should I tell an employee the real reason I’m firing him?

A reader writes:

I manage employees who start with a three-month probationary period. I have a current probationary employee who has not taken direction well, has acted defensively and challenged basic instructions about how to do his job, has rolled his eyes when provided with feedback on how to do certain tasks, and ironically who has also sought me out for instructions in situations where the course of action for him to take should have been immediately obvious.

I intend to hire a replacement and terminate this employee near the end of his probationary period. I would like to give him feedback on the reason for letting him go. From an ethical and professional standpoint, the feedback would be to his benefit, regardless of whether he realizes or appreciates that. And if I do not tell him, I feel he will be more resentful and frustrated and will make uncharitable assumptions as to my reasoning.

My boss, however, does not believe I should disclose any reasoning to the employee, since probationary employees can be let go for any reason, and he feels that my rationale for terminating will inevitably lead to an argument. I believe I should simply outline my rationale and refuse to engage the employee in any debate if he pushes back. How do you think this should be handled?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My manager offered to take a pay cut so the rest of us can earn more
  • Our time-tracking calendar feels like invasion of privacy
  • Does anyone care about my resume’s skills section?
  • Should I resign while I’m away on my honeymoon?

{ 125 comments… read them below }

  1. Quill*

    Surprise firings or layoffs are not fun, you’d definitely be doing this guy a favor by telling him the truth.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      No kidding. I’ve spent several months (!) trying to get the governance committee of a non-profit I work for part-time trying to tell another employee that they fired WHY they fired him. They have so far refused to do so and pretty much all the other employees are FURIOUS. They suuuuuuuuck.

      Had a meeting with them last week about it that I can pretty much sum up as follows:
      Them: Trust us.
      Us: We don’t.
      Them: You should.
      Us: Why?
      Them: We can’t tell you that. It’s classified.

      I feel like I’m working for the government, but this is just a small performing arts org.

    2. Leela*

      And an enormous favor for themselves! The last thing this or any business needs is a bunch of good people becoming flight risks because they think they’ll get fired out of nowhere and not even told why. I guarantee you everyone will be looking at how this is handled and making calls based on that

  2. neeko*

    For the skills one, along with incorporating the important ones into the job experience portion, you can also probably talk about some of those skills in your cover letter if it applies to the job that you are applying for.

  3. El*

    For #3, this might be super petty but if everyone is forced to write the gritty details (i.e. “OB-GYN appt” instead of “doctor appt”), I’d go whole hog (i.e. “pelvic exam and Pap smear!”) in hopes that management would become so uncomfortable they’d scale back their demand for exact details.

    1. ElizabethJane*

      Did that once. I worked in a call center (why is it always the call centers that are micromanaged) with a time system where you had to set your status to

      Available (available to answer the phone)
      On a call (done automatically)
      Post-call work
      Away – lunch
      Away – break
      Away – personal
      Away – off clock (when you were done for the day)

      Away – personal was basically a bathroom boss. Super fun when my male supervisor asked, me, a female employee, what I could have possibly been doing in the bathroom for 7 minutes, peeing doesn’t take that long (I guess we could only poop on break) and I gave him a very detailed description of how one removes and cleans a menstrual cup.

      1. Quill*


        (I mean, I have taken upwards of 15 minutes to change a tampon before, I’m impressed you got all this done in 7 minutes…)

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        ” (why is it always the call centers that are micromanaged)”

        Because call center workers are poorly paid with crappy working conditions. Even apart from the crappy working conditions, the less someone is paid the more closely their time is supervised. Add the crappy working conditions back into the discussion and it is assumed that they will slack off if given the slightest opportunity.

      3. Former call center guy*

        Call centers are micromanaged because the managers are judged based on very transparent metrics such as average speed of answering (ASA), and because the phone gives VERY precise information on who is doing what when. Employees away from phones means calls stack up and the ASA goes through the roof=unhappy customers and in many cases penalties paid out to clients, and cuts to bonuses.

        I spent several years in a call center environment, so while I appreciate many jobs are not so closely monitored, I still marvel at how casual many people seem to be about showing up on time and , you know, WORKING at work.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            Kinda? Generally call center contracts are based on billing the client for a certain amount of “working time” (that means time on a call or time waiting for a call: if you’re not plugged into the phone and available to talk to customers, the center isn’t getting paid). If the center doesn’t/can’t provide the client with the amount of time they’re being contracted to provide, they owe the client financial penalties.

            Funny how every call center I’ve worked for has taken this as an excuse to have strict bordering on draconian time management policies, vacation policies, sick time policies, etc, which just makes them an abysmal place to work and increases turnover so they have less time to sell to clients, which makes them even more strict about time.

      4. Daisy-dog*

        I had an actual “bathroom break” status in my call center. I never was pregnant in that job, but I felt like if I ever was that the time manager would know before anyone else.

  4. RaeaSunshine*

    In re: to Skills section of resume – in the hiring practices I’ve been a part of this has primarily been for system/program capabilities. We like to see thins like proficient in Excel/MS Office, familiar with photoshop, experienced in multiple ERP systems etc.

    I 100% overlook ‘fluffier’ skills that are put there, like ‘good with people’ etc. as those are usually the most basic of requirements to be considered qualified and become apparent early on in the interview process if they are lacking.

    1. Mockingjay*

      Yeah, I work in defense contracting. Most people, including myself, have a skills section on their resume that is pretty much key words: software suites, databases, programs, and systems. It allows quick sorts by ATS or hiring managers to match applicants to stringent contract requirements.

