedback. It sounds like right now you’re investing a huge amount of emotional hand-holding which you can’t really do as her manager, both because you have other things you need to spend your time on and because it’s an inappropriate role for you to play. (It’s better suited for a therapist than a manager, and once you mess up those boundaries, it can be very hard to return things to where they need to be, especially as a new manager.)

The best thing you can do for both of you is to be honest: “Everyone here gets feedback about their work. The way you get better and better at what you do is, in part, through feedback. I need to be able to give you feedback as a regular part of our conversations without it disrupting our workflow. Going forward, when I give you feedback, I need to see that you’re continuing to roll forward with your work. Do you think that’s something you can do?”

If she says no or she’s unsure, then do her the service of being honest about how serious this is: “I understand that this is hard for you. But I want to be transparent with you that it’s essential to you succeeding in your role here. It’s something I need to see before the end of your probationary period.” You can say this in a kind, compassionate tone — the words themselves need to be clear and firm, but your tone can be kind. I think sometimes people have trouble envisioning this as anything other than a stern lecture, so here’s a sound file illustrating the tone I mean:

If she can’t do that, you really do need to let her go. The kindest thing to do is to give her a clear and explicit warning if you can see it’s going in that direction, and with as much time still left in her probationary period as possible. (You can still do it after that period ends, but it’s simpler if you do it as part of that.)

This post may also help.

2. How to shut down awkward breastfeeding talk from my boss

I’ve worked at this company for many years under the same boss. He’s a great boss, good at mentoring, advocating for me, not a micromanager, makes sure I have interesting projects, etc. But recently something has arisen that I’m not sure how to address. I just returned from maternity leave, and he has made a few comments related to breastfeeding that make me uncomfortable. They’re always out of the blue, and always catch me off guard. We were talking about some technical content I’d like to read to catch up. He said (jokingly) that I could do it while nursing. Another day, when referencing a company event where there’d be alcohol, he said something to the effect of “well, you can’t have the alcohol, but there are snacks,” I think meaning that some women choose to abstain from alcohol while breastfeeding (not the case with me). And a recent staff meeting when picking a restaurant for a future meeting, the group decided on an ethnic restaurant, and he made a comment that we might need to avoid that for me, to not upset the baby’s stomach (and, when I said that, no, it was fine, he followed up with a comment on how his wife had had to avoid certain foods while breastfeeding, etc).

I honestly don’t think he means anything untoward. I think it reminds him of the recent past when his wife was breastfeeding, and he’s trying to relate, in what he thinks are innocuous comments. But while I’m at work, I’d just like to maintain the polite fiction that my baby is fed out of thin air, having nothing to do with my body, even though I’m discreetly taking pumping breaks several times a day. 

Do you have any tips on shutting this down? I know he’d be mortified that this was bothering me. I’d prefer not mortifying him, but I really don’t want to have to explain about the nuances of feeding my daughter, when I’m at work. He’s made these comments both in one-on-one meetings, and in groups.

I also haven’t been back at work very long, so it could be a matter of just waiting to see if this stops on its own, but if not, some advice/scripts for shutting it down would be helpful.

Ick, yeah. He may indeed just be trying to be supportive and show you that he gets it, but it’s entirely reasonable for you to prefer that your boss not be thinking or talking about what’s going on with your breasts.

I’d say this: “You’ve made a few comments related to breastfeeding recently — like that I should avoid certain foods so I don’t upset the baby’s stomach and that I could read while nursing. I’m know you’re showing your support, it’s a private thing to me and I’d prefer not to discuss it at work. Thanks for understanding.”

Then be prepared with an immediate subject change, both to avoid any long, awkward apology or explanation and to demonstrate to him that things between you are just fine and he need not be mortified.

3. Why would an interviewer ask if I’m interviewing at other companies?

What is an interviewer trying to discern when they ask if you’re applying for or interviewing at other companies? I’m on the job hunt after being laid off and was asked this question in an interview, and it kind of threw me. I could maybe see the point if I was brought in for the interview by a recruiter, or if I’m applying for a C-suite position. But in my case, where I don’t have a job and just applied through a job posting, shouldn’t it be a foregone conclusion that I’m actively pursuing multiple options?

Generally an interviewer who asks that is trying to determine if you’re in the end stages with other companies and thus they’d need to move relatively quickly with you if they’re interested.

But if they ask you what types of other jobs you’re applying for (or even what companies), they’re sometimes trying to determine if you’re specifically interested in this type of job or if you’re taking a more scattershot approach and aren’t committed to this type of work in particular. (Which some interviewers will care a lot about and some won’t.)

And if it’s an external recruiter asking (as opposed to the company with the open position), they’re asking because they want to avoid submitting you for jobs you’ve already applied for (because they won’t get a fee for that).

4. I keep finding a former coworker’s mistakes

I work in an office where I am one of two junior employees working under several senior employees. One of these senior employees is our direct supervisor, while we work closely on various projects with the others. My fellow junior employee left for another job in the organization, and it was fairly obvious that this was because she was struggling in our role. Since she left, I’ve taking on some of her duties and I keep finding things that were supposed to have been done months ago. None of them have risen to the level of an emergency yet, but also they were fairly simple and routine tasks that didn’t get done over and over. To make things worse, all of the errors are related to an area that she claimed to love and have the most experience with, and the new role she moved to focuses exclusively on that area.

Is it worth saying something to my boss? I’m decidedly not an expert in this area and I’m just serving as the back-up person, so the procedures may have changed since the years when it was a bigger part of my job. And it’s not taking up so much of my time to fix her mistakes that I have to put other projects on the back burner, which my boss would want to know about. I don’t want to risk my reputation for being pleasant and hardworking and have people think I’m being petty, especially since what is my boss going to do about it now? On the other hand, I’m annoyed that I keep finding these oversights and having to fix them! Should I bring the errors up as they pertain to peoples’ jobs, make a complete list of what I’ve seen, or say nothing?

Your boss should know that work that was supposed to be done months ago actually wasn’t done — because it might actually be info she needs (for example, so she’s not caught unaware if someone mentions they never received the X report), and also because it might be a flag to her to check on work more closely in the future.

Say something like this to her: “I wanted to let you know that as I’ve been taking on some of Jane’s work, I’ve been finding work that was supposed to have been done months ago but wasn’t — things like X and Y. I’m fixing things as I come across them, but I wasn’t sure if it’s something you’d want me to loop you in on or not.” Then she can decide from there if she wants more details from you or not.

You’re not going to come across as petty or unpleasant for raising this. It’s a not insignificant thing about work that she oversees, and it makes sense to give her a heads-up about it.

5. Employer wants to make me another offer, but I don’t want to hear it

I recently began job searching and connected with a small company very quickly. I’ve been out of school for thirteen years and for the last five I’ve worked as either a manager or a lead, directing other staff members, reviewing their work, and making decisions for the team. The position I interviewed for was a senior with all of the same responsibilities to what I’m doing right now. After interviewing I was told that half of the team didn’t think my skillset in warranted a senior position in their organization but that they wanted to offer me the non-senior position with less pay and less responsibility. That’s fine, that’s their prerogative. But this would be a step back in my career so I very politely declined the role. They asked me to reconsider so I spent another day thinking about and I politely declined again. In response they call me to ask what I didn’t like about the offer so I repeated that I’m looking for a more senior role and that the money and the responsibilities didn’t match what I’m currently doing and that I regret that I’m not quite what they’re looking for in their senior role. That should be the end, right?

I get an email the next day saying that they want to address some of my concerns. I reply that I’m firm in my decision. In response they say that they’re ready to make me a new offer. At this point I’m strongly concerned that if I do respond to their new offer that they say addresses my concerns that I’ll be morally obligated to take it if it does indeed address those concerns — like if they offered me the senior position — so I don’t want to talk to them on the phone or hear about the offer. I am also strongly concerned that if I take the position that I’ll be starting somewhere where half of my colleagues don’t think that I’m qualified for the position that I’m in and that I’ll be off on the wrong foot with the team and that I’ll appear that I negotiated my way to a bigger title and substantially more pay rather than earning it through merit. At no point did I attempt to negotiate, the gulf was just too big to warrant negotiation, I just kept very politely declining at every step of the way. Did I navigate this poorly or am I misreading the ramifications of a new offer?

I’d actually hear out the offer — because you never know what you might hear (who knows, they might come up with something you’d find compelling), and because it’s a lot less awkward to say “sure, let’s talk” than to say “I won’t even listen to your offer.”

Hearing their second offer absolutely doesn’t obligate you in any way to accept it! Once you hear them out, you can still say, “I really appreciate that you’re trying to make this work. I’ve given it some thought and I don’t think it’s right for me, but I’m grateful for your interest.”

{ 440 comments… read them below }

  1. Engineer Girl

    #5 – I suspect that they are so focused on their own needs and wants that they are ignoring what you want. They need someone to fill the jr position and you fit.
    It’s kind of like the guy that is convinced that you’ll go out with him if he just says the right thing or wears the right shirt. He doesn’t get that nothing will work because **he** is the basic problem, not the words or the shirt.
    The position is the basic problem, not the money or anything else.
    And don’t fall for the sunk cost fallacy – that you have to go forward just because you both spent so much effort so far.

    1. Beth

      The comparison to That Guy is so good! That’s exactly what this feels like–they’re treating OP like a video game, looking for the exact combo of buttons that will get them the answer they want (yes, she’ll take the junior role) without really listening to what she’s telling them (no, she doesn’t want a junior role).

      The thing about this behavior is, once someone gets the sense that this is what you’re doing, they typically lose all interest in you. Even if you’re eventually willing to do what they asked for, the process of you pushing them to accept something they’ve said they don’t want over and over again is alienating enough that by the time you get there, they’ve already walked away. No matter whether it’s dating or hiring, it’s a bad approach…but there’s always someone out there who thinks they can game the system if they just find the right cheat code, isn’t there?

    2. neverjaunty

      Exactly this. I’m a little baffled at AAM’s “oh, just give him one more chance!” advice here. Especially because you’re feeling like you might have a moral obligation to accept (you don’t! under any circumstances! ever!).

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        The OP has nothing to lose by hearing them out, and it’s possible she has something to gain. If she doesn’t like the offer, she walks away, end of story. She certainly doesn’t have to hear it, but since her main concern seems to be that she worries it would obligate her to accept, she might as well (since it wouldn’t).

        1. Engineer Girl

          It’s ok to listen. But it’s fair to point out that a sr position is non-negotiable and that any offer not having it will be rejected.
          OP is never under any obligation to accept as she has never said she would. Considering something is not leading someone on not is it settting up an expectation of acceptance. That’s a key point.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Sure, absolutely she can point that out — “I’d be glad to talk to you, but to respect both of our time, I want to be up-front with you that I wouldn’t consider an offer that wasn’t for the senior position” or so forth.

            But for all she knows, she could get on the phone with them and hear “the person who opposed the offer is now gone and the rest of the team would be thrilled to have you take the senior position at a significant salary bump.”

            And hell, then she can still turn it down if she wants. But there’s nothing to lose by hearing what they’re offering.

            1. Mary

              But it sounds at this point like she wouldn’t even be interested in the senior position.

              I don’t think it’s *quite* true that there’s nothing to lose, either. I completely agree that there’s not “moral obligation” to take the offer, but for me, considering any kind of job is a huge investment of time and mental energy. As long as it’s still under consideration, your brain is still playing, “So, would I have to move house? How long would the commute be? How would I approach that project? Ooh, that article is relevant, I should remember that…”

              Saying “this is definitely not happening, the end, over” frees up a whole load of brainspace. And no matter how determinedly you tell yourself that you’ll listen to the offer but you don’t have to take it, it still a continuing investment in the possibility and if you’re ready to be over that, then for me it would definitely be worth drawing the line.

            2. Businessy Business Man

              I would have to agree it’s always good to hear out the offer. Why not? She still has the ability to say no. And what if they come back with with a great deal?

            3. Fergus

              The logic is good on both sides, but it could also be a bait and switch. The OP needs to be careful

              1. KHB

                Excellent point. I’m reminded of the recent letter writer who accepted a counteroffer from her current employer (to prevent her from leaving) only to find that it was loaded down with a bunch of fine print that was totally unacceptable.

              2. Lauren

                OP needs to consider that if they think she isn’t at that level now, they may delay a promotion and raises down the road that she would normally get at a different company who recognizes her value.

                I’m very concerned that OP is giving up future growth. Yes, the new offer may be what she wants now, but in 2 years – she will want a promotion and they could easily deny her because they think she isn’t senior at that moment. So in 2 years, she will be the appropriate level according to them – and she is out of luck convincing them otherwise and will have to leave. It feels like OP will constantly have to keep proving herself and she is going to end up frustrated at this place.

                1. Bostonian

                  This is where I land. They’ve already told her they don’t think she has the skillset for the senior position, so if they offer her the senior position… that just doesn’t seem like it’s going to end well for her.

      2. Jasnah

        This seems premature, considering that the company has not yet been able to respond since hearing her requests. What if they went back and were able to increase the title or change some responsibilities around? What if they combined the two positions into one so it would be a mix of high and low-level tasks? What if they added lots of opportunities for growth and a path to promotion in the near future?

        It sounds like OP has not heard their counter offer, which could very well address her concerns and does not obligate her to accept it. I think there would need to be a few more poorly-thought-out counter offers to warrant a comparison to “just give him one more chance”.

        1. Pareto optimal move

          OP should absolutely hear what the company has to say.
          If the counter-offer still does not meet her requirements, she is by no means obligated to accept it.
          If it does meet her requirements, #winning.

        2. Jen S. 2.0

          To me the distinction here is that she WOULD work for this company, given just the right offer. The dating analogy works when you don’t want to work there, ever, period, and no edits to the offer would change that. Here, that’s not the case. They could indeed say something to her that would change her mind!

          1. snowglobe

            I’m not sure that is true. Given the way they’ve kept pushing the junior offer at her even though she said multiple times she didn’t want it, and she now says he wouldn’t want the senior position since half the staff doesn’t think she deserves it, I think she may be at the point that she just doesn’t want to work for this company, whatever they may offer. If that is the case, then certainly she can decline to hear their offer.

            1. OP5

              OP5 here. This is actually my bigger concern, that I’d be starting on the wrong foot with half the staff not thinking that I am actually qualified for the position.

              1. EPLawyer

                Hear them out. It could be that another senior position with a different team opened up. They heard your qualifications and LOVE you.

                Although I have to side eye a company that lets the junior people decide who the senior person is. This is not a democracy. It’s a company. Lower level people may not know what it really takes to manage a team. If they know so much — why isn’t one of them going for the role? Or is one of them going for it and so downgrading every other candidate?

                1. Ginger Ninja

                  I have to echo this. Earlier in my career, myself and several others were utterly convinced a new Senior hire would be garbage. Management handled it very well: they heard our concerns, explained their own viewpoint; proceeded with the hire.

                  Guess what? Management was totally right and the person was a rockstar. Turns out that Juniors don’t know every aspect of how to hire well!

                  Fortunately even back then I had enough common sense to acknowledge I had said my piece, and now it was time to make the best of a decision by my bosses.

              2. Marthooh

                You can hear them out and then tell them what your concern is, if the offer is good. If they can’t think of a way to address that, you can still say no.

              3. Aveline

                Personally, I can’t think of a single justifiable reason they have treated you as they did. Either they didn’t mean it and were using it to neg and switch or they don’t have themselves together.

                Maybe they will surprise you with the offer. But will that be enough? Will that negate the way they’ve handled this?

                Companies that don’t handle interviews well tend to not make good employers.

                Plus, as you said, you’d always have to wonder if Bob from accounting was cold with you because he didn’t think you were qualified.

                Finally, I wonder if the staff who didn’t want you had another preferred candidate, maybe even an internal one.

                1. pcake

                  I agree with you 1000%!

                  I’d listen to the offer because why not, but I wouldn’t take the job. I know several people who were bait-and-switched into a job they said they wouldn’t take, and this company has already shown a disregard for what the OP is telling them. A bad risk, IMO.

                  And I agree with BRR, too, that the OP could end up doing the work of the less senior position while being given a more senior title. And really, what could one do about it? I, too, have a bad feeling about this one.

              4. BRR

                I think it’s a really valid concern. Half of the team is currently of the opinion that you don’t have the right skill set (regardless of whether or not that’s true) and that’s a headache waiting to happen. I think you should hear them out because you’re not obligated to take the offer no matter what, but you can also bring this up to them.

                I would also be on the look out for them giving you a better offer and you end up doing the tasks of this more junior position once you start. I don’t know how to guarantee against that though. I just have a bad gut feeling from the outside (and I might be wrong since I haven’t been interacting with them) of them over promising, especially if they’re desperate to fill this role.

                1. Artemesia

                  This would be my fear; that they would give you the title but not really the responsibilities. Since your fear is that they will offer you the original job, but that it will be met with resistance by the staff you manage, I don’t see a positive outcome for you even if they ‘address your concerns.’ They really blew it since they want you and apparently allow the lower level employees to tank a good hire.

                2. Salamander

                  I think this is really important to consider. I’ve taken a job that came into being as the result of a very unpopular initiative from the top down that the staff resisted. I also once took a position as right hand for a person who was roundly hated by the staff and they resisted his every move. Having had those very miserable experiences, I would never advocate knowingly walking into a situation where there’s this much discord about your presence. I mean, it’s possible that some people thrive in those situations, but I found them to be very, very draining in the long run. It is much, much easier to be successful when you begin on a positive or neutral playing field.

              5. Smithy

                I recently did a big job hunt where I was happy to stay in my current US east coast city or move to another specific one. However, one of the jobs came back with two points that made me nervous. 1) That there appeared to be some cavalier fundraising expectations (it’d just be great if we can increase our annual budget by 30%) and 2) to make sure the job was a good fit, maybe I should work for them for a month in the country where it’s based.

                While the fundraising expectations was a pretty concrete concern that my interview was ultimately able to address – the part about not knowing how they were going to assess and support candidate suitable really concerned me. I’ve worked for nonprofits based in this country before, and it just brought back all sorts of “these are parts of this working culture I don’t like”.

                The first time they wanted a call to counter my withdrawal of application, I took the call. But on assessment I still didn’t like how the overall process was feeling. And that the more I talked to them, the more the language indicated a potential working culture I didn’t want to be in.

                If this was strictly a financial and job title decision – then yes, you have nothing to lose by hearing more. However, if there are aspects of the professional culture that are feeling bad….then it may be that getting convinced by technical aspects of the job may be numbing your ears to real workplace culture concerns.

              6. CM

                I’m on the “hear them out” side here because you’re making (reasonable) assumptions about what they’re thinking, but your assumptions may be wrong. For instance, maybe it’s not that half the staff thinks you’re not qualified — maybe there’s one key person who is pushing for somebody else while everyone else wants you for the senior role. There could be lots of explanations. But absolutely, if you still don’t feel like it’s a good fit after hearing them out, you can say, “I appreciate your trying to make this work, but I’m not sure it’s the right opportunity for me.” Repeat “not the right opportunity”/”not the right it” as needed — don’t feel obligated to provide specifics if you’re not interested in talking about it anymore. And if they’re still lobbying you, you can shut it down by saying, “Thanks for your interest, but I’m not going to change my mind.”

                1. Pomona Sprout

                  I feel compelled to make just one tweak to your script. Instead of “I appreciate your trying to make this work, but I’m not sure it’s the right opportunity for me,” I would say “I appreciate your trying to make this work, but I’m sure it’s not the right opportunity for me.”

                  “I’m not sure…” might encourage them to think there’s still a chance of winning you over. Best not to take that chance, imo, especially since we already know they have trouble understanding that no means no.

              7. Tisiphone

                I’n not convinced that half the staff actually feels that way. (Or even what “half the team” even means). Is that half of the hiring decision-makers? Half of the people you’d be senior to? Half of what? Furthermore, you were told this by Mr. Lowball while he was trying to get you to take the lesser position. He may not be telling you the whole truth here.

                You are not unqualified if you are doing the same job elsewhere.

                I’d listen to the offer mainly out of curiosity.

