an example of starting with grace when you’re frustrated with someone

A reader writes:

I wanted to share a recent example where in the heat of a frustrating situation I took a step back and tried (sort of…) compassion, which completely changed my understanding of the situation.

I also lead a team of people on special assignment — they receive extra compensation to work for me above and beyond the core duties of their regular jobs — so I am their manager in a sense but not of their entire workload.

Recently, a team member who has had performance issues in the past went MIA and wasn’t responding to requests to do things. This person frequently does not complete his tasks and is defensive and argumentative in discussions about expectations. I had been planning to replace him on this team (it’s term-based and political), but COVID interfered with my timeline so I’ll need to wait a little longer on that. Based on his past performance issues, I was growing increasingly frustrated with his unresponsiveness and sending escalating emails (think, email 1: “Hi Cedric, can you please complete this task?” email 2: “Hi Cedric, we really need you to complete this task by the deadline for x, y, z reasons. Please take care of it today.” email 3: “Cedric, it is an expectation of your position that you complete this task in a timely manner.”)

As a last resort, I finally decided to text him. I led with “Hi Cedric — is everything okay?” (I’ll admit I intended this passive-aggressively. I assumed he’d say everything was okay and I’d follow up with some version of “then what the hell?”)

Welp — it turned out everything was not okay. His father in a long-term care facility was in the hospital with COVID (and passed away about a week later).

It was absolutely a moment for me of re-framing and reminded me of the importance of leading with compassion. As an added bonus, the team member ended up feeling seen and respected as a human being, not just a worker.

It was a humbling reminder that things are not normal and it makes a difference to give grace, even with people who drive you bonkers under the best of circumstances.

{ 229 comments… read them below }

  1. Jedi Squirrel*

    Thank you for the very gentle and touching reminder.

    These are not normal times.

    1. snoopythedog*

      I think even in normal times there can be circumstances that cause people to fall behind. Leading with compassion and acting with grace shouldn’t be restricted to times of pandemic. I think the bigger picture take-away is that you don’t know what’s going on in someone’s life and connecting to them like a human and acting with compassion is a strong management/leadership tool.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        I entirely agree. I hope that one positive outcome of this situation is that we learn to lead with grace.

  2. Oof*

    Thank you for sharing. I think it also reminds us all to try different communication methods when one isn’t working.

  3. Other Becky*

    I have used this framing with my students, usually to good effect. It’s generally first request, reminder, then “is everything okay?” It keeps things cooperative rather than adversarial.

    1. Hula-la*

      I have been using this with my students, especially now that we’ve been doing things remotely. Even with those who I know wouldn’t be doing any work under normal circumstances.

    2. Rebecca*

      I am doing the same thing as well. I put the same question on every single assignment–have your circumstances changed? Do you want me to contact you about anything? I teach high school and I’ve had two students with a grandparent or great aunt die this week. It matters! It impacts their ability to do work.

    3. SweetestCin*

      My small humans are in elementary school. I completely appreciate that both of their teachers start their daily remote learning live hour with “Good morning Room X, is everyone okay today?”. On the very few days thus far where there’s been one resounding “no, I’m not okay today”, they use the hour to talk and visit and discuss, and the teacher has recorded the lesson for the kids to watch later. (Happened about three times so far between two classes, the kids really don’t abuse it)

      As a parent who is attempting to help them navigate this, I am writing down this framing.

  4. Lady CFO*

    I can really appreciate this… but he has a history of poor performance and didn’t communicate why he would be MIA, correct? I see him as still responsible to communicate that he wouldn’t complete his tasks so his manager could address deadlines, reassign tasks, etc.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Nope. Family first. Emergencies happen, and sometimes the last thing you think is “Gee, I really should let everybody at work know.” Besides, his manager already knew this about him, and part of management is planning around a worker’s poor performance.

      He was probably already worried about his father being in a long-term care facility. I mean, how many nursing homes have we heard about that were just full of dead people, right? And then his father actually caught COVID-19. Even more stress and anxiety.

      And then his father dies a week later? Oh, gosh, do I really feel for this poor guy.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Well, there’s still an issue, which I think is what Lady CFO was pointing out. The main point with the story was to show that there is a huge benefit to leading with compassion and understanding. That isn’t to excuse that the team member went completely MIA, because that’s still not great, but it’s really not great with the person’s apparent history of not completing tasks, not performing to the level that is needed, etc.