    2. sofar*

      Skills section is the first one I look at before wading into the resume. It’s a good quick reference and also a nice way to tell if someone is aware of our industry’s expectations. If they are listing a bunch of skills that are not relevant to the job posting, and none that ARE relevant, that’s also a good early red flag.

      I then read the resume to “fact check” those skills. I can totally see myself missing a relevant skill if it’s buried in the overall resume.

    3. Nesprin*

      I have a skills section because my jobs have been really varied. Everything on my skills list I can highlight in one or more successful projects, but listing the projects would make my resume many pages. I break down by big categories, then specific techniques/programs. I’ve got a master resume with ~6 categories and I usually put the most relevant 2-3 categories on any resume. I think its a good way to emphasize the range of my skills and get through ATS and hiring managers quickly.

      1. Joielle*

        This is what I was going to recommend – I think proficiency in things like specific software or languages is the only kind of skill you’d want to make a list of on a resume. It’s a little more quantifiable. Rather than trying to categorize skills as “proficient” or “advanced” or whatever, I’d just put years of experience with each thing.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        I look at these for my technology-heavy positions, especially. Knowing what tools someone has experience with is helpful in culling out resumes, and I also do the assessment of how well they actually know the tool in the interview.

        I’ll see it in the bullets, but the software proficiency list is helpful to me for those roles.

        1. Grey Coder*

          I cross-reference the list of tech in the “Skills” section with the tech mentioned in the work experience. If there’s something claimed as a skill which hasn’t been used in a job, I’ll probe it at a phone screen. Sometimes it’s real, sometimes less so.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      I know you’re not advised to put MS Office (it’s a given if you’re an admin), but I won’t stop including it until employers stop putting it in their job posts. They probably got burned by someone who said “I have all the skills!” and then couldn’t open an email, but I want them to know I can indeed open an email. If they’re searching for that as a keyword, I want it to be on there.

      Also please stop using TIMED clerical tests, kthx. They make me nervous. In no job I have ever had were there any tasks done on a timer.

      1. Close Bracket*

        Just today, I was wondering how a colleague of mine managed to get 20 years of experience without becoming proficient at MS products. It should be a given, but it’s not.

      2. Artemesia*

        When I worked with students I would advice including all the software they could use in skills and they would say ‘but everyone can do excel’ — but ya know, everybody can’t (and this was 15 years ago so then really everybody couldn’t) ‘Works well independently and in groups’ is risable, but listing software one has skill in is useful particularly in low level hiring and of course those doing advanced tech list the complex systems they are experienced with.

        1. ErinFromAccounting*

          In accounting, excel skills are still super valuable. If someone knows how to use advanced functions and VBA/Macros, that is automatically going to put them ahead of the crowd!

          1. SimplyTheBest*

            Yep, I work in accounting and my boss and I are always talking about how we need to get better at excel (we’re decent but neither of us know anything about pivot tables).

            1. Akcipitrokulo*

              agreed – but if you just put “excellent excel skills” it tells me more than not mentioning excel… but not much as I know people who think conditional formatting makes them experts.

              Saying “creating macros on excel” or “proficient in pivot tables” will get my attention :)

            2. Akcipitrokulo*

              best gift a friend ever gave me was to say go google pivot table! they are not as scary as they sound and are SO useful!

      3. CmdrShepard4ever*

        You are correct that in an actual job most tasks are not on an actual timer, but I have been given plenty of clerical tasks (type this up, edit this etc…) that has a very quick turn around time. From ASAP to I need this in 30 minutes/1hr by mid day. So knowing that someone can type accurately and quickly enough is a requirement for the job. You can’t hire someone who will take half a day drafting, or editing a one page letter.

      4. SusanIvanova*

        If it’s listed in the job description, there is someone in HR who is going to filter resumes based entirely off how much it matches the description. If you’re a total whiz at the open source version of Office, you can’t just say “10 years OpenOffice”, you have to say it’s a version of MS Office.

      5. Cedrus Libani*

        Agreed. I have a nice little keyword dump at the end of my resume. It’s not much space; just a couple of lines. I’d rather not get auto-rejected because some HR intern doesn’t think I can open an email.

        Ten years ago, I was a college student who disregarded this advice. I sat down at my first interview, and the hiring manager gave me a stern look. He’d fought hard to bring me in, despite my lack of qualifications, because I’d come highly recommended by a friend. The problem? I had no experience with MS Office.

        In what I still rate as perhaps the most grown-up thing I’ve ever done, I did not say what I was thinking. That would have been something like: “Sir, I am a Millennial, and where I come from, those are fighting words.” Instead I apologized and briefly summarized my experience with MS Office. He told me I should put that on my resume. I didn’t get the job, but I have followed that advice ever since.

    5. Half-Caf Latte*

      Interesting. For any job that requires proficiency with MS Office things, I feel like it’s expected that you have that proficiency, and a line on a resume is more likely to make me think you have over inflated your skillset.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        My experience is more that many people have an overinflated sense of their MS Office proficiency. Most people I hire have typed up a very nice paper, often using a built-in Word template, for school and can use basic formatting – those people often tell me they are proficient/advanced proficient with Word. I work at a law firm, where you have to know more than just how to type and WYSISYG format your documents – if you can only use built-in styles, your document’s not going to meet court requirements; if the section headings aren’t actually headings, your TOC will be a mess; if you have no idea how to insert a footnote, your citations are going to be a mess; if you don’t understand how schemes/headings and Word works in general, good luck untangling the mess of a document the attorney sent you that has multiple section headers with the same roman numeral and four different fonts.

