updates: employee won’t work when it snows, boss hates me, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. My employee doesn’t want to work when it snows

I have an update on the snow absences situation. There was a lot of great advice from Alison and the readers; I really appreciated all of it. I decided to meet with this employee to discuss contingency planning for snowy weather, a discussion that went well and resulted in the employee agreeing to make some arrangements to get to work in bad weather. He followed through on that and didn’t have any more problems with physically showing up for work.

Unfortunately, over time, there were problems with him being absent from work in other ways…

In the readers’ comments, I noticed that many people were sensing something else was going on with this employee, and they turned out to be right. Over time, it became clear he is someone who has trouble dealing with a lot of different aspects of life, not just snow. Earlier this year, he came to my office one day and said he wanted to come clean: he told me he’d been neglecting an important part of his job for several months. It gave him “anxiety”, so he just didn’t do it.

The organization is a healthcare provider, so this was Not Good. Professional and ethical standards were compromised. Although patient safety was not jeopardized, quality and the overall patient experience definitely were. Unfortunately, as problematic as thIs situation was, I got no support from my own boss – his response was to deny the problem, and his solution was to tell another employee to do the job duties my employee had failed to do. When performance appraisal season came around, he also directed that my seriously underperforming employee should get a merit raise.

I think my boss’s ego was the reason. He worked with this employee at a previous company; he’d actually recommended this guy to me for the job. I think he didn’t want anyone to know someone he’d recommended had turned out to be that irresponsible. Even so, never in a million years would I ever have dreamed my boss would put himself and his ego before the vulnerable people who trust us to care for them.

The whole thing ruined how I felt about my job. I began job hunting in earnest, and I’m happy to say I found something much better with an organization that I hope has more integrity.

The employee has continued working at my old employer, where it seems no one will hold him accountable. He’s probably going to keep letting people down, cutting corners, shifting the burden to others and avoiding whatever he finds challenging or personally stressful for him. And that’s a shame, for everyone.

The experience taught me several things:
1. When an employee shows you who they are, believe them.
2. AAM readers are amazingly intuitive and insightful.
3. When you can’t say that you’re proud of where you work any more, it’s time to move on.
4. You can take charge of your own future and make things better for yourself.

Sincere thanks to the AAM readers who weighed in: your insights helped me realize what was happening and how to make a plan for myself.

2. How to tell an employee to stay in their lane

On the day the letter was published, we actually had to let that employee and another one go. We were eliminating their entire focus area. However, “Jane” has since come back to work for us on another team, part-time. She no longer reports to me and her work rarely touches my teams’, so no conflict has arisen since.

The advice was helpful though, even just in terms of how I could do better or communicate differently in the future. I know a lot of people in the comments felt I was pushing Jane out or not listening to her. However, I reexamined my actions and I really didn’t feel that was the case. The team has been running so smoothly since she’s transitioned off of it.

We are collaborating this quarter on a project in which Jane is contributing a few assets — she set up a kickoff meeting and set an agenda asking the people on my team to explain their work! It got my hackles up since it felt presumptuous and unnecessary. But I took a deep breath, asked her to cancel her meeting and invited her to a broader kickoff I had already set up. I asked her new manager to help me keep the team on task during the meeting as I had had difficulties in the past keeping Jane focused on her specific area when working cross-functionally, and her new manager said she would definitely assist.

Alls well that ends well? Jane still has a job, but she’s not my problem child any more…and I’m cool with that!

3. Can I find out my employee’s future plans? (#3 at the link)

I had written in last fall (2018) about my employee whose partner was finishing a PhD and my wanting to know where he was looking for jobs and if she was planning on relocating if he did. At some point in the winter, I had a conversation with her about his future plans, which was mostly commiseration, because he didn’t know yet what he would be doing, and it was kind of killing both of them. In the end, he got a position in our area, and separately, she and I had good conversations about her future plans and aspirations, and she recently got a promotion!