                Funny story about my days in tech support eons ago. My job before that was repairing computers. A store-based computer repair job came up (same company – local customers brought in their computers for repair to the same retail store they bought from). I applied, didn’t get the job, and the rejection letter said that I was unqualified for the position. I laughed, showed it around to my co-workers who knew my background. Apparently I was qualified to repair computers over the phone but not the much easier to me hands-on approach. That company really didn’t want people climbing out of the black hole that was the phone pit.

              8. Observer

                That’s a valid concern – and it’s one that I would address head on.

                Hear them out. Perhaps they came up with something that would work for you, but inherently deals with the problem – eg working with a different team.

                Otherwise, ask them how they intend to deal with this and what changed. After all, according to them this was half the team and they took it seriously enough that they changed the original offer.

              9. Mary

                I’m team “decline and move on” – am I the only one?! If you’re pretty sure you wouldn’t accept even a higher offer, what’s the point? I’d much rather shut the door myself and be able to concentrate fully on the next opportunity.

              10. BossAmy

                In my experience, there will always be a few staff members that feel their new manager isn’t qualified until proven otherwise. I hope you wouldn’t let that alone hold you back from an otherwise great opportunity.

                1. That Girl From Quinn's House

                  Yeah, but sometimes it’s not “prove yourself,” but a more deeply ingrained disapproval.

                  I had one company where I was promised a managerial role, but once I started, it disappeared. It turned out that the existing managers thought it was “unfair” that I didn’t have to start at the bottom and spend a year or two working my way up, and furthermore, they were upset that I had more subject-area knowledge than they did. (Their company had many pending lawsuits for “ignorance of the law” sort of things, I later learned.)

                  I had another company where I was brought in to right a troublesome team. The staff decided that they would not do anything I said, because they had been noncompliant with safety standards for many years and I was asking them to start following safety rules. They considered this asking them to violate their training and also verbal abuse meriting HR complaints, such that they felt I deserved to be fired and replaced.

                  This is not a situation you want to go into.

              11. Engineer Woman

                I think this is a new concern you need to tell them to address as well with the offer -if indeed, it is the same senior role and not one in a new department: what has changed now to have them offer this senior position to me? I understood half the team doesnt believe I am qualified, how has this been overcome, etc.

                1. Observer

                  I don’t think the OP needs to do anything at this point. They aren’t interested in the job at this point, so why would they invest the effort. *IF* the company comes back with something that the OP would otherwise strongly consider, they can take the time and effort to ask them. Otherwise, they have better things to do with their time.

              12. HB

                I would actually communicate that to them, personally! I agree you should be wary of this place (seriously, who makes a job offer like “the staff don’t think you’re qualified, but here’s a consolation prize”) – but it might be worth pointing out to them in a polite, professional way that they’ve created this situation. You could tell them you would consider an offer at the senior level (if this is still true) but that you’re concerned about staff and management impressions of you given the feedback they gave you earlier. What would they do to ameliorate your concerns and onboard you in an appropriate way?

        3. Falling Diphthong

          We’re only a couple of rounds into this. They offered position B, she said no, they asked her to think about it for a day, she did, she said no again.

          Now they are back with what they think is a better offer. If OP were beyond done with these guys and now didn’t want to work there–enough to not mind a bit of mild bridge scorching–I’d be fine with “I’ve realized we’re not a good fit.” But her concern is that if they moved at all she will have a moral obligation to take the job, and that’s just not the case–if the offer isn’t what she wants she can say ‘no’ and firmly close the door to the next round of “but we really really really want you to be the person to run the first grade citizen day.”

          1. Jen S. 2.0

            Agree. Hearing them out does not in any way increase her obligation to consider the offer if it’s still not right. If it’s not right, she can say no thank you and move on.

            (This reminds me of the letter writer a few months back who did not want to compete for a higher position in her office because she had “a vague notion” that she would be forced to quit her current job — which she loved and did well — if she didn’t get the new job. Like, what? No. (Ah, here we are: https://www.askamanager.org/2018/01/im-competing-for-a-promotion-against-a-coworker-who-outdoes-me.html ))

        4. Michaela Westen

          “What if they went back and were able to increase the title or change some responsibilities around? What if they combined the two positions into one so it would be a mix of high and low-level tasks? What if they added lots of opportunities for growth and a path to promotion in the near future?”
          If this is the case, she needs to make sure to get all of it in writing!

          1. Autumnheart

            It would still be a step back if they did do those things. I can just imagine the company being like, “Well, we really need these junior-level tasks done while we get you sorted out for the senior position we told you that you’d get.” Then six months later, she’s only doing junior-level tasks, and they hire someone above her for the senior position.

            OP already has the experience, the pay and the title. There’s no reason to volunteer for a demotion. I suppose there’s no harm in listening to the offer they’ve come up with this time, but honestly, I wouldn’t take the job even if they changed their mind about what position it was for. And with that in mind, I lean toward “Decline and move on.” They’ve already indicated twice that they intend for her to be junior-level, and frankly, a company that won’t take “no” for an answer is worthy of some side-eye.

      3. Traffic_Spiral

        Since LW has 100% no obligation to accept the offer, I’d hear them out just out of morbid curiosity. I mean, maybe they back down and are like “ok, so we were trying to lowball you but actually we do need you,” or “Ok, so I know you said no, but, and hear me out, what if we offered… a shiny sticker?”

        I mean, it’s a ‘no’ either way, but it’d still be good for a chuckle later around drinks with your friends.

    3. Beatrice

      I interviewed at a place like that once, but the opposite. I applied for a junior position, they contacted me to say they were taking me out of the running for the junior position, but they were putting me in the candidate pool for a senior position that had just opened up. Then I got to the interview, and it turned out they had firm requirements for the senior position that weren’t in the posting, and I didn’t meet them, and then their HR person lectured *me* for wasting their time. I was so caught off guard that I didn’t correct her in the moment and I just escaped the interview and vowed never to apply there again.

        1. SusanIvanova

          Ditto. There can be disconnects between HR and hiring managers. I worked at one company that kept turning our “must be able to design and implement higher math-based software” to “must have a PhD in higher math”. So we got theoretical PhDs who weren’t expecting to have to write any code. There were probably people we would’ve hired who got bounced before we ever saw them.

          1. Less Bread More Taxes

            Ah the woes of navigating the communication gap between managers and HR. Irrelevant to this discussion also, but I once got a job and I wasn’t given any contact details for the manager I’d be working under. I told HR the entire way through that I’d need significant time off right away; they seemed fine with it and said they’d pass it along to my manager. First day, and it’s the first time my manager had heard of it! I think I was nearly replaced over it.

          2. Tisiphone

            Last time I was unemployed and looking for an IT position, the requirements included 10 years of experience with software that hadn’t been out for that long.

    4. JamieS

      I get where you’re going with that but in your analogy I think it’d be more accurate to say the company was “the guy” in that scenario and the position was “the shirt”. OP had an issue with the shirt not the guy so changing the shirt (offering OP the senior position) could entice OP and none of us know what the offer is. Maybe after reassessing they realize OP is the best candidate for the senior role, maybe they’re going to offer more money for the junior role, maybe they’re just going to complain to OP about OP. It’s a total mystery.

      1. TootsNYC

        except that “the guy” is still the guy who thought “that shirt” was a reasonable one to wear.

    5. Mookie

      I may be in the minority, but this instantly struck me as a neg. Convince the applicant she’s underqualified, hope her desire to ‘prove’ them wrong outweighs her desire for fair and commensurate compensation. Rattle her with this supposed unfavorable assessment by future colleagues and, now she’s asserted herself, hope they can still cheat her with their “new offer.” I’d hear them out for amusement only.

      1. Mookie

        The way they’re operating reminds me of Bad Job-Seeking Advice, where you’re encouraged to be adversarial and automatically reject the first offer out of principle and to wow them with how cutthroat you can be. In this case, the employer is the one low-balling in the hopes they can still barter her down from or intimidate her into betraying her own expectations.

      2. Traffic_Spiral

        Agreed – especially the “half the company thinks you’re not good enough.” Why would you specify that? It seems pretty classic passive-aggressive negging: “Oh, WE think you’re great, but there’s some other folk who don’t so… don’t you feel motivated to prove them wrong by doing what I want?”

        1. Mookie

          Yeah, what an idyllic workplace they’re touting, where half your team voted against you even being there. Morale must be through the roof.

          1. Aveline

            I wonder if they had another candidate they wanted. Maybe they want Bob from accounting to take over the role, but leadership doesn’t want Bob.

      3. Marthooh

        It sounds to me like they don’t quite know what they want here. Hiring for a necessary role is always going to be a compromise between what’s wanted, who’s available, and how much money’s on the table. It sounds like a lot of people have buy-in on this one, so it’s not surprising that the “what’s wanted” part isn’t quite clear.

        I’m not sure the dating analogy is very useful when a candidate has to satisfy the whole team like this.

      4. Cheesehead

        If Mookie is in the minority, I’m right there too. That was the vibe that I got: they really want the OP but for whatever reason, they want to see if they can cheap out and get a “deal”. OP5 actually called their bluff, and now they’re left floundering. I have to wonder if there is really “half the team” that had reservations about the OP at all, or if it was really just some line, partially to completely fabricated, that the company used to justify offering the junior position. One other thing that occurred to me is….OP said he/she was 13 years out of school, so approximately mid 30s. If this is a small company where the average age skews toward older, I have to wonder if it isn’t the *perception* that the OP couldn’t possibly be in a senior role because he/she is so much younger than the staff, and they are uncomfortable with that? OP said that he/she has been doing that same type of work for 5 years and this would basically be a lateral move, so it seems that there could be more to it than the new company simply evaluating OP’s experience.

        I would hear the second offer, just to hear them out, because the curiosity would get the better of me! You don’t have to take it. If it is actually a decent offer, be prepared with some hard questions: if they think you’re worth this now, why didn’t they think you were worth it when they made their first offer? What changed their minds? What about the “half of the team” that didn’t feel that you deserved a senior role….how can you work together and manage them if they don’t have respect for you because they don’t think you deserved the role? (Me? I suspect they would dramatically downplay that last one because I don’t think “half the team” really did oppose you. I would suspect that it was a gross exaggeration if not outright lie so they’d try to blow off that answer pretty fast.)

        Yeah, they seem to be pursuing OP5 awfully hard when he/she supposedly didn’t even meet the requirements for the role they posted! Whatever is going on, it’s a fair bet that hey’re not being truthful and candid. Bait and switch? Possibly. At the very least, they’re trying to ‘play’ with the OP and OP isn’t playing. Their loss.

        But please do let them make the offer, and then come back and let us all know what it is! I’m sure more people than me really want to know!

        1. Bostonian

          “Yeah, they seem to be pursuing OP5 awfully hard when he/she supposedly didn’t even meet the requirements for the role they posted!”

          That’s what has my spidey sense tingling on this one. I really want to know their thought process here!

      5. Susana

        Mookie, I think you may have it exactly right. This was all a low-ball salary negotiation on their party which blew up in their faces.

    6. Falling Diphthong

      OP5, spouse was interviewing to try and replace a soon-to-retire person who is an expert at llama pedicures and teapot handle attachment. This person, a significant fraction of the hiring committee, wanted to hire someone who could do both those things just like he did; others on the committee figured the duties had to be split between two new people.

      So in your case I could see a committee of 4 having 2 people vote “Opie Five person would be good on the llama feet; we should make an offer” and 1 person saying “but they can’t do teapot handles; we should wait until we get applications from the people like me who do both” and 1 saying “uh… yeah, Bill exists, so clearly more people with Bill’s mix of experience exist.”

      And what happened in the intervening week was that the first 2 people convinced the second 2 that their vision of a flight of Mini-Bills who just hadn’t yet found the job ad was unfounded. I think you should look at the new offer, WITHOUT any shred of moral obligation to take it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the tweaks make you chuckle wryly, roll your eyes, and say no. But there’s a chance they move the job into something you’d consider a slight move up with room for growth; worst case, you discover the clueless company theory was dead on.

      1. Willis

        I think this scenario is definitely a possibility, and makes it worth hearing them out. Maybe OP didn’t initially match up with what half the hiring committee had in their head for the role, but was still the head of the pack compared to other applicants. If the offer still isn’t interesting or it sounds like it would be difficult to work with the team, she can always say no.

      2. Psyche

        Yeah, that would be the main reason to hear them out. If they reworked the position(s) then it could work.

    7. 653-CXK

      OP#5: I wish I had your luck if a company said, “You’re not qualified for X, but we have Y that we think you’re better qualified for and we’ll hire you straight away.”

      In your circumstance, I can understand the uneasiness. To go from a senior position to something less, with less pay, is a backward step. Think about it, though: if this company believes you are more capable of doing the lesser job, when a position with your skill set opens up, you’ll be on the top of the list. So why not hear the offer, and then negotiate as much as you can? It can’t hurt.

      On the other hand, the company seems to be really, really pushy (desperate?) to get you to take the lower position. You’ve politely declined them several times – they’re not taking the hint you’re not interested. I would say, “If you want me for this job, what can we do (in terms of extra pay, benefits, PTO, free parking) to convince me to take this offer?” Make them come up with a package – and if what they offer still doesn’t meet your requirements, say, “I think we’re very much apart on this and I think it’s best you consider other candidates. Good luck on the job search!”

      1. Quackeen

        To go from a senior position to something less, with less pay, is a backward step. Think about it, though: if this company believes you are more capable of doing the lesser job, when a position with your skill set opens up, you’ll be on the top of the list.

        Not necessarily. People get pigeonholed. People get told, “We hired you as a JUNIOR whatever-it-is; why are you suddenly dissatisfied with that and trying to be a SENIOR? We need you to do the job you were hired to do!”

        1. Colette

          And in this case, it appears the senior position is already available, they just don’t want to hire the OP for it.

        2. 653-CXK

          I agree. If the person goes well enough in their job, management feels they can keep them there (they know the work will be done) and will try to prevent their movement elsewhere.

        3. Seeking Second Childhood

          Been there….it can get ugly.
          Hired as Assistant to the Chief Llama Herder, agreed to also shovel stalls for 2 or 3 months until they hired a stable hand. They hired a stable manager and fired me because I didn’t want to be a full-time stable hand.

        4. Jadelyn

          It also means that, should you need to try to get back out of that company, your most recent title is going to be a step lower than the jobs you’re applying for, and that could hurt you.

        5. Not So NewReader

          This sounds so familiar.
          OP what Quackeen is saying applies double for women.
          But this is also a solid caution for everyone.

      2. Tallulah in the Sky

        This is really unhelpful. Nothing in their letter indicates they need a new job as soon as possible or that they absolutely want to work there, so why pushing them to consider taking a less desirable job for less pay ? Even if the company offers a better salarial package (which probably won’t match what they’re making now, since they said “At no point did I attempt to negotiate, the gulf was just too big to warrant negotiation”), if the job still isn’t what they would like to do, why go work there ?

        I understand that for some people needing a new job (unemployed, horrible boss, horrible commute,…) this could be a lifeline, and that it would be worth taking a paycut and do less of the work you like. But in OP’s position, this is ludicrous. Why go work there where “if this company believes you are more capable of doing the lesser job, when a position with your skill set opens up, you’ll be on the top of the list”, when OP is already working that job ?

        1. M Bananas

          Yeah, I feel like I’m missing something with this advice too, its taking a step back in order to be better positioned to take a step forward…right back to the point you started from.

          OP – I get the sense that this exchange soured the company on you, and you don’t really seem interested in them anymore.

          In that case I would consider what ‘hearing the offer’ means to you in practice: is it a phone call you can take from the comfort of your home? Then maybe I would take the call, to satisfy my curiosity or for the off chance that the situation really did change fundamentally and you might actually would re-consider.
          If its a meeting that requires more effort on your part (setting aside a time, getting to a location, dressing for the occasion and so on), then I personally would not go.

          Determine how much energy you’re willing to put into hearing the offer and then decide. (you might get to the conclusion you’re willing to put zero energy and not even take a call for it and that’s fine too)

          Either way you are absolutely NOT obligated to take any offer, even if they offer the senior role and end the meeting with a fireworks display saying ‘OP5 IS AWESOME’.

        2. Jenny Craig

          I agree completely. OP5 should definitely not take a demotion because at some point she might be able to get back to the level she is now…like seriously? How is that even real advice?

        3. 653-CXK

          Touche.

          In my ExJob, I was at at higher level work before another department had openings for one level lower.
          As my department was in the middle of a financial crunch and everyone was in a panic for being laid off, I took the position. They did lay off people (ironically the day after April Fools), but it took me almost six years to return to my previous level. That position lasted four years until they reorganized that department, and I lasted another six until I was let go.

          I think OP#5 is right not to accept a lower job, especially if she’s been senior for so long, because the one the company wants her to take is in effect a demotion. Thus, my advice about taking it while something better comes along is tone deaf and wrong, and I apologize for giving the wrong impression.

      3. Batman

        Nah, I think taking the job would be a really bad idea. It’ll raise questions when OP tries to apply for senior positions again in the future, it will hurt her economically (lower salary) and she might get pigeon-holed in the company as a junior employee. Plus, who knows when a senior position will open up again?

  2. MangoFan

    OMG I can’t believe Alison posted a sound recording illustrating the tone of voice!

    This has decisively cemented AAM as Best Advice Column Ever.

        1. valentine

          The letter was a guy offering a bribe or asking out his supervisor, and the response went something like, “That’s not appropriate. I don’t know why you think it is/would be.”

    1. Chip

      Alison, was that an excerpt from a podcast? Or did you make that recording specifically as part of your response to the question?

        1. Not So NewReader

          Hmm… I think this is going to be a very popular feature, as in people will request to “hear” you say their script.

    2. Falling Diphthong

      It’s a great idea. So many interactions draw a lot of meaning from HOW you say them, with the same line conveying 10 different things when read in 10 different ways.

    3. Hallowflame

      If you liked that, you should check out her podcast. There’s an entire episode dedicated to tone of voice! I think it’s one of the earliest episodes.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood

        I posted the links but that sent it into the moderation queue. One’s from april 2018, the other’s from july 2018.
        (May is about as early as I can get to play… my phone objects to the ones she did independently. Alas.)

  3. Beth

    OP5, I think you should hear out their offer so you can come back here and tell us what their deal is!

    I’m kind of baffled by their behavior, honestly. If they’re willing to offer you the senior position if that’s what it takes to get you on board, then why did they withhold it in the first place? If they’re NOT willing to offer you the senior position, why are they still pursuing you when you’ve been extremely clear that you’re not looking for something more junior at this point? Enquiring minds want to know…

    On a more serious note, I think it actually is to your benefit to hear their offer. Hearing them out doesn’t obligate you to accept at all–there’s no cost to you beyond the time it takes to go through the new offer. If they’re jerking you around (or even if they’re not, but it’s not good enough to convince you to look past the jerking-around they’ve already done), you can politely decline. But who knows–maybe it will be exactly the offer you’re looking for. It’s worth a shot, at least.

    1. JamieS

      If they’re going to offer the senior position, it’s a small company so not super surprising if they don’t have it 100% together when it comes to assessing candidates. Could be they were originally overly fanciful but have since come down to earth and realized OP is the best candidate for the senior position. Another possibility is they previously placed a stronger weight on something OP is somewhat lacking in but ultimately decided that qualification/skill wasn’t actually that important. Another is the people/person who opposed OP are no longer with the company or in a hiring decision role. Probably a few other reasons for a change of heart but you get the gist.

    2. CupcakeCounter

      I’d be very concerned working for this company even if the offer matched every item on my wish list. I have a feeling that they will bring this situation up anytime there is a problem or OP asks for a raise, etc…

    3. Sara without an H

      Hi, OP#5,
      I’d hear the offer out — you’re by no means obligated to accept — but I’d think very carefully before accepting, even if they’ve decided they do want you for the senior position. You say it’s a small firm, and it’s entirely possible that they are just bad at hiring. Or they could be seriously dysfunctional. There are many examples in the AAM archives of small-firm toxicity and disorganized hiring is often a symptom of something worse.