        1. Cherith Ponsonby*

          I once worked on a document written by someone who I know considered herself proficient in MS Word. There were no paragraph styles, the TOC was plain text (not auto generated) – and instead of hard page breaks she’d just pressed Return a bunch of times to get to the next page. I nearly fainted.

        2. ceiswyn*

          When hiring for a technical writing position, I screened out anyone who sent me a Word CV that used extensive ad-hoc formatting.

          The terrifying thing is that that actually screened out most candidates.

    6. Tau*

      Yeah, I’m a software developer and have a skills section for the various programming languages, frameworks etc. I know along with a ballpark of the proficiency level we’re looking at. They’re often fairly hard to deduce from the jobs section – for instance, I might have used Programming Language A 100% of the time at my first job but not kept up with it afterwards, while at the next job I might have used an assortment of various languages on various projects for various lengths of time and there’s no easy way to tell that I’d consider myself a fairly advanced user of Language B and able to get by in Language C* while for D I’d need to do a lot of Googling and wouldn’t use it in a particularly idiomatic way.

      * not actual C, I haven’t touched that since university!

    7. Pommette!*

      I take a similar approach. I use mine to indicate proficiency with languages, software, and relevant ERP systems – ie, only for concrete things that I could “do”. I adjust the content to reflect the postings.

  5. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    For the resignation while on honeymoon, it wasn’t entirely clear, did the OP intend for her 2 weeks to start at the time she was giving notice, or 2 weeks after she returns? If she intends to count the time she is still on her honeymoon as part of her official notice, that’s sort of like quitting without notice since she’ll be back in the office for maybe 2 days before her last day, and negates the whole purpose of giving notice; the boss might just decide to make her last day right then just to avoid paying for vacation days of a departing employee (unless she’s someplace that has to pay out earned vacation anyway). If she intends to work an additional 2 weeks after her return, I guess I would be inclined to just wait until she returns to give notice.

    1. Artemesia*

      This. Yes a heads up is thoughtful and then block or turn off the phone — but she needs to negotiate with her new position to be able to give the old one two weeks notice while on the job. The two weeks is to allow careful planning for transition and that is even more important when it is a two person operation.

    2. sacados*

      It is unclear, but I’m pretty sure that Alison’s answer was interpreting it as, she was on vacation, then would work out a full notice period at her current job, then start new job.
      Which makes sense, because the OP was talking about giving extra time to the manager for hiring. It’s not super likely that they could find and hire a replacement during OP’s final two weeks (or however long notice period), but if OP tells them now, that’s an extra two weeks’ time the manager can use to start the hiring process and hopefully be at least closer to finding someone by the time OP leaves.
      Which is why I agree it does make sense for OP to tell them now (certainly not required, but it would be helpful to the company)

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yes, I think the line about how it would take more than the notice period to find a replacement meant that they do intend to work a standard notice period but felt like if they know now they should go ahead and share. I think standard advice is often not to give extra notice, but if you are the only other employee it definitely seems like it would be good to let them know ASAP.

        Also I think if I were in the OP’s shoes I would want to just go ahead and put it out there so I could try to stop thinking about it and enjoy the rest of my honeymoon lol.

    3. Sally*

      I had someone do that a while back. She told me she was leaving and giving two weeks’ notice, and then she said she wouldn’t be back after her vacation, which started the next day. So I got one day’s notice. Not fun.

  6. Wintermute*

    Telling someone nothing is often suggested as a hedge against a discrimination complaint– but it has the exact opposite effect. People will FILL IN A REASON IN THEIR MIND, they will assume something. If you give them a reason they may accept it, or they might not, but if you give them nothing their mind will leap to a conclusion.

    “They fired me without telling me why… they must have been hiding the real reason I was fired… why were they hiding it… it must be bad… why was it bad? it must be discriminatory!” and next thing you know you’re facing an investigation that could have been stopped dead if you documented your reasoning, and explained it to the employee.

    You don’t need their buy-in to fire them, they may never agree with you, you can’t help that. Showing them you have data and explaining there is a reason will be much less likely to generate a spurious discrimination complaint and also much more likely to result in said complaint being summarily dismissed.

    If an employee does make a claim, it will be investigated. When you’re asked why you fired them if they’re claiming it’s because of a disability (you didn’t know they had) and you are claiming it’s a very reasonable case of skills gap, the first thing the employee will say was “wait, hold on, they didn’t say that, they said they could fire me at any time and were doing so, they never gave a reason, NOW they want to invent a reason?!” and now you’re going to look like you’re making a hasty post-hoc justification for your actions.

    And even if it never goes that far (and it probably won’t, lets be honest) at the very least you’re conceding any attempts to challenge their unemployment because you can’t fire someone for good cause and not give a cause.

    Sunlight is a great disinfectant, and everyone knows it, the more you try to conceal, the more you look like you have something to hide.

    1. Blisskrieg*

      Agreed. I was dismayed when I had to do my first firing that I was unable to give a reason–HR did all the talking and there was no detail given to the employee; I had instruction not to speak. I had given this person several talks previously (and documented) that they were doing things that were not a good fit in terms of internal and external customer service, but they were still surprised and I felt presenting them with the reasons during the termination would have been most fair.

