my employee LOVES his job and wants to do more — but is bad at the work

A reader writes:

I’ve been at my new position for about five months now. I coordinate a unit for a media company and have several producers, on-air talent, interns, and research staff on my team. This is my first job where I’ve officially managed other people. I am the supervisor to the interns and researchers. The producers and talent are above me, but I don’t actually report to them — we all report to a creative director.

My problem is one of the researchers. “Bob” is like many of our researchers: older, retired, and doing this as a part-time job for the love of it or for a little extra cash. Bob LOVES this job. LOVES it. Tells me almost every day how much he loves being here at this company. Gets emotional at the thought of the people we help with our content. But it’s just too much.

He constantly asks for more hours. He peppers me with suggestions to improve the team — I’ve gotten up to 10 emails in a day: we should use Slack (the average age of the researchers is 65, so no), we should get more t-shirts and hats made (we have no budget, so no), we should send autographed cards to the people who write to us (again, no budget — and also who has the time?). Not bad ideas, per se — just not ideas that are particularly effective or actionable.

He also wastes my time by giving me the blow-by-blow of his research projects, and asking for my approval before taking next steps on some of them. I wish the other researchers were more forthcoming on their progress, but again this is too much. I’ve let him know before if I don’t have time for lengthy conversations on these updates, but he just comes back later with another reenactment with a conversation with a source. He does voices, too.

Bob has started asking if he can attend production meetings, which is absolutely not a part of his job. It’s going to be a “no” from me and I’m not looking forward to it. There’s no technical reason why he can’t sit in … except it has nothing to do with his work, researchers have never been invited to this meeting, and I fear his overly-helpful nature will lead to him disrupting it. Bob has also asked if he can help with writing scripts, which again is not a part of the researcher’s job — in fact, it’s my job.

Finally, as much as Bob loves his job, he’s not very good at it. He’s gotten us incorrect information, and turns in incomplete notes. He tries to tackle more and more stories — but it’s leading to him misinterpreting information, making erroneous conclusions, and generally dropping the ball. My producers are frustrated because they cannot rely on his research — it often results in more work for them as they fact-check his information.

I guess what I’m asking is: how do I crush this man’s spirit in a productive way? He wants so badly to help and do more — but he’s messing up on basics of his job as it is. I need him to slow down, take more time with his actual work, and not get too big for his britches, essentially. He was hired to be a researcher, not a junior producer — researcher is not a foot in the door to another job, it’s something people do for minimum wage and to keep active. He’s the nicest, most sincere, guileless man imaginable — he’s “gee whiz” personified. I usually have no problem being a hardass, but I don’t want him to lose the drive that makes him a dedicated worker. And he is a dedicated worker — punctual, energetic, willing to help out in a pinch, always thinking about how to make things better. I just need some guidance in my approach so that he gets the message. Do I break it gently and couch it in praise for his good attributes? Or do I take the no-nonsense approach and give him just the cold hard facts?

You do need to give him the facts, but you can do that kindly, by framing it as “I want us to be on the same page about what is and isn’t possible in this job.”

However, there’s more to this than just needing to convey the limits of his role. It sounds like he has pretty serious performance problems, and you need to address that too. In fact, you need to start there because that’s the biggest problem, and then once you’ve done that, you can explain the rest of it.

So sit down with him and tackle the performance stuff. Tell him that he’s been turning in incorrect information and incomplete notes and drawing incorrect conclusions. Tell him it’s at the point where producers feel like they can’t rely on his research and have to fact-check it themselves. (That might feel hard to say, but it’s crucial to say it — he needs to hear what the impact has been so he understands how seriously to take it.) Tell him that the problems are serious and need to be corrected, and that you need him to slow down and take more time with his work. If you want to see him taking on fewer projects until this is corrected, say that too. Be specific about what you need from him.

From there, you can get into the rest of it. Say something like: “I also want to make sure that we’re on the same page about what the researcher role does and doesn’t include. You’ve asked to attend production meetings and help with writing scripts, and those things just aren’t part of the job. What I really need is for you to focus on doing the research work well — I need your focus there, not on other things.”

I’d stop there for this meeting. Getting into the rest of it (the zillions of emailed ideas that you can’t use, the blow-by-blow updates on his projects, etc.) would likely be too much for this meeting. Cover the biggest things — the performance issues and what he should and shouldn’t focus on — and see where that gets you.

You can address the other stuff later on, though. For example, with the constant flow of suggestions, at some point you could ask him to save up his ideas and send them to you monthly or quarterly, or you could explain that you’ve got to stay focused on other priorities and don’t have time to field more than a suggestion or two a month right now so he should prioritize the ones he thinks are most important. (You don’t want to cut off his ability to give suggestions altogether, for his own morale and because he genuinely might have a good idea at some point. And also because you don’t want people to hear “Jane told Bob he can never suggest ideas” without knowing the full context.)

And with the project blow-by-blows, cut him off in the moment when it’s happening! Interrupt and say, “I need to cut you off because I’m on deadline. It sounds like you’ve got this though. I’ll look forward to seeing it when you turn it in!” If he keeps going, don’t be afraid to assert yourself and stand firm on that. At some point you could also say, “My workload keeps me really busy and realistically I can’t carve out space for updates about your conversations with sources, unless there’s a specific problem you’ve run into or a question you have. It’s not that I don’t care about your work — I do — but I’m also managing X other people and have projects of my own that I need to focus on. So I need you to do things like A and B independently, and just loop me in if C or D happens.”

But also, there’s a bigger-picture question here, which is whether it actually makes sense to keep Bob in the role. It’s great that he’s so dedicated to the work, but it doesn’t make sense to have someone there who can’t do the work in the way you need it done and who takes up so much of your time without enough pay-off. So don’t look at this as “how do I keep Bob at all costs, while also getting him to change his behavior?” Instead, the idea is to give Bob really clear feedback about what you need from him so that he has a chance to meet those expectations — and so you’ll know with more certainty whether the problems are fixable or not. (And if they’re not, presumably at that point you’d need to conclude this isn’t the right role for him.)

I know that’s tough to do when someone is really nice. But ultimately, the job isn’t about being nice; it’s about producing specific results, and you’ve got to work with that reality. That’s true even when someone is doing the job out of love of the work rather than for the money, and it’s true even when someone is older and retired and clearly thrilled to be there. It sucks, but it’s still true. The way to make this easier on both of you is to be really, really clear about what you need to see change, so that (a) he has the chance to meet your expectations and (b) he’s not blindsided if you eventually conclude it won’t work out.

{ 205 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager Post author

    Some people are reading ageism in this letter. Per the commenting rules, I’m asking that we assume that the letter writer knows her employees better than we do and knows if they’d embrace Slack or not, etc. People have pointed out that no one should assume all people over 65 wouldn’t, which is true, but the letter writer knows what will and won’t work with her particular staff.

    I’m asking that we not derail on that and focus on useful advice for the letter writer. (And I’ve removed some of that that started after I posted this, and moved the rest to the bottom of the page so it’s not flooding the thread from the start.)

    1. Devil Fish

      It absolutely has. A lot of employers underestimate older workers in a lot of the same ways that they underestimate teenage workers, so enthusiasm and meeting the otherwise bare minimum standards of job expectations can count for a lot more in these sorts of part time jobs.

    2. Middle School Teacher

      That seems a little uncharitable. It’s five months longer than you or I have been there, after all…

  2. Amber Rose

    Oof. I can understand why this conversation is not one you’re looking forward to LW.

    Have you been going over with him all his errors and discussing what he can do to improve? Because that needs to happen for sure. And I don’t think you’d be out of line in pointing out, the next time he asks for more tasks or makes suggestions, that he needs to show he can do the work he’s been assigned properly first. Maybe then he’ll throw his enthusiasm into improving.

    1. Sleepytime Tea

      I was really wondering this too. While LW has commented on all the issues, I didn’t read anything saying how Bob reacted when his errors were pointed out or anything like that. Being a manager includes giving feedback and coaching, and I didn’t really get the impression that LW was doing much of that. Giving feedback after errors have reached the producers isn’t crushing someone’s spirit, and if Bob doesn’t even know he’s making mistakes, well… that’s not great management on the LW’s side.

      Not saying LW is a bad manager. But I would feel bad for Bob if no one has even let him know that he’s made errors and next thing he knows he’s being blindsided by a conversation with his boss about all the mistakes he’s been making.

      Also, +1000 for “gee-whiz personified.”

      1. Busy

        I have experienced “Bob” before. The “gee wiz” and the gung-ho attitude. The humility and excitement. The hours long play by plays a week with anyone who would listen. Always super cheerful and friendly. Ready to jump in new, more advanced roles. And absolutely terrible at his job.

        But see, after a while I realized that this “attitude” was what my Bob thought mattered. Just be super niiiiiiiiice, and then everything is fine! Why would anyone fire him? He is so nice! And honestly a lot of people reacted the same way OP here is to Bob. And eventually Bob screwed up so badly that people got hurt. Don’t let people’s niceness stop you from telling them they need to improve.

        (My Bob and his wife also happened to embezzled a ton of money out of his mother in law’s estate while she was in a home with dementia. They went to jail and the poor woman is now in a state home. Nice does not equal good.)

          1. valentine

            Nah, it reads like a Stephen King novel, minus ayuh, italics, and the supernatural.

            I didn’t read anything saying how Bob reacted when his errors were pointed out
            I’m thinking OP has said nothing, which I don’t get because they have a duty to the producers, it’s not okay to let Bob damage their work, and a good researcher knows or learns when they’ve got it wrong and executes a plan to improve. Why not have fired Bob long ago and replaced him with someone (perhaps less folksy) who can do the job properly? It’s like a sitcom where they want to fire someone but terrible things keep happening and after each one, someone says, “Well, you can’t fire him now. That would be too cruel,” except even telling Bob anything negative feels monstrous. OP has severely woobified Bob and has him wrapped in cotton wool, but I doubt the truth would really crush him. OP has probably tuned Bob out some and he has likely embellished, but I’d be thinking back to his self-commentating to see if it revealed any of the errors and, if not, perhaps that was deliberate because he knows he’s terrible.