        There’s a fine line between excusing behavior and understanding behavior. The guy is having a very, very rough time. That is abundantly clear. His recent MIA? Totally understandable given the circumstances, and a manager can assist with compassion and empathy. However, it does not excuse a history of poor performance, to the point where he is apparently already on the table to be replaced *without* this most recent MIA mishap.

        And, I mean, yeah, my first response isn’t going to be call my boss if my dad was suddenly having serious health issues, but what was this MIA timeline? 1 day? 1 week? 1 month? At some point you should remember to let your workplace know that you are dealing with a family emergency. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          TL;DR: I think the main point of sharing of this story is to remind everyone to come at these kind of issues with compassion, patience, and curiosity, not immediately assuming the worst (ie he’s already a poor performer, it’s just that), because you’re going to get a better response and often improve morale.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, exactly.

            You can start with openness and kindness. That doesn’t prevent you from holding someone accountable if it turns out you need to — but sometimes you’ll find there’s more to the story than you realized and it’s helpful not to make assumptions (even though it’s very easy to make assumptions when someone has established a bad track record with you).

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              Not to mention that the solution may vary with the circumstances.

      2. KarenK*

        I agree family comes first, but that does not absolve him of all his responsibilities. Many people, including me, have had parents die, and yet still managed to keep our workplaces up to date. We didn’t disappear off the face of the earth.

        I am glad for the OP, though. They would have felt terrible if they had come down hard on the guy.

        1. HRLady*

          I think in the time of Covid-19, disappearing off the face of the earth may be acceptable for a short period. We are in weird times, where stores are depleted and coping can be extremely difficult. I hope the OP also checks in on the employee’s general wellness-in a HIPAA appropriate manner. In fact, the past work performance may be due to outside work stressors, and that should be taken into consideration in the future.

          1. Jedi Squirrel*

            I entirely agree.

            In fact, for me, “disappearing off the face of the earth” for an hour or so and disconnecting from social media and media in general and just trying to relax is a useful to my mental health.

            1. Spencer Hastings*

              I read KarenK’s “disappearing off the face of the earth” to mean more than a couple of hours, FWIW. When I’ve heard the phrase in this sort of context, it usually meant that someone didn’t reply to emails for days, missed deadlines with no explanation, that sort of thing.

              1. Spencer Hastings*

                (Forgot to add: I too have disappeared in the way I’ve just described, and I’m not proud of it.)

          2. Peyton Ernst*

            I agree, but I think it makes sense to side eye someone more who wasn’t working anyway. In this case, it seems that it wasn’t really COVID-19. It’s this guy isn’t a great employee and now he is having even more trouble with his work because of the tragic circumstances in his life. Certainly it gives you pause about him going forward – something that you would never think about a better employee.

            I have an employee who really underperformed due to illness. I know she can turn it around, it’s helpful to know what was going on, but at the end of the day her review wasn’t great, because it was just about her work product. So it WAS important for me to understand, because it gave me context and understood in better circumstances to be a better employee. I would have less grace for someone who always did a bad job.

            It would be hard for me as a employee to go MIA. I at least would tell someone to contact my work if I couldn’t. I don’t know, that’s just the type of person I am. A better employee probably would have honestly.

            1. Anonapots*

              Then it’s a good thing the OP didn’t write in asking for advice on how she handled the situation, isn’t it?

        2. TechWorker*

          OP is not this guys manager though. His manager might have been in the loop and not realised or thought to extend that news out to the OP. If someone leaves in a hurry then at my org at least there’s no way to put a note up on their OOO.

        3. CircleBack*

          Yeah I disappeared off the face of the earth when my mom died. I was “lucky” that I had time to prepare my coworkers – about a week to say hey, things are starting to get really bad, and here are things that will need to get picked up to keep this place running. But then I had no time or energy for work for maybe two weeks, and I didn’t bother to check in beyond giving an ETA for returning.
          It’s conjecture, but it’s entirely possible the problem coworker notified their usual manager/supervisor, and that manager has not been great about communicating with this special project team and helping them manage without relying too heavily on “Cedric.”

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            I was non-functional the final week where my dad died. I let my boss know that I had to make a fast trip out of town, and was willing to use vacation time. I still had to text my group to ask someone else to take care of an alert that ordinarily I would handle, but I was away from a computer. (The alert went off twice – they just expected me to handle it, like I was still there. It wasn’t my manager as much as it was my teammates. My manager had to handle it.)