    2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      This has been my experience with people trying to ask for privacy on matters at work. Someone is mortified to have a cyst removed from their butt, and is evasive about the reason they’re taking two Fridays off in a row, and suddenly half the office has decided they’re interviewing/pregnant/a drug addict/they got arrested and have to go to court.

      If you leave enough blanks, you get Mad Libs.

      1. Wintermute*

        “If you leave enough blanks you get mad libs”

        That’s GOLD, I need to steal that, thank you.

      2. LQ*

        This is why I will tell folks who really like privacy that they should give bland, boring answers to everything. Hiding stuff just makes it interesting. (And also it doesn’t have to be true.) Humans make stuff up, as much as you harrumph and wish they wouldn’t. They still will. Boring is the best way to privacy.

    3. Minocho*

      I was told I got fired for not completing a project that was assigned to a coworker – and the coworker was not fired. It was so bizarre. When the manager said “You’re getting fired for failing to complete the Spagetti Meatball Project,”, I had to ask what it was!!!

      I knew I was on my way out – on a team of 10, half of which were women, the other women had all been fired or accepted demotion to another department within the last two months, except for the one woman who’d won a discrimination lawsuit once before – and management had asked me to lie about her in order to make it easier to fire her once already. So I didn’t fight it, I was well into my job search, had a couple of strong possibilities, and pretty much just joked with the HR lady until it was over. But…it was bizarre.

      And then they fought the unemployment. The state sided with me on that one. Only needed it for three weeks, but I fought them on it anyway!

      1. RVA Cat*

        Glad you escaped from the land of Evil Sexist Lying Bees!
        (Ironic considering most bees are female…)

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      You don’t need their buy-in to fire them, they may never agree with you, you can’t help that. Showing them you have data and explaining there is a reason will be much less likely to generate a spurious discrimination complaint and also much more likely to result in said complaint being summarily dismissed.

      This is pretty much how our HR department views terminations. They can argue all they want with the provided reason, but it’s not changing the outcome. It at least gives people a chance to be heard and to know that there is thought and process behind the decision.

    5. Luna*

      I agree, please tell employees why you are firing them. Even if the reason seems small, tell them. I have been let go and told reasons that, as I was looking back at it and fretted, I felt were definitely not decent enough grounds to let me go. And I was in probation period at the time, so a reason wasn’t needed, but I was given one.

      I started becoming paranoid, wondering what the ‘real’ reason was. I thought maybe they believed my doctor’s note of illness was faked because that was the first week of a huge, two-week festival in my city. (It wasn’t, it was pure coincidence that I got sick. I would’ve kept going to work, but my cold got so bad over the weekend, I decided to bite the apple and take sick leave because I didn’t want to infect my colleagues during such a busy time)

      I eventually went back and talked with my ex-boss again, and I was given the same reasons. They still seemed small to me, but they were explained in ways that said, “It was small things… but it was many small things, that would require more time to fix in your one-year contract than we would have”. I still don’t like it, and still think things could’ve been done in ways that meant I didn’t lose my job, but at least I was now sure that my paranoia was unfounded.

  7. Observer*

    #2 – Keep quiet. It’s not your place to tell her not to do it (although the BoD has some good reasons not to accept the offer.) But it’s also totally not your place to encourage it. And it WILL look bad. Sure, I understand that you need higher pay. But lobbying to get a raise at the expense of a not-overpaid colleague is really going to look bad. I know “she offered.” But it’s STILL going to look bad.

    1. MK*

      Frankly, I don’t see how this would work. What kind of a pay-cut are we talking about that would suffice for several people to get a meaningful raise? Either the pay gap between the manager and the stuff is huge (which is a problem, but something that should be addressed generally) or the manager will be earning the same as her staff. Neither of these is desirable, and neither is promoting pay equality.

      1. Not unheard of*

        Twice in my life I took a pay cut to benefit others. The first was to increase the pay of a colleague. Three of us on the same level agreed so that there would be pay equity in our rank. The second one was to save someone from a lay-off . We were not highly paid.

      2. Jaydee*

        I can see suggesting that, instead of raising management salaries the BoD should prioritize staff salaries. That wouldn’t lead to pay cuts for managers, but could freeze their pay and direct any pay increases to staff. That would be a reasonable thing to do.

        But one manager taking a pay cut to increase salaries of their staff doesn’t address the disparities between management and staff salaries in any other departments, doesn’t address below-market salaries in non-profits in general, and will potentially have long-term negative impacts on this one manager, without corresponding positive impacts on their staff.

        The next time the org is in a position to raise salaries across the board, will the manager be brought back up to where she would be without the pay cut? Or will her 2% raise be on the lower salary while all the other managers get their 2% on their higher salaries? Will staff in other departments get raises to bring them in line with their coworkers in this department? Or will there be new levels of disparity among staff? Or, worse yet, will the other staff get raises and the staff in this department not get raises because “they already got theirs” when the manager took a pay cut for them?

  8. Angela*

    #1 – As someone who was let go with NO reason given, please please please tell them! It’s a terrible feeling to be blind sighted like that. And it’s even worse if there was no warning about any concerns with performance / fitting into the company / expectations etc. It gives the sense you were making a list of things wrong, but not giving them a chance to actually correct them and improve. At least telling them through performance reviews and whatnot you put it on their radar with the goal to at least *try* and change the behaviors.

    1. straws*

      Yes! I was once let go from a job after only 3 days and was told that the reason was “confidential” by the person firing me. Thankfully, my direct supervisor was a lovely person, and he told me that the real reason was due to a clerical error and the role wasn’t approved to be filled. I spent the hour in between just horrified that I did something so awful that I’d be fired on day 3 though!