    2. Psyche

      I would be careful about phrasing it saying he needs to do the work he’s been assigned properly first. That implies that if he does his work well, he can take on those additional tasks. It sounds like some of the things he is asking for are going to continue to be a hard no regardless of how well he does with the research tasks.

      1. Amber Rose

        Some of them, and that should be communicated to him clearly. But maybe not all of them, which is worth considering. People sometimes do better if they have something to work towards.

        1. Psyche

          I agree that having something to work towards is helpful . I just think the OP needs to be careful not to raise his expectations if what he is asking for will never happen.

    3. Remedial Chaos Theory

      Kinda read to me like OP blows Bob off when he comes to OP for help with his errors. OP says that Bob has gotten us incorrect information, and turns in incomplete notes, which is frustrating and needs to be addressed. But OP also says that he wastes my time by giving me the blow-by-blow of his research projects, and asking for my approval before taking next steps on some of them, which kinda feels like the perfect time to steer Bob in the right direction instead of thinking it as wasted time.

      1. Amber Rose

        Yeah. Sounds like he’s just being allowed to do poorly without help or correction, which is not great.

      2. Myrin

        I get the feeling that these are two different situations, though.

        OP herself describes the blow-by-blow sessions as his coming to her “with another reenactment with a conversation with a source. He does voices, too.”
        (I assume they aren’t all like that but I’ll eat my hat if they aren’t all in the same vein, even if no dramatical performance is involved.)
        And I don’t really see how that can be used to steer him in the right direction other than to tell him to cut it out – it doesn’t really leave an opening for her to address the incorrect information, since it’s not really much information at all yet; she needs to have a separate conversation for that. And conversely, just because someone can re-enact their conversations with a source doesn’t mean they can’t also turn in complete and relevant notes, so it’s not like she can turn around and say “See! You’re doing the voice acting thing again! Clearly, that shows that your notes are going to be incorrect yet again!”.

        1. Yorick

          But it says he’s asking for approval for next steps, so it seems like it’s not always the voice acting

          1. Myrin

            Oh, I don’t assume it is, that’s what I meant with the sentence in brackets – but I guess “same vein” isn’t necessarily as clear as it was in my head, apologies! What I meant by that is actually exactly like what hbc said in a comment below, just much better and more concise than I could think of.
            To use the example I made up before I cut it from my comment (and with which I got carried away because it was a lot of fun, I’ll admit):

            Bob will come to OP and say something like “So I talked to this Li’l Gideon person about the Mothman sightings – delightful fellow, very charming, if a little curious sometimes when he thinks you aren’t looking – and he was pretty helpful, said these stories have been told in his family since he was little. Should I be talking to his parents, too?”
            And then OP says that sounds good, go ahead.
            And then Bob comes back and says “I talked to his mother but she was very shy and I couldn’t really get anything out of her. But she did tell me that the old guy a little further into the woods, Stan, went to school with her mum and he knows the stories as well. Should I talk to him, too?”
            And then OP says yeah, sounds good.
            And then Bob comes back again and says “I knocked on this Stan guy’s door – real dilapidated place, I might add, there’s some kind of sign on the roof with one letter having fallen off; and that place apparently sells stuff, too, can you believe it? – anyway, Stan wasn’t there but his employee, Hades or something, said he’s visiting family. He’s apparently really close to his sister’s grandkids? Twins, I believe, used to live with him for the summer. And that Hades guy gave me the granddaughter’s number, should I call her to see if I can get ahold of Stan?”
            And then OP says yeah, why not? All the while thinking that he really didn’t have to ask for her approval for every single one of these visits or phone calls.
            And then it turns out that Li’l Gideon had actually been talking about Bigfoot sightings all along but Bob wrote it down incorrectly and as such, Stan’s relative Mabel’s in-depth info on Mothman wasn’t helpful to OP’s whole case anyway.

            1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy

              I appreciate your example on behalf of my husband, who has Funko Pops of the majority of the Gravity Falls characters lined up in his office. :)

      3. Lavender Menace

        Yeah, I was going to say something similar. It’s unclear to me whether Bob (or any of the researchers) are being given clear guidelines about what level of progress and detail the people they’re working with want, so they’re all missing the mark more or less.

        1. ChimericalOne

          If OP had a similar problem with all of her researchers, I imagine she’d have said that. If it’s just Bob, as OP seems to be suggesting, then the problem is Bob, not the guidelines.

          1. Remedial Chaos Theory

            Or the others get more of a pass because let’s face it, regardless of anything else, Bob sounds annoying as heck.

      1. Just stoppin' by to chat

        I don’t know this show, but watched the YouTube clip, and now I have to watch it! I love dry humor :)

  3. AdAgencyChick

    OP is relatively new. It sounds like Bob has been around for a while.

    I say manage his performance as Alison suggests, but the first step is making sure your manager is on your side. Go to your boss and talk about the issues you’ve noticed with his performance before doing anything further, because you might get, “You’re totally right, and I support you in doing what you need to do, including managing him out of the organization if you need to.” But if Bob’s the CEO’s uncle and is untouchable, better you know that ahead of time!

    1. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster

      This is a really valuable comment.

      I managed a “Bob” once. Same gee-whiz attitude, same terrible performance. I had to redo a LOT of his work. But he was absolutely untouchable, and when I tried to get rid of him, I paid the price.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      I understand what you’re saying, but OP going to their manager may make it seem like they they can’t do their job. Managing your subordinates includes making sure they stay on task, and only needs to be escalated if you’ve done this more than once and there’s no improvement.

      1. Close Bracket

        OP has only been a manager for 5 months. Assuming her company is a reasonable place (which is a large assumption), they should be able to ask for guidance without it reflecting poorly on them. Managing is a skill just like any other, and there is a learning curve to it. As the saying goes, “‘One’ is a really small number of rodeos to be an expert.”

        1. OhNo

          Agreed. I think the OP should be fine, especially if they frame it more as: “here’s the problem, here’s the plan, is there anything I might have missed?” That way, it’s less of a “tell me what to do” and more of a consultation between two managers to make sure all of the bases have been covered.

          Plus, if OP’s manager has been there longer, they might have more context. Maybe Bob has been counseled on this before. Maybe a previous manager gave him bad advice. Or maybe, as AdAgencyChick suggests, there’s politics to consider. Best to make sure the OP has all the facts before they dive in headfirst, just to be safe.

        2. AdAgencyChick

          Yes, and even if she weren’t new to managing, I’d still urge caution because she’s relatively new to this company. If I were at a company less than six months, I would still give my boss a heads up that I’ve noticed the issues and that I plan to take steps to raise Bob’s performance or manage him out, so that my boss would then have a chance to say “don’t do that, there are political issues at play that you’re not aware of.”

          One hopes that that wouldn’t be the answer, but when you’re new, it’s good to be cautious.

      2. Lily Rowan

        Especially as a new manager, bringing performance concerns to your own manager should 100% be part of your job.

    3. Snark

      I just wanted to say that I see your sly “Bob’s your uncle” reference there, and I like it.

    4. Good luck with that

      Yes, maybe approach the boss with something more along the lines of, “Is there something I should know about Bob? Because I’ve been noticing some performance issues. Just want to check that I have all relevant information before I approach him about this.”
      It doesn’t imply that you can’t manage Bob. It actually makes you look more thorough, wanting more of the backstory.
      Maybe he’s related to, or best buddies with, somebody important. Maybe he used to be a superstar, but isn’t what he used to be, and they’re trying to (a) ease him out gently, or (b) give him a reduced role without cutting him out entirely. Maybe he has Sources, or knows where a lot of political bodies are buried. Maybe he’s been counseled on the exact same problem twice already, to no avail.
      You don’t know what you don’t know until you ask.

  4. animaniactoo

    It might be useful to ask Bob how he thinks sitting in on a production meeting would be helpful to him in his role as a researcher.

    Bob also sounds like my son when he wants you to know that he’s actually working – when that amount of work would by anyone else’s standards be considered barely having done anything in the amount of time that he’s spent on it. Along those lines, it could be useful to say something to Bob about the idea that it’s not so much that you don’t have time for his extended updates about what he’s done and how it happened, but rather that those are not useful to you as a measure of seeing what progress he has made. What’s useful to you is seeing the finished product and you would prefer to see him direct the time and energy that he’s using updating you to being more thorough in his research and information write-ups.

    1. Mrs_helm

      I hear what your saying, and there may be something to that. It sounds like your son does this out of avoidance. But for some, a whole lot of work “about the job” (organizing, ideas, even updates) is part of insecurity or procrastination – or even of not having enough actual work. Once Bob is set to correcting his quality issues, hopefully he’ll be too busy for this other stuff.

      1. animaniactoo

        No, when my son does it, it’s not about avoidance – there’s a level of procrastination in there – but it’s really about having done something, anything, and wanting me to *know* that he has. Wanting it to count. My son is seeking validation for having done work, and my sense is that Bob sounds like he is too. Which is why I say that it might be useful to tell Bob that the consistent updates are not useful rather than that OP doesn’t have time for them – it’s the wrong message about how Bob can be useful and recognized for his work. Useful is showing the finished product, please direct his energy and efforts there instead of on updating.

    2. Psyche

      A lot of his suggestions and requests sound like he might be lonely and looking for more interaction with others. That could explain the long conversations with OP, wanting to be in more meetings, wanting more hours and wanting to use Slack.