  4. Swede

    Thanks for the audio file, it’s really helpful. Now if I could only manage to find a way to sound that pleasant…

    1. Checkert

      I 100% have a work voice and an outside of work voice. Part of that came from necessity as I entered the workforce through the military and it liberally peppered my vocabulary with colorful language that is not as acceptable in polite culture. My work voice is similar to my phone voice, to include a softer tone, firm but optimistic language, and even a slower speed. Basically no one I have worked with has ever heard my ‘for use at home’ voice and that’s for their benefit :P

      1. Bunny Girl

        My boyfriend has ALWAYS teased me for what he calls my “receptionist voice.” I am a little lower pitched so he says it’s like going from Batman to Mary Poppins when I answer the phone.

        1. Jadelyn

          “Customer service voice” is real. Like you, I jump half a register in my phone voice/customer service voice vs my regular speaking voice, which is naturally lower-pitched.

    2. ket

      :) It takes practice! From a vocal mechanics point of view, one thing you can try is saying something like that while smiling a bit with your cheeks. I’m no expert, but the smiling-while-talking changes both the shape of your mouth and the emotion that goes with it. In this particular use case, just a slight, warm smile is good; no need for effusive warmth.

    3. Nervous Accountant

      Idk if that is Alison herself but that is such a lovely voice. My (male) manager also keeps his tone this way (even, calm, friendly) when providing feedback, it’s hard to put in to words for me exactly what’s so nice about it, but I know a rough tone when I hear it.

      Me, personally, I don’t have a very feminine or soft voice (but my male managers all have very obviously male voices) so I feel like I have to work extra harder at keeping a friendly tone with clients or colleagues. For some reason it feels like the natural inclination of my voice is to sound commanding/rough or something, even if I’m trying to be nice. I don’t know how else to put it.

      1. Not So NewReader

        Tone of voice is a very powerful, too. Especially when dealing with tough situations. Tone can add to the panic/upheaval or tone can encourage the person to keep following along. To be fair, those who do not WANT to follow along will not no matter how well we modulate our tone of voice.
        Word choice is also powerful. Some words telegraph to the recipient that their situation is hopeless, don’t keep trying. It’s good to be very clear about the person’s status, “If this happens again, I have to do a write-up because [reason].”
        The few times I have been spoken to, I was melting on the inside. I made sure I listened and said very little so as not to look too foolish. The bosses who helped the most were the ones who spoke clearly, “Going forward do X, do not do Y.” Or, “This action is a write-able problem. I am not writing you this time but if it happens again, I will have no choice. I am accountable to others also.” These types of statements told me the severity of the problem and told me what TO do instead.
        The calm voice helped me keep my head in the game, I was able to follow along.

        But I have had to correct people under my supervision. I was surprised to see how many said, “thank you for explaining this [or taking the time with me or being patient with my error, etc]”. I did not know people would say that. I was very impressed with that.

  5. Dragonfly

    #1: Sometimes a great level of anxiety surfaces because the person already knows he or she is just not in the right position of resposibility. This is something worth finding out about: “is there something about you or the job that can reasonably compel us to wish to part company with you?” If this is not the case, i.e. if the new employee is not reasonably justified in reacting with anguish to learning, then she or he ought to be given a chance to sort out the problem by her/himself. A good sign of their making this effort on their own will be that requests for feedback will actually start to come from them after a while, hopefully.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady

      I knew a landlord once who, when he had a tenant who was struggling with making rent, would offer to release them from their lease. This allowed everyone to cut their losses and move on. Tenants were often grateful for the out.

      Sometimes offering “the worst” option allows the clarity to either step it up or move on.
      That being said, the tone of voice is everything, as is allowing some time alone for reflection. The employee is no doubt in an anxiety spiral not by their own choosing. Implying that you believe they can make a reasonable choice may give a few drops of confidence into the mix.

      1. SavannahMiranda

        That landlord’s practice is fantastic. It cuts right through the bull (if what’s going on is BS) and it cuts right through the pain (if what’s going on is crisis) and gets down to brass tacks. People who are BS-ing will straighten up, and people in crisis may accept that way out. It saves the landlord untold fees, time, and trouble in eviction or in pursuit of balance of the lease. Smart landlord.

    2. Marthooh

      But if this is just generalized anxiety (and it sounds like it), then asking the employee to identify the source of it will make things worse, by implying that she ought to be anxious about everything! But trying to get her to ask for feedback is a good idea, since it will mean she has some control over the process. The tricky part of that would be getting her to ask for feedback when it needs to be given. Maybe regular 1-on-1s? Or encourage her to ask “Is there some way I could improve on this task?”

    3. LQ

      I get where you are going with this. And for myself I’ve definitely said, Dear me, if this is really that bad I can quit, I’m not actually tied to this place, love me. I’ve said it to coworker/friends who were struggling. But a boss saying it sounds very different to me.

      But if in a place where I had a ton of anxiety my boss said that sentence (which “reasonably compel” reads and weirdly litagatory to me) I’d wonder if I’d done something horrible and they were giving me a chance to quietly resign rather than fire me.

    4. Observer

      In addition to what the others have said, this gets a bit too much into therapist territory, I think. Encouraging the employee to ask for feedback might be a good idea, though.

    5. Irina

      Seems like the employee has Bennie chances to sort this out and not figured anything out. It doesn’t seem like anxiety either sorry but that’s my take. What does the employee do for hours she isn’t working but getting paid? She needs to not have this job. Maybe she could find something else. I think the op has been overly thoughtful. And the problem in her continuing to allow this person on her team is that she gets an inaccurate view of workplace anxiety and or they get burned out on it. Employee seems she might have A LOT else going on.

      1. Pommette!

        Wasting hours going in loops over feedback that would seem normal to most people but seems ominous, threatening or shameful to you sounds *exactly* like anxiety. It’s not the only way that anxiety can manifest itself, of course, but it’s a pretty textbook manifestation. Anxiety disorders get joked about a lot, but they can be really, really disabling.

        It could be that the employee is anxious because s/he knows s/he’s not able to do the job, sure – but it could also be that OP is not currently able to do a job s/he’s otherwise very well suited for because s/he’s anxious.

        1. Irina

          On these comments you don’t know who you are talking with. It doesn’t seem like a textbook manifestation of anxiousness that she sits in a corner or is unable to do anything for hours during what the Op described. It’s important to note the employee could have something completely different and in no way does people blanket term using any mental illness word help anyone else.

      2. Gymmie

        I don’t disagree that this can’t keep going on, especially because the OP is directly suffering from it, but to your comment, I have some pretty bad anxiety and I will write and rewrite any email to my manager a million times. I seriously kind of have to “jump” and push the send button. I’m lucky in that I ‘appear’ to be quite functional and have results to back it up, but yeah, wonder how much better I could be without this.

    6. Grouchy 2 cents

      My thought is to set up feedback times at the end of every day. Then the employee can have her spiral away from the office and come back the next day ready to work. That doesn’t solve her anxiety issue but at least it solves the issue LW was having of spending too much time with them.

      1. valentine

        Or the employee now fixates on something about this ad hoc therapy to end the spiral, so she can’t do anything, including sleeping, until she gets back to the office and OP1 does the thing.

  6. Jasnah

    #3 Good to hear that there’s an actual reason behind this because I’ve always interpreted it as a weird ploy to see how dedicated you are, or to see how valuable you are.

    How should one answer the first or second scenario (checking what stage you’re at, or what your interest levels are) when asked by an interviewer at the company, especially if you haven’t been getting a lot of success? In the past I’ve been pretty vague because I want to seem “in demand” but then I was asked to name other companies, which I wasn’t comfortable with. It made me feel like they were trying to scope out their competition. I don’t know how to communicate like you would on a date, “I’m open to new experiences but looking to settle down with the right person.”

    1. Fergus

      When they ask who else I am interviewing with that is like asking on the first date who else you are banging , My answer is everyone but you.

      1. VictorianCowgirl

        Oh, man. This is good!

        I guess my interview answer works for that to: I’m keeping my options open.

    2. Kathleen_A

      I almost always ask this question – but I keep it *very* general. I don’t ask which companies, but I ask what sorts of jobs the person is interviewing for. My intention isn’t to scope out exactly who they’re talking to. It’s to find out what sorts of jobs they’re actually interested in. This is particularly helpful, IMO, when it’s an entry level-or near-entry-level position. If someone is interviewing with me for a marketing position at a non-profit but interviewing other places for a high-paying sales job, I think it’s fair for me to wonder if they’re actually more interested in sales than in writing. When we’re considering someone for an entry-level position here, we don’t expect them to stay more than a couple of years, but then again, we don’t want them to be miserable and resentful in just a few months, either.

      1. desperate

        I find it offensive if I am asked what other jobs I have applied. They would neither tell me who have applied for the job and who are they interviewing (unless some government job where they are obliged to release everything).

        I heard rumors for a job I were interviewed a few years ago that they rejected candidates who applied at their competitors. Since I have been very reluctant to reveal my job application history.

        1. Kathleen_A

          Well, that’s why I don’t ask for specifics – not because it seems offensive, exactly, but because it seems like not at all my business and also like the sort of thing a prospective employer could misuse. (I mean, why in the world should a company expect loyalty from somebody who hasn’t even been hired yet?) All I ever ask is “what sorts of jobs are you applying for?”

    3. KHB

      Just answer the question truthfully. “I’ve applied to several other positions, but I’m not at the interview stage for any of them at the moment,” or whatever. It’s not a game, and if you try to lie or BS or play it coy you’ll just annoy them. If you feel bad about admitting that you’re not having a lot of success, the “at the moment” part helps cover that up. (Just like how, when the cashier at the grocery store asks if you want to donate to the cause du jour, you can say “no thanks, not today” to maintain the polite fiction that you might be interested some other day.)

    4. Dagny

      I took a very methodical and precise approach to my most recent job search (working in one city while searching for jobs in another, smaller city, with a relatively flexible time frame to move), so I said, “I have been very particular about the companies and roles that I’ve applied for, and have only been looking at X, at companies that are known for a good corporate culture and are within a reasonable commuting distance of (new city).”

    5. NotAnotherManager!

      We phrase it a little differently – “What does your timeline look like?” – because our interest is in meeting the timeline of a most-strongly-preferred candidate. I’m not really interested in where else a person is applying, just that I don’t lose out on a candidate because I can’t have an offer put together on their timeline. Sometimes, people will tell us that they’re interviewing or have an offer on the table that they have to respond to by X date, which is helpful to know.

      In terms of reciprocity, we don’t disclose who we’re interviewing but are happy to share that we’re wrapping up first-round interviews by the end of the week and will be scheduling final round candidates the following week. Candidates often ask about what our timeline looks like, and I’m happy to share that with them.

      1. Jasnah

        I like this question, this is much easier to answer. I don’t see why a company needs to know my requirements (especially since my last job hunt was for “a job that doesn’t suck with a boss that isn’t racist”) or where I’m progressing with other companies, when what they really want to know is “what is your timeline, and why are you interested in this job”–I’m much more comfortable answering those and I think it gets the company the answers they want.

    1. RaccoonMama

      I thought it sounded kind and compassionate! I would respond well to that tone, I think. But this just goes to show that everyone responds differently!

    2. Engineer Girl

      Some people are wired so that any female correction sounds like it’s coming from the teacher or the mother. Can you identity why it sounds school marmish?
      To me the uplift at the end of “do you think you can do this?” Softens it immensely.

      1. Jasnah

        I agree that the comparison to schoolmarm made me raise an eyebrow. Why not “it sounds too strict” or “it sounds too bossy/too much like a boss”?

      2. Jen RO

        I haven’t listened to this particular file, but Alison always sounds very warm in her am podcast, so I am sure this is the case here too.

        However… I hate the “do you think you can do this” phrasing so much! It just sounds condescending to me and yes, a bit like something an adult would say to a child.

        1. Myrin

          Ooh, I know what you mean! I actually like the phrasing a lot but I also think it only works if you say it sternly enough; or at least, I know how I would need to say it, but there are a lot of people who I couldn’t imagine saying that at all because it would sound so weird.
          (I also think that this is a language thing to some extent, which might be an issue for you, too. A lot of the scripts on here range from “totally fine” to “really awesome” to me as they stand, but I’d have huge troubles translating them into German because there’s no equivalent and would just sound really awkward.)

          1. valentine

            “Do you think you can do this?” is meant to be straightforward and collaborative. Like the team needs to climb and she’s assigning you to attach carabeners.

        2. Bagpuss

          I agree, I don’t like that phrasing, but I am in the UK so thought it was perhaps a mild culture clash thing, as I know it comes up quite often in Alison’s scripts.
          Other than that specific phrase, I thought the sound file sounded firm but kind, which I think is entirely appropriate to the situation described.

        3. snowglobe

          I’m not sure of a better alternative phrase. In these types of conversations, it is imperative to get the employee to agree – the manager can’t just tell them what needs to happen without getting some type of commitment from the employee.

          1. Sandy

            Right, I was about to say this; I think you could experiment with the exact phrasing, but it’s really important that the employee acknowledge and agree with the standard you are setting for them. They have to be clear on what they need to change and the manager needs to be clear that they get it. A pretty common failing of managers can be to talk AT the employee instead of having a conversation in uncomfortable situations.

          2. Jack Russell Terrier

            How about this ‘I am hoping we can work this out – do you have a clear understanding of what I need to see from you in the future?’

            1. Not So NewReader

              Going one step even further: The job is not about me and what I want, so I tried to avoid the use of the word “I” and explain it as, “This is what the company expects.”
              My thought behind that was some people get it in their heads that the boss (me/my boss / my big boss) is making up the rules and the company does not know the boss is doing this. Other times people get angry at the boss unnecessarily because the employee does not realize that everyone is expected to do the same thing, it is not personally about the employee. When I said, “The company expects and needs X”, it was very clear.

              We had a boss who was a stickler for time. I had to tell my people to be exactly on time. For the few stragglers who did not get what that meant, I included in my readdress that I myself got spoken to for being 30 seconds late. And I concluded with, “The company expects everyone to be exactly on time.” I used a tone of voice that I would use if I were explaining a task or a new policy. It worked in this instance and everyone got on board. (Notice I am not commenting on how they LIKED it.)

              I do agree that getting them to buy-in and show willingness to correct wrongs is important. I have used, “Going forward, do X and no more doing Y, okay?” And that usually draws out an affirmation to change to X.

          3. NW Mossy

            I think you can say exactly that – “Is this something you can commit to doing [consistently] going forward?” You can explicitly ask for the outcome you want!

            1. ket

              I like this phrasing — “Is this something you can commit to doing consistently going forward?” I’m in a STEM field with some gender issues and am at a point in life & work where I really practice setting a warm but emotionally not-too-close tone. I’m working mostly with students and there’s too much mom-transference if I’m not careful.

        4. Jenny Next

          Ditto. It’s infantilizing. If you’re my boss, just tell me what you want me to do, or to do differently. I know that if I want to keep working there, I need to comply.

          (If you have to ask anything, ask if I have any questions, or depending on the topic, if there are any barriers.)

        5. SavannahMiranda

          The phrase for me is a stand in for all the other ways that bosses have of seeking commitment at the close of the conversation.

          Other options might be, “how can we make that happen?” “what help from me do you need to make that happen?” “I need to hear that you’ll be able to make that happen.”

          Granted those examples are heavy in the ‘make that happen’ category. The point is the phrase will probably be adjusted to fit a particular speaker’s style, so that it’s conveyed with authenticity, while accomplishing the goal of saying “I need you to commit to this instruction or tell me now why you can’t.”

        6. Courageous cat

          Agreed. American here. It sounds extremely infantilizing. “Do you think you can work on this” would be better.

      3. MusicWithRocksInIt

        I agree that there is some unconscious sexism going on here. Is there any tone that a man could take in this situation that would make you think more of a teacher than a boss? Heck, there isn’t even a male term for schoolmarmish. Probably because we don’t seek to keep men from asserting authority.

        1. stanley

          Where I’m from there are quite a few terms for a man acting that way. If I say someone is like a school principal, people will know exactly what I’m talking about. This strict, very religious, authoritarian older man in a suit, who treats everybody like they owe him something. But always with this condescending smile. Whenever we got caned, they would say “this hurts me more than it hurts you”, and I think they actually believed we fell for it. Principals are almost exclusively men.
          Same with saying someone is an “ouderling”. I think the English term is “church elder”. They’re the pious, conservative old guys, in black suits, who sit in the front seats of the church, and act like they have some kind of authority over the plebs. They’re “important”.
          My former manager was an ouderling.

          I don’t know what we would call the female version of these. Can’t think of a word.

          1. Aveline

            Yes, but in the USA this term is gendered and arises from a very specific history. When mass education took off in the USA, it was typically work done by single women. These women were expected to work the job until they got married. Any woman who stayed in the job and didn’t marry was viewed as a spinster. This was not a compliment.

            The only men who worked in the profession were either administrators or, if teachers, employed by those with means.

            I’m glad there are other cultures where there are male-coded terms, but that’s not the context OP is operating in. That’s not the context for the USA.

            Whatever the context globally, to an American ear, this is a gendered-insult. It’s a slur. It’s not appropriate to use, whatever OP’s intent was in employing the term. Even if they didn’t intend to be sexist, the term itself is sexist.

            1. Dragoning

              I think calling “schoolmarm” a slur is really a bit of an exaggeration, from an American person-perceived-as-female.

              Do I think it’s appropriate, no. Do I think it’s a slur? No.

              And the OP’s context doesn’t even matter, because this term was used to describe Alison’s voice, and this is getting…quite a bit off topic.

              1. Aveline

                It’s a slur. Slur just means insult based on a characteristic. It’s the definition.

                It’s not a racial slur. That’s why you think that’s a bit strong. But it is still a slur. I think your issue is usage of slur now almost always accompanies the term racial. But that’s not what it means. A lot of gender-based slurs exist. Some strong, some not.

                This may be a weak slur

                Definition of slur
                1a : an insulting or disparaging remark or innuendo : ASPERSION
                b : a shaming or degrading effect : STAIN, STIGMA

                1. Jasnah

                  If you want to define any insult as a slur, OK then yes it is a slur. But then so is “jerk” and “buffoon.”

                  The word slur carries a nuance that it is MORE hurtful than regular insults, and especially that it insults one’s person-hood or inherent qualities rather than an action performed. Hence why we use it to describe words targeting their gender, race, religion, etc. rather than a tendency to make mistakes or be rude.

                  I don’t think it’s useful to double-down on the idea that “schoolmarmish” is a slur according to the dictionary definition of “slur” because that elevates a one-time gendered criticism to the level of sexual harassment, and in my opinion that’s really not warranted here. I disagree with the word choice but let’s treat this appropriately.

            1. Fact & Fiction

              I believe that’s the whole point. The very traits that are regarded as desirable and complimentary when men exhibit them are often viewed in a negative light when exhibited by women.

    3. Stephanie the Great

      I would really like to know what constructive value you thought this comment would provide.

      1. Santa's Claw

        K’Tau has every right to express an opinion. That’s what the comments section is for.
        I frequently disagree with Allison’s advice. She’s human just like the rest of us, and sometimes I think she’s wrong.

        1. Kate

          But there is a clear difference between disagreeing with someone’s opinion, and calling their tone of voice schoolmarmish. The latter is distinctly more personal.

          1. Lance

            Not to mention it’s not exactly constructive unless, at the very least, it’s expanded on to why it sounds that way to them; otherwise, people are just left guessing.

          2. Rusty Shackelford

            Well, the audio was provided as an example of appropriate tone of voice, so it *is* within the realm of the comment section to say “actually that tone of voice doesn’t work for me.” I agree that the word schoolmarmish strikes a bad note for multiple reasons and was not a good choice, but I don’t think it’s inappropriately personal to disagree that a recommended tone of voice is the right one for the situation.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Yeah, it’s fine for people to have different takes on the audio file; it’s a piece of the advice.

              But “schoolmarmish” sure sounds to me like part of a broader, well documented issue of people responding to women’s voices as mommying them, etc. There were a bunch of articles on this during the 2016 campaign.