So no, I wasn’t trying to push her out or assume anything, was really just wondering!

4. My boss hates me and is actively cruel (#2 at the link)

Thank you to Alison and readers for their support. I ended up giving my notice without having another job lined up. They were literally preventing me from getting my job done. (Another manager would hide materials that I needed to do my job;Some would not do what I asked them to do, even though it was their job, etc.) It was bad all around. It was also affecting me physically as well.

Of course when my boss found out, he was all, “You don’t have to leave.” and “You did a good job on x,y,and z.” Another coworker wrote me this long letter and gave me gifts.

It’s funny because 6 months later, my boss gave his notice! Slowly, more and more people left and now it’s an entirely different group.

It took me a year to find another job. I stayed there for 2 years and am now in a totally different environment. It’s not perfect, but my coworkers are all very warm and engaging. (Hard working and professional as well.)

There is a light at the end of the tunnel! (It just takes a while to get there!) Big thanks again to Alison and her dedication to this site. Also, thank you to everyone and their awesome advice and support. (It helps to know that others have been in similar situations!)

{ 37 comments… read them below }

  1. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Can someone please help me pick up my jaw from the floor after reading the first update?

    1. Shocked Pikachu*

      Yeah. It’s sad really – except for the part of OP finding a new job. I understand anxiety but basically to let the person completely off the hook for not doing his job, shuffle those responsibilities onto someone else (wonder if that person received any compensation such a little pay bump), … and for what, to save a face ? And yet in the end the boss came out of it looking much worse then if he just admitted the guy he recommended messed up and
      acted accordingly.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        The idea that someone can just not do part of their job and not face any consequences is baffling.

        1. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

          This happens every day at my job. And then she wonders why she can’t move up, or even out of her department. No one wants her, no one wants to deal with her. It’s so annoying!

        2. Wintermute*

          Sadly, it’s common in my experience, my job has people that do the same, either other people stand up and do it because they can’t stand to see a job undone, someone with more of a stake in the consequences of it not getting done does it. Or… it just goes undone. It’s actually pretty amazing how much stuff a modern business could just not do and still function just fine, at least for a while, or at reduced efficiency.

      2. Antilles*

        Agreed. I’m always amazed by the people who are more concerned about “saving face” and end up prolonging an issue rather than just fixing it.
        You know what makes you *really* look like a strong manager? Having the guts to admit that you made a mistake, the self-confidence to recognize your flaws, and the intelligence to learn from it.

    2. J*

      Seriously. Wow.
      Next time I hear about a bureaucratic screw-up, my first question will be, “Was someone just too *anxious* to do their job?”

    3. Disillusioned Anxious & Depressed Person*

      Wow. I don’t condone someone not doing their job but I’m more shocked and disappointed that all of you are contributing to the stigmatization of mental illness. Putting anxiety in quotes? Dismissing it entirely? In my experience, people who say these things/act this way have never experienced mental illness, whether with themselves, family, or friends, because they are so out of touch.

      Invisible mental and physical illnesses are REAL.

  2. Shocked Pikachu*

    “They were literally preventing me from getting my job done. (Another manager would hide materials that I needed to do my job;Some would not do what I asked them to do, even though it was their job, etc.)“

    :0

    Who are these people ? Why ? Why ? Sometimes reading AAM, I feel this strange urge to yell out “I need an adult, I need an adult !”

    OP #4, I am happy to hear that you have found a new job and your new coworkers are nice and professional. :) All the best in your new place.

    1. J*

      Oh yeah. I knew a lady with admin rights for our databases. She would lock people out of their computers if she got mad at them for whatever reason.
      .
      .
      .
      Oh, and this was in Iraq.
      And those databases had information soldiers actually needed to… you know… not die.
      It’s terrifying how depraved some people can be.