      1. valentine

        A lot of his suggestions and requests sound like he might be lonely and looking for more interaction with others.
        Yeah, OP may be his social outlet because who’s going to wear the tees and hats? But I hope this doesn’t make them double down on the woobification. It’ll be good for Bob to know what he’s done wrong so he has a chance to do right.

    3. TardyTardis

      Or Bob is using this job as his only social outlet–that happens at many different ages.

  5. kwagner

    “He’s gee whiz personified” is very funny and made my morning tbh. A Gergich type, if you will. But also I’ve been this person’s coworker and I can tell you OP that everyone will be grateful once he gets set straight. That kind of person can detract a lot of energy from actual work and his coworkers, whether they’re picking up his slack or not, will be grateful. Good luck with this not-fun but hopefully very helpful conversation!

    1. Linnet

      I also worry that he may be one of these men who doesn’t have any life/meaning outside work. I have seen plenty of men who have this type of over-eager, totalistic attitude toward work. It’s not always simply a reflection on his passion for the type of work. It can sometimes be a reflection of the role work plays in a man’s life in terms of self-worth and self-definition.

      If Bob is the type of man whose entire life has revolved around work and professional success, not being 100% at what he’s doing is a huge blow to his sense of self.

      65 is very, very different than 85 in terms of someone’s ability to work and desire to do so. A post-career 65 year old is in a very different place physically, mentally, and socially than a post-career 85 year old. Yes, both can be “retired” from their major profession(s). But, on average, a high level ability and desire of an 85 year old to get out and work is an exception, not a rule. At 65? Most 65 year olds are still mentally and physically able to engage in meaningful work and want to do so.

      I don’t want to derail on ageism, but I do want to mention that, when framing this, OP needs to be aware of this and not lump Bob in with someone at a decidedly different stage of life.

      1. OhNo

        I think you bring up a good point about the role that work might play in Bob’s life. I wonder if part of his pushing might be related to that, like he needs his job to be (or feel) important for it to be meaningful.

        Or he might just be having trouble adjusting to a job where the goal isn’t to move up in the company. I’ve heard a lot of stories about post-retirement people who have a really hard time adjusting to the mindset needed to be okay with staying at their current level, or reporting to someone else. If you retired at the top of your career, it could be a big mental switch to suddenly be on the bottom rung of the ladder with no upwards path.

        I think the advice of a commenter above to ask Bob what he hopes to achieve by doing some of these extra things, might give some insight, if that would help frame the conversation.

        1. Nic

          For that matter, the sort of person that’s interested in a post-retirement job is often interested in the communal aspect of the workplace. It’s a way to stay connected with people, not just a way to make ends meet. Putting that person in a “go away and research this on your own” job could be something of a personality mismatch, and I can’t help but wonder if he overestimated the interpersonal aspect of being at the research end of a production company. Unhappiness on that level would certainly fit with him reaching out for additional roles which involve more human contact and teamwork.

          But ultimately, none of that changes the fact that his enthusiasm for roles outside his job (and possibly his feelings of isolation) are distracting him from getting that actual job done – and he needs to get back to focusing on his own stuff and being good at it before anyone can assess a possible sideways move to a more interactive role in the company (if there is one!).

  6. Gay Tridentine Catholic Buzzcut Rastafarian

    I don’t have good advice for the OP, but I do for Bob: stop, Bob. Stop it. Stop it now, please, Bob.

    “He does voices, too.”

    OKAY BOB STOP IT, BOB. OKAY, BOB.

    1. Tardigrade

      I’d ask what OP means by he does voices, but I’d be afraid of the Robin Williams-esque impression montage that might follow.

    2. Joielle

      Yeah I have no helpful thoughts because I couldn’t get past my brain going “NOPE. NO. NO THANK YOU. ABSOLUTELY NOT. NOPE.”

      OP is a better person than me. I could feel my blood pressure rising just reading the letter. I think I would have absolutely snapped by this point and just gone “GET THE F OUT OF MY OFFICE BOB I DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS.” So props to you, OP!

  7. coffeeandpearls

    Can you create an office shared doc that is your “parking lot” for one-off ideas like Slack or t-shirts? That way you can review them quickly at a convenient time and not meet about it. Other staff could also say if they were interested or share that they would never wear a company shirt, etc.

    1. skarlatha

      I think this is a great idea. It lets Bob get it out of his system and might even make him happier, as he gets the illusion of a wider audience for his ideas. Also: I’ve been in an organization that had this type of thing, with a stickied bit at the top that listed common suggestions that have been tried before and/or won’t work, which cut down on a lot of the repeated suggestions for things that have already been considered. Might be well worth a try!

    1. SweetFancyPancakes

      Oh, man, the Jerry jokes were the only sour part of that show for me. A whole bunch of adults bullying a coworker, who was always nice and didn’t deserve to be treated that way. Those scenes always made me cringe even though I loved the rest of it.

      1. Mamunia

        Totally agree. And even though the show ended only a few years ago, that aspect seems really dated. I just don’t think that people would let that fly these days, thankfully (hopefully).

  8. ThatsNotForMe

    I really felt put off by OP’s attitude here. I definitely agree that his performance needs to be managed, and that conversation needs to be had. But OP also needs to really think about her attitude towards her staff. The way she described the position as a boredom buster for the elderly, and how she went to “crush his spirit” really put me off. It could be that sarcasm isn’t conveyed well over text but… I do not like it.

    Could it be that Bob’s energy is all over the place because the positions need to be structured in a more meaningful way? If he’s invested in his role but he is bored, it could be creating this void where he is trying to enhance his own experience. I am thinking of Bob as an overeager intern. He needs feedback on what he is doing wrong so that he can learn.

    1. gecko

      Yes, sarcasm is hard to portray through text. I read “crushing his spirit” is an ironic phrasing to illustrate OP’s knowledge that talking to him about this may dampen his enthusiasm, and that he may take it as a rejection of his good nature and effort. I agree that there’s a scent of OP not entirely respecting her team of researchers, which is a problem she’s got to grapple with, but I don’t think that phrase is meant seriously.

      1. Alanna of Trebond

        Sometimes people need a little spirit-crushing, if spirit-crushing is what it takes to get them to focus on building the skills they need to succeed at their own job or doing the work that actually needs doing! Anyone who works with interns will recognize the misdirected enthusiasm of someone who has LOTS of ideas that either they don’t have the skills to execute, aren’t actually a good idea for the company, would steal time from their original job…

        That said, to remove the tongue from my cheek, if Bob really loves the company, his job, and the mission, he should be open to feedback, especially if you frame it as “this is the role that you play in the [important] work that we do, and this is what you need to do in order to help us achieve that mission.”

        1. Spreadsheets and Books

          I don’t have anything to say on the topic of your comment besides generally agreement but YOU HAVE THE BEST HANDLE EVER.

      2. PollyQ

        I also read that as sarcasm and thought the phrase “crush his spirit in a productive way” was darn funny.

    2. Sam

      There are, absolutely, jobs that function as ‘boredom busters’ – I work in a job where most of our front-line staff are either a) students who aren’t supporting themselves off the work or b) retirees who aren’t supporting themselves off the work. People have been very, very clear that they’re here because it’s an interesting, not-very-difficult job where the requirements don’t change too often.

      1. katherine

        There’s a crucial difference some people are picking up on that hasn’t quite gotten across, and I think part of that is the ageism derail, which is close but not quite it. There’s a vast difference between “this job has no room for advancement” and “people take this job because they don’t want room for advancement.” Vast. And that difference has huge effects on how employees are treated, consciously or not. It’s the difference between “overeager volunteer who doesn’t know his place” and “employee attempting to implement habits/workflow from old workplace.” One tends to be taken less seriously than the other, leading to situations like this.

        So: Perhaps your employee isn’t supporting themselves off the work, and is completely fine with it; it’s just a glorified hobby. Or perhaps they aren’t supporting themselves off the work and thus have to take a second and/or third job to make ends meet, which is more often what happens when your job doesn’t pay you enough to live.

        Perhaps they take this job to “bust boredom.” Or perhaps they take it because they need a job to pay rent/medical bills/tuition/whatever, this is the only one they can get, and thus they will say whatever it takes to keep it. (The OP says it’s a media job. My background is in media, and media is a field with a LOT of “prematurely retired” i.e. furloughed/bought-out/laid-off employees, who tend to skew older, and who do not tend to fit the “boredom buster” profile. This would also explain him wanting to implement Slack.)

        Again, this isn’t an ageism thing, though the elderly are indeed among the groups affected more often. The same arguments could apply to minimum-wage jobs like fast food — and indeed, have been applied frequently given the recent news in that sector.

    3. ket

      But I gotta say, I’ve worked with this type of person too (though young, like 20). They have so many ideas! they’re so excited! they want to contribute! they love it!

      … and they make more work with bringing up their half-thought-out ideas and contributions-for-the-sake-of-contribution. Why do we need t-shirts? What problem does Slack solve? Why should we do a booth at the fair if we haven’t identified a need to reach out to that audience? Why do I need to listen to you list out all the articles you read about this, especially when you’ve misunderstood the conclusions of said articles and have the facts wrong and someone else is going to have to not only redo it but *also* clear up the misunderstanding you’ve spread through the office?

      These people are hard to manage. They make work, make a tizzy, whip up energy, and produce little of quality. They’re like dust storms whizzing through the office. Two well-thought-out ideas are worth twenty random thoughts.

    4. Joielle

      No, this is WAY too much hand holding. Bob isn’t an overeager intern, he’s an adult man who should know how to act in a professional setting. Bob needs to stay in his lane and do his own job, and if it takes a sharp rebuke to accomplish that, then that’s what OP should do. OP does not need to spend more valuable time trying to placate Bob.

      1. Lavender Menace

        Interns can be adults. How is structuring a position clearly and getting clear feedback one’s work “too much hand holding”?