              1. Khlovia

                Because I am an Old, this thread is harking me back to a time when the US got its news from the following individuals: Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Chet Huntley, Roger Mudd, Eric Sevareid, John Chancellor, Howard K. Smith, Frank Reynolds, Frank McGee. Period. (Cue a string of fellow Olds chiming in with names I’ve forgotten.) I do not include Edward R. Murrow because I am not *that* old.
                Notice the two things they all have in common: deep resonant voices, and something else.
                So then came Barbara Walters, Andrea Mitchell, Diane Sawyer, Cokie Roberts, and so on. And there also came a spate of Serious articals and editorials written Seriously, about how no woman could or should be a news anchor because it was impossible for a woman to have an authoritative voice, and therefore it was impossible for a woman to announce the news with any credibility.
                I’m not kidding.

                1. Not So NewReader

                  I remember every one of those names and faces. I am old, too. And I remember the flap about women’s voices reporting the news. Some people suffered shock and meltdowns over it. It was Not Good.

                  But I do think that those people with extreme reactions, brought everyone else to the same page, because the extreme reactors just looked soooo foolish.

        2. Aveline

          “That’s what ehh comment section is for.”

          No it’s not. The entire purpose of the comment section is to debate the points raised in the letter and expand on the advice.

          It’s not a place Mirror lead to express any opinion the floats in your head. It’s definitely not a place to express opinions that are irrelevant, derailing, or rooted in a form of bigotry.

          The “schoolmarmish” post May or May not be appropriate. But let’s not float the myth that this comments section is a free-for-all.

        3. Engineer Girl

          K’Tau gave an opinion without any supporting thoughts. That moves it from discussion to strafe.

          Folks – if you express an opinion then PLEASE also give us the “why” behind it.

      2. LaurenB

        Maybe that the OP should use a different, less scolding tone? This is not saying that Allison’s voice is squeaky or she uses vocal fry, which would be a distraction from the message itself – the tone is the message, and this person disagrees with it.

        1. Sizzler

          I’m glad somebody mentioned the vocal fry. Allison has a very pleasant tone and she quite obviously is an expert in all this. So, my hopefully-kind, hopefully-constructive feedback is to get help with that fry. It’s a huge distraction and it takes away from the message.

            1. LaurenB

              It definitely wasn’t – I didn’t listen to the clip because I’m at work without headphones! I meant that as an example of a common criticism that is beside the point. If, however, the clip is to illustrate tone, and the comment is about the tone, I don’t think it’s a pointless or off-topic comment, even if you disagree with it.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I don’t want to derail on this, but there’s lots of research on how women get criticized for vocal fry and men don’t. It’s worth reading if vocal fry is a thing that bothers you. Here are some interesting articles:

            https://www.npr.org/2015/07/23/425608745/from-upspeak-to-vocal-fry-are-we-policing-young-womens-voices

            https://mashable.com/article/vocal-fry-upspeak-women/#10LVjZsFbSqc

            https://www.dailydot.com/via/vocal-fry-99-percent-invisible-womens-voices/

            1. neeko

              Yes! I posted that same Mashable article in my pending comment. Why do people feel so free to tell women to change their voices? Ira Glass has a very unusual voice and he is one of the most successful people in radio/podcasting.

              1. No one you know

                There was a This American Life episode that included a section on vocal fry and all the hate comments women on TAL (and public radio in general) receive regarding their voices. Ira even points out in the episode that he uses vocal fry often but no one never, ever even mentioned it.

              2. automaticdoor

                Also, what is wrong with vocal fry? I’m seriously asking, partially because I think I have it.

              3. Sizzler

                Didn’t ask her to change her voice. Her voice is mellifluous, reassuring and pleasant. It’s the vocal fry habit that is a distraction. It’s not about women, it’s about vocal fry. It’s not necessary. She certainly doesn’t have to change it, but there are many many people, of all genders, who make a nice living with their voice as a significant asset. Allison is one of those, but as she always strives for excellence, it’s one person’s opinion that she could be even better! By learning not to fry.
                It takes some listeners away from the message, and surely that’s not something she wants.
                Honestly, it’s a small thing, but apparently some people think it’s worth mentioning. That’s why there are articles written about it!

                1. AnnaB

                  See above re: men with vocal fry not hearing the same feedback, Ira Glass being a notable example, and certainly someone who makes a living with his voice as an asset.

                2. Gloucesterina

                  Sure, folks can learn to change their voice to please others, but I’d suggest that listeners who are put off vocal fry have the capacity to learn as well. Accepting multiple modes of speaking as professional puts the substance of the work first, combats any range of “isms,” and gives us more mental bandwidth to engage with the content of what’s said.

          2. Grand Mouse

            I am male (mostly) and I have a vocal fry. No one has ever complained about it. I think it makes me sound casual. People listen to me.

    4. Myrin

      Why is that bad? I’ve had many kind and compassionate yet strict school teachers in my life and they taught me a lot about expressing myself!
      Also, obviously every voice is going to sound different even while using the same general tone – maybe you just don’t like Alison’s voice?

      1. Spencer Hastings

        Well, the way a schoolteacher talks to a child and the way an adult talks to another adult (even when there’s a hierarchical relationship in place) have very little Venn diagram overlap…maybe that’s what they meant?

        For my own part, I’ve come to the conclusion that my voice and speech patterns are so different from Alison’s that the specifics of her advice on tone are completely useless to me.

      2. Dust Bunny

        It’s the schoolmarmish *stereotype*. “Schoolmarmish” is not a compliment, in and of itself. It’s calling somebody scolding and pedantic. It’s irrelevant how many great teachers we all had–the word itself is the insult.

      3. Not So NewReader

        Maybe it’s because it’s a woman chastising someone?
        I agree that if Alison’s example does not work for a person, then that person should not use it.

        And I will add, that everyone can think about their tone of voice while speaking.
        My friend’s son is helping her with her husband’s estate. Son speaks very fast and his sentences run on. It reads as a cross between VERY nervous and Very Bossy. My friend ends up rattled more by her son’s tone of voice than anything else. In the moment, she loses track and cannot answer his questions, later on she worries about his health and well being.

    5. Constanze

      If I had a dollar for every time I have heard a woman giving instructions or corrections being sneeringly compared to a school teacher…

      Thanks for the early mornign sexism, AND for insulting teachers.

      1. Santa's Claw

        You see sexism where there is none.
        Saying someone sounds like a teacher is not insulting teachers, or sexist. It means the person sounds as if they are talking to a child. I have said the same thing about my MALE ex boss.
        The way you talk to a child, and the way you talk to another adult are very different.

        1. Birch

          Well, K’tau didn’t actually say “schoolteacher,” they said “schoomarmish.” “Schoolmarm” is a really specific, gendered and outdated stereotype of a woman who is overly strict, prim, prudish, and old-fashioned (got those words from the Oxford and Collins dictionaries). It does not mean the same thing as schoolteacher, which is not gendered or have the same negative connotations.

          1. Pommette!

            Very well said!

            Schoolmarmish is such a rich and specific adjective. It carries a lot of connotations, many of them highly gendered, many of them to stereotypes that have been used to demean and dismiss people (especially women, or others who act in ways deemed too feminine). Alison’s level of prudishness was not conveyed by the short voice recording she made, nor was her level of strictness/fun-lovingness, etc. Those things aren’t relevant to the present discussion. If the critique was that her tone was condescending or infantilizing, it would have been made in those terms.

          2. Not So NewReader

            Male teachers who fit that description were more apt to be “tyrants” or similar wording.
            I know of one man in education decades ago, who is described as “unsmiling and humorless”. It got the point across.

        2. Lucy

          I think there’s a difference in tone (!) between using the phrase “like a teacher talking to a child” and using “schoolmarmish”. The sexism comes in where one expression is gender marked and the other isn’t.

          1. min

            Exactly. And Constanze is correct, many people automatically link behavioral corrections from women to being lectured by teachers or mothers in a way that they do not for men. Add the term “schoolmarm” and it reads as full of sexism to me.

            Just ick.

          2. Aveline

            It’s not just tone.

            The term schoolmarm is a gendered insult that arose to denigrate the vital work of one room schoolhouse teachers who were almost always female. It has a historical context that matters.

            FTR, I grew up with several women who were one room schoolhouse teachers the term was used against them to denigrate and insult by rich people who wanted to force school consolidation because it was cheaper, white men who didn’t like that the schoolhouse was integrated, and conservative proto-Evamgelicals who wanted children’s education in the hands of men and the female teachers to be banished to marriage. The latter group wanted to silencethe voices of the schoolmarms.

            In the USA currently, the term is almost always used to describe women. The only time I’ve heard if applied to men was to insinuate they were guy or had feminine qualities perceived by the speaker to be inferior to male qualities.

            1. Annie Moose

              I’m confused. School consolidation in the US began in the 1920s, a time at which schools–even one-room schoolhouses–were certainly not broadly integrated! What time period/area are you referring to?

              1. Aveline

                The 1890s-1930s

                Just bc some weren’t broadly integrated doesn’t mean none were.

                In the case of one of my relatives, she taught in an integrated schoolhouse that served a poor, rural community. She was hated for it.

              2. Aveline

                PS I really, really wish these women would have written diaries. They would make fascinating reading.

        1. Aveline

          The term is sexist per say.

          It’s origin is in a stereotype of a female one-room schoolhouse scold.

          “a female schoolteacher, especially of the old-time country school type, popularly held to be strict and priggish.”

          From dictionary.com

          It’s nit about teachers in general, but a very gendered slur. Because the term is a slur.

          Had the term used been schoolteacher and not schoolmarm the response may be different.

            1. Fact & Fiction

              Also, there’s a rule on this site where we’re not supposed to nitpick each other’s grammar and typos. :) And autocorrecting fails happen to the best of us.

        2. Marthooh

          You may not see the sexism, but I notice you don’t describe yourself as a “schoolmarm” either.

        3. Dust Bunny

          The term “schoolmarmish” is free-standingly sexist. It doesn’t mean generically “in the manner of a teacher”, it means “nagging and condescending”.

          1. Bart on Film

            Which seems to make it the ideal word choice for this situation because “nagging and condescending” is how the voice in the audio clip came across to K’tau, apparently.

            If the voice sample sounded like a more neutral “in the manner of a teacher” to him, it likely wouldn’t have rubbed him the wrong way and he likely wouldn’t have posted about it.

            Words to describe women exist, and they’re not all positive.

    6. long time lurker

      This specific comment (the sexism of ‘schoolmarmish’ in particular) says much more about you than it does about the voice file.

    7. Humble Schoolmarm

      You rang?

      But seriously, As a teacher whose biggest behavioural challenges have been with students who find it upsetting or offensive that I, a woman, am telling them what to do or correcting their behaviour, this might be a phrasing to rethink.

      Also, I would use this tone for a student who was crying every class, but it’s miles away from ‘scary teacher voice’.

    8. Ed

      I don’t actually know what “schoolmarmish” is supposed to sound like, but for me, I wouldn’t like this either. I do hear it as slightly condescending but its more cause if someone’s overly nice to me I’m more likely to cry. I’d rather this be said to me more bluntly/directly. But this would probably not be the same for an employee you already know struggles with anxiety. so, my input basically boils down to; one delivery method does not fit all people. as the manager, you need to adjust how you tell people things based on what you know of them. So because you hear this one way, doesn’t mean the employee in question would hear it that way.

    9. Nervous Accountant

      I really think this comment is trolling.

      I listened to the voice clip and I honestly cannot see how this is “schoolmarmish” (and I agree with the general thinking here that schoolmarmish is a sexist term).

      Honestly, for someone to find this tone as schoolmarmish (aka scolding/rough), hates getting feedback from women, or is being snarky/trolling. “Hate” may be a strong word but some people truly bristle at being told what to do by a woman.

    10. bunniferous

      Maybe I am in the minority, butmy opinion is – for some people being told to do something differently by an authority figure would raise a hackle no matter what the voice sounded like (but with extra added hackle for female voices in some cases.)

      The point is, to be kind but to be direct. Sometimes people are going to have problems with direct no matter how kindly it is said, but …..they are just going to need to suck it up and deal with it. Part of being at work is having to deal with direction from those up the food chain. And the people giving the direction need to remember it is their job to be clear about it.

    11. Not So NewReader

      Alison is not role-modeling two BFFs talking to each other. She is role-modeling a conversation with someone who is giving their boss a difficult time. There has to be some firmness in her voice. Additionally she has to speak in a concise and factual manner and she did.

      If your subordinate has done something wrong and needs to stop doing it, you can’t use the same tone of voice that you would use to offer that subordinate the office holiday candy/treats. It’s just not the same.

      Contrast what Alison has said here to what other people here have been told by their bosses. Going the other way, I would much rather hear that than listen to a boss who is “hinting”. I can’t always read hints and some people are exceptionally bad at dropping hints. They totally garble and lose the message entirely, the employee has no idea what the boss just said.

  7. Beth

    #1: I can see you trying to be really understanding and supportive of your employee’s anxiety, but I don’t think you’re actually helping. Like Alison says, you’re blurring the lines between a manager and a therapist. But those roles are fundamentally incompatible; there’s a reason that therapists have such strong professional boundaries, and why managers generally can’t be close personal friends with their team members.

    There are things a manager can do to help a team member struggling with anxiety, but they mostly overlap with being a good manager in general. You can be consistent about giving feedback (which is not the same as ‘constant feedback’; the key point is giving feedback in such a way that your team members know what to expect from you). You can contextualize your feedback; when they’ve made a common mistake and it’s no big deal as long as they learn from it, tell them that, and when it is a big deal and you’re very concerned by it, tell them that too. You can be conscious of your wording and communication (e.g. schedule meetings by saying “Let’s take some time to chat about (insert topic here)” instead of vague, ominous things like “I need to talk to you”). You can be upfront and clear about expectations for things like project outcomes, productivity levels, and workplace behavior.

    But you cannot regulate their emotions for them. That’s not good for you, it’s not good for your company, it’s not good for work getting done, and ultimately it’s setting them up for failure. No one can be everything for someone else; what you can be for this person is a good, clear, consistent manager, so focus on doing that right and stop trying to be anything else.

    1. Me

      I really second the need for clarity. I didn’t get any meaningful feedback and the directions that seemed so clear in monthly meetings faded into confused nothingness. My anxiety was heightened by the lack of direction! I worked alone on vague projects that had little follow through.

      Also, if she can’t access the EAP so presumably not your insurance and trying to hold it together during the time between knowing you need treatment and actually getting it is not easy. The final straw for quitting that job (not a bad one if my head was clear) was the realization that I was still over a month from a psychiatrist and was getting worse by the day.

      That’s not technically your problem as her boss and it’s also not your business. But if she’s waiting for access because of finances, insurance, and/or time it may be worth mentally expanding her probationary period along with adopting these methods. Of course this is only if you know she’s not currently getting treatment because of these logistical issues ($300 for a med without coverage!) so you have reason to believe things could change after insurance brings that opportunity.

      She’s also possibly aware of how sick the experience is making her but getting out isn’t always an option!

      1. valentine

        this is only if you know she’s not currently getting treatment
        OP should not get any more involved in medical stuff. Even if the employee says, “I think I can get up to speed once I have insurance,” who’s to say that she’s going to get treatment or that treatment will allow her to meet the business needs, including the probationary or any other timeframe?

    2. Snowcat

      This is true, but the problem is that people are giving the OP advice without knowing what kind of feedback they are giving or how.

      1. Marthooh

        I thnk Beth is addressing this: “The only way I’ve been able to get her to be able to work again is to spend a ton of time reassuring her…”

      2. Beth

        I don’t think we actually need to know that. OP can assess for themselves if the feedback they’re giving fits the parameters of “clear, given consistently, and properly contextualized”. If they aren’t, that’s the first step (which, this isn’t special treatment for an employee with anxiety, it’s the work of being a good manager across the board). If they are, well, they’ve gotten confirmation that they’re doing what they can; if their employee is unable to function under those conditions, that’s a performance issue with the employee, not something OP can reasonably prevent via management.

    3. OMG so anon

      Here’s my story. I worked very closely with a guy who I bonded with immediately, we went from new coworkers to buddies almost overnight. Very good working relationship and we shared a lot of not-work stuff about families and all that.

      He got promoted and is now my boss.

      He’s still trying to be my buddy and I honestly resent it. What I need now is a boss, someone who can advocate for me and my team to sneior management and also tell us when we’ve screwed it. Instead he still wants to be friends and lets attitude and work problems go on way too long.

      If he was acting as a real boss, I wouldn’t feel this way. Now I miss my friend and don’t respect him as a boss, which sucks.

    4. Melba Toast

      “ (e.g. schedule meetings by saying ‘Let’s take some time to chat about (insert topic here)’ instead of vague, ominous things like ‘I need to talk to you’).”

      THANK YOU so much for this! I have spent weekends in tears, dreading a talk with a boss because they sent me a vague or cryptic message about needing to talk (and it’s worse when you reply and ask what it’s regarding and you don’t hear back). I understand that it is primarily *my* anxiety that it causing me to get worked up, but I don’t understand why so many bosses can’t see how these messages can seem very scary.

      1. Birch

        Not to mention, there’s probably information you want to be able to have front in mind or things you can prepare, rather than getting blindsided by a topic and then thinking later, oh I should have brought up this issue I had that caused the delay, etc.

      2. Catleesi

        I completely agree. “Come into my office” and “We need to chat” are phrases that send chills down my spine. It doesn’t matter what has been happening, if I know I’ve done nothing wrong, I’m always convinced I’m in trouble. Saying what they need to chat about relieves SO much anxiety. I think the OP in this situation is dealing with an employee that clearly has more than the average anxiety to deal with, but enough people have issues with anxiety that this kind of phrasing would be really welcome.

        1. Tisiphone

          I’d get the same reaction. My cure for it was to ask, “Good news, bad news, or neutral news?”

      3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

        Because most people don’t equate “I need to talk to you” to bad ominous things…

        That’s not to say that I don’t try to soften things when I can…but there is a default in my company to start almost all calls with a “Have time to talk?, Got a few minutes, Available?” To me they are all neutral, neither positive nor negative. If someone has a lot of employees, it’s going to be impossible to figure out which ones need different words.

        I guess, I always figured that my end of the bargain was to set clear expectations and give prompt and specific feedback. I shouldn’t have an employee guessing if things are going well or not. They will know if things aren’t going well and not have to guess or worry.

        I mean, I guess I understand what you are saying, but really, what could you possibly do over the weekend if there is going to be a bad discussion with your boss on Monday? If you’re worried about performance, the weekend isn’t going to change the outcome. And if you are otherwise given clear indications that you don’t have a performance issue then why go there in your head?

        To the OP:

        I’d make moves to let this employee go before the probation period is up. You should be having regular meetings to discuss onboarding progress, and the reaction to feedback should be included. Most people are trying their extra hardest when they first start a job and are in the ‘wanting to impress’ stage. The fact that you are having this many problems now means that the future prospects for this employee will be worse than what you are experiencing now.

        I feel for them in this situation because they have to know that things aren’t going well. But at the end of the day you need a productive, engaged, and positive to neutral employee. You have none of these right now and I don’t think it will get better.

        1. 1.0

          “I mean, I guess I understand what you are saying, but really, what could you possibly do over the weekend if there is going to be a bad discussion with your boss on Monday? If you’re worried about performance, the weekend isn’t going to change the outcome. And if you are otherwise given clear indications that you don’t have a performance issue then why go there in your head?”

          I mean — because it’s extraordinarily difficult to logic yourself out of a mental health issue?

          I’m well aware that these are my issues to work on, and I’m working on them (therapy! Better coping skills! Medication, as needed! etc!) but I also really appreciated when I mentioned something in passing to my boss and she started including a specific note as to what we were discussing when we set up meetings and tried to do the same with my team.

          I also found it helped my team prepare — even for super innocuous stuff, giving my team an opportunity to get their thoughts in order ahead of time made it less likely we’d have to set up follow-ups or people would change their minds after the fact about things we discussed

          1. Jadelyn

            I always quote John Mulaney: “I also don’t want me to be doing what I’m doing right now.”