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yikes! That’s awful. That’s such an easy thing to just admit to instead of making it look like you may have done something. That’s not a burden you put on someone’s shoulders.

        Even the dude who let me go because he decided that the temp rates sucked and just gave the job to someone’s cousin or whatever, was at least decent enough to say that to my face.

        Hiding the details is such a sketchy move to play.

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I was canned on day 3 and told that “we can’t tell you why you’re being terminated or you won’t be eligible for unemployment.” I was very confused, but went “Uh, ok,” and went home and filed for unemployment. Which they then contested.

        I won the unemployment issue, but never did find out what their actual reason for firing me was.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          They contested it? That’s rich. Especially since they only had you on for 3 days, so it wasn’t going to ding their rates by anything, since it’s focused on the base rate of what they paid you. Yuck, trashy tactic on their part.

          I’m trying to dream up how they tried to spin this to the employment security department to get out of paying you benefits. You usually have to have gross misconduct or you didn’t show up for the first three days and they terminated you for job abandonment.

      3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        Ah so they didn’t want to pay the unemployment they now owed you for their mistake?

  9. AdAgencyChick*

    For #5, I think I would have asked the new job for a start date that would accommodate giving two weeks’ notice on the date OP returned from the honeymoon. Since OP expected the boss to take things poorly, I wouldn’t put it past that person to barrage her with work questions during the rest of her honeymoon. Nope nope nope.

  10. staceyizme*

    I also wonder why it would make sense to defer letting someone go before the end of their probationary period? Given the fact that the LW was directed NOT to disclose in order to avoid argument from his direct report, I also wonder if the lack of rigor and timeliness in evaluating employees is contributing to a skewed or entitled view on the part of some? A firm “that’s not appropriate” or “I don’t want to see [insert ridiculous behavior] again” might have shifted this guy’s view of acceptable conduct in this organization. Unlikely, but still.

    1. Massmatt*

      I agree, if someone is a poor fit and don’t take clear feedback well then it’s best to let them go ASAP rather than waiting for the last day of a probationary period.

      Given most employment in the US is “at will”, I don’t really see the need for probationary periods unless there’s a period where people are in training before benefits etc kick in or something like that. It’s not like someone can’t be fired for any (non-discriminatory) reason after 3 months, though many employers act as though this is the case.

      1. Artemesia*

        Government organizations and many big corporations make it very hard to fire people after probation which is why one should never cut it close; once you know, let them go, don’t let it drag on.

    2. Qwerty*

      My experience with probationary periods are that they end with a performance review where they tell you the expectations for your role (For example, you’ve been doing general teapot painting so far. From now on you’ll be mostly doing flowers. Keep working on skills X and Y to get to the next level). On the rare occasion someone was going to be let go, it would usual happen here because it was a natural sort of “graduation” point. As long as nothing happened that would give cause for immediate termination, they wanted people to have a chance to improve and turn things around. Because sometimes people take longer to adjust than others.

      But the key here was that probationary employees were getting feedback throughout the period. It had the added benefit that people who might not work out would often realize this and find a new job.

    3. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

      I like the way my current company handles firings during probation period (which are thankfully rare!). As soon as they conclude that for whatever reason it just won’t work out, they’ll let the person go right away but pay severance through the end of the probationary period.

  11. Liz*

    #3 is not weird to me. My office does this too, (We just write our names and “out” or “in @10” or “leaving @3”) I don’t consider this an invasion of privacy. Obviously, just don’t write the details of your absence. Honestly, I’ve found it to be an easier way to take off, because I just talk to my supervisor and write it on the calendar. There seems to be less checking in with others or getting in each other’s business this way.

    1. Bagpuss*

      Yes, we have this – we a have different coloured sticky dots and just put them n the chart – we do have an online system but people prefer the wall chart as it makes it so easy to see which days are free. I don’t see it as an invasion of privacy – quite apart from anything else ,people need to know whether you are in or not and surely you have things like out of office or a note in your diary if you are unavailable?
      If you are expected to say *why* you are out, I agree that is a bit different and worth pushing back on

    2. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

      Agreed. My office does this. Huge white board calendar and the calendar is monthly written out as to what is going on in the office and conference rooms, if the office is closed, etc. People will put their initials and days they are out. Rarely do they put a reason unless it’s training/conference/etc. Today will read So and So meeting at 2 PM and XX out. That’s it. We don’t pick sick or anything, just off/out.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      We had this at one place I worked, but people were really lazy about marking themselves in and out. Which made my job harder, since I couldn’t tell their clients who called in when they would be back. One person would just disappear and I didn’t even know he was gone for the day. It drove me crazy.

    4. WhatsUpSusan*

      We have a PTO calendar that is accessed by our whole office. We record our time out, WFH, work in a different office, what have you. Because we have some remote and traveling employees, this system is the best at-a-glance resource for scheduling meetings and special events.

    5. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

      We had a similar whiteboard in my department at a previous job. Like Liz, we just wrote our name and “off” or “leaving at noon” or whatever. No reasons included. I didn’t find it invasive – it was helpful.