      3. Jonno*

        And then you have the opposite of this… One time I was mugged and beaten up really badly on my way home from work one evening, it was very traumatic for me. I went to the hospital and everything. The next day I let my boss know what was happening, and she tried to tell me that if I could call her than I should be coming to work. That is not being compassionate. So, I tried to do the right thing and keep her in the loop and she just made me feel bad about my situation even though I was in really rough shape and had broken bones, etc. So I think we all need to be compassionate as much as we can with the circumstances whether they are extreme like they are right now, or under the best times.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I gasped out loud. What a heartless, heartless person. I hope this is a former boss at a former job!
          Did you report her?

        2. KoiFeeder*

          I can’t even think of anything that would adequately describe how awful your boss was. I’m so sorry.

        3. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I’m sad to say I know exactly what you mean. I hope you’re doing ok these days.

          (10 years ago, centre of London, midday, and my boss said if I could call him then I could obviously be coherent enough to work that afternoon. To this day I won’t set foot in London again)

      4. Lavender Menace*

        Of course family should come first, I don’t think there’s a dispute there. But if I have to go MIA, I’m going to take the 2 minutes to send my manager a quick mail letting them know I’m dealing with some serious family shit, not just drop off the face of the planet and leave everyone in the lurch.

        And I have actually dealt with this situation before – my mother got seriously ill and I found out at work, my grandmother died and I got the call at work, and *I* got seriously ill one day before leading a huge workshop. In all cases I ran into my manager’s office, hurriedly explained what happened and then dashed off (and had he not been there, I would’ve sent him a text either before or after.)

        1. Colleen DeViliers*

          YES.

          I think if you are usually a really good employee, this can be forgiven. If you aren’t…it’s just a symptom of you not being a good employee.

        2. Mad Harry Crewe*

          Yeah, but you were also at work, which enabled the solution (quick face-to-face on your way out) and fronted it in your mind. My household spent Sunday night in the ICU waiting room once for a very close (basically family) friend who was hit by a car, waiting to find out details about her injuries, and then waiting to see her, and then waiting for her parents to arrive on the first flight the next morning. I wasn’t employed at the time, but I know my housemate staggered home at about 6a and fell straight asleep. His boss called when he missed work, he called her back when he woke up and let her know what happened and that he wouldn’t be in for the day. As far as I know, there were no hard feelings. Work is not always at the forefront in dire circumstances, and that’s the way it should be.

          And, as has been pointed out elsewhere, OP is not this person’s main boss, and he may have been doing a better job communicating with the person he reports to in his normal function – we just don’t know.

    2. Emma*

      Agreed – and seriously, he couldn’t take 30 seconds to proactively send that text? When my dad died my first call was to my other brother (oldest brother was the one who told me) and my second call was to my boss. It’s called being a responsible adult.

      1. Once Anon a Time*

        +1
        I agree with this. If he was unable to do this himself, he could have also asked someone close to him to communicate this, at the very least.

        As a manager myself, I have had a relative and/or close friend call me on behalf of an employee to explain an extenuating circumstance. Usually it’s a brief conversation with the messenger, but it at least communicates that “Amelia’s [relative] is [sick/passing away] and she will require some accommodation right now. She will reach out directly as soon as she is able to, but asked that I pass along the message so her duties can be delegated.”

        1. A*

          Yup – I think some people worry this isn’t a valid option, but it is! The one and only time I suffered a family tragedy where I was not at work when I received the call, I had my roommate at the time call my employer to let them know.

        2. Anonapots*

          Hi. The OP didn’t ask for our advice. They came here to remind us that even when it feels like the situation is very clear, it often isn’t, and sometimes, just sometimes, you can decide to be kind in the moment and not worry about the bigger issue at hand. Maybe let’s stop trying to remind her of how she still has to address Cedric’s continued performance when in this moment it doesn’t matter.

      2. Cat*

        I mean, sure, but that doesn’t mean that, as managers, we want to lambast someone who failed to do that and then find out their father died. Most of us would feel pretty bad in that situation.

      3. MK*

        No, it’s called having one kind of personality; it’s useful to be able to keep calm and focus on what needs to be done in such circumstances, but it’s not something everyone is able to learn to do, nor frankly should they be expected too. The problem here isn’t that this employee forgot to contact their work while his father was dying, it’s his history of being unreliable. Many very organised and reliable people might have been equally unable to focus enough to call their boss, especially in these very stressfull times.