            I’m well aware that it’s not logical to immediately assume I’m in trouble when I haven’t done anything wrong, nor is it logical to worry myself sick about something I can’t do anything about until Monday anyway. The trouble is, logic doesn’t calm a brain that’s tying itself in knots due to its own internal issues. My brain doesn’t work the way it should when it comes to certain things. I’m aware of that. It doesn’t mean I can just make it stop. If I could, I wouldn’t have anxiety/depression at all.

            And I have to say, one thing I really do appreciate in my last boss (we still work closely but I don’t report to her anymore after a team reorg) is that she knew this was an issue I struggled with and while she didn’t get hand-hold-y about it, she would take the extra half second when asking me to come to her office to say “nothing bad! just want to chat about the llama report” rather than leave me hanging. There’s ways you can help someone that don’t require hand-holding.

            Now, with the way OP describes this employee…I’m not sure it would work. It sounds like her anxiety is severe and not well-managed currently.

            Also, I wanted to comment on this: “I shouldn’t have an employee guessing if things are going well or not. They will know if things aren’t going well and not have to guess or worry.” The problem is, not all managers are good at this. Plenty of people have been blindsided by performance issues they didn’t know about – the one time I ever got fired, it was over performance issues my boss had never actually discussed with me, but when she let me go she said “I’ve been frustrated with this for awhile” and I was like…so…why didn’t you say something before we hit this point then?? It’s really not reasonable to expect people to be comfortable assuming you’re one of the communicative-type bosses, at least not at first.

            1. 1.0

              Yeah — definitely! If it were something like needing to be talked down for fifteen minutes after every meeting, that would be one thing, but —

              the effort to add, “do you have a minute to chat about ${project}” is pretty minimal, and if it gets everyone on the same page so you can bring the appropriate notebook/notes/files, and also helps alleviate someone’s anx issues, that strikes me as a win/win

              (I will also add that I’ve been blindsided in mystery meetings before — one of them was being called into an office so someone could essentially tell me I looked too gay. I don’t think that’s terribly likely to happen again, but it makes me feel better when I know that’s not it, you know?)

            2. Gymmie

              Also, sometimes you don’t know about a big mistake that happened. Things could be fine and you are doing fine, but something happened you are unaware of. I would freak out if my manager called a meeting and I had to go in after the weekend. I would not be able to function until I knew things were ok.

            3. Batman

              “The problem is, not all managers are good at this.”

              This! I was blind-sided by some weird quasi-performance issues in my very first professional office job, so that’s made me extra anxious about this stuff on top of the normal social anxiety I have. And when I first start somewhere, there’s no way to know if my new boss will do this or not.

        2. Beth

          A lot of people, including a lot of people without clinical anxiety issues, do actually get thrown by vague language like this. (Starting calls with “Have time to talk?” is a different thing, for the record; I’m talking about scheduling things in advance, but keeping the topic vague or giving no explanation of what it’s going to be about.) Some people don’t mind at all, of course–communication preferences aren’t universal!–but it’s pretty common to get stressed out over the prospect of a ‘surprise topic’ meeting, even for people who aren’t worried about their performance. I default to “Let’s take this time to talk about ____” as a result; people who are thrown by surprises really appreciate the specificity, and others don’t generally mind the extra detail.

      4. NotAnotherManager!

        I have anxiety as well, and I’ll just ask what the meeting is about so I can prepare properly. My most recent bosses have been reasonable and decent people, so they’ll give me a high-level topic and let me know if I need to look anything up or bring anything. I hate going to meetings where I don’t know the topic, so I have a hard time asking my team to come to one where I’ve not told them what’s going on.

      5. PlainJane

        I learned this a few years into my managerial career, when an employee said she’d been up all night worrying about the meeting I’d scheduled with her (I don’t remember the subject line of the appointment, but it was almost certainly vague). I felt horrible. Since then I’ve tried to include enough information in meeting appointments for employees to know the topic and (hopefully) not to worry. As others have said, doing that helps employees be prepared, but even if it didn’t, it takes little effort to spare someone a bunch of worry.

    5. LW #1

      Thanks for your reply. I could have been clearer about the reassurances; they’re along the lines of “it’s okay to need some time to become comfortable with these concepts; everyone else on the team was there when they started too” and “it’s okay to stop me while I’m training you to write things down so you remember them later” rather than anything like “you’re a worthwhile person.” I’m definitely not trying to regulate her emotions for her, but I am trying to think of ways to give her feedback so we don’t get back into this spiral pattern.

      1. Half-Caf Latte

        Oh. Oy.

        Hearing that this is the type of thing that causes a spiral, I’m not thinking that you are going to be able to help her in the way she needs.

        I instantly remembered the employee who went to her coworker’s house because of a forgotten “goodbye” at the end of the day…

      2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

        I’d be careful of adjusting too much for this employee. Honestly, I know I sound cold, and I promise I’m really not! (I commented above about you considering letting her go before her probation period is up) I’ve kept employees past the time of being effective almost to a fault and have learned some lessons the hard way.

        There’s encouragement to a new employee and there is handling a new employee with kid gloves to avoid a reaction. One is appropriate and one is not.

        1. fposte

          I think this is a really important point. However sympathetic you may be to her anxiety, you have to make decisions about what resources are appropriate to deploy here. What’s best for her may not be what you and your employer can provide.

        2. Irina

          And its not helpful for good employers to get burned and not be able to support good employees with mental health complications. Op’s employee is not one of those

          1. Pommette!

            OP’s employee could well be a good employee, with a severe mental health complication.

            The point isn’t to decide what employees are good or bad/worthy or unworthy of support; it’s to decide what level of accommodation is reasonable/possible, and to make sure that employee understands what her employer can (or can’t) do to support her, and what kind of performance is expected of her.

            1. Irina

              Disagreed. You are stating that accommodating one employee for the sake of another is alright. It is in general important to decide who is being a good employee, not to be offensive but realistic. That is not how I used good (to be offensive.) Please read my comments.

      3. Beth

        If you think you’re doing everything you can reasonably do as a manager, then frankly this might not be something you can fix! Being categorically unable to handle reasonably phrased feedback is a performance issue in and of itself. It’s great that you want to help her avoid this spiral pattern, but be careful about taking on responsibility for things that aren’t actually in your control; as long as you’re being clear and generally kind, her reaction to feedback is hers to manage, not yours to prevent.

    6. Anonapixie

      This is super important, imo! As someone with anxiety about feedback, we (my boss and I) have actually broken some of it for me by meeting in another private space other than her office (think meeting room), by sending me the agenda beforehand so I can have my emotional wibblies privately, at home, and then come back with logical responses and a plan for doing better, and with me checking in with her and building in “time cushions” for deadlines.

      But I have to stress that all of that was suggested by me, not her, and she agreed to it after taking her time to decide if it was helpful and something that worked with her duties and abilities. I think some of the change may HAVE to come from the anxious person otherwise it just becomes more anxiety.

      1. Tequila Mockingbird

        Not if it causes undue hardship for the employer. Besides, what “reasonable accommodation” could possibly ameliorate this situation, beyond everything OP has already done?

  8. valentine

    OP4: As boss doesn’t know you’re doing this, find out if he even wants you to. Just because it doesn’t greatly affect your other work doesn’t mean it’s yours to do. It shouldn’t hurt your reputation to distinguish picking up xyz from bringing xyz up to date (when only you and ex-coworker know it isn’t up-to-date!), and fixing three or so things from fixing more and doing even more from scratch.

  9. Snowcat

    #1 Hmm. I don’t know how it works in the US but here in Britain you might need to make reasonable adjustments for someone with anxiety – don’t you have something similar about accommodations?

    Rather than just telling her she has to be able to take feedback, ask her to think about anything that would help that you can *realistically* offer. Eg not giving feedback in front of other people or giving it in writing so she can reflect on it. People are different and need to get feedback in different ways. Alison’s response is frankly outdated – it’s not all or nothing with these things.

    Why can’t she access the EAP from day 1? Is that common in America? How strange. I’ve always had access from my first day.

    1. Me

      In some jobs you can’t access anything during your probationary period or even longer in the case of health insurance or PTO to go to the doctor.

      1. Snowcat

        That’s shocking but I won’t derail further.

        What I will say is that over here following Alison’s advice could result in a tribunal.

        1. Eleanor Rigby

          I’m in UK and some of my probationary periods have meant if you’re sick, you don’t get sick pay until you have passed probation.

          1. Snowcat

            You’re entitled to SSP, but that wasn’t my point. My point was that the employee may have a legal right to have accommodations made and Alison hasn’t mentioned this.

              1. TL -

                The ADA is deliberately broad in what it covers, so anxiety could count (If OP is in the USA.) But there’s also the reasonable accommodation part – in lots of jobs it wouldn’t be reasonable to email small corrections instead of saying them in the moment or to give a ten minute walk break after a small correction.
                So much of what could/couldn’t work in this case is situational.

                1. Falling Diphthong

                  And, the employee would have to request an accommodation. Employers aren’t required to guess whether an employee might have a disability that would explain the problem, and then come up with a workaround based on their guessed diagnosis.

                2. fposte

                  @Falling–it’s more complicated than that, though (of course, right?). If an employer knows an employee needs an accommodation, that may be sufficient to confer obligation on the employer; the word “accommodation” doesn’t have to be explicitly spoken.

                3. SoVeryAnonymousForThis

                  I’m in the US. I was once ordered by an AA/EO to give all “constructive” (read: negative) feedback in the form of a compliment sandwich. For those who don’t know, a “compliment sandwich” is the praise followed by criticism followed by praise format. So anytime I needed to discuss a performance issue, I had to sandwich it between two compliments. This was considered a reasonable accommodation for a health issue (I don’t know the diagnosis, as that was, rightly, not my business). So yeah, some HR departments (bad ones) will consider some pretty bizarre things, “reasonable.”

          2. Me

            In the US in some hourly jobs, you can get fired for calling in during your probationary period. I think that was the case at my first job, but I don’t remember anyone getting fired for it after a month. (Probation was 3 months)

            1. Gazebo Slayer

              Yes. And in the US in some hourly jobs you can get fired for calling in well *past* your probationary period…

        2. Bagpuss

          Even here in the UK, you only have to make reasonable adjustments, and you have to know that that there is a disability. In this case, it is not obvious whether the employees anxiety would amount to a disability – it would be appropriate for the employer to consider whether it was, or could be, and there is also some onus on the employee to make the employer aware that they need accommodations.
          Here, it might be appropriate to ask, for instance, whether the employee would be better if feedback were given in a different way (e.g. e-mail rather than face-to-face) or at a specific time in the working day) but I am not sure that the situation as described, and Alison’s advice, would automatically give rise to any right to claim discrimination.

          1. KD

            That’s interesting. Here in the U.S., since the manager knows that the employee has anxiety, that should be enough to trigger potential protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The manager should work with HR to determine if the employee has a qualifying disability (it’s possible she’s using the word “anxiety” more generally, but it’s also possible she’s not).

            But as things stand now, I don’t think letting her go would be a good idea, since she might have a claim under the ADA.

        3. Snark

          That’s insanity. A tribunal? I won’t say the American system is ideal, or even good, but it is one hundred percent reasonable for an employer to expect an employee to manage their own anxiety well enough to be able to take feedback and continue working the rest of the day. Good gravy.

          1. londonedit

            As far as I’m aware, it’s one hundred percent reasonable in the UK as well. I’m struggling to think how telling someone (in a reasonable manner) that they need to be open to feedback in order to succeed in their role would open an employer up to a tribunal.

        4. Observer

          Are you serious? You mean that any time an employee shows behavior that MIGHT be related to a condition that may need to be accommodated, the employer is required to actively inquire about this?

          Alison is advising a conversation in which the OP is firm but kind. If the employee has a condition that can be accommodated, then this would be a perfect opportunity for the employee to bring it up. And of course, *IF* the employee brings up accommodations at that point the OP should seriously consider them. But the idea that the OP should actively ask about medical conditions is just hair raising to me.

          1. Bagpuss

            No. Not at all.
            But if you were considering dismissing someone, *and* there were reasons (behaviour , multiple periods of sickness, their having raised that they had health problems even if they haven’t specifically asked for any adjustments), then as an employer it would be wise to consider whether disability is likely to be factor, and if so, take steps to address it.
            So with the last part of Alison’s advice, about letting her go, at that point as an employer you’d be considering it. (You might be considering it and deciding ‘no, nothing sufficiently obvious that I need to make further enquiries’, but I think that if it were to come to a tribunal, the test is whether the employer knew or ought reasonably to have known that the employee had a disability.

          2. KD

            > Are you serious? You mean that any time an employee shows behavior that MIGHT be related to a condition that may need to be accommodated, the employer is required to actively inquire about this?

            In this case, the manager has identified that the employee has “anxiety”. To me, that indicates that she, at the very least, knows that the employee has something going on that is impacting her ability to perform at work, and that it *may* be linked to a behavioral health issue. (It’s tough because “anxiety” is used colloquially but also scientifically – so, it’s hard to say.) If I were advising this manager with my U.S.-based HR hat on, I’d absolutely say that now is the time to start engaging in the interactive process to avoid liability later on.

            Now, it’s possible she’d talk to the employee about this, advise her of her ADA rights, and the employee’s behavior would have nothing to do with a covered disability.

            In any case, in my mind, the burden placed on the employee to start that interactive process is *more than* balanced by the rights of millions of disabled workers who are protected by the ADA. And if you’re curious, this post has an interesting discussion of what triggers the interactive process under the ADA:
            https://www.absencesoft.com/accommodations-ada/ada-what-triggers-the-interactive-process/

      2. Me

        My sister got so so lucky and her first kidney stone over a year after losing dad’s military dependent coverage came the same week her health insurance kicked in – and thanks to the ACA, she didn’t have to worry about pre-existing condition documentation.

        I’m actually super nervous about when insurance will start at my next job because I may be looking at 2 months of meds cash instead of just one.

        1. Sandy

          My insurance started immediately and it still took me two months to get a prescription for an expensive drug!! The insurance company turned me down three times even though it was on the approved list. Reason #623 insurance in the US is broken.

    2. Myrin

      From what I’ve gathered from past discussions on here, the employee would have to officially ask for accommodations, not just “open up” about her struggles. That she’s not doing that doesn’t preclude her manager from trying some changes which might be better suited for the employee, but it doesn’t kick off the same processes as an official demand would. (I think?? I hope I got this relatively right!)

      (But FWIW, if the employee is so vulnerable that mild feedback sends her into hours of non-functuality, I don’t know that there’s anything OP could do at this point in employee’s life which would be helpful but still deemed “reasonable”.)

      1. Statler von Waldorf

        That is true in the US, where the ADA does have that requirement that the employee has to invoke it. This is not universally true, however. For example, in Canada the duty to accommodate has been found where the employer “ought” reasonably to have known that an employee was suffering from a disability.

        1. fposte

          As I note above, that’s not actually true in the U.S. either–the ADA doesn’t have to be explicitly invoked or accommodation requested in so many words. I don’t know if courts are going as far as “ought to have known,” but there’s at least one decision for the employee stating that she made her employee reasonably aware of her condition even without asking for accommodation.

    3. WS

      ask her to think about anything that would help that you can *realistically* offer
      This is good advice! She does need to be able to take feedback, but it doesn’t have to be the way you’re doing it right now. Anxiety disorders can be weird that way, too: a message in email might be completely fine, the same feedback spoken sets off a spiral, or vice versa.

      1. CM

        I agree with this thread. I think we’re a few steps away from having to fire someone, whether or not there is a diagnosed anxiety didorder (but especially if there is). The best tjing either way is to start by trying to find a way of doing feedback that a) doesn’t cause an anxiety attack and b) doesn’t require the excessive time investment that’s currently not working. I would put it in her hands to come up with some suggestions.

        1. Rosa Diaz

          That sounds like very murky waters. Fire someone ESPECIALLY because they have anxiety?

          Also can we talk about how effed up it is that her anxiety disorder is disabling but that if she doesn’t have a job it’s only going to get worse because she won’t be able to pay for care?!

          1. LGC

            I think you misread this. The way I read it, CM is saying that the employee shouldn’t be fired yet, and her anxiety makes it even more certain that she shouldn’t be fired.

      2. Ice and Indigo

        This is good because it casts the anxiety as a problem to be managed, rather than allayed with reassurances that exhaust OP.

        The OP is in a difficult position because the panic probably zaps this person to the thought, ‘I’ll be fired!’, and OP cannot truthfully say that this possibility is off the table. But it seems reasonable to say that managing the anxiety is the employee’s responsibility, but that managing the employee means making some space for the employee to do that.

        So, for instance, rather than spending ages reassuring when she panics, you could instead agree that when the panics happen, your response will be to say, ‘Okay, I can see you need some time to get the anxiety under control,’ and then leave her to do whatever she needs to do to calm down. Access to quiet room, short breaks, etc could help.

        Also, I don’t know what the laws are, but can you ask whether this person is in any kind of treatment for this anxiety, and if not, suggest that it would be a good idea?

        1. Observer

          Also, I don’t know what the laws are, but can you ask whether this person is in any kind of treatment for this anxiety, and if not, suggest that it would be a good idea?

          VERY bad idea. At minimum, it opens the OP up to an ADA discrimination complaint if the employee does get fired.

          What the OP can do is ask the question above, and if they get past probation, point her to the EAP.

        2. Pommette!

          Great comment – I like the very practical approach you suggest, and the way in which you frame the situation.

          That said, I don’t think that suggesting treatment is a good idea . At most/best, if it’s within their power (which doesn’t sound likely), the OP could advocate to extend EAP and insurance coverage to the employee during their probation period. This would allow the employee to seek care if she/he wishes to do so. But ultimately, it’s not the employer’s role to manage their employee’s mental health. Taking that role on could muddy things with the employee.

          I think that providing consistent and clear feedback about the employee’s work, and being clear about the workplaces expectations s/he will need to meet and about what accommodations will (or won’t) be possible, is in itself extremely helpful.

    4. NewHerePleaseBeNice

      The key word there is ‘reasonable’, though. While we don’t have both sides of this story, it does sound like the employee isn’t able to take even minor correction or feedback without freaking out for hours and needing to be talked back to work. How does one ‘reasonably’ adjust for someone in this way when it sounds like they’re barely capable of doing the job?

      1. WS

        By doing exactly what Ice and Indigo says above: asking the employee what works for her. It’s quite likely, in the case of anxiety disorders, that there is a workaround. The assurance that the LW gives might be making it worse when ten minutes to walk around the block might help. Getting the feedback in a different way might help. It’s probably not an all or nothing scenario, but if it does turn out to be that the employee cannot accept any feedback at all, then that’s not reasonable and LW at least knows that they tried to work together.

        1. Anonymous 5

          …and while looking for a workaround, the employee’s response will tell OP1 a lot as well. If employee offers up some ideas and/or agrees on something proposed by the OP, excellent. If employee digs in and insists that they can’t deal with criticism at all, that’s, well, unfortunate but informative.

        2. only acting normal

          Good point about assurances maybe making things worse. Depending on the circumstances that can certainly be true for me when in the grips of anxiety. A little time and space to collect myself is usually better, unless I explicitly ask for reassurance on a particular point.
          The worst is people guessing at the nub of the problem (what would worry them perhaps) and saying “Don’t worry about X”. When X wasn’t even on my mind until they brought it up, but you can be damn sure it is now!
          However, it does sound like the OP’s employee has an *extremely* bad case of anxiety. Definitely in the bracket of “disabling” ( = affects day to day functions).

        3. MusicWithRocksInIt

          This might work down the road, but I don’t know how effective it will be during the training period. When you are training someone you usually need to give contentious feedback – not because she is wrong or bad at something but because she is learning something new. If you are showing someone how to complete a process, and they get something wrong, waiting until later to give them written feedback could slow things down by a huge amount and make it much harder to learn. Heck, in the systems I work with if you don’t get something quite right the system won’t accept it. If she’s set off by something as mild as “No, you need to enter the process code over here, not over there” or “oh, you’ve entered it in mm, but we need it in inches, you need to re-do this” then her training isn’t going to go anywhere.