    6. CRM*

      My department has this too in the form of a Google calendar. We will either put “”WFH”, which means working from home and available, or “OOO”, which means out of office and unavailable. Sometimes people will add a few more details if they are traveling for a conference or work-related event, but that’s pretty much it. It doesn’t feel invasive at all, it actually feels less invasive because it removes the whole conversation of “oh, you’ll be out? where are you going and when will you be back?”. Instead, people can just look at the calendar and anticipate when you will be out. It really helps with project planning, and it enables our office to be more flexible.

    7. AcademiaNut*

      I love the system we have. It’s a coordinated computer system for travel and leave which produces an “out of office” page. You can see who is away, and whether it’s vacation, leave, domestic travel or international travel (and destination for travel). So I can see that Fergus is on vacation until Friday, so there’s no point in looking for him until then, and Wakeen is on work travel, but six time zones away, so I can email him but expect a day, and Cersei is just off for the morning and will be back in the afternoon.

  12. Artemesia*

    I would not wait till the end of the probationary period but would fire him now and give a short version of why — you don’t have to lay it all out, but it is helpful to give in addition to ‘it is not working out’ a couple of the key reasons it is not working out. The biggest disasters in hiring/firing I have seen were when people tried to cut it close on the probationary period and met resistance from management and ended up with people they can’t fire easily or at all. Since you know this guy is toast, let him go now.

    1. Jaydee*

      In some cases (probably not this one), it could make sense to give the employee an extended notice period. If there’s a 3 month probation period and it’s obvious after 2 months that it won’t work out, tell the employee that. Let them know you won’t be keeping them past the end of the probationary period, but you’re willing to be flexible on their exact last day. So if they want it to just be today, that’s fine. But if they’d like to continue working for a couple more weeks or even until the end of the probationary period while looking for a new job, that’s also fine. This obviously doesn’t work well when the employee is bordering on misconduct or is likely to be argumentative or obnoxious. But for some employees who are hardworking but are just not catching on to the job fast enough, it may benefit both the employer and employee. The employee has a paycheck while they start their job search. The employer has someone doing the work, even if it’s not at 100% of where you want it to be, while they look for a new employee.

      1. JM in England*

        Also not the case for this situation, I have known of some instances where the probation period was extended. This is mainly for employees who could not get up to speed during the initial probation period but were close to doing so and just needed more time. Of course, this is entirely at the discretion of the hiring manager and/or department director.

  13. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP3 – as long as it’s “out” not details, it’s fine. We used to do shared calenders and send meetings to team (no response, no reminder, time free) so it would appear at top of thwir calendar for the day… but it was as simple as “Akcipitrokulo out 2pm-4pm” or “off PM”.

  14. OtterB*

    Tangent from #3 about time tracking. Has anyone implemented an in/out board like this on Slack? Our office standard (17 people with lots of work travel for conferences and meetings, flexible hours, frequent wfh) has slowly devolved to each of us emailing the staff group once every couple of weeks with their upcoming schedule. This works fine for, e.g., I need to meet with Fergus, when will he next be in the office? It’s less helpful for questions like, am I the only one in the office this Wednesday ahead of the US Thanksgiving (we’re off both Thursday and Friday)? (Answer, I’m not, but I’m not sure there’s more than one other.) We have a group Google calendar and use it for noting vacations of a week or more, but there’s not enough space for the day-to-day. We don’t use Outlook. Slack is relatively new to us and underused but we’re trying to engage with it more.

    1. sacados*

      By group Google calendar, I assume you mean one shared account where everyone puts on their vacations.
      If you use Gmail for your individual work emails, you can also share your calendars/subscribe to your coworkers’ calendars. That means that you would be able to show/hide all of their calendars to see the full schedule. And you can toggle on/off multiple people at once to see their schedules all at the same time.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yep. Usually you can just block off time on your own calendar without putting a reason, or just put something vague.

      1. Nowhereland*

        Agree, if you use a shared calendar this way, you can definitely have enough room for 17 people’s schedules. Our Vacation calendar is used for all types of absences (planned and unplanned) and basically you just send it an appointment (Nowhereland Out of Office noon-4PM)

    2. Choux*

      My office has an “out of office” channel on Slack. If you’re running late, or you need to leave early, you post in there. If you’re taking a sick day or a PTO day, your manager posts it there for you. It’s helpful because we can just scroll up to check and see if someone’s in the office.

    3. Grace*

      We have an ‘announcements’ Slack channel where you post if you’re WFH, ill, off in the morning/afternoon, out visiting clients, at a satellite office, etc. It’s a super easy way to scroll up and see if the person you want is in-office or not.

    4. madelief*

      Yes – similar sized office and staff movement. We have an out of office (ooo) channel for day-to-day stuff (eg reminder PTO tomorrow, WFH today, away at a client meeting this afternoon, etc.). Also a group calendar for PTO. This works very well for us.

  15. Baska*

    #3: As someone who works reception, it’s definitely handy to know what I should tell callers regarding someone’s status. (“They’re out today and will be back tomorrow”, “They’ll be in this afternoon”, “They should be in but aren’t answering their phone — maybe try back in ten minutes or I can take a message for you.”)

    I honestly don’t care why someone is out of the office; I just need to know what to tell people who are looking for them.

    1. Zephy*

      Seconded. I don’t need to know that Wakeen is having a colonoscopy, I just need to know whether he’s here and if not, when will he be back.

  16. Mike*

    As a computer programmer when I’m hiring other programmers the first (or second) thing I’m doing is scanning the skills sections. I’ve got a list of things I need/want and I want to quickly figure out who has those relevant skills or similar ones. This is especially important in the first culling of resumes. After that I’ll read the work histories and try to pick out more information.