    2. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I don’t get it at all. If you don’t like somebody at your office, you can just, like, avoid talking to them when you don’t have to. Actively hiding things and going out of your way to make somebody else’s life harder is just so much work that you don’t really get anything back from.

      1. pope suburban*

        People like this don’t see it as work, they see it as fun, or at bare minimum a worthwhile use of their time. I worked for one of them, whose favorite employee was also like that. They both enjoyed causing other people stress. In the case of the favored employee, often his only goal was to upset people; it wasn’t about work at all. They were both terribly dysfunctional people in every area of life, and it was just our ill luck that they ended up in the same workplace.

  3. Goldenrod*

    I really like this list:
    “1. When an employee shows you who they are, believe them.
    2. AAM readers are amazingly intuitive and insightful.
    3. When you can’t say that you’re proud of where you work any more, it’s time to move on.
    4. You can take charge of your own future and make things better for yourself.”

    Especially #3 and #4. I also worked at a hospital where I witnessed/discovered unethical behavior and lack of accountability. I couldn’t be proud of working there – I realized I also didn’t feel comfortable recommending it as a workplace to friends, which was a bad sign.

    But it’s great to discover #4!! It feels good to make a positive change. Congrats on doing that, OP.

  4. Elenna*

    “is response was to deny the problem, and his solution was to tell another employee to do the job duties my employee had failed to do. ”

    ?????????????????????????????

    Yeah, sometimes you just have to leave…

  5. DoctorateStrange*

    Of course when my boss found out, he was all, “You don’t have to leave.” and “You did a good job on x,y,and z.” Another coworker wrote me this long letter and gave me gifts.

    I am never not over how bullies try to act all sweet the minute their victim decides to leave them. OP4, I am so happy for you to leave such two-faced twits.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I love that his response was about how the OP didn’t have to leave because they weren’t bad at their job. Like, dude, I’m not leaving because I don’t think I’m good at my job. I’m leaving because I don’t think *you’re* good at *your* job, or at being a human!

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Hear! Hear!
        And I will be stealing that line, “I don’t think your good at being human” is so perfect for some people that the rest of us end up cleaning up after.

  6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m gut punched to hear that you’re in health care and the boss was all “Meh ethics, whatevs, my ego tho!!!” Yuck. Having family in the industry I know all too well that there are a lot of cruddy crusty places out there with this kind of problem lurking.

    But I’m relieved to know you got out of that nasty place when you realized how awful it was.

  7. Ashamed*

    posting #1
    It sounds to me like this employee was very severely depressed with severe anxiety as well. I feel like these exact letters could have been written about me a few years ago. Prior to that, I was always a very high performer in everything I did, starting in school and continuing into my work life. I worked demanding jobs for years and always went above and beyond. I worked long hours voluntarily because I felt passionately about the work and wanted it to be done right. Later in my career, I worked full time and went to business school at night. I excelled at both. I ran and worked on winning political and social justice campaigns during my breaks. I volunteered with various organizations. I received high praise, raises and promotions, great grades, glowing performance reviews and more and more opportunities to do high level, important work.

    And then EVERYTHING changed.

    While visiting my sister one weekend, I was raped and beaten over the course of several days while being held against my will. Everything changed. I got severely depressed. I would get in bed the second I got home from work. I stayed there until I had to get up the next morning. I even stayed in bed from Friday afternoon until I had to get up on Monday. I lost 50 pounds that I didn’t have to lose, becoming skeletal. I often had full on panic attacks just trying to leave the house. I would sweat through my clothes, be hyperventilating, gasping for breath and was often so dizzy I would fall over. Just over trying to get dressed and face another day outside of my house. Doing even tiny assignments, things that would have taken me 15 minutes before the assault, would take forever, sometimes weeks for a single email.