          1. Ice and Indigo

            I’d say that ‘You need to figure out how, with reasonable accommodation, you can manage your anxiety in the face of feedback’ is the first and foremost bit of contentious feedback her training is going to require.

            As others have said, how she reacts is going to be informative. But it’s also informative for her. She’s new to the workplace, so there are two possibilities:

            1. She can manage her anxiety enough to work around it. In which case, it’s good training to spell out to her that this is a work skill she needs to develop.

            2. She can’t manage her anxiety that well. In which case, really the kindest thing to do is make her aware of how big a workplace issue it will cause before she goes through a string of bad job experiences that give her an off-putting resume and make her even more anxious. You can live with a mental illness for so long that you don’t have an accurate gauge on how bad it is, because for you this is normal. If it’s done supportively, telling her, ‘This is interfering with your life and you really need to get some help with it’ might be the kindest thing.

            1. Rosa Diaz

              My big issue with #1: managing her anxiety is a work skill? Nope. And there’s no way for me to know this, but I suspect she isn’t on medication and doesn’t have access to therapy at the moment, so it’s impossible for her to get better.

              Which brings me to my issue with #2: if she loses this job, that takes away any access she currently has to meds and therapy and if she was hoping this job would give her that access in the first place, it’s gone and she continues to spiral and get even worse because there’s no job.

              1. Ice and Indigo

                Speaking as one who has anxiety, I do see managing it as a work skill, in that it is a skill and it has to be done in order to keep being professional. It’s a way of making the effort feel less self-blaming, among other things.

        4. fposte

          I think you can ask her what works for her, but I’d frame it differently from the beginning–that we’re discussing possibilities together to see what works for both employee and employer here. I really would want to avoid any implication that whatever she asks for, we can do.

    5. LW #1

      Hi, thanks for your reply. For what it’s worth, I’m not in the US; I’m in Canada. At my company, the probationary period means two things that seem kind of unrelated to me: access to benefits (which I agree, I don’t think it’s fair to withhold them) and a period where you can let someone go if they don’t seem like a good fit for the job. It isn’t unusual enough to raise eyebrows; it’s just the unfortunate position here that it might be not be a good fit UNLESS my employee gets help.

      During one of our talks where she was freaking out, I asked her how she wanted me to give her feedback. The answer was…not reassuring. I tend to use a direct tone of voice and ask a lot of questions (“okay, so we’ve done x. Do you remember what comes next?”), which has never gotten any bad feedback, but she found it condescending and intimidating if she didn’t know the answer. (Point taken – I can work on that, but I’m not sure it’ll fix the issue at hand). I asked if textual feedback would work instead, but sometimes it takes her so long to write one-sentence replies on Slack because she’s too anxious to hit “Send” that I pop by her desk anyway when I need an answer.

      I’m sure we do do accommodations; it’s a small company, so it might just be that hers is a unique case for us so far. I’m just not sure she has enough self-awareness to know what will help her, let alone to be able to suggest solutions at this point. She just tends to beat herself up when she sees that something isn’t working. I did tell her about the local counselling centre that charges on a sliding scale, but even that felt weird and outside my responsibilities to be telling her as her boss.

      1. Observer

        You’ve got a major problem on your hands.

        Ask her again when you have that conversation with her – and tell her that she can take some time to think about it but “some time” does NOT mean “forever” it means something like “I need to hear back from you about this by cob tomorrow.”

        And, if Canadian law is anything like US law, please document what you are doing, including follow up in email. Email followup is probably a good idea anyway so that you can make sure that what you are asking for is clear, even if she was to anxious in the moment to process what you were asking her for.

        Lots of luck on this one.

          1. Gymmie

            As someone who suffers from a lot of anxiety and imposter syndrome, the thing I have never done is blame the person who is giving me feedback. I realize most of the time the issue is with me and my perception. The fact that she is tending to put the blame back on you is problematic I believe. There are certainly ways people respond to reports in bad ways, but it seems like this is not you at all.
            Also, you have to be able to teach a new employee – otherwise how will they learn? That is just basic stuff. You cannot ever not correct her or how would she learn anything at all or be able to do her job?

            1. LW #1

              Oh, I don’t want to give the impression she’s blaming me at all – rather, I don’t think she’s at a place where she knows what to ask for so she can help herself. She blames herself incessantly, and I’ve asked to try to keep it in check. It became an issue where her self-denigrating (“I’m so stupid for feeling this way”) and the emotional labour I’d have to do in response would eat up teaching time. But when I asked her for any feedback she could give me as a leader, she gave it to me – and I don’t see that as blaming me in the least.

              1. Ice and Indigo

                It does sound, though, as if she’s in that place where she’s not exactly working to challenge her negative thoughts.

                Like, it feels condescending and intimidating when you ask questions she can’t answer. That’s a panic response: scary thing happens, fight or flight kicks in, with ‘That’s condescending!’ being the ‘fight’ part and ‘That’s intimidating!’ being the ‘flight’. But do you get the impression she’s at least trying to say to herself, ‘Okay, that’s the adrenaline talking,’ (which doesn’t make the adrenaline go away, but it’s a start), or is she just having the fight/flight response and letting that be her conclusion?

                I think fposte is right below that she may be struggling with the lack of control. She’s probably also struggling with the fact that you do actually have the power to fire her; that means that you may be an intimidating figure whatever you do. So that being the case, tying yourself in knots to phrase things in a way that won’t scare her is exhausting because it can’t be done: you just are inherently scary to her.

                So maybe give yourself permission to do a little less work on trying not to upset her. Obviously be kind and fair, but as long as you’re being kind and fair, don’t worry about doing more than that. In a way that reduces the pressure on her to respond to your efforts.

                If you just acknowledge that the anxiety exists and then don’t engage with it, how do you think that would go? Like, if she has a panic, just say, ‘Okay, I’ll give you some time to calm down, we’ll pick this up again in half an hour’? Would that work?

      2. fposte

        Ohhh, I’m with Observer. I suspect even if you do change your way of talking to her there will be something distressing about the new way, because I think it’s not your manner but the fact that you’re talking to her at all that’s stressing her out. I also think that anxiety often leads to a struggle to control as many things as possible, and that she may have a hard time with the fact that there are some things about her manager she really doesn’t have standing to control.

    6. Beth

      We do have legal protections for disabled employees in the US, yes. But accessing that is generally more of a process than just casually chatting with your manager about what you’re going through. HR is often involved, and the needed accommodations have to be documented in advance. It’s also generally a process that the employee has to kick off, as I understand it.

      All of this is to say that if OP’s employee’s anxiety does rise to the level of a disability, they may well have some legal protections available to them, but it’s likely not within OP’s jurisdiction to either decide what those protections might be or kick off the process of setting them up.

  10. Professor Marvel

    #2 I could see me making those comments out of concern. I was an kind of all out there breastfeeder. My oldest didn’t care about being covered while I nursed. My youngest was having none of it and pull off any blanket. After my involvement with support groups the topic isn’t one I think of anything but natural. Probably the same for your boss.

    Boss doesn’t understand your discomfort and wants to help. Just politely shut down any conversation. “No, I’m good. The super spicy chicken sounds delicious.”

    1. Jasnah

      Agreed. He’s comfortable with the topic, he’s comfortable with you, and doesn’t realize you’re not comfortable talking about this topic with him.

      I know a lot of people have had difficulty breastfeeding in public, at work, etc. He’s probably trying to be supportive by showing he’s OK with it, and doesn’t realize it’s actually making it awkward for you.

    2. Traffic_Spiral

      Yeah, I read that headline and was like O_o – but then when I read the letter, I was like “eh, that’s pretty mild.”

      Actually, if she doesn’t want to go the “it’s awkward” route, she could say “look, I know you mean well, but breastfeeding already takes up so much of my day and thoughts that sometimes I just don’t want to think about it. Can you not bring it up?”

      1. Callie

        Yes, that’s also how I’d address it. “I already spend ages pumping; I like to forget about it and focus on work the rest of the day.”

      2. AM

        Yeah, the letter writer and AAM are exaggerating here. The comments are neutral and not awkward to me. Everyone knows how babies are fed, LW, and actually appaulled that someone dares comment at work is very Victorian.

        1. Traffic_Spiral

          Yes, but LW is perfectly entitled to feel awkward about the comments (they’re her tits, and thus she’s got final say on how they’re discussed) while understanding that her boss is well-meaning, and seek a nice way of asking him to stop.

        2. Friday

          The boss shouldn’t be weighing in on OP’s food and drink choices. Not appropriate, and a bit paternalistic given that he’s her boss.

          1. Traffic_Spiral

            Well, he’s not stopping her from doing anything, he’s just making sure there’s lots of alternatives for things she might not be able to do. Like, if someone says they’re Muslim/Jewish and the boss goes “ok, so we’re not going to the Swinery (actual pork restaurant, btw) for lunch,” he’s not controlling what the guy eats, he’s just trying to be helpful. And if the guy is like “actually, I’m more culturally muslim/jewish than strictly observant and I do love bacon,” and the boss is like “huh, I thought they didn’t eat that, but ok,” that’s not a big deal.

    3. Sarah

      I am probably desensitized to this topic after having spent so long in the trenches of breastfeeding and pumping (as a female). I’ve probably been too open about it with others. Oops.

    4. Molly

      The thing that bothered me here is not that the boss mentions breastfeeding, it’s that he’s being weirdly prescriptive about it!

      It’s so normalized for people/society to o try to control women’s bodies when they’re pregnant or breastfeeding that HE may not think that’s what he’s doing, but it’s super icky for someone’s boss to presume to enforce what she should and should not be eating and drinking.

      1. Blue

        Yeah, I think this is the part that would bother me the most. It reads to me like he’s trying to be thoughtful about the needs of a pumping mom, but he’s making assumptions about what those needs are. I don’t love this wording, but if I were the OP, I might say something along the lines of: “In general, I’d prefer that you didn’t try to anticipate what I might need or how I should best handle this, since every person is different and those aren’t details I’m comfortable discussing. Trust that I will speak up if the office is making plans that aren’t feasible for me or that will exclude me.”

      2. Emi.

        It sounds to me like he’s trying to be proactively accommodating, though. In my experience a lot of men whose wives breastfeed/fed don’t realize how much different women’s experiences can vary, so he probably thinks he’s arranging for her to get the food she almost certainly needs. Which is not to say that she should just let him continue on, but I think his intentions are good and he’ll be happy to cut it out once he realizes he’s not helping.

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt

          Plenty of men’s ‘intentions have been good’ when they’ve unconsciously tried to control women’s bodies or experiences. That’s not a good enough bar and we can’t keep letting it pass for an excuse. On some level even he may not be aware of he thinks he knows what’s good for her better than she does. He’s not only pulling this with food but with drinking.

          1. Emi.

            By good intentions, I mean not an intention to control her body or experience, even unconsciously. I know that’s a possibility, but I don’t think it’s the most likely explanation here.

            1. Scarlet2

              Well, you can be paternalistic and condescending without trying to “control” someone. It’s the (more or less conscious) belief that you “know better”.

              1. AnonyMouse

                This! To me this read as her boss read one article about breastfeeding and now thinks he’s an expert (or thinks he’s an expert based on his wife’s experience, which is clearly different from the LW’s).

          2. straws

            I think this is what makes it a perfect teaching opportunity. He’s already taken a step that many men do not — caring about supporting her decision to nurse/pump. If he truly has good intentions and this is simply ignorance, rather than the need to control, then he’d be happy to adjust his actions once they’re pointed out. I’m currently pumping at work, and while some of the men are obviously not well informed, they’ve all been supportive. When they do make missteps and I point them out, the reaction is always positive. I hope I’m not in the minority on that, but I do think it’s worth approaching it from that direction first.

            1. Pommette!

              Yes! This sounds like a good situation overall: the OP has a reasonable request, and the boss sounds like a reasonable and well-intentioned person. They’ll probably share a few awkward minutes, but he’ll learn something and be better equipped for conversations with the OP (and, eventually, any other breastfeeding employees or colleagues).

          3. Jule

            Just because this is true doesn’t mean it’s actionable advice for the woman actually dealing with him. The fact that his intentions are good means that she can probably talk to him and he’ll stop without her having to make a federal case of it. Believe it or not, that’s what many people want at work when uncomfortable situations arise–for the bad behavior to stop, and for the bad actors to be understanding and respectful. Do they benefit from a climate where more outspoken people talk openly sexism? Absolutely! But it’s not wrong to smooth things over where they can be smoothed over. It bums me out to see you suggesting that someone could be wrong for not turning this very real, personal issue into a larger, louder controversy.

            She already doesn’t want to be talking about this. That’s the point. I think that should be respected.

            1. MusicWithRocksInIt

              I did not say she should react any louder or longer than Alison recommended. I’m saying I’m sick of hearing people talk about what good intentions men have when they unconsciously or consciously think they know better than us about our own bodies and lives. If this was a personal relationship, yes I think she should point why the things he is saying are not ok. But because he is her Boss there is a lot of diplomacy required. Here, in this space, I needed to push back on anyone being excused because their intentions are good – good intentions doesn’t mean you are right or harmless.

              1. agmat

                A lot of women (who have nursed) also ascribe to the idea that breastfeeding women should avoid alcohol and/or spicy foods, so I don’t know if you should assume that’s his stance because he’s a man.

                And a lot of women would be saying the exact same things to the LW (side note: not me – I still drink and eat whatever I want and am nursing).

                We don’t need to presume his suggestions are coming from a place of control, even subconsciously.

        2. Jennifer

          Yes! I hear men saying my wife did it this way, as though every woman is the same. Some don’t seem to realize how varied our experiences can be.

      3. Kitty

        YES this weirded me out too. “You can’t have alcohol” erm that’s really none of your business.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood

          Ayup. There’s a concept of “pump & dump” that I wouldn’t discuss with anyone — not even if she’s female, not even if she’s not my boss. People can get just as inappropriate about women who pump excess milk as they do about anything else related to breastfeeding. Someone who should have known better loudly referred to me as “Lady Bountiful” at the office …and I lost the rest of the meeting wondering whether or not the vocally politically conservative men on the other side of the wall were scheduled to be elsewhere or in their offices.
          It was unpleasant.

    5. iglwif

      As a manager, I probably said stuff of a similar nature. I would never assume someone who’s nursing has to avoid alcohol or spicy foods, but I would also never assume that it’s automatically not OK to talk about nursing (or any other baby-related thing) to another parent at work! I would of course stop if someone told me they were uncomfortable. But this boss doesn’t sound creepy or inappropriate to me, just slightly oblivious and (re: booze and spicy food) slightly misinformed.

  11. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

    Hear them out. You’re not obligated. And you may have gotten them thinking – with your refusal – that perhaps they evaluated you incorrectly.

  12. Akcipitrokulo

    OP3 – I’v3 found it’s a common question… they’ve never wanted details of the companies, but have wanted to know how far along in process I was – and a couple have asked if I’d wait for their final interview before deciding or sped up their process.

    It’s a good sign that they like you and want to make sure that they don’t lose you because of a simple timing issue in my experience.

  13. Marzipan

    #1, if it’s logistically possible, I wonder whether giving feedback to this employee at the end of the day would help at all? That way, she’d get to manage her emotional reactions herself, on her own time, rather than you attempting to do it during work time.

    1. Me

      End of the day can lead to worse obsession depending on the purpose since you can’t address the issue right away.

      There is no one right method besides explicit directions at the front end.

        1. valentine

          It will if it continues into the next day. See the update on the OP who went to her colleague’s home. She required at least two instances of police involvement.

    2. LW #1

      Thanks for the suggestion! I could definitely give that a try, but sometimes things are time sensitive or I’ll be stuck in meetings…so that isn’t always logistically possible :\ I’m not sure I would consider the problem solved if she’s still spiralling, but just not on my time, though.

    3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

      Nope… the best thing the OP can do is continue to be consistent and maintain clear expectations.

      Big discussions at the end of the day.. sure. Immediate corrections and feedback waiting until the end of the day… No.

  14. cncx

    OP 1 ugh i used to be that employee. Honestly only therapy helped. I also had a boss who realized i wasweird like that and he did two big things that helped:
    He never sent ominous “we need to talk” emails, and he picked his moments for feedback- usually end of the day. He also knew that stuff like annual reviews make me nervous (was sabotaged at another job with an abusive performance review) and used performance reviews as a review of things we had already discussed rather than using it as a time to drop a truth bomb.
    But mainly i needed therapy. And that’s on me, the employee.

    1. Vixy

      A good manager should use the review time to review the things you’ve already discussed. Catching people off-guard with new issues, or “dropping truth bombs,” during a performance review is unkind as it is something that the recipient never had time to address or work on and overcome.

    2. EPLawyer

      Performance reviews should never be a time to drop a truth bomb. Even for employees without anxiety. You should be giving consistent feedback all throughout the year, not just go “Surprise, you screwed up the Lannister Account, we are feeding you to the dragon” at performance review time.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood

        +1 for truth — ongoing feedback is so critical, and sometimes surprisingly hard to extract from an otherwise decent manager.
        +100 for GOT performance review script.

      2. Anon for this

        I agree with this whole-heartedly, and this is exactly why I’m not a fan of the bell curve or stack ranking method of performance evaluations. I was burned by this in two different companies as a manager. An employee I thought was doing acceptable work, and for whom my ongoing feedback reflected things were going fine, was delivered a truth-bomb at year end review. This is because I lost a hard-fought battle while calibrating performance evaluations amongst my peers. I share this because often times the truth-bombs are not the symptom of a bad manager, but a broken system.

    3. LW #1

      Thank you for your reply. I’m really happy to hear you’re doing better now! To her credit, my employee knows she needs help (and told me she’s gotten it in the past – though rest assured I didn’t ask for that information).

      It’s good to know what helped for you. And I’m sorry you had such awful management in the past; it sounds terrible with or without anxiety. I’ve worked some pretty crappy jobs too, so I feel like a lot of what I do is what I’ve learned not to do by example. This one is just tricky because I don’t think I’ve ever seen it dealt with at all, well or poorly, so I have to figure it out myself

  15. M

    OP4, my first job out of university, the core responsibility I had was delivering an annual teapot painting training program that was supposed to already have all of its supporting documentation – session plans, supporting documents for the contractors delivering the training, etc.

    Instead, I quickly discovered that the previous person in the role had, after about week 4 of a four month program, saved the document for the week 1 session as each of the following week’s documents – sometimes with a half-finished effort to start drafting something actually relevant, mostly without. As it happened, the feedback I had from the previous year’s program was such that I’d *already* made the decision to rework the entire program, so I didn’t make too much of a fuss when I first realised it, because at the time it didn’t look like it’d actually mean I had more work to do – I mentioned it to my supervisor, and that was it. Silliest mistake I’ve ever made – that particular workplace was very full of bees, so to speak, and while the workload of redoing (or rather, doing) the documents shouldn’t have been at all a stretch, it very quickly became a massive problem, because their task allocation was such a mess that I was constantly panicking to find the time to do it in time for each week’s sessions – and didn’t have the option of just falling back on “last year’s plan”, because last year’s plan didn’t *exist*. (Explaining that should, of course, have been a non-issue, but again: full of bees. So many bees.)

    Basically, what I’m saying is: even if it totally seems like a non-issue to fix the problems as you find them, your manager needs to know, and needs to understand the full scope of it. If you’re responsible for the work output for the foreseeable future – and responsible for handing over the relevant projects to a new hire at some point, presumably – you’re setting yourself up to be blamed for any deficits you *don’t* catch. If you ever hit a point where you’re time-stretched, even the small amounts of time it’s taking you to fix things as you find them might become unrealistic – and then you’re stuck trying to explain to your supervisor why things that you *should* have the time to do are falling through the cracks, and risk looking like you’re passing the buck because you haven’t shared the problem until you’re in trouble. If you ever discover a *significantly* bigger deficit, it’s going to be a problem that you didn’t raise the issue when you first spotted it – because in failing to do so, you’ll have denied your management the opportunity to prioritise auditing the work preemptively.