    Now, perhaps this is just the nature of the field but most of the resumes avoid the common BS skills and list languages, technologies, and the like they’ve worked with.

    1. LQ*

      The technology and language list is what skills are for in my experience. I got rid of skills when I started applying for management jobs because it’s less critical. But in jobs where the software I know, the languages I’ve worked with, etc mattered, skills and skills at the top.

  17. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #3 this is pretty standard stuff to have an open calendar. I agree completely with Alison, only if you’re required to give out details is it an issue.

    Right now, we simply write “Bob Out” on days, I don’t know if he’s at the doctor or at a dance school learning the cha-cha. All I know is Bob isn’t here. The actual materials submitted to HR sometimes have notes added, some people still just feel better telling us why. But the actual calendar, just says “Out” or “Bob leaves @ noon” or whatever if it’s a short day.

    It’s partly a safety issue. We’re spread out and we want to know that Bob is gone that day, so when we’re doing a head count for an evacuation, we know. We had this happen literally a few days ago even. We were counting everyone and someone said “What about Bob?” “He’s out today!” chimed in a few people and therefore, nobody needed to worry or worse, if it had not been a false alarm, had to send in first responders to hunt Bob down in case he was trapped.

    1. banzo_bean*

      I have always worked in offices with a similar calendar set up, and I agree it’s helpful in a lot of contexts. The only exception was last year when an employee took time off for her wedding. We’re a tax office so we wrote “Carol Out of Office – Change in Filing Status.” Not sure who came up with that, but we all thought it was quite clever!

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This made me smile because I get it, lol.

        It’s also a not so lowkey reminder that Carol will probably want to update her W4 when she returns. Possibly not so much in a tax office but I’ve had a lot of people not realize until they file their first returns and then they come in here all worrying about the process because you payroll and taxes scare the crud out of them when anything even slightly different or not that big of deal happens. I’ve got a lot of people who quietly get married, needless to say LOL

        1. banzo_bean*

          Yes, she had the presence of mind to update it prior to going on leave, (you go Carol!). I don’t know how I ever order office lunches before calendar sharing.

    2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      We tend to put more detail for work-related things, less for non-related. It’s convenient to be able to see “aha! Wakeen and Jane will also be going to the Spout Training Seminar tomorrow” sorts of things. (Also, if it’s a certain type of internal training/meeting at another office, in many cases we are, shall we say, *quite willing* to be pulled out of that meeting if the office manager from our regular worksite has a problem back at the office that requires our attention, so the bar for “phone call to person who is out about work thing” is lower if that person is at such a training than if they’re at, say, the dentist.)

  18. Allypopx*

    God the nonprofit one makes me cringe. I’ve definitely felt this urge before but at the same time I want to throw a tantrum and scream PAY PEOPLE WHAT THEY’RE WORTH at the entire industry. (That’s not fair. Plenty of nonprofits pay just fine. I do not work for those.)

    1. Allypopx*

      (Also full disclosure my entire career model is to help nonprofits function more like businesses so I somewhat intentionally work with smaller organizations so this is both my pet peeve and a situation I get myself into and have no reason to complain about.)

    2. Anonya*

      And if the nonprofit has to resort to this type of tactic, should it even exist? I’m not discounting whatever service it provides but the idea that a manager would volunteer to have his/her own pay cut so others can get paid is just … crazycakes, I’m sorry to say.

      1. Allypopx*

        Maybe they should exist, but very very likely they’re trying to get too big too quickly and they need to have a hard, realistic look at their current capacity and put some things on the back burner in favor of sustainable growth – which includes being able to attract and retain talent.

  19. Maddy*

    We have an in/out board and the only time detail is required is when people are in the field (where, when back and who the safety buddy is) – this is for safety reasons.

    Otherwise people mark “appointment back at 3” or “back Thursday” “vacation back Dec 3” “in at noon” or sick. Or whatever. Sometimes the sick time isn’t even on there. It can just be labelled as out. No one asks. It doesn’t get more specific than that.
    We have flex time and varied start times so it’s really handy to find out where someone is if you need to talk to them.
    Don’t put anything more specific. No one needs to know the gritty details.

  20. Just Here for the Free Lunch*

    There’s definitely good reason to have a calendar system, even if it’s only for doing head counts in the case of an emergency. I have seen it go badly in places where the culture has toxic elements — “Stacy is going to be in late AGAIN???” “Tom always seems to leave early on Thursdays.” “Does Joe even work a full week???” But management just needs to deal with that, or spring for an electronic code or badge-based system where only a couple of people who need to know have access or can generate reports.

  21. Oxford Comma*

    I can’t imagine life before shared calendaring. I agree that if personal details are included, this is a problem, but it makes scheduling meetings so much easier.

    1. Oxford Comma*

      By which I mean, as long as no personal details are included, I think it’s a life saver. If personal details are required, then yes, I think this can be an invasion of privacy.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Before shared calendars, there was more for admins to deal with. I saw the transition first hand between phones/faxes and the birth of everyone using email/shared calendars. Some have still been kicking and screaming ever since!

      1. Nowhereland*

        I have always worked in places with calendars/emails. I have looked at reddit threads that describe office life before the advent of email. I can’t really imagine it well! In in the unit where I work, I know there used to be a central phone line for calling out sick, etc (many years ago).