    5. CM

      I found it kind off-putting, too. For me, the telling comment was that the OP didn’t want him to get “too big for his britches.” If Bob wants things from this job that aren’t possible, it’s kind to tell him that, but he’s not doing anything wrong by aspiring to more.

      The emotional framework I’d approach this with is, “Gosh, it’s disappointing that we can’t give Bob what he’s looking for since he’s so enthusiastic about the work, but it’s important to be clear about what this role can and can’t offer him” not “Know your place, Bob!”

      (And, to be honest, sometimes the impact we have on the lives of the people we work with is greater than the impact of the work itself. There are cases where making an old man happy because he can sit in the story meeting is going to have more of a positive impact on the world than getting better research. I’m not in a position to judge if that’s the case, here, but “Always 100% prioritize the quality of your work above everything else” isn’t necessarily a motto to live by.)

      1. hamstergirl

        I completely get where you’re coming from, but in the TV industry there’s a pretty big emphasis on “knowing your place.”
        This is partially because the unions are very strict and partially because there are a lot of situations in which overstepping can be an easily fireable offence because the stakes are consistently quite high.

        So while it seems harsh – it’s a legitimate concern.

        1. Anon for this one

          The truth is that “knowing your place”, in the most neutral/non condescending sense, is important. It’s about understanding what *you* need to contribute to your team or company, and why, and the impact of you doing a great (or terrible) job.

          It doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to a different role, but in your current role, you have specific things you are required to do.

          I am in a specialist, senior role and we recently brought in a junior person to help with admin and support tasks which were preventing me from getting to the actual work (e.g. booking meeting rooms and parking for visitors, archiving documents correctly). There’d also be a fair bit of opportunity to learn organically by observing and assisting, but this is not an intensive mentorship program.

          Their background is superficially related to what we do. E.g. If I manage an art restoration company, they have worked as an school art teacher. It allows for a superficial understanding of what we do. In fact it can create problems because they see their experience as relevant to what we doing… It’s not.

          On their first or second day, they were offering to do some of the restoration work. I said, no, we have a professional restorer. I need you to do the admin and give support where needed. You may observe and document the restoration process, where necessary.

          The truth is that many people will look at their work and compare it with something that looks more interesting. Or, they are constantly looking to expand their sphere of influence. Never mind that they have a pretty well defined role, which they often aren’t doing very well.

  9. Brett

    I had an employee just like this in so many ways. For him, directly stating the problem and asking for corrections on the spot really helped. I would say, “Bob, stop with the explanation. Please write it down for me or we can schedule time to discuss later.” When Bob made a significant mistake (like maybe providing incorrect information in this case, or if he did something significantly outside his role), “Bob, you cannot do that. Please correct that right now by doing x.” I suspect your Bob may be a far more resilient personality than you think (based on his sheer excitement for the job), so direct correction like that would have a really good chance of being effective.

    When he rattles off too many ideas or ideas too far outside the scope, “Bob, I appreciate the new ideas, but I need you to focus on (specific research task) right now.” Be really careful here though. For our “Bob”, some of his ideas that seemed not actionable turned out to be incredible changes that we were able to implement and dramatically improve our capabilities and reputation; they just took a long time to make actionable by making other changes first.

    When Bob wants to do something that is someone else’s job (like script writing), “Bob, I like the energy to take on new tasks, but you have existing tasks you really need to get done. Let me handle script writing. What’s the status of (critical research project with deadline soon)?” That’s a good situation to let Bob give you one of his verbal blow-by-blow explanation. He likes doing them anyway, and that will get him excited about his work instead of work that is not his work. (And it can help you make sure that Bob will do good work on that research project.)

    Our “Bob” became an incredibly valuable employee who learned to create rock solid work and has developed (with time) revolutionary ideas that have changed how we work. He ended up becoming excited about his work and lost interest the work outside his role once he had some nudging to channel him towards the variety available to him inside his role.

    1. Alice

      It strikes me that “directly stating the problem and asking for corrections” is a brief summary of what managers are supposed to do and what OP needs to start doing.

      1. Brett

        I had not thought of it that way! What I had to do a little differently was making those corrections immediately and right on the spot. I think this could go badly with some employees (especially if they have confidence issues), but it was very effective in this case; way more effective than I would have thought.

        1. Close Bracket

          ” making those corrections immediately and right on the spot.”

          Feedback should be immediate and specific. This is one of those manager skills that people need to be taught.

          “way more effective than I would have thought.”

          Somebody failed you as a management trainer.

    2. scribblingTiresias

      as someone who, thanks to ADHD, is very much the GOLLY GEE WHIZ type… thank you for this, and thank you for pointing out that, managed correctly, that can be a strength and not a weakness.

  10. Brett

    Following up on my last comment…
    Speaking of good suggestions, I think you are probably wrong about the group being too old for slack. In last job, I worked with an extensive group of volunteer ham radio weather spotters. They were definitely an older group composed of a lot of retirees. They turned into extremely effective users of google hangouts as a communication platform; way beyond what I ever learned to do there. When we switched to slack, they resisted at first, mostly because of the app installs, but took little time in becoming highly effective with that as a communication platform too.

    Your implementation time might be a little long and painful, but the payoff might be very big given the nature of your work.

    1. Devil Fish

      I assume OP knows their staff well enough to determine whether Slack would be a helpful platform for them. (It’s also not a great idea if OP thinks all channels would just be overwhelmed by Bob being Bob rather than actually contributing something worthwhile to the other researchers, which was the way I read it.)

      1. Close Bracket

        “I assume OP knows their staff well enough”

        OP has only been there 5 months. They are new at managing and new at the company. There is probably a lot they don’t know about their staff right now.

        1. Myrin

          And I’m fairly certain whether her staff is generally tech-savvy or not doesn’t fall under the things she doesn’t know yet – that’s something she would be able to suss out during the first month, if you ask me.

        2. Open Mind

          Five months is not actually that short a time. In any job I’ve had, I’ve been perfectly able to assess these issues after a few months, and quite comfortable in managing them. I’d find it very odd if someone was unable to do so, honestly.

          You seem really wedded to the idea that OP is too new to be competent, as you’ve repeated this comment multiple times now. So, maybe it takes YOU a really long time to learn how to do something. That’s OK! The thing is, not everyone is as slow as you seem to be. Perhaps it’s just time to consider that other people work differently.

      2. Brett

        The issue here, though, might be failing to understand the skills required to effectively use the technology. These are completely different skills from the skills needed to rapidly adopt the technology.
        This has little to do with OP’s knowledge of her staff, by rather OP’s knowledge of technical adoption and communications technology usage.
        My point is that, just because the staff might not have the skills to rapidly adopt a technology like slack, does not mean they do not have the skills to use the technology effectively. I would think that a communications and research focused group of employees could readily use slack more effectively than they can email.

        1. TardyTardis

          And where we used Slack, we had one #Random channel where Bob could type all day as long as he was getting his regular work done.

    2. TardyTardis

      I agree. The average age of the tax preparers in our office last year was over 60, and we all used Slack just fine.

  11. SigneL

    Can you harness Bob’s good qualities (enthusiasm/love of what he’s doing)? I also agree with Alison that addressing his performance issues needs to happen.

    1. Queen of the File

      I used to have a Bob on my team and, while I totally get the OP’s frustration, we did find a way to harness the EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!. There were certain types of assignments that were annoying or tedious and everyone hated doing them. Everyone except Bob, because Bob loved everything! Being able to assign the undesirable stuff to Bob and not have to deal with any “ugh why” about it made up for the fact that his stuff still needed to go through a peer review before it was used.

  12. Alanna of Trebond

    If it’s not a pipeline job, it makes sense that they fill it with part-timers or retirees, though — researcher is often a job for young, hungry go-getters who are looking for the next rung. Nothing wrong with having a job that doesn’t lead anywhere if you’re able to fill it with people who don’t need or want it to lead anywhere!

  13. StaceyIzMe

    It sounds like Bob is good at making other people do his work, basically. He has to be fact checked on his research. He has ideas that require attention, funding and strategic oversight to implement. He has emails, comments and requests that are too numerous to manage within the course of normal interaction. Yikes! I don’t know if a “big talk” is going to correct someone like this. If you wanted to go another way, I liked Alison’s suggestion of “save it for quarterly submission” on the suggestions/ comments/ project ideas. He doesn’t sound like a good detail guy. He’s a big picture person and maybe not adept enough in the current context to leverage that skill in any helpful way. Rather than trying to shoehorn him in to a role that’s painful for him and for you, you might be truly kindest by acknowledging his passion, enthusiasm and big picture aspirations and then telling him that he needs more before he can engage as he aspires to. There’s nothing wrong with moving someone on from a role that doesn’t suit their skills or even match their aspirations. In Bob’s case, it might be kinder to him and to the organization to do it sooner rather than later. Because his coworkers might be asking “how did it get this far, even”? His skills don’t support his role, which means he’s being paid to not provide a professional service to your company. AND he’s high maintenance in the context of not performing that role.

    1. Serin

      > He has to be fact checked on his research. He has ideas that require attention, funding and strategic oversight to implement. He has emails, comments and requests that are too numerous to manage within the course of normal interaction.

      This is the second time I’ve done this in a work-related context: I’m going to recommend the book “Positive Discipline For Preschoolers” or the positivediscipline website to a manager of adults, because it addresses Four Mistaken Beliefs, and one of them is “I belong only when I’m being noticed or getting special service. I’m only important when I’m keeping you busy with me.”

    2. Not So NewReader

      I like this a lot. A big picture person working a detail job.
      And I so agree, as I read through it appeared to me that Bob was rushing through his regular work in order to get this side stuff done. He would prefer to create his own tasks and solve problems that are real or imagined. He’s not really that interested in the job itself.