        I don’t think the OP means to say that personal tragedy makes poor perfromance forgivable; just that it is better to stay calm and gracious, at least until you know for certain what is going on. It would have been awful if the OP had sent a scolding text to a grief-stricken person, and it wouldn’t help them get the job done either. If, as sounds probable, she will need to let him go in the future, sha can do so without feeling like a rom-com villain.

        1. cmcinnyc*

          Yes. For OP’s *own* sake she is happier she handled the situation compassionately. Is she gonna let this guy go when she can? Probably–he’s a poor performer. But being a poor performer doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter that his dad died. If I worked for someone and they were harsh with someone about a death in the family and excused it because that person wasn’t a great worker, I would definitely lose respect for them as a manager.

      4. J*

        As someone who has lost immediate family outside of this crisis and within and who likes to think of herself as a more or less responsible adult, I assure you this is… different. He’s not the most reliable employee, clearly. And he has just lost his father in a fashion that is difficult for those who haven’t experienced it to comprehend. Compassion is free.

      5. Another worker bee*

        Yes, this. I have some team members who were generally unreliable and bad communicators and the pandemic has only exacerbated that. Nobody who before was proactive, good at communication and teamwork, etc. has suddenly become the opposite. The reliable team members have had some things come up with COVID, but they gave us a heads up, i.e. I’m feeling sick and want to rest and hope it isn’t COVID, I have small kids at home and its my turn to teach from 1-4 PM, etc. Crap happens sometimes to everyone but unless you are literally unconscious, in a coma, etc. it takes 20 seconds to fire off a slack message or an email letting your boss know what’s up.

        1. AMH*

          ” Nobody who before was proactive, good at communication and teamwork, etc. has suddenly become the opposite. ”

          I really don’t think that’s true, as a blanket statement. There are plenty of people who are suddenly facing a struggle to merely exist in day to day life, much less reach their previous levels of efficiency. And, having dealt with sudden, traumatic death — sometimes you can’t function at all. Sometimes you’re practically catatonic. And sometimes maybe you let something less important slip — and honestly, in this equation, work is less important.

            1. Another worker bee*

              Yeah exactly. Almost everyone is less efficient, but the ones that were generally efficient and proactive before have let us know exactly what to expect from them. The ones who were hard to track down and underperforming before…take hours or days to respond to slack messages, miss deadlines without communication….basically the same way they were before covid, only worse

            2. AMH*

              Sure, let me rephrase. I think covid is causing reduced efficiency for a lot of people. I think the combination of covid and a death or other trauma can indeed cause people to act the opposite of their normal selves. When I experienced a major death (my father in sudden and very scarring circumstances) I did indeed lose my ability to be the conscientious, organized, dedicated, good employee I had been previously, for a few days. In fact, I didn’t answer emails from my boss for 2 days. It’s not that it was the RIGHT thing, or that I hadn’t erred by doing that, but I was traumatized.

              I’m definitely not saying that this is an ideal employee who shouldn’t be dealt with evemtually. I’m just saying that “it’s so easy to send an email” is really diminishing of what people might be going through.

            3. Just doing my best*

              I am usually organized and motivated, proactive and honest.

              Some days I am scatterbrained, totally behind, not proactive, even concealing how much work I did because I’m ashamed at not being able to perform at my usual level.
              It’s almost like there is some kind of prolonged traumatic stress that I am experiencing that is making it hard for me to focus on work…

              1. Curmudgeon in California*

                Me too. It feels like I did when I had depression and burnout. It throws up red flags about major stress that I can’t address. I have good days and bad days.

                The last time I had some major issues and depression, I couldn’t even get up enough ambition to call in. It was long before cell phones, and I couldn’t even get out of bed enough to make a phone call. (The fact that my employer at the time was gaslighting me and sandbagging me was part of the issue.) I am not proud of that time, but it was over 30 years ago. I still probably have PTSD from that job.

                Currently, some days I knock it out of the park, but most days I just want to go back to bed. I recognize the behavior pattern, it tells me I’m on a stress/burnout/depression loop. Usually that’s my signal to find a new job, but I know this isn’t job related – it’s all the crap associated with COVID-19 in the US. (I have friends who have lost family, friends who have it and are just now starting to recover, and family and friends in stupid states that want to “reopen” prematurely.) So I try to cope in other ways, and hope that I don’t end up at the top of the layoff list.

                Various people at my work are taking an afternoon off here and there. I’m starting to need a “siesta” – a lunch hour nap to clear my head. My sleep is way off – it’s my classic depressive cycle of not being able to sleep until 2 to 4 am, and then wanting to sleep until noon or beyond.