  22. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

    About telling why you’re firing someone – please do! I’d like to add one more reason why. It gives the fired person a possibility to think about what they could do differently in their next job. Maybe the problem is something they haven’t previously thought about but can easily avoid if someone tells them about it. Maybe it’s something that proves that they would be better suited for a different kind of job. Maybe it’s something they’ve heard about before and now that it seems to be a pattern, they are inspired to seek help for that. Or maybe it’s something that hasn’t been a problem in any other job, and they can just think that this boss was super weird, move on with their life and never let it hurt their self esteem that they had once been fired. Or maybe something different – but still, it can make a huge difference in their life that they know about it!

    1. BeeGee*

      This! In addition, how would you go into a future job interview and explain why you were fired if you honestly weren’t told?? Lots of people get fired, but it benefits the person that was fired if they are able to thoughtfully explain what has occurred in a constructive manor to future employers (i.e. “I was fired because I let my frustration with my role and career trajectory within the firm negatively affect my work performance, when I should have left before it came to that”). It would be extra crappy to have an ex-employee go into interviews with a response of “I have no idea why I was fired” because I feel like that already is a red flag to the employer, even if it is an honest response, because I’m sure it looks like the candidate either is trying to cover up the reason they were fired or haven’t learned anything from being fired.

    2. Helena*

      When applying for a security clearance, the form asks you if you’ve ever been fired from a job, and if so, the reason you were fired. The investigators tend to give the side-eye to “I don’t know why I was fired.”

  23. somebody blonde*

    I actually disagree about the skills section. In a lot of cases, what Allison says is correct, but it seems plausible that you might have skills that you haven’t used much at work but could (languages for example). If you’re going to have a skills section, keep it brief and put it right at the top. That way they’ll definitely see it.

  24. Observer*

    Re: Telling someone why you’re firing them-

    Is you boss generally extremely conflict averse? The idea that you won’t tell someone why they are being fired because they might argue with you is just baffling. You have ALL the power here – you do not have to allow him to argue. You TELL him what you need to, and if starts arguing, you just shut it down. Walk out, if you need to. Because ultimately, it doesn’t matter what his arguments are, you don’t have to listen to them.

  25. Employment Lawyer*

    1. Should I tell an employee the real reason I’m firing him?

    Yes, but not necessarily when you fire him.

    Employees should get good feedback on skills and problems, and should have a change to improve. And firing should not be a surprise.

    But firing need not be the actual time when you you give detailed feedback on people’s flaws. And often it shouldn’t be, because that can make it unpleasant and lead to fights. If you’ve been giving direction and feedback without success, you’re allowed to just say “we do not think you are a good fit” or something like that, at the time of firing.

    There is also a very rare middle ground. Sometimes you can say something like “As you know, Bob, this isn’t working out well because _____. As a result, I don’t expect to extend your probationary period. But you haven’t done anything that requires me to fire you right way and I’m happy to keep you on for another ___.” There are obvious risks, there of course, so run it up the chain.

  26. Heffalump*

    Some years ago I had my 60- or 90-day review on a new job. My manager told me frankly that not everything was copacetic. She went on to say that there was someone in my job whom they’d had to fire a year earlier. At that time she was a brand new manager, and she wasn’t entirely confident in the role. She couldn’t bring herself to tell the guy the real reason he was being fired, so she told him a bunch of lies and felt terrible about it. I did manage to improve and got good reviews from there on out.

  27. CastIrony*

    OP #3, I loved it when I used to be able to refer to a planner by the work phone to see who was off on any given day so that I wouldn’t accidentally call someone who couldn’t come in when my work shift was short-staffed.

    Now, with a new supervisor (over a year, but still), there is no more planner, but a calendar that is in her office that I would have never discovered if I didn’t take a good look in there.

  28. The Meow*

    OP1: This is a mistake I made early in my manager role. I didn’t properly communicate to “Diane” the reasons she was fired. Employees talk, and she ended up telling everyone I fired her out of the blue and some of my good employees felt their job was threatened too when that absolutely wasn’t the case.

    If I could turn dials on the time turner I would have sat her down and explain specifically why I was firing her: constant lateness, last minute notice of frequent absences, expecting the company to schedule work around her but never willing to work even 5 minutes over time, gossiping about other people behind their back and creating a toxic atmosphere. All of these were valid reasons for firing her but my mistake was not telling her specifically so she could understand why I made this decision. (I thought it was obvious at the time but most of us are blind to our own flaws).

    Please tell your employee why you’re firing him. Not just because it’s the decent thing to do to help him learn and understand; but so he doesn’t end up spreading his version and causing unnecessary tension among the rest of your team.

  29. Elizabeth Proctor*

    (Few businesses, at least outside of retail/food service/maybe other sectors I’m not thinking of, can replace an employee within a 2-3 week notice period. That’s not what a notice period is for. It’s for the employee to wrap up and transition their work to others.)

  30. MsChanandlerBong*

    I was going to write in with a similar question, except the new edict is that I’m not allowed to give anyone a specific reason for their termination. I have to send a canned email that basically says “You’re not a good fit.” Even if the person has clearly done something specific that would warrant termination, I can’t mention it when I let them go. I find it to be ridiculous, but I am not the boss.

  31. huh*

    I agree it is a kindness to let people know why they are being fired, but, Dunning-Krueger is real, and despite feedback and warnings some employees are still surprised when they are fired. I quit giving any reason beyond “it’s not working out” in order to avoid being screamed at, physically assaulted, or attacked online. Long-term employees know we don’t fire people for no reason or without adequate attempts at correcting behavior.

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