      OP, while I appreciate that you are concerned about crushing his spirit or bursting his balloon, remember that every day that you let this go on you are crushing the spirits of everyone one else in the place. Yes, on one hand you have Bob and on the other hand you have everyone else. Everyone else is saying, “HOW much longer is OP going to let this go on?” And frankly you also run the risk of someone else delivering the message. And who knows what that message will sound like. If you want the message delivered your way, then you need to do it and you need to do it soon. Someone else may do it for you, otherwise.

      1. TardyTardis

        Bob might be happier in a job where he could be social all day–a job that some people in research would run screaming from, I might add.

  14. SezU

    My number 1 question is… how do I get this gig? I would totally love to do part time research in my retirement (happening soon!)

    1. H.C.

      Something about the original posting makes me think the job is with a digital media outlet w a sizable video/podcast component like Buzzfeed, Slate or Vox – maybe one or more of them have a researcher opening posted & you can see the requirements needed.

      1. Gazebo Slayer

        I was envisioning an educational podcast, something along the lines of Stuff You Should Know, or maybe a video series.

  15. TootsNYC

    Tell him that it’s at the point where producers feel like they can’t rely on his research and have to fact-check it themselves.

    This means he is doing more harm than good. Tell him that, bluntly and directly.

    It would be better for everyone if he wasn’t doing this job at all, because then people could plan on doing that work themselves.
    Going down the wrong path costs much more time than never going anywhere at all.

    You can too fire volunteers.

  16. Jennifer

    Poor Bob :(

    I hope he gets it together and keeps his job. We need more people in the world like him.

  17. Sara without an H

    Hi, OP — You said that this was your first managerial position. You are making the classic new manager mistake — you are not being clear with Bob about what his job is and what he needs to do it well. Alison is right, you need to have that conversation.

    Before you do that, though, sit down and think through carefully what you expect a good researcher to do. Don’t assume that, because Bob has a researcher’s position, that he “just knows” what a good researcher is supposed to do. Get this clear in your own mind, then sit down with Bob and spell it out. Define some performance metrics for him, and give him a timeline for hitting them.

    If you make it clear that you want Bob to focus more on his core job, you may find that the other behaviors diminish. But making it clear what his core job is and what your expectations are is the first step.

    1. TootsNYC

      also look at what he’s doing when he goes wrong, and what, specifically, went wrong.

      Is he choosing the wrong sources?
      Does he skim, or stop reading too soon?
      Does he make conclusions when he should just be summarizing?

      Is there an output you can request of him that avoids these?

      You may need to almost start from scratch in terms of training.

    2. Mephyle

      This is so important. If he is producing unreliable product time and again, he needs some orientation and coaching in how to do the research that he has been hired to do. He is not going to spontaneously get better on his own and stop wasting the time of the people that have to double-check and correct his work.
      I didn’t see any indication that such coaching and training is happening. If he is going to be paid for being productive instead of the opposite, then it’s time to teach him how he should be doing his tasks.

      1. Not So NewReader

        Yep. Additionally, he is rushing through it so he can do these other things.
        It’s okay to say, “No more side work until the main part of your job gets up to par.”
        If you need to, OP, sit with his job description and go over it with him.

  18. Dust Bunny

    Did you hire my dad? Because this sounds like my dad. He’s gotten way more sociable and busybodyish . . . we think not necessarily directly with age, but because since he retired he misses the structure and the attention he got at work. He’s also a total disaster at research. Like, I swear he has a magical ability to find all the results *except* the reliable ones.

    He’s driving us nuts, though. Sorry. No advice on how to manage this.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      This is pretty normal for new retirees! You go from 40hrs a week, with the same people and routine. To perma-vacation.

      My dad loves loves loves loves loves all door to door solicitation now. He once even signed my mom up for a vacuum demo [they don’t have carpets just a couple area rugs, wuuuuuuut]. Also he’ll never covert, he’s not religious but man, you wanna talk about Your Savior, please come sit in the garden and chat away.

      Thankfully my dad can be shut down though, you just have to get over the kneejerk reaction to just say “oh he’s elderly, you cannot correct or change your elders…” No, I’ve been readily challenging and changing my dad for 35 years.

      1. Dust Bunny

        Mine can’t be shut down. He has zero introspection on this and seems to believe he’s always been a social butterfly. But it’s gotten to the point where you can’t trust him not to blab private information when he’s on a roll being the life of the party. We can’t tell him anything personal any more.

      2. TootsNYC

        My dad loves getting the promotional mail from the charities who send him notebooks, address labels, etc.

        Hey, it’s mail!

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch

          I love promotional things. I was super excited when I was “old enough” to get those address labels some places send out to get you to donate. Which is why it’s good that I can get these kinds of things from our vendors now and it’s not frowned upon =D

  19. Cat mom

    This employee might benefit from volunteering at a Community Cable Access Station where he can wear all the hats, have all the ideas, and finish the projects that most appeal to him. If he were to be directed to bring some of his interests and talents to a more receptive venue (since he loves it so much!) he might be able to focus better on his paid tasks where he will have to accept additional boundaries. If he is lonely, and it sounds like he might be, he can find others who share his passion for production there.

    In terms of the ageism, I’m 67 and still working for now – I wouldn’t consider Slack the best channel to reach my peers if I had a limited budget and had to maximize my outreach dollars. Some elders do use it, but it’s not a generally well-known channel like Facebook or Twitter. FWIW, I don’t see that as ageist, just targeted marketing.

  20. MuseumChick

    OP, Alison’s advice is spot on. If you want to soften the blow of the first discussion a little, you can always put some of the blame on yourself, “Bob, there are some things I should have discussed with you a while ago and it’s my fault as your manager that I didn’t.” Then you can go into Alison’s script pointing out what improvements you need to see. Keep a close eye on his work and follow up when you see either the same problems happening or improvements, “Bob, this research was incomplete, this is the kind of thing I was talking about in our meeting that I need to see improve.”

  21. Esme

    Giving him the performance feedback might prompt him to check in with you more frequently about his work process, which is probably good! But given his tendency toward detailed recounting of work… think about what you want him to cover when he checks in with you and prepare to ask pointed questions to guide that conversation. When he comes to you to replay an interview with voices, always redirect to the process questions that will make him a better researcher. “Sounds like an interesting source, so did you xyz to get your notes correct? and have you followed up on abc then?” Plan ahead to make those check-ins actually useful, you don’t want to cut off his checking in entirely while he’s improving but direct them productively. Then if he starts performing more consistently, when he starts to tell you the stories you can actually say “You’ve been doing well, I don’t need such frequent updates anymore. Did you have a specific question though?”

  22. Essess

    I am seeing slightly conflicting expectations. You don’t like that he is coming to you to discuss his projects since you say “He also wastes my time by giving me the blow-by-blow of his research projects, and asking for my approval before taking next steps on some of them” but you also say he’s not doing them correctly so people don’t trust his work. It sounds to me like you need to set up some coaching sessions on a regular basis (every x days or once a week or whatever is appropriate for the size of research projects he’s doing) so that he can check in and you can steer him to the areas that he’s misinterpreting or missing entirely. This would be a reasonable management expectation to have scheduled check-ins and would hopefully teach him the skills to identify what he’s missing so that would improve his future work.

    1. Commenter

      I agree completely!

      I’d interpret Bob’s excessive check-ins as his way of asking for feedback and trying to determine if he’s on the right track. So it seems counter-productive to be essentially blowing him off and treating his checking in as annoying, when you then go on to say that his work *isn’t* complete or accurate!

      I think that much of this could be resolved by providing clearer expectations for what results he should be producing, and by re-framing the check-in meetings so they can be used to determine if he’s on track to producing those results, or if some course correction would be useful to re-align his focus.

      1. Commenter

        Another possibility is that he’s asking for feedback like this because he too senses this exact role might not be a perfect fit for him, and his interest in exploring other tasks may be an attempt to see if there’s an adjacent role that may be a better fit.

        Either way, I think that making the requirements of this role clearer, openly discussing what adjustments he’d need to make, and working with him to determine if he’s successfully making those adjustments will be key here.

        And if there might be the possibility for him to transition to a different role, I’d definitely investigate that and discuss that with him as well! (Also it’d be helpful to communicate to him if that *wouldn’t* be possible at all).

      2. Academic Addie

        I read it this way, too. It sounds like Bob might actually be really amenable to feedback.

        I work with a lot of young people in a role for which entry-level jobs just don’t prepare you. It’s really easy for folks without a lot of training to see mistakes as one-offs, or to not detect patterns. I often find that seemingly unconnected errors arise from a common source. Maybe Bob gets facts wrong because of the way he’s searching for information. Or maybe it’s because he phrases questions to sources in a way that is confusing, or approaching the wrong sources about things. You don’t have to let him dictate the schedule, but setting check-ins on projects might let you see both where the specific error is coming from, but also give you insight into the general pattern of errors.

      3. Decima Dewey

        Yes. Bob may have been told that some of his research wasn’t usable and he needs to be more careful, and what he heard was “check with OP before doing anything except autonomic organ functions.”

    2. hbc

      I don’t think it’s conflicting so much as it at least needs redirection. If you were assigned a 20 page report on Wuthering Heights and kept coming back with, “I’ve done the outline!” and “4 pages in, is it okay if I go to another library to get resources?,” you’re simultaneously giving too much information *and* not enough to catch that you’re assigning all the Bronte sisters’ works to Emily or that you’re referencing some random person’s blog.

      So maybe there should be the same number of checkins but with spot checks of the work itself, at least for a short while. But I don’t think it’s really sustainable to have meetings where you’re fact-checking your fact-checker

    3. Snark

      The thing is, though, he needs to have productive conversations with her about his projects and how they’re going with OP. That is a different thing than play-by-plays, with voices, of conversations with sources. If that is how he asks for feedback and help, that needs to be feedback for him as well, because he is doing it the Worst Way Imaginable.