        2. Alex*

          “Nobody who before was proactive, good at communication and teamwork, etc. has suddenly become the opposite.”

          I don’t know about that. I’m usually pro-active at communicating with managers if I need to be off work for whatever reason, and you’re right, a 20-second email isn’t hard to do. However, around 12 months ago I no-called-no-showed to my job. I had spent the best part of 4 days at the bedside of my grandmother as she slowly passed away (2 days which I’d already booked off for annual leave for other purposes, and 2 weekend days). I’d had little sleep, eaten barely anything, and when she finally passed in the early hours of the monday morning, I returned home and slept. Contacting work didn’t even cross my mind.

          Thankfully my boss was fully understanding when I called in at about 3pm, having woken up to several missed calls and texts. I was profusely apologetic, and it’s never happened again. The fact it happened at all was mortifying to me, but.. it was a small thing which just completely slipped given the overwhelming situation I was in.

      6. JSPA*

        That’s ideal, from an employer’s standpoint. And admirable, if you can do it. I don’t think anyone’s suggesting otherwise. Nor suggesting that the problem employee is actually a wonderful employee who’s just misunderstood.

        But when you’re not interacting with people directly, it can be really hard to tell “doesn’t give a rat’s ass” from “borderline coping, then crashed and burned under massive external pressure.”

        I know, from when my parents died, that my reactions (plural) were offset from the deaths. Welling tears were easy to classify and deal with. A creeping increase in indecision, activation energy, patience or stamina were all much harder to recognize as a reaction (and in being harder to label / classify, they were thereby harder to squash, in the name of professionalism).

        Getting swamped by a tragedy to the point of incapacity isn’t an indicator of someone’s overall competence, commitment, or adult status.

        1. soon to be former fed really*

          Managers can gently and compassionately recommend the employee support plan, if there is one.

      7. Nesprin*

        My mom recently needed brain surgery, and at no point did I have any interest in discussing this with my higher ups, beyond what was absolutely necessary (i.e. I need FMLA leave, Thursday’s report will be late due to FMLA leave, Thursday’s report was late due to my FMLA leave, and yes I’m still on FMLA leave, so please ask someone else).
        Explaining the situation to one of my bosses (the one who I do not like or trust) would have required more strength and eloquence than I had at one of the worst times of my life. I am glad that you were able to call your boss to discuss the situation, but I also consider myself a responsible adult.

        1. Another worker bee*

          I mean…you did communicate the necessary minimum though, namely that you were not going to be around or meet a previously agreed upon deadline. It’s not really the same as just going AWOL and not answering any communications for days.

        2. A*

          I think this absolutely counts as having notified your employer. I think avoiding inadvertently being a no call/no show for more than 1/2 a day or so is the goal here.

          In my case, my work and personal phone would be blowing up within 1-2 hours if I just disappeared, so it’s always at the top of my mind at the time of tragedies as it’s in my best interest to immediately let my employer (be in management or HR) know to I can move on to what is truly important in the moment.

      8. KoiFeeder*

        You’re fortunate to have the fortitude to be able to think semi-clearly in those situations, but the average human reaction to those sorts of situations is to panic or to shut down. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t even in a place to register the existence of other people, much less explain to his workplace that he’d just experienced a death in the family.

        1. soon to be former fed really*

          People are different. Both my parents are dead, as are two siblings, and several assorted friends and other family members. I’ve been emotionally devastated. I worked through all of this and managed to protect my job, but I’m good in a crisis. I don’t think the average human reaction is to panic or shut down, has never been mine and I’m nobody special. But I have always been overly responsible, so there’s that. Life really does go on.

          1. Lancelottie*

            I’ve also learned that not every crisis is the same, even if you’re normally level-headed and responsible. I was assaulted in my own living room and still took the GRE two hours later; when I learned my dad had cancer, I finished the work week and took my finals before flying home. But when the midwife told me there was a problem with my pregnancy… I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t follow conversations, I could barely eat. Nobody knew where I was or what was happening until my husband started making calls. Call it an Achilles heel, I guess.

          2. Avasarala*

            I think most people are not good in crisis situations. We literally have a “fight or flight response” and common disorders when those don’t work properly. People lose measurable IQ points just because they haven’t eaten in a while, or because they’re worried about money. Plus there are different kinds of crises–death of a loved one, natural disaster, financial disaster, long term