    But I didn’t realize I was depressed. I didn’t even realize that the hyperventilating and sweating and being dizzy until I couldn’t stand was anxiety. I would take any excuse I could to not go to work, or not do work, or come in late or leave early. These ranged from things like snow and bad weather to a million different health things to a family thing. I think I even convinced myself that the reason I wasn’t going to work was because my “back hurt” or “I was sick,” or “i needed to wait for the plumber to let him in.” Why else would I be missing work?

    But the truth is that anything and everything that I could come up with to be able to stay in bed, I jumped on it. I didn’t understand that it was severe anxiety and depression. I just didn’t have the perspective, the self awareness or the objectivity to see what was going on. So I believed my own BS. I was very aware of how much I was letting people down and how much extra work they had to do because of me.

    It has taken me four years of hard work with my doctors and therapist, along with an extended break from full time employment to get back to the person I used to be.

    I bet my employers’ assessment of me during this time would have sounded exactly like yours. I can picture my employer describing me exactly the way you describe your employee. Everything you are saying sounds so incredibly familiar.

    But that isn’t who I am. I am deeply deeply ashamed of how I acted and the extra work I caused for my colleagues and the things I let fall through the cracks.. I am so ashamed of everything from that time. And I am so deeply sorry to everyone who had to cover for me or accommodate me. I am so humiliated when I think about the impression I made on people, and who they must think I am.

    I just can’t get over how much I identify with the employee and recognize depression self in his behavior. And how much what you are saying could also have been said about me in that time.

    TL;DR: It sounds like there might have been something more going on here with your employee. Certainly depression and anxiety. It warps who you are. Please keep that in mind before judging the employee too harshly or thinking you know who he is inside.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      1) I am so very sorry for your ordeal. Your reaction was natural, but I hope you are able to heal. I also really hope that anyone who hears this would understand and be compassionate in their response.

      2) On the letter, yeah, it sounded like a diagnosable-level of anxiety, but: people aren’t treating it that way in the letter / comments because in general it’s a bad idea to diagnose over the internet, and LW didn’t say, ‘his doctor diagnosed an anxiety disorder that needed accommodation’. Please see that as a difference between you and that employee: you have figured out you need help, and you’re working on it.

      My personal clue for ‘time to talk to a professional!’ for my OCD is when it starts to interfere with normal activities for more than 2 days in any given month, but it took several years for me to figure out that rule.

      Mental illness is hard – so many causes (trauma for you, something chemical for me), no easy solutions, so much stigma.

    2. tangerineRose*

      I’m sorry you experienced that. I don’t think you need to feel ashamed. It sounds like you were going through a lot of emotion (understandably) and were doing the best you could.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Sympathies and hopes for continued progress to you. I understand why you picked the name, but I also agree that you shouldn’t feel ashamed.

      We all have our burdens, you just have more of them at the moment. But you are also so much stronger – because you took the hardest step of all – you reached out and asked for help. So many other people drown rather than asking for help they need for so many different reasons.

  8. I love office dogs so much*

    Oh my god, OP#1, I had the exact same thing happen to me. My boss directly referred, hired and championed someone who turned out to be a horrible hire. That new employee was a disaster from day 1, and was given all of our biggest, most important accounts to handle – over the objections of everyone, but it wasn’t our call to make. Sure enough, the employee was a disaster, a bunch of those important accounts cancelled their contracts and specifically named the employee as the reason why, and therefore the entire department missed its most important KPI. Even after all this, it took aaaaages for that employee to get let go. Finally, my grandboss took a look into the department to see wtf happened, realized what was going on, and my boss was let go.

    My takeaway was that it’s really important to have a manager who can admit their mistakes, even at the cost of their ego. It doesn’t have to happen right away, I totally understand being defensive in the moment, or that I might not have all the info at the time. But later on, managers need to work through their mistakes like everyone else – so they can learn from them!

    To take an even further step back, in order to have a manager who can own up to mistakes, your company has to have a culture where admitting mistakes isn’t a fireable offense (barring specific circumstances). Companies who accept mistakes as long as they’re learned from will have much more success in the long run, more innovative ideas, and happier employees and customers. Good luck at your new role, OP!