      1. Commenter

        Absolutely!

        I agree that the overly-frequent check-ins certainly don’t seem to be useful in their current form. But I think OP may be getting thrown off by their frustration that they aren’t realizing this could be a perfect opportunity to take control of these check-ins (setting a schedule, enforcing a clear agenda, etc) to guide them into becoming conversations that would likely be very beneficial to *both* of them.

      2. tamarack & fireweed

        Yes, sure, but it’s the OP whose job is to drive and direct these conversations. Remember the Dunning-Kruger effect: those who aren’t good at something are also not good at correctly perceiving their own performance level… because the same skills are required for both. So while the excessive check-ins and inappropriate, time-wasting idea communications could be a lot of things — expression of his personality, expression of his insecurity, expression of his buy-in to the mission of the organization — and probably ARE all these things, they’re also the one opening he provides for seeking feed-back. That he’s seeking it in all the wrong places is, given his low performance, not just unsurprising but to be expected.

    4. fhqwhgads

      I don’t think this conflicts. The “blow-by-blow” is unnecessary as is the approval because he’s basically saying “I did A and then B and then C and I was gonna do D, is that OK?” And OP didn’t need to hear ABC and D is fine and he didn’t need approval for that.
      The things he’s not doing correctly don’t come out in this process. Because A might be something like “interviewed relevant person” and B is “read relevant article”. Whereas the things he’s doing wrong are the notes from A draw a particular conclusion that no other human in their right mind would draw from that. Or the notes from B leave out big giant important fact, without which misconstrues the point of B.
      It’s true he does need more coaching and communication on what he’s doing wrong or why he drew the wrong conclusion or why it was bad to omit whatever he omitted…but getting rid of the blow-by-blow doesn’t prevent that. Bob’s spending a lot of time talking to OP and he may be asking questions, but they’re the wrong questions for where he needs to improve. That’s not completely his fault, and she does need to tell him directly to focus on getting the facts right. But I don’t see any contraction in the details of what’s happening here. It sounds to me like Bob is spending a ton of time talking about What He Is Working On instead of spending more time focusing being sure his end product is factually correct.

      It’s like if he were a student talking to a tutor and said “I’m going to do my homework now. I’m going to use my laptop. Can I use the printer to print it when I’m done?” and the tutor is like “yes you don’t need to tell me these things”. But then it turns out he was supposed to be writing a paper on the War of 1812 and what he printed out and handed her was an essay about the Great Gatsby.

    5. Nic

      One further possibility is that he’s coming to LW in the first flush of enthusiasm, talking (accurately) through everything he’s learned…and then gets back to his desk and can’t remember the details well enough to put them down on paper. Because he’s had his audience. Or because he’s a verbal person not a put it on paper person.

      It might be worth exploring options like telling him to go write the report first and then LW will make time for Bob to give a verbal presentation of it, or maybe LW needs to ask Bob to give his bravura performance to a dictaphone/recording app, which she can review at her leisure and he can use to help write his report.

  23. Kinda Bothered

    Just a general comment. It is not necessary to mention age when it is irrelevant to the problematic behavior. Which it usually is. At 64, I am likely older than most of the commentariat and also probably more sensitive to ageism than many of you. I notice it just about every day reading here, and it is disconcerting. Mentioning age when it is not relevant is no different than mentioning race or religion when it is not relevant. I do feel there is bias against older workers, whether concious or unconsious.

  24. Close Bracket

    Tim Berners-Lee is currently 64.

    There’s no technical reason why he can’t sit in … except it has nothing to do with his work, researchers have never been invited to this meeting, and I fear his overly-helpful nature will lead to him disrupting it. Bob has also asked if he can help with writing scripts, which again is not a part of the researcher’s job — in fact, it’s my job.

    I wonder if we should separate the “bad at his job part” from the “not part of his job” part. Address the performance issues. Address his, ahem, overly helpful nature. Etc. Make it clear *and specific* what need to change, especially in order for him to take on extra work.

    Then, if he has the ability, there is funding, and the need exists, let him do non-researcher tasks. What exactly is the problem with a researcher going to meetings and writing scripts? Is there a funding issue with paying Bob for the extra time he would spend in these meetings? Are you concerned he would take your work away and leave you with nothing? Or are you just hoarding work? If you can keep him on track, there is nothing to be gained from siloing a capable person. Think of it as “other duties as necessary.”

    1. ket

      What if the writer’s concern is that Bob will start making suggestions in the meetings and getting them off-track as others have to explain why that’s not the task at hand, and it’ll make the writer look bad?

    2. Joielle

      If Bob was good at his job and had a sense of boundaries, I’d say let him sit in on the meetings – but he can’t even do his own job correctly, let alone start doing all kinds of other things. Maybe, possibly, at some point in the future he could do more, if he corrects his current issues and shows sustained improvement, but I think that kind of coaching would take way more work from OP than would be appropriate.

    3. WellRed

      But he’s not doing the work at hand well, probably in no small part because he’s all over the place with his ideas. Why pay him for something they don’t need. And, if you think he won’t derail these meetings he doesn’t need to be part of, well…

      I work in editorial, we have editorial meetings. On ocassion, we need to pull in marketing or production or the web guy. But do we randomly let people sit in on the meetings? No, they’d be bored and we’d feel unable to speak freely on certain things.

    4. Dust Bunny

      No, do not let him do this. He’s already shown that he won’t stay in his lane and is cluttering the air with unrealistic and unneeded suggestions, and not doing what he’s supposed to be doing. The LW has made this clear that this is a go-nowhere job, so there is no reason to encourage this guy with new tasks. He needs to do what they hired him to do, and he’s not.

      Sometimes a job needs less enthusiasm to be done well. This seems to be one of those jobs.

    5. Psyche

      It sounds like he may not be qualified to write the scripts. Also, paying him to sit in on meetings that he doesn’t need to be in is not a good use of resources and could lead to the other researchers wanting to sit in. It doesn’t sound like the OP is hoarding work or “siloing a capable person”. It sounds like Bob wants to do the OP’s job rather than what he was hired to do.

    6. Nic

      I think you can’t entirely separate the “bad at his job” part when one part of that threatens to disrupt proceedings, and the other part is possibly a symptom of the first problem.

      1) His research is inaccurate – OK, so that’s not a problem for the “not part of his job”, it (hopefully) just requires LW to rein him in and get him to focus on his job and stop getting distracted.

      2) He gets distracted by all sorts of ideas for things which aren’t his job and flings them at LW at random points which disrupt her work – OK so one obvious possibility is to give him a valid way to channel that excess enthusiasm. Say…by taking him to the meetings he’s interested in. But is that going to help him? Or is it going to result in the meetings being less productive for everybody else, while Bob gets even more distracted away from the job he’s being paid to do?

  25. The Man, Becky Lynch

    I’ve known young and old to really cringe and hate new technology, so I would try to look into are they really not interested in Slack?

    That aside, since it’s also getting hammered everywhere. I think it’s important to just let him know that he needs to focus on what he’s there for, the research part and that his ideas are welcome but to please condense them into a smaller amount of correspondence [not 10 emails a day!].

    If you have no budget, just say that to him. “Hey Bob, if it costs money, we’re not going to be able to do it. The budget is tighter than ever.” Just tell him no. I don’t see where he’s been told no or that he needs to focus on his work instead of others.

    It may be because you feel the stress of managing people who are older and you’re not used to having to tell someone who’s old enough to be a parent or grandparent to that they need to stay in their lane? That’s fair enough. Really, seriously. Treat him like you’d treat someone your age. With proper respect and tell him no, firmly when it’s necessary!

    1. Snark

      Also, the next time pops off with another idea that needs to be funded, planned, and executed, walk him through it. Ideas are trash without the follow-through.

      “Okay, Bob, say we get more T-shirts. How much do they cost for 100? Does that go down if we order 200? How much is the personalization with our logo? What’s the startup fee for getting them printed? How much is shipping and tax? It’s not in your position description, so who is going to handle all of that?”

      “Oh um er”

      “Those are questions I need to know the answer to before you come to me. We have a budget, and I can’t overspend it, so I need to have an idea of how much money and time your ideas cost to execute in the real world. When you come to me, I need a proposal, not an idea. And in general, I have time to evaluate a proposal like that about once a month, so I need you to be really selective with ideas before you bring them to me. Can you do that?”

      1. Remedial Chaos Theory

        This approach has the very likely possibility of Bob researching the t-shirt logistics instead of researching his actual work.

    2. Alanna of Trebond

      Slack early adopter here who mostly loves it: DO NOT GET SLACK ON THE RECOMMENDATION OF YOUR BUSYBODY EMPLOYEE WHO DOESN’T QUITE GET WHAT IS AND IS NOT HIS JOB, IS OVERLY HELPFUL, AND HAS TOO MANY IDEAS, OH MY GOSH, sorry for yelling, but seriously, don’t!

      Slack makes workplace communication more frictionless. That’s it’s whole deal. For people who understand their roles and the norms of their office, this is good (you can DM the boss with a quick question, you can pop into the Teapot Tester team room as a Teapot Designer and ask for someone to help you out with a quick Q, you can put together a DM group on the fly to chat through an idea without having to schedule a formal meeting right away). Unfortunately it is a platform that can exacerbate all the worst tendencies of Bob-types (they can DM the boss with non-urgent questions all day long! they can pop into the Teapot Tester team room, which is full of people they don’t know, and tell them all your great ideas for changing their testing process!)

      If you do think Slack is a good idea for the team, have a Bob Mitigation Protocol in mind.

      1. Nic

        This. I wasn’t keen on LW framing the Slack question as an age issue, because it seemed to me that the main reason it wouldn’t be useful is that their section of the production company (if I’m understanding correctly) functions by sending people off to do individual research assignments, and then LW takes the accumulated information and takes it into meetings with the creative group. Slack isn’t going to make their job easier; it’s just going to enable Bob to disrupt EVERYONE’S workday by being chatty and enthusiastic at them all the time.

  26. Kinda Bothered

    Just yesterday, there was a letter from an OP who was practically teaching an employee how to read and write. Lots of support for this when it was clear that the employee wasnot ready for a promotion. Yet, an older person gets no such support. Hypocrisy.

    1. MuseumChick

      I think the big difference is that, in the previous letter the employee was shown to be taking feedback seriously and making improvements in all other areas their boss has spoken to them about. In this letter, it appears that conversation has not happened yet. That is step 1. If this letter had been, “My employee Bob does X, Y, and Z which are problems. I’ve had a direct talk with him and seen vast improvements in X and Y but not Z.” the responses to this letter would be different.

    2. Dust Bunny

      This comment makes no sense.

      One is prepping an employee for progress in the job. Bob is in a non-progressing job and is already overstepping and not doing his actual job well. They’re not the same situation.

      1. ChimericalOne

        Agreed. “How can I help a person in a potentially-progressive role step up to the next rung up the ladder” is going to be answered very differently from “How can I get a person in a non-progressive role to focus on doing his job better and stop trying to do everyone else’s job?” — and rightfully so. Getting one job with a company doesn’t mean you’re in any way qualified to get a *different* job with that company. Questioner A was looking at a person hoping to move up to the next logical step. Questioner B’s employee is not in a job that *has* another logical step up.

    3. fhqwhgads

      What I saw in that other post was a TON of people saying that person didn’t have the base skills and was probably incapable of learning them, and a number of people saying maybe they don’t have the skills but can learn them and to give them a limited run try to see which it is, and a handful of people suggesting the person might just need training of indeterminate length. Not at all what you just describe. But the contexts are also different and they don’t have to do with age. That person wanted a promotion and was trying to improve and the LW wanted to see if they could help them get to that point. Bob has no opportunity for promotion here and doesn’t seem to understand the purpose of his actual job, and seems to be trying to everything but his actual job. The other employee was considered “80% of the way there” (for the promotion). This OP didn’t put a number on it, but it sounds like Bob is not even 50% there at his actual current job.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Bill Gates is 63, ffs!

      I think so many people misunderstand how your generation created a bunch of the technology in the first place.

      I hear it from my teenaged nephew someones though. “You wouldn’t know about this app/this technology.” “Bro, my generation is creating those apps you’re constantly playing with.”

      I mean my parents stink at technology but that’s because they’re not tech people. They never have been. We had a VCR until I was 19 and got a job, I bought my mom a DVD player as a Christmas present and she was like “This is so cool…but IDK how it works…” It was literally a box with 3 buttons, LOL.

      1. TardyTardis

        Although we have never been able to get our Amazon Echo to work, neither has our daughter! And given what we know now about who’s listening, perhaps it’s just as well.

  27. Cobol

    (apologies if I missed a similar response)
    I wouldn’t necessarily tray these as two issues. There’s a significant chance they’re related. Bob is not doing the research job he needs to do because he is spreading himself thin with not his job ideas.
    In a kind way sit him down and say Bob you’re not producing the quality we need. Focus on that and not anything else.

    1. tamarack & fireweed

      I believe Alison selects those manually. (At least that was my understanding a while ago.)

  28. BradC

    So, isn’t there somewhat of a contradiction between not wanting to hear about or needing to approve the blow-by-blow of Bob’s ongoing research, vs making sure he doesn’t come out with incorrect results?
    Could some of his errors be caught or anticipated earlier in the process, if you did review it at an earlier stage? (No, don’t use those sources; no, that’s not the way we usually verify that kind of info; no, I don’t think that conclusion is actually supported…)

    1. Psyche

      I think the problem is that hearing a reenactment of a conversation he had with a source would not actually give the OP the information she needs to ensure he accurate while also taking up a lot of time. It sounds like the check ins are needed but need to be restructured and possible be in written form instead of verbal.

      1. BradC

        That’s a good way to think about it: “restructuring” Bob’s current time-wasting updates into a format better suited for actual evaluation/feedback. That might just kill two birds with one stone.

  29. Former call centre worker

    LW, I help to run a company-wide employee suggestion scheme for a large company and prior to that was involved with an internal suggestions scheme for the department I was in at the time. Your comments about Bob sending you multiple ideas a day reminded me very much of some of our ‘frequent flyers’, although I don’t think we’ve ever had 10 in a day from the same person!

    It might help if Bob had an insight into your thought process when you’re considering one of his ideas, so perhaps you could talk through a couple with him?

    You could also give him a few questions to answer every time he wants to send an idea to you. For example you could ask him to tell you
    – Would the idea require investment (time/money/resources)?
    – How much would it cost, and does he think that amount is available to spend?
    – Which budget should the investment come from?
    – How would it deliver a return on that investment?
    – How does it support the company’s current priorities (ensure Bob knows what these are)?
    – What are the barriers to implementing it?

    Make sure that Bob understands that the purpose of this is to help him to assess the strength of the idea himself and that he should only press ‘send’ if, after answering the questions, he honestly still thinks the idea will deliver a return on investment.

  30. Intern/Senior Grant-Writer

    I’m a development intern right now with a lovely team but ~minimal guidance about what they actually want me to produce and I was so worried about turning into Bob that after my first week to cut down on emailing my supervisors more than a couple times a day I started making topic Google Docs and Drive folders that I update every time I see something I think might be relevant or answers to questions they asked a while ago that took me some time to hunt down (“Hey, can you make a list of all the organizations working in *field*?”).

    They don’t ever read them, but all the information is there for them forever.

  31. Sally Forth

    “I want us to be on the same page about what is and isn’t possible in this job.”

    This is a brilliant line and I am going to use it in my volunteer board work with people who want us to do stuff far behind our mandate.

  32. Terra C

    Am I the only one who finds it troubling that this company hires researchers to do apparently important research – then pays them minimum wage? Is that a thing nowadays—hiring retirees to use what would otherwise be a well-paid professional skillset, but then paying them Wallmart wages? A frightening picture of the future. (I’m not at all blaming OP for their company policies, although advocating for change here would surely benefit both OP and their employee.)

    1. lemon

      Yes, this also rubbed me the wrong way. But my old job did this all the time, so I’m a little jaded and cynical so now that is just what I expect from corporations? Old job hired lawyers for $40k a year to read scripts in call center, just so they could advertise to customers that they have legal advisers on staff as a selling point.

    2. New Jack Karyn

      It sounds like they have plenty of applicants, so that may be what the job is worth. They might be in an area with one of the higher minimum wages, as well.

  33. JSPA

    You can tackle both parts of the problem together if you frame it as “core functions” vs “entertaining distractions and extras.” Tell him that you don’t want to presume that the “entertaining distractions and extras” (like brainstorming good ideas for other people, giving you a play-by-play, etc) are the reason that he’s not doing an adequate job on the “core functions” of the job. However, so long as you have to spend time troubleshooting his main product, you don’t really have time for “entertaining distractions and extras” from him. Not the ones he’s tossing your way now, and certainly not additional ones.

    Suggest that he concentrate entirely on the core function of his job for the next three months, and limit any “entertaining distractions and extras” to a brief email on tuesday, and a 5 minute chat friday afternoon [or whatever]. His “core functions” are the only thing he’s going to be assessed on, not any of the “entertaining distractions and extras” (which he may well think of as proving added value).

    Say that if the core work is really solid at the three month mark, you can talk to him about LIMITED other avenues for him to explore his creative urges, but that this will not include poaching on the job description of other people, and that you’re sure he understands why that’s not advisable.

    My guess is that he leaves in a snit if his “leadership from below” is not catered to, but if so, better to find that out now, then after he drives the rest of his coworkers to distraction, or gets hired to some higher-level position by an idiot who approves of his “gumption” and you have to deal with his scattershot approach two levels up.

  34. Anonymity for this

    I recently was contacted by a recruiter for a role and when I asked him for the salary range, he told me “I can’t give you that by email.” I thanked him for his time and told him that the range would be the main reason I’d consider taking a call with him.

    I saw an ad for the same role and it turns out to be pretty low for the expectations of the job. They’ve been hiring for this role since late 2018 (seen the ads pop up in various LI emails I receive) and that’s usually a bad sign.

  35. Observer

    I know that this is not the main focus of the question, but Alison has handled that portion really well, also AdAgencyChick has a good point.

    Just a thought about Slack. Don’t assume that just because your staff are hitting or above retirement age they can’t learn to take advantage of a tool like Slack. I’m not actually suggesting that you use Slack as I obviously don’t know if it’s a useful tool for your work. I’m just saying that don’t negate it purely because of the age of your staff.

    1. Samwise

      Thank you. Eisenhower was president when I was born. That doesn’t mean my comfort with technology stops at stone tablets.

      This is the other side of “kids these days”. I assure you, great grandma still has the ability to learn and the interest, too.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago

      Agreed. My company uses Skype for Business and plenty of ‘older’ folks are able to use it without issue.

    3. Arctic

      It’s a weird assumption on a couple of levels. First, making the broad assumption. But, second, even if there was truth to the assumption tools like Slack are actually easier to use than email.

      There is the resistant to change aspect for some but people get over it.

      Although, practically speaking, Bob would be super annoying on Slack. Don’t use Slack.

  36. Toodie

    Bob issues aside, I’m a little struck by the ageist tone of OP’s letter. No Slack because they’re 65? They only take the job “for minimum wage and to stay active”? Geez.

    1. anon today

      I noticed this too and was super put off. I can’t help but think OP’s opinion of Bob has a lot to do with his age.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      Yeah, this stood out to me too. A lot of people at or above retirement age work because they have to! Social security ain’t exactly generous, and a tragically high percentage of retirees don’t have other retirement income. Treating them as being somehow less valid as employees or less worthy of respect because of their age is something the OP really needs to rethink.