    All round, speaking from experience: you’re setting yourself up to take a lot of the blame for something that’s in no way your fault if you don’t take the time to make sure your manager knows – and fully *understands* what’s gone wrong and what you’re needing to do to fix it. Tell them, tell them today, and don’t try to sugar-coat it.

  16. Miss Pantalones en Fuego

    I’ve been that anxious employee, OP1, and I think you’d be doing her a huge favour if you lay it out very explicitly that her work is fine and you would like to keep her, but you can’t continue reassuring her like this in order to get her back to work. It was very hard for me to hear that feedback because I really craved reassurance but I was able to find a way to keep it together at work until I could get back on my antidepressants. But be very clear that if she can’t do this she will lose her job. It can help put a clear boundary in place that at least for me was very helpful.

    1. Cat wrangler

      I think that this is the best solution. Tell her kindly but firmly that you can’t manage her emotional responses to her triggers and she has to be able to deal with them (or postpone her response) herself. There may be ways that you can alleviate the worst of her anxiety such as face to face chats instead of email instructions but she would need to tell you this (keep a time limit on the meetings too). I’m not a qualified psych by any means but it might be useful for your employee to consider CBT as a way of coping. Again, that is something she would need to seek for herself. It’s so difficult as if she ends up being dismissed for lack of performance then it won’t improve her anxiety so she needs to be able to find her own strategies.

    2. Où est la bibliothèque?

      Yeah, IMO this is a professionalism issue; not just that she needs hours to pull herself back together, but that she thinks it’s okay to rely on her boss to help her. This is a doesn’t-understand/respect-workplace-norms situation.

      I think LW needs to explain “an employee cannot rely on a supervisor for extreme emotional support,” rather than “you cannot rely on a me for extreme emotional support.”

      1. Even Steven

        Seconded!

        And the big workplace norm the new employee seems not to understand is that when you are new to a job, junior, and being trained, feedback is unavoidable. And it’s useful! And it’s invaluable!

        I feel great sympathy for the new employee because it sounds like she is putting enormous pressure on herself to know everything already so that she can protect herself from feedback because somewhere along the way she mistook someone teaching her for someone berating her (or giving her internal reason to berate herself). If she was in a slightly stronger frame of mind, I would suggest to the OP that he or she reminds the new EE that nobody can go into, say, a math class and get every question right without a lesson, interaction, testing and feedback. That’s what teaching is, and in the work world, that’s what managing so often is. However, it sounds like the EE needs much more support than that. I also really feel for the OP, who has been given a very difficult and complex problem that seems to have little to do with actual work tasks. I hope we get a follow up, because it sounds like both EE and OP need something to change, and fast.

        1. LW #1

          Thank you to everyone in this comment chain for your fabulous advice. Miss Pantalones en Fuego, your username is amazing, and I appreciate knowing that there is such a thing in this situation as being blunt AND kind. That has undoubtedly been the hardest part of this whole thing.

          I mentioned this above, but the reassurances are just that: it takes time to learn things; don’t apologize for not learning things faster when I specifically didn’t give you a deadline to learn it; all our files are backed up so it’s impossible to break them. They don’t seem to help, and I think that’s as much as I can do there.

  17. LGC

    Oh man. LW1 is doing…a lot (and I get that urge because I also have a tendency to do a lot). But…is there a way to get the employee into the EAP before her probationary period ends? I feel like that would be really helpful to everyone involved.

    Normally, I’d be a little more hands-off, but she did kind of make her mental health her work business. I would be inclined to offer that as an option without guarantees (which is what my tendency is when I notice that an employee might need help). Something like, “We have an EAP; normally we only allow employees to access it after their probationary period ends, but I can ask if you could be allowed to access it early. Would that be all right?”

    Ultimately, though, please heed Alison’s, Beth’s, and cncx’s advice! If I had to guess, LW1, you’re a really empathetic person who does want to help others and make sure they’re their best selves. (Hi, I’m a bit like that myself.) I’ll go to bat for people on my team about things, but it took me a long time to get the balance right (and I’m still working on it four and a half years in). But again, you can’t do it all yourself – not only does that undermine the work relationship, it’s also a huge amount of pressure on you.

    1. LW #1

      Thanks for your reply, LGC. I agree that it’s too much. Normally, if an employee is having a bad day, I’m open to talking about it…once (and to be clear, it’s more along the lines of “if you’re having a tough time and can’t focus, why don’t you just go home/work from home, and just do what you can?”). I’m really flexible and am always clear that everyone’s wellbeing comes first; all they have to do is ask for it.

      It doesn’t work with this employee. This employee says nothing when something upsets her, viciously beats herself up about it, then asks to talk to me because she’s paralyzed herself with regards to her actual work. At that point, I don’t feel like there’s a lot I can do (telling her “it wasn’t a big deal in the first place” is small potatoes when she’s already made it a big deal, for hours, or even days).

      I’ve thought about asking for access to the EAP sooner; thank you for suggesting it. And thank you for the very kindly phrased reality check. It’s a hard line to walk to do that, and I appreciate you for it. :)

      1. valentine

        I think you’re going above and beyond. It’s okay if you have to let her go because she’s not where she needs to be. She is not even at entry level, where you know it’s okay to report what goes wrong so you can learn how to handle it.

      2. LGC

        Thanks for reading (and I’m glad you appreciated it)! For what it’s worth, you definitely sound like you already are a good manager and you’ll be a great one.

        With that additional detail…I don’t know if she has an anxiety disorder per se, but she definitely has poor coping skills. It kind of reminds me about one of the employees on my team – where even minor issues result in me having to soothe him and reassure him that it’s fine, it’s not an emergency, and it can be fixed. (Fortunately, in his case it’s a few minutes instead of a few hours.)

        Outside of that, I’d reassure her that she’s doing good work outside of high-stress times (you know, paying her a compliment when she finishes a project and it’s well-presented).

        Good luck – I’m sure you’ll do great!

  18. Rectilinear Propagation

    I am also strongly concerned that if I take the position that I’ll be starting somewhere where half of my colleagues don’t think that I’m qualified for the position…

    This made me think of all the “Why won’t employers tell me why they’re rejecting me?” letters because I wonder if this is the sort of thing they’re looking to avoid. To be clear, I agree with the LW on this specific point and I think it’s good information for them to have. But from the company’s position, they would have been better off being a little less specific.

    I know other folks have already said it, but you’re never obligated to accept a job offer. You’re allowed to reject it for any reason at all, not just the one or two concerns you had with a previous offer. You did not promise them that you would take any job as long as they ‘fixed’ the initial problems you mentioned. You can make a new decision based on new information (you’re put off by how hard they’re pushing and that half the team doesn’t like your qualifications). You can change mind for no reason at all.

  19. Chris

    OP5 wrote: “I’ll appear that I negotiated my way to a bigger title and substantially more pay rather than earning it through merit”

    I would strongly disagree with the idea that negotiating a bigger title and more pay isn’t earning it based on merit. If you’re negotiating based on your previous performance and your ability to perform in this new role, any pay or title increase you get is most definitely based on your merits.

    1. CupcakeCounter

      I 100% agree with you and I believe OP also thinks this way but has concerns based on what she has been told by the company that her coworkers and direct reports will think this way which can cause significant issues.

    2. MCMonkeyBean

      Now I’m just thinking of that scene from Clueless.

      Mel: You mean to tell me that you argued your way from a C+ to an A-?
      Cher: Totally based on my powers of persuasion. You proud?
      Mel: Honey, I couldn’t be happier than if they were based on real grades.

    3. Spencer Hastings

      Well, that depends. Is it possible that two people might make the same argument with the same supporting evidence, and that one would be successful and the other not, just based on their personal charisma? If being charismatic is important to the job duties, fine. But if not, then there could be a sense in which someone got something through “negotiation” that was separate from “merit”.

  20. Rick

    I can see where the fifth letter writer is coming from, where they do not want to hear another “butbutBUT what if we give you something else” from the company.

    I was in a similar situation with a big, illustrious company in my industry a while back. Think Google or Apple. The role they wanted to hire me for was a combination sales and support role, would’ve been a step back for me. Once they clarified that I politely stepped out of the interview process (said something like “while I’d love to work for you, I performed a role like this at Company X, and I know it doesn’t fit me.”) The polite rejection really shocked their internal recruiters, and I heard back from them occasionally over the next month or two asking me to reconsider. Some companies aren’t 100% rational and would be offended, too, if they made another offer to the question asker and it was declined.

    1. Doug Judy

      I had something similar happen to me last week. I had been interviewing with this company for two months. The hiring manager really liked me and I liked him but he was concerned I wasn’t ready for more senior duties. In the mean time I kept interviewing other places and had one really great offer last week. The next day the first place called offering me a more junior position. I said thanks for the offer but I wasn’t interested because the more senior position was at the bottom of my target salary range, so I was certain the position being offered was too low for me to consider it. He said he understood. Then I got an email saying all the benefits the company offered and they were “only $10k under my minimum”and said maybe in a year I could move into the senior role. I said thanks again, but we are too far apart salary wise and I had taken the other offer.

      1. Falling Diphthong

        “Only 10K under your minimum.” ?!!!?

        Glrbl. If it’s such an eensy little difference, why don’t you cough up the 10K on your end, buddy?

        1. Doug Judy

          Right? I’d love to be in a financial position where a $10k difference wouldn’t have much impact, but I’m definitely not. Money aside t)4 position I ended up taking was a much better fit anyway. I did really like the hiring manger but that was the only plus.

    2. Important Moi

      The tone of the comments above have me reluctant to post them up there, so I’ll say it here. I’ve seen in my own experience that sometimes employers think they are offering you perfection to the point of delusion. The back and forth seems to be manipulation to me. Take this lower role, with the lower salary, we are doing you a favor and when your good sense kicks in you will agree that we the company were right all along. I think OP5 should just move along.

      1. Need a Beach

        This is where I fall. I’d listen to the updated offer out of insatiable curiosity, but I wouldn’t give it real consideration.

  21. SigneL

    I can imagine the following scenario for the employee in #1: during her probationary period, she can’t access her EAP, meaning managing her anxiety (let’s assume that’s what it is) is very difficult, resulting in being dismissed. This raises her anxiety, making it harder to find another job, and her anxiety is even higher, making it even harder to succeed – and get to the point where she can actually get help.

    I’m not terribly familiar with the current system, but are there jobs where she could access an EAP immediately?

    1. Me

      The NPS has insurance from day one, even for seasonals.

      Unfortunately, the timeline for insurance access is not advertised in job postings, there’s no way to sort them by benefits! If they’re in America, they may or may not be in a state that has a decently functioning marketplace. If they’re in a big enough city/the county seat, it may be easier to find therapists on a sliding scale.

      This is the second time in six months I’ve had to navigate the gap between coverage and it is expensive and stressful but I was still lucky. (We all are with the pre-existing condition clause.) AmeriCorps in a state that took the medicaid expansion – backdated to the first of the month that your application was approved.

      It is a total grab bag from immediate to one month to six.

    2. Sled dog mama

      In my current position EAP was available day 1 all other benefits kick in at 91 days. HR says this is because EAP is fully employer funded so the cost to them is the same.

    3. Plain Jane

      Honestly, I found looking for a counselor through my EAP to be such a pain (the EAP has out of date info for therapists in my area, they had no one in the network in the traveling distance I wanted who worked the hours I wanted, and keep in mind I live in a large metro area) I decided to just find a therapist who accepted my insurance.

      1. Gymmie

        Me too! I did just better looking at psychology today lists and calling my insurance to see if they took them.

    4. MattKnifeNinja

      My friend has a white collar job, and had to be employed for 1 calendar for health insurance to kick in. She does get the 5 PTO off. (yeah, I know)

      I had a job where you got health insurance (not mental or dental) after 90 days. Mental health and dental kicked in 6 months after the 90 days.

      It’s a glorious workers’ paradise.

      1. Me

        Was this before or after the Affordable Care Act? I’m just curious how she negotiated that – pray she didn’t break a leg? Buy a plan for the year?

        I have chronic stuff that requires twice yearly blood tests and a year with no insurance is so absurd, I’d laugh in their face.

        1. Judy (since 2010)

          Each job that I had in the 90s was that way, including the first one where I was off of my parents insurance the minute I graduated from college. I bought short term catastrophic insurance and hoped for the best.

    5. Anonysand

      In my current position (and the last few as well), you can access your EAP as soon as your insurance kicks in. For me, this was the first of the month following my start date, so no more than 30 days. Since I started in the middle of the month, it was just a couple weeks to wait.

    6. LW #1

      I know, that’s a big reason why I don’t want to let her go, even though I know at the end of the day that I can’t make it my problem.

      I don’t know how it works elsewhere, but here in Canada, it seems to depend on the company. Our city does have a robust sliding scale counselling centre, which I told her about as an attempt to find a stopgap, but even that felt like massively overstepping my role.

      1. Anon commenter

        That shows how good of an employer you are and that you shouldn’t get burned out on helping employees you can not help. Theres a reason why social programs are important because not everyone can work at the moment.

  22. AvonLady Barksdale

    OP #1: I’m curious if this came up when you checked her references. Not that they would tell you about the anxiety, but anything like, “She took a bit to get comfortable, but once she did, she was stellar”?

    1. LW #1

      Thanks for your reply. The only relevant comment in her references I can think of was that she could take some more getting used to professional social norms – and that’s something I noticed during her interview process, but it was nothing this big, and my employee herself said she was caught off-guard by how much difficulty she was having. (And her work was good, if not a little green, and she demonstrated a willingness to learn, which is something we really need in our line of work.)

      Unfortunately, she’s fresh out of school, so the reference info we had was for stuff like part-time or volunteer jobs. Still valuable, but if this is coming up because it’s her first “career” type job, I don’t think any of her other bosses would have dealt with her in this situation.

    2. Forkeater

      I was wondering how it showed up during the interviewing, isn’t interviewing quite anxiety provoking in itself? However did she manage?

      I admit I don’t have much sympathy for her because I’ve worked too many places where bad employees are allowed to linger on and negatively impact the work and environment of good employees, “Oh, that’s just the way she is.” How is this affecting the rest of the team? Maybe OP’s employee needs to take some time off work and really concentrate on therapy before entering the workforce. And why does she have to wait for an EAP to work on this? I’ve battled depression and anxiety and never went near an EAP, it’s certainly possible to find therapists on your own or work with your doctor to get medication.

      1. LW #1

        I think it was one of those situations where she was able to mentally prepare herself for her interview ahead of time, and had done them before. But I think the day-in, day-out of a job with a steep learning curve was something she hadn’t anticipated.

        She hasn’t been here for very long, so her workload hasn’t ramped up such that it would affect other workers quite yet. And I never said that she needed the EAP to work on it – she’s young and new to the workforce, and probably didn’t know we had one that she could access in the future if she wanted to.

        I’m trying to balance being able to shield the rest of the team from any problems, but also meet her where she is and go from there. I think that requires perhaps a bit more empathy than just realizing that other people have done it without x or y resources – the “how can we make this work, if at all” is the issue here.

      2. Oh So Anon

        That’s right, one doesn’t necessarily need an EAP to get help for these kinds of issues, but if she’s still on probation and waiting for access to benefits, she may not yet have extended health coverage to pay for therapy and/or meds. Yes, the OP is in Canada, but most of Canada doesn’t have free out-patient mental health care or fully covered medication.

      3. Rosa Diaz

        This sounds so privileged. And a lot of people throw around the words depresssion and anxiety too casually and don’t realize they are serious.

        1. Irina

          True, but probably equally the number of those who don’t get help or won’t accept themselves it’s not depression but say BP or something else.

  23. Mk

    #4 this happened with my husband. He worked for international companies and had been at a director level for many years when he was looking for more senior roles. Hewent through a long interview process with one company who did the same thing! They ended up offered him a manager role with less than half the pay he was currently making. Then they kept contacting him after he said no. He heard that this company did that to get good talent in the door and they usually didn’t have the senior roles open. It was a waste of everyone’s time because he went through six months of interviews. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if more places did this (the one he interviewed with wasn’t based in the US) to get better candidates and then do a bait and switch. He ended up getting many offers and took the right one that skyrocketed his career, so keep looking and take your time if you can!

  24. Runner

    Re #3, this was a common question when I was interviewed for entry-level jobs in a certain industry. My answer for the job I got was that I was naturally applying for this role at a wide range of companies because they would all allow me to learn and grow in this industry, but I was particularly interested in the job at their company because X, Y, and Z. (The first reason was a small detail that interested me in the job description that not all of the similar roles involved; the second and third were reasons why their particular niche area of the industry appealed to me.) I got the same question for another role but didn’t have as good an answer, and didn’t get that job. Overall I think it’s fine to start by acknowledging that of course you’re applying many places because you really want to continue in the X industry, or because you know that you are a good fit for Y role in many different kinds of companies, but then go quickly into what sets theirs apart for you, even if it seems like fairly small differences to you.

  25. Jennifer

    Re: breastfeeding. I don’t want my male boss referencing my boobs at all. Icky. He seems to want the OP to know he’s down with the cause but it’s coming off paternalistic and gross. Shut it down.

    1. Kitty

      He really is. From the background info it seems like he probably means well, but he’s actually sounding like he’s trying to control what the OP eats and drinks. Hopefully he’d be mortified if he realised how he’s coming across.

    2. Ginger

      Ugh, agreed. Especially bringing it up in front of a room of others regarding a lunch choice? SHUT UP.

      OP – I’m a pumping mama too. I’m annoyed on your behalf. I do always love when someone else, especially a guy, tries to say what should or should not go into my body (if you couldn’t tell, that was written with my sarcasm font).

    3. Rainy days

      As someone who is hoping to have a child in the next few years, I’m constantly shocked by what people consider okay to say to or about pregnant or breastfeeding women. E.g. “Oh, Susan won’t want to take that on now that she has a baby.” Well, let’s ask her and find out. AND I work in a sector which is 90% women and supposed to be explicity dedicated to social justice.

      1. Ginger

        Honestly, other women are just as bad if not worse then most men, in my experience when it comes to these things. Whether it’s judging for doing it differently than they did it or didn’t do it, making assumptions about what decisions they will make, it’s crazy. We (the women of the world) are our own worst enemies sometimes.

  26. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)

    OP1: The EAP may not be the only place that the employee can get help for her anxiety. If she’s waiting to be covered by the OP’s company’s health insurance, she may have previous/existing health insurance that she’s continuing until then (maybe via COBRA).

    I don’t have great wording right now, but you could say something like “it sounds like you might want to talk to someone other than me/your boss about better ways of handling feedback. The EAP won’t kick in until $DATE, but your doctor might be able to help, or point you at people who could.”

    It’s possible that for some reason she hasn’t looked at the anxiety as a potentially treatable medical issue, perhaps because she’s denying how bad it is, or sees it as a personality thing rather than as a treatable mental health problem. It doesn’t take a specialist to prescribe an anti-anxiety medication, or to give a referral to a therapist.

  27. Doodle

    OP #4: I’ve taken over from several co-workers who left for another position at the same university, only to discover they had done little or no work (example: co-worker was supposed to be advising students, discovered that every single student file folder was empty — no notes, no records of meetings — because there were no meetings; different co-worker was supposed to be teaching a class, discovered that there were no class plans and that students turned in no work and, as far as I could tell, did do any work in or out of class). You can be sure I went straight to my boss with those — even when the departed co-worker had been the boss’s buddy. Not only were these co-workers stealing (they were taking salary for doing NO WORK), these were breaches of our dept and university mission and a substantial disservice to the students.

    Your co-worker may want to come back to your dept — maybe even at a senior level! Or may ask for a recommendation — the manager needs to know.

  28. Anon for this

    #1 Did I write this letter 3 years ago? I was in the exact same position. I had an employee who cried every time I gave her any feedback. We ended up putting her on a PIP after she’d been with us about 5 months. She resigned instead of accepting the PIP.