  9. lobsterbot*

    I work with someone like the guy in #1. Our manager refuses to even try to manage him, just dumping the extra work on me. Wish I could find another job and leave.

    1. irene adler*

      It’d be nice if they also gave you a cut of the guy’s paycheck given you are doing a cut of the guy’s work. Somehow, that part never occurs to managers.

  10. Pinniped*

    #1 – I have anxiety. It escalated terribly this year. This month I had to go to my boss and say, “I haven’t done X, Y and Z because they were giving me anxiety.”

    I haven’t experienced a traumatic event like the person in the comments above, I just have developed a mental illness. Before now I was efficient and high performing, but this year I found it gradually harder and harder to do my job. Things that were previously easy became difficult, and things that were challenging became impossible. It still doesn’t really make sense to me – I’m usually very conscientious and I don’t really understand why I struggled to get things done that were my responsibility.

    People are criticising #1 as though the employee has laziness and not illness. We don’t know – only that it was managed extremely poorly. I’m all too aware that from the outside I looked incompetent and irresponsible as an employee, but within myself I know that I was trying as hard as I could. #1 sounds like a bad situation, but mental illness (if it is that) isn’t a choice.

    1. ShortT*

      As someone who has diagnosed anxiety and depression, with events that have occurred this month making them more difficult to manage.

      The thing is…it’s on me to manage it. Not on my SO. Not on anyone at work. No one but me.

      I don’t think that OP1 believes that the employee is lazy. The employee simply is not doing the job, for whatever reason. The burden of what should be that employees work is being shifted onto colleagues without their consent. That is grossly unfair.

  11. Mimmy*

    OP1 – I’m glad that you were able to find a better job. However, when the employee came to you about how this particular job duty makes him anxious, did you discuss what about the job made him anxious? It does sound like there’s a lot going on outside of work too and your boss wasn’t helpful with this situation, but I know I would at least appreciate my supervisor acknowledging the anxiety and discussing strategies, if any, that may help.

    Either way, your boss did you and him no favors by sweeping it under the rug. Again, I hope your new job is better.

  12. OP1*

    Hi, OP #1 here, just wanted to respond to some of the comments about how the employee’s disclosure re: having anxiety was handled. I’m a thoughtful manager who has positive relationships with my staff. I did have a supportive conversation with my employee, encouraged him to get help, and advised him to consult HR about possible accommodations. He refused to do any of it. I think the most important thing to remember here is that the employee was responsible for providing healthcare for people. But instead, he came to work every day and made a conscious decision not to do his job. Think about that: none of us would want to receive corner-cutting care from a surgeon, social worker, dietician, phlebotomist, physician, nurse, psychotherapist, pharmacist, radiology technician, respiratory therapist, chiropractor, physical therapist, dentist, occupational therapist, lab tech or any healthcare provider who neglected to do their job due to anxiety. We would have empathy for that provider, but we would not want them to treat us or anyone we care about. The employee did not do his job – whether that was because he would not, or because he could not, the fact is that human beings experienced unnecessary distress as a result. My intention in writing this update was not to be harsh or judgmental of the employee, but to make clear that in healthcare, our highest priority is always the people we care for, and our most important guiding principle always is “do no harm”. Sincere thanks for the support and well wishes from those who posted. It was a very painful and draining experience for me and I really appreciate your kind words.

    1. Disillusioned Anxious & Depressed Person*

      “Customers” and “patients” don’t get cared for without the staff. Yes, they should be a high priority, but the staff should be a higher priority. Without staff, no one gets help. No one realizes this.

  13. Kanny*

    My new restaurant manager has cut my server shift from 5 per week to once a week and now this week no hours. Im going to get evicted if this doesnt stop. My coworkers say that she seems to hate me but they dont know why and its not fair. I agree. Is this legal?

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