      1. Psyche

        I do think the OP should rethink the assumption that they are don’t desperately need the money. Bob may be asking for more hours not because he loves the job so much, but because he needs more hours and might be hoping to move up to a more lucrative role. It makes it even more important that he knows that this job has no upward mobility.

    3. ThatGirl

      It’s possible there’s a little ageism at work, but I think we can also assume that the LW knows who she’s talking about and is not broadly applying this to all 65 year olds. My mom is 68, and she’s asked me about various apps and programs without fully understanding them – for instance I had to fill her in on Spotify and Instagram recently. Could she use them? Sure. But she didn’t even fully understand what she was asking about, she just knew they were things she had heard of.

      1. anon today

        Has anyone thought of or heard of implementing app training programs for older folks? In workplaces or in general? Tech changes so fast, it’s hard for anyone to keep up. I feel like the older generation can be left behind in that way and it’s absolutely going to be detrimental to their work depending on where they work.

        1. Wolfess

          Public libraries often have technology-related classes, including those geared toward older folks.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch

          Sure, there’s a lot of training out there for new tech, it’s not just for the elders necessarily, it’s for people who need to learn it.

          It reminds me of someone who I think in the Friday post talked about how it was awfully hard to get everyone to learn to use their company issued iPads for various tasks. It’s like when computers started coming into the work place, when the internet took off and we had to learn how to email and such. It’s always there.

          It’s not about age in the end, a lot of people are adverse to change and struggle with learning new things. I’ve personally worked with anti-tech people and they have raised their kids, who are in my generation to also be tech-phobic. It’s a thing, not an age thing just a thing that humans are known to do.

          1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people

            Also, someone can be fairly tech-savvy but also just burned out on learning the details of new things, particularly new things that will keep changing in a way that is not under their control.

            I’ve been using word processing programs since Bank Street Writer on a Compaq Portable in the early 1980s. Whenever we get a new version of Word (or whatever) at work, I will learn where the things I need to use are, which shortcuts will probably make my life easier, how to adjust the default settings to make things easier for me, and so on, but my curiosity to just explore around and deeply learn how to use a new word processor for its own sake burned out somewhere around Windows 3.1 (when the switch from “programs come with overlays that you leave above the F keys so you know which key combinations to hit for options” to “options live in menus” happened) when I realized that they would change every few years so it was not something to learn deeply unless I currently needed those deep features. It’s not that I don’t know how to use Word, it’s that I’m not excited about All The Neat Things Word Could Do If I Gave It A Chance. (I’m a pretty advanced Word user, in that I regularly set up a mail merge, use headers/footers, and use both styles and page/column breaks, but I have entire sections of the menu that I ignore because I just haven’t needed anything in there yet.)

            I feel similarly about all of these assorted communication platforms. I will learn where the documentation is, where I need to be monitoring because people may be putting stuff I need there, and then I will learn how to use platform features when there is some specific task I need to do and I suspect there’s a feature for it, but I’m not an enthusiastic adopter who wants to get deeply intertwined with some new app that will change UI, business model, and parent company on an irregular basis and often at the most inconvenient time for my own workflow. Been there, done that, not interested. I suppose I’m like the IRC guy from XKCD 1782 in some ways.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch

              That’s fair too and I can see why people just don’t care to know more than what they need to know to do their jobs or keep up with their company demands.

              I’m not enthusiastic about new editions of software, I just shrug at it and fumble my way until I find out what I need to know. I have up upgrade our QB every 3 years due to Intuit removing support features after 3 years. I just go “Oh, what have they moved around this time, whatever.” and on we go.

              But in the end, it’s seriously not age related. I literally just bypassed someone setting up their own account today and did it for them because they have some kind of unnamed reading disability and really, it doesn’t matter since their job isn’t reading or inputting data, I’m cool being the workaround “life hack” in that sense.

      2. Samwise

        We can only go on what the OP said, and they did not say, “my research team is technologically naive, so no”. OP said “average age is 65, so no.” It’s dismissive and it’s inaccurate. Sure, there are older folks who are out of the loop on technology, but assuming that because they’re older?

        1. BuildMeUp

          I think this is getting into nitpicking the OP’s language, which Alison asks us not to do.

          I get the sentiment behind what you’re saying, but the OP is talking about people she works with and knows well. The phrasing isn’t great, and I can see why it would bother you.

          But I would assume it’s poorly worded shorthand for a bunch of context we’re not privy to. “Should my team use Slack” is not the question the OP wrote in about, so it makes sense that she wouldn’t give a full explanation of why isn’t not doable for her team.

      3. That Girl From Quinn's House

        I agree, I managed seniors who taught classes for other seniors. Individually they all varied as to how much work they wanted, why they were there, how tech savvy they were. But as a group, they were retired or near retirement, doing it for fun not money or promotions, and less comfortable with technology. To insist on moving forward as if they were ladder-climbing Instagram influencer 20somethings would have alienated them and been a management failure.

      4. Tigger

        That is what I was hoping too. I work with a lot of 50-60 year olds and my parents are in their 60’s. Most of them are familiar with tech and are comfortable using it but are not comfortable with upgrades/ updates (example I had to help my 65-year-old coworker set up his new iphone , my mom still calls me when she gets confused with the smart tv, and I had to teach my 62 year old boss how to turn on his new laptop / navigate windows 10 since he was using windows 2005 before)

      5. Krakatoa

        I’m in my 30s and find people referencing apps that I’ve never heard of as though they were common. It’s not just an old person thing, technology constantly changes and if you’re not glued to tech news or your smart phone, you’re bound to have popular apps that you’re not familiar with.

        I did sort of get an ageist strain from the letter, but I would assume first that they do know that the researchers may not be up for learning a new app.

        1. anonymous number 47

          Alison, I have to dissent here. Would you say the same thing if the LW had a slightly sexist or racist tone in their letter? I think these comments are pointing out some important stuff that should not be ignored.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I often ask people to call it out once and then not derail on it. Obviously if it’s central to the letter that’s a different situation, but I’m making the call that that’s not the case here. Others may of course disagree, but I don’t want the comment section derailing on it.

            1. Close Bracket

              It’s an interesting juxtaposition to the “Chinese man” comments in the previous post.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                I’ve been working on cleaning that up too, although that is a massive 450+ comment mess and I’m trying to deal with it while also doing regular work. (I caught the derail here as soon as it happened, which made it much easier to manage, whereas the other was hundreds of comments deep by the time I saw it).

                1. Close Bracket

                  I didn’t mean the comment thread. I meant with how you assessed that language calling out an irrelevant trait was a problem with OP’s son but made a different assessment with this OP. This OP has only been there 5 months. That’s a short time to give benefit of doubt for knowing their direct reports when using irrelevant and coded traits in describing them. People over 65 created the internet that these whippersnappers developed Slack for use over.

                2. Ask a Manager Post author

                  I don’t agree she doesn’t have a feel for her colleagues after five months. And she’s a hell of a lot better positioned to understand them than we are from a single letter. But hey, maybe there is ageism going on! It’s been flagged and called out, and now we’re moving on to the substance of the problem she’s asking for advice on.

                  (And frankly, I have zero problem with people who want to constructively say, “Have you considered that your ideas about Bob’s age could be playing a role in how you interact with him?” and giving advice accordingly. But I’m not okay with people just chastising her over and over without being constructive about it.)

    4. ChimericalOne

      I don’t feel like this criticism is particularly fair. It’s a one-off remark that the LW doesn’t have unlimited space to expand on, not a comprehensive argument. It’s also in line with studies about the comfort of older adults with new technology. The existence of older adults who love new tech doesn’t negate the fact that this demographic, as a group, is less excited about/comfortable with it. And she definitely knows her employees better than we do. She’s not generalizing about someone unknown to her.

      As to the second quote: it’s not ageist to describe a job as not having an upward trajectory. It’s a minimum wage job that most of LW’s employees take to stay active, get out of the house, interact socially, etc. It’s not a job that enables career growth. That’s not a demeaning thing to say.

  37. MissDisplaced

    Oof! Not an easy conversation.
    But definitely the message needs to 100% be he needs to slow down, be more thorough and concentrate on the job he was hired to do.

  38. LGC

    Okay, this is late as hell, but…I didn’t see this addressed.

    I think there’s actually two issues going on:

    1) Bob’s performance issues, which objectively need to be addressed.
    2) LW is…quite possibly annoyed by Bob and is wrestling with that (in that she starts off by saying that Bob is super nice, but then lists a lot of interpersonal issues).

    I’ve had “annoying” employees myself, and…I’ll admit, it does affect how I see their performance. It’s hard to separate out whether something is a valid issue or just that something is an issue that’s bothering me because I’m a human being and not a boss-robot. (I’ve made mistakes in both directions.) You do want to get a reality check first on how major the other issues are – preferably from someone who actually has a stake in the situation (your boss, perhaps, or a trusted coworker).

    But also – it’s…not ideal that you get annoyed by employees, but also you’re human and people can be annoying jerks. (I know I’m an annoying jerk sometimes!) Or they can even be not-jerkish, but annoying. It happens! Don’t beat yourself up too much about it. Again, really check your biases as much as possible (especially in this case), but you haven’t failed because you have human feelings instead of being the perfect unemotional boss (or the boss that only has Boss Approved emotions).

  39. Alf

    We have a Bob at work. He too is a retiree that works part time and has some great technical skills but is not very computer literate so we get him to manually write orders and someone else keys them in.That is a duplication but we really value his technical/product skills. But Bob can also some times be a chatter box and be unproductive and it feels like he is at work just for the social aspect.

    In regards to the OP’s Bob, I don’t know his home situation but is he still working because he is lonely and craves social interaction?

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