    1. LW #1

      Oof. Thank you for sharing. I really hope it doesn’t come to that, but from these comments and Alison’s feedback, I appreciate that sometimes there’s no other ending to the story.

  29. NicoleK

    #1 My BEC coworker is full of self doubt, anxiety, and ruminates and gets extremely defensive on what she perceives to be criticisms of her work. It is very difficult to give her feedback. I feel like I’m walking on egg shells when I need to speak to her about her work. She needs CONSTANT reassurance. She always think she’s going to be fired (she’s been in her job for 6 years despite her general incompetence). Thankfully, she doesn’t have melt downs or crying spells. Regardless, it’s exhausting to be her coworker. And it’s going to be more exhausting to be her manager.

  30. CommanderBanana

    LW#1, you sound like an awesome manager and all-around-caring and empathetic person. That being said, your employee’s anxiety disorder is hers to manage. I struggled for years with a chronic mental illness that really impacted my work and career path – and it wasn’t until I found a treatment regimen that worked for me and made the commitment to stick to it that it improved.

    A supportive workplace offers things like decent healthcare, time off to manage chronic illnesses, etc. – but having to spend hours reassuring someone with a chronic anxiety disorder is not sustainable for you and it’s not going to help your employee in the long term.

    1. LW #1

      Thank you for your kind and helpful comment. I’m really happy you’re doing better now. You’re right – I’ve done what I can, and even if it was too much, at least this way I can say that I tried (for my own sanity – I myself am prone to asking myself if I could have done more, which didn’t affect me as much as it does now that I’m managing people). It’s good to know that I wouldn’t be a monster for asking her to take her wellness more into her own hands at work.

  31. Jaybeetee

    LW1: I feel for your employee, but one thing really jumped out at me: you’re spending *hours* reassuring her. Just no. You can’t be spending that much time managing her feelings. Apart from the advice above asking her what would work best for hearing feedback, what you can change on your end is gently delivering whatever news you need to deliver, maybe a few minutes of reassuring/talking her down/handing her Kleenex, then just saying, “I’ll give you a few more minutes in here to gather yourself before you get back to work.” The long reassurances might be keeping her upset, when a few minutes alone might help her calm down and slowly get back to work.

    1. Anonysand

      +100000

      I’ve dealt with generalized anxiety and a panic disorder since I was 9, and the best coping mechanism I’ve ever found through many years of therapy and medications is to learn how to NOT FOCUS ON IT. Anxiety is a horrible beast that keeps wanting to fixate on things you can’t control and convince you that the worst is going to happen, but even the best reassurances don’t actually help anything because your anxiety doesn’t actually believe what you’re trying to tell it. What does help is learning how to avoid getting into those vicious cycles and moving on or focusing your attention elsewhere.

      But that is absolutely on the employee to learn, OP, and not you. You can’t manage their anxiety for them. You’ve been so kind and while I applaud your patience with them so far, I would definitely try the tactic that Jaybeetee suggests above.

      1. LW #1

        Thank you both for the reality check. Jaybeetee, I really like your idea of giving her time to collect herself and will definitely try that out. And Anonysand, to be clear, she’s the one coming to me with these grandiose fears that her work is awful and that I hate her – while I’m studiously trying to focus on her work itself and not on her relationship with herself. But obviously, that hasn’t been as successful as I’d like it to be, probably because being able to separate feedback about your work and feedback about you as a person can be difficult at the beginning of your career, or if you’re prone to anxiety. You’re right, though – my responsibility ends at giving the feedback and making sure it’s applied. Thanks again.

  32. Workfromhome

    #5 I agree you should hear the offer without any obligation to accept . Its very unlikely that it will have changed enough and that you will feel comfortable enough after all that has gone on to take the job BUT for the 1% chance it will why not? You essentially have nothing to lose but your own time.

    That said given all that has transpired I’d be very blunt with them. “I would be willing to discuss your new offer If it is for the senior position I originally interviewed for with a minimum of X,Y and Z ) that was listed in the original discussion. I am not interested in Jr position in any way shape or for”

    Then when you contact them start with “So we are here to discuss your offer for Sr Postion that includes X,Y and Z. If you hear anything other than Yes or any mention of Jr. Position or moving into Senior position later etc I’d burn the bridge. “We agreed this was the Sr. Position and this is not what is being presented. Lets end this discussion now and agree to part ways. No need to contact me further”

    I’m really skeptical but as others have mentioned you never know what goes on behind the scenes in these things. It could be exactly what you said or it could be some grumbling lower level folks that wanted the job to go to an internal candidate and then the CEO gets wind that they might lose his preferred candidate and they get told to smarten up and give him/her what they want.

  33. Lauren

    OP – PLEASE DON’T ACCEPT IT!

    Let’s say title and salary offer is great this time around. It doesn’t matter, 1/2 the team doesn’t think you are at that level. You should not care what they think, but you should definitely care that those people could influence any future upward movement at your company. They effectively think they are doing you a favor and may delay a promotion. Market rate (e.g. industry reality) might say that you’d get promoted in 2 years time – what if they delay and say no, because in their warped minds you don’t deserve the new offer now and that in 2 years they consider you at that Senior level.

    Sure hear it out, maybe the money is insane and you won’t care if they don’t promote you later on. Maybe you feel comfortable asking about the above scenario, and seeing if they act weird about it.

  34. The Tin Man

    I really feel for both manager and employee in #1. As someone who has anxiety issues (so yes, the advice here is really just how to deal with me and I know anxiety comes in many flavors) I can easily see the tough conversation leading to a spiral that makes being let go a self-fulfilling prophecy but it really is the only right thing to do. Continuing as things are is not useful to anyone and the employee needs to see that.

    In addition, EAPs usually only cover a handful of sessions. That can be enough to help and set someone on the right track but for many it is not enough. If the employee is paid a wage where they can afford a therapist they should really seek out help sooner rather than later and a tough-but-fair conversation with their manager could help spur that to happen.

    1. LW #1

      Thanks for your kind advice, Tin Man (insert “having a heart” joke here). I agree that it’s an important conversation to have but I feel like I need to walk on eggshells to try to avoid that spiral.

      And thank you for pointing out the EAP limitations. I don’t know if I’m in a position where I can say anything to her about it (“you seem like you’ll need more help than the company will pay for!” wouuldn’t go over well, and for good reason), but it’s good to be aware of. I appreciate your input.

  35. Mr. Bob Dobalina

    OP#5: I agree with AAM that you should hear their “new offer”. And you have absolutely no obligation, moral or otherwise, to accept any job offer. If they offer you *exactly* what you want, then you can inquire further about why they changed the offer, and ask questions to get comfort on the “half the team” issue. Even if they give you all the right answers, you can still decline! You can always decline a job offer, for any reason or no reason.

    I find it strange that they initially told you that “half of the team” didn’t think you were qualified for the senior position, instead of generalizing on this issue. That is peculiarly specific and inappropriate, and a bad strategic move on their part, as we can clearly see in what has transpired and how it makes you doubt the senior position. Maybe you are dealing with a bad HR person?

  36. Observer

    #1 I haven’t read all of the responses (but a good percentage) so forgive me if I’m repeating something already covered.

    Please don’t get overly invested in keeping this employee on. I appreciate the kindness you’re showing her, and if there were some way you could keep her without this whole dance, I would applaud you doing so. But the current situation is not tenable – and it may not even be the best thing for her in the long term, either. Her anxiety (or whatever it is that’s going on) is out of control and seriously affecting her ability to function. Being brought up short with this reality might help her to take the steps she needs to get this under control.

    To be clear – you are not her therapist and making sure that she gets help is NOT your responsibility. I’m mentioning it because you are clearly concerned about harming a good person, so you should be aware that the harm may actually be outweighed by the benefit. I hope that it makes it easier for you to do what you need to do.

    1. The Other Dawn

      I agree with this. It’s good to be compassionate and give someone a few chances; however, OP has a department to run and work needs to get done. She can only put up with this for so long before it becomes a bigger detriment to the department.

    2. LW #1

      Thank you. It’s a hard truth but I appreciate the reality check from Alison and all the other commenters here. I think it’s the duty of every manager to try everything you can before letting someone go…and maybe that’s kind of blurred my sense of what’s reasonable before calling it a day. I really, really appreciate your empathy and your bluntness.

    3. Lucille2

      Agree. In fact, OP spending so much effort in trying to help the employee is likely the more harmful thing. This is creating an expectation in the employee that she can rely on a supervisor this much for support. In reality, this behavior will cause more damage for the employee in the long run. Being receptive to feedback is critical in any job.

  37. T

    #4 I had a former colleague doing the same thing, huge chunks of her job were not being done. My crappy boss then expected me to fill in all the blanks and essentially do her job for her. There’s a big difference between helping a coworker out and unfairly being expected to do their entire job when they are a huge slacker. People in other departments started noticing she sucked and would come to me with her unfinished work. My boss didn’t care when I complained and said does it really matter who does her work? Don’t become this person, the issue needs to be addressed head on why your coworker isn’t doing their job. It’s not your responsibility and don’t get sucked into it.

    1. The New Wanderer

      “Does it really matter who does her work?”
      Yes, yes it does unless you are also getting her salary for it.
      I hope that was a former crappy boss as well as former colleague, because that’s a manager who sucks and won’t change.

  38. Serious Pillowfight

    Alison, I just want to say that I think it’s so amazing and awesome of you to freaking GIVE US A RECORDING of what we should/could sound like when giving compassionate feedback. Thank you so much.

    1. LW #1

      Imagine how I felt!! And this was all from a comment I posted on the Open Thread over the weekend to vent, thinking that no one would read it. Cheers to Alison indeed :)

  39. Clay on my apron

    OP5, you’re under no obligation to accept even if they come back with an amazing offer.

    How do you feel about the company right now? Would you feel confident to accept a position there if they made a good offer? If you still feel positive, go ahead and agree to them sending you a new offer.

    I personally would be really curious about a bunch of things:
    – why they feel/felt you aren’t senior/manager material
    – why they would push you to take a role that’s a step down, when you’ve made it clear you aren’t interested, and what that says about their management style
    – how long they expect you to stay in a role that’s an unwanted step down from where you are now
    – why they believe they are now able to make you a much more satisfactory offer and what changed to make that possible
    – where the naysayers stand on the new offer and what interaction you might have with them going forward

    I’m not sure you’ll get the answers but it’s certainly food for thought.

  40. Michaela Westen

    Alison, I’m not able to scroll the comments in Chrome because the ads keep making it freeze up.

    1. R2D2

      I use AdBlock Plus (a Chrome browser extension) and it blocks all of the ads on this site! You should try it.

      1. Ads

        Ah Alison probably wouldn’t advocate for that…

        I do hate mobile ads that redirect to scam sites, slate and aam get them sometimes and I just have to avoid the site for the day.

  41. Sara without an H

    Hello, OP#1 — I feel for you. You describe yourself as a new manager and that this person is your first hire. It is easy to get invested in making her succeed. It is very hard to admit that your first hire is a failure.

    You need to set out very clear and specific benchmarks concerning reception of and acting on feedback that she must meet well before her probationary period ends. Talk with your HR people if you need advice on this. If she can’t meet those benchmarks, then let her go before she’s off probation — keeping her longer than that will not solve anything and just make life harder for you and for her.

    Then take a hard look at how you handled the hiring process. Did you contact her references and, if so, what kinds of questions did you ask? You said she seemed “sensitive” during the interview; that was a clue that you should have followed up on with references. “Can you give me an example of how Jane responded to feedback and/or constructive criticism?” Again, your HR people may have some advice on getting informative references.

    Your experience shows why many employers insist on a probationary period for new employees. While this woman sounds like a sad case, you can’t rescue her. Concentrate on making a better hire next time.

    1. LW #1

      Thank you for your input.

      In my defense, this was a hire that both I and my outgoing manager handled before he left, and at my company, HR does the references, not the candidate’s prospective manager. She seemed new to the working world (because she is), and nervous (because she was), but there were no indications of anxiety or inability to complete tasks from her references – and in junior roles, we tend to be more forgiving about things like awkwardness. That’s all I saw at that point.

      I’m not entirely sure which red flags I could have looked for instead, but I take your point and appreciate your feedback, especially about timelines with regard to her probationary period.

      1. Sara without an H

        Is there a possibility that you could push back on having HR check references the next time you hire? I’d be very uncomfortable with such an arrangement.

        1. Observer

          It’s a very common arrangement. And, to be honest I don’t think there is any reason to believe that HR fell down on the job here. Given her work history, there just might not have been anything useful to get from references.

  42. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

    #5 Nothing is a bigger pet peeve of mine than someone who doesn’t take “no” for an answer. And not just once in this situation, but three times…so far! Your perspective may differ, but I’d keep upping the ante every time they brushed aside my “no”…the senior position is now not enough, they’d have to offer me a CEO position at this point to overcome the rage at the utter disrespect of “no” being overruled and dismissed 3 times. If you want to follow Alison’s advice and hear them out, I wouldn’t waste time with an in-person interview, I’d ask for their best and final offer in writing only — make them jump through a flaming hoop. I’d bet a dollar that there’s really nothing of substance different than the original junior offer.

  43. totoroteacher

    #1 – I was this employee! Two years ago I trained as a teacher. I have anxiety/depression/PTSD and REALLY struggled with getting feedback – when you train to teach you have people watch you and make notes and then send you the notes at the end, and I was having panic spirals so bad that one day I ended up just running out of school…!

    There is hope, though. What changed things for me was when I realised I’m much better at taking feedback in person, verbally – because I can use cues from the person’s tone and manner to ground myself and remind me that they don’t hate me or wish me harm. Getting written feedback was much more likely to send me into a panic spiral because my brain could put its own jerk spin on the words on the page.

    So we agreed that any one who had written feedback for me should send it to my manager, and he would go through it with me in person at our weekly meetings. This helped me feel much more in control and stopped the panic spirals.

    So #1 – one option in addition to the script given is to say “is there any particular way of receiving feedback that’s less stressful for you, that we’d be able to accommodate?”. If you can get it right working together with her it might really pay off. Because I had to work so hard on it in my training, I now get regular praise (including in my latest performance review) for how well I respond to and act on feedback.

    1. LW #1

      Thank you for your reply, torototeacher. Clearly you’ve been through a lot and done a lot of hard work!

      I said in another comment that I’d tried that with not-fantastic results. She doesn’t seem to know what will help her; either she demurs at any detected sharpness in vocal tone (even if it’s just something like “you have a typo there”) or I give her feedback over Slack and shes’s too anxious to reply (I see the “typing…” notification come up and disappear multiple times throughout the day with very few actual replies). She seems to think it’s really important to just do what I want to do and beat herself up if she can’t do it, but even I don’t put a lot of stock into any particular method, and of course I don’t want her beating herself up over anything.

      At this point, I don’t think she’s at the point where you were, where you could advocate for your own working style. I’d be more than willing to work with her if she had ideas, but so far those conversations haven’t been all that productive.

  44. AnonyMouse

    Am I the only person who interpreted the comments from LW #2’s boss as being a bit mansplain-y about how she should go about breastfeeding? Particularly the “you can’t have alcohol” and the explanation of why she should avoid spicy food… It could also be that my boss is a mansplainer, so I’m very attuned to picking up on that. I’m with the LW on this being super uncomfortable. I don’t want to project too much of my work situation on them, but I’d be willing to bet this is one of those “we’re a family!” work cultures that pries way too much into your personal life. Even if I’m off base about all of these things, the gender dynamic makes this creepy.

    I think Allison’s advice is solid. However, I’d make the following edits to her script “You’ve made a few comments related to me breastfeeding recently — like that I should avoid certain foods so I don’t upset the baby’s stomach and that I could read while nursing. I’m know you’re trying to be supportive, but it’s a private thing for me and I’d prefer not to discuss it at work. Thanks for understanding.” I also wouldn’t worry about having a quick subject change. If it comes naturally, then go for it, but don’t feel like you need to take on the work of making your boss more comfortable.

  45. Adminx2

    #5 hear them out! It’s valuable information even if it’s still the bad choice. I once had two offers come in same day and while one was so sweet to come back a few dollars more an hour, it was still a quarter less than the other offer. But I was glad I’d talked about it and seen what they could do. Be polite and say “It just doesn’t fit where I’m looking to go.”

  46. smoke tree

    LW 1, it’s a bit counterintuitive but I think you’d be doing your employee a favour if you’re able to be as matter-of-fact as possible when dealing with negative feedback and the fallout. Not harsh, but just as normal and unemotional as possible. Obviously I don’t know your employee, but work anxiety is kind of similar to crying at work–it’s easier to keep it together if everyone is just normal and professional about it. That being said, it sounds like it’s at a point where a larger conversation is needed, and if she’s not able to turn things around, this position might not be the best fit for her right now.

    1. LW #1

      Hi, thanks for your input. I tried to be really matter-of-fact and I think she found my tone too brusque (I’m a very friendly and warm person, but if I need to go into Get Shit Done mode, I do, and sometimes people find that startling). Thanks for your suggestion – it’s hard to strike a balance between a friendly and an authoritative tone in the workplace, especially for women, and I’m still figuring it out.

      1. valentine

        It is fine to sound authoritative in the workplace. There’s no sustainable direction your employee can give you, like smile when speaking, be so bright you’re nearly chirping, or use three smileys so she knows you don’t hate her, because it’s not what you’re doing but how her heightened fear response is interpreting it, and one day you won’t smile or you’ll use two or four smileys or you take time off or literally anything, and round she goes. It just can’t be on you.

  47. A Paralegal

    #5, this has small companyitis all over it. I was in that position, the one of the small company and can see how it came about. Small companies sometimes will introduce candidates the manager finds promising to the employees. If not, management will discuss the candidates in great detail with the staff because it can be harder to find the right fit in a small business. In this case I bet management liked you for the role but the some of the staff did not. So management tried a compromise, a small position that got you in the door, which is what they wanted, and appeased the staff. Management could have plans to move you up later. But you balked at that and management panicked because they really, really want you. It’s not dysfunctional necessarily, just not as organized as a large company would do.

    So I agree, I’d hear them out. Hopefully the manager will be candid about what’s going, why they want you so much, how you can effectively managing people who aren’t excited by you. Theoretically the manager know the staff and will be honest about whether a mood turnaround there is typical.

    But I’d think you’d need quite a bit of honesty before taking this one on.

  48. Helena Handbasket

    Hmm, I can understand why OP is hesitant to hear them out on another offer. If this process has raised enough red flags* that she would not accept in any case, it seems like hearing them out could cause awkwardness and bad feelings. What if they offer her everything she asked for and then she still refuses?
    *Seems like red flags to me. Either they are pretty incompetent/disorganized at interviewing, or are jerking her around trying to get her to agree to a lower salary/title than she deserves. If it were me I wouldn’t feel comfortable in the role wondering who around me thought I didn’t deserve to be there (or alternately, whether the person I’m working for was trying to lowball me with lying and manipulation). It seems a bad note to start a new job on unless you are desperate.

  49. Aelfleah

    In regards to the first question, as someone who works for an EAP organization, even though the anxious employee may not be able to access EAP, the manager can probably get support from EAP in dealing with this. My organization has a service to assist managers with management issues and I’m sure other EAP providers do as well. It could help this manager find some balance between being a good manager to both the employee and the organization, while also being a compassionate human being to their employee.

    The manager may also want to look into getting permission from their for the anxious employee to access EAP early. If they explain the situation to HR, they may be able to obtain access before the end of their probation.

  50. That One Person

    #4 – I wouldn’t hound your boss over it, but I do think it’s important to note that you’ve found a consistent error. If the person changed to a position that requires her to complete the very task she’s failed repeatedly on then I think it does merit your manager letting her manager know so they can be on the lookout. It would be pretty awful I feel to find out even further down the road she’s been skimping out on work again – much less for a position she was supposedly a good fit. Again though, it doesn’t require hounding so much as a “hey, I’ve found that she didn’t complete this task on these dates, and just a forewarning I might find further cases” so at least your boss knows there’s the potential for more. I’d hope then the boss makes mention of it to the other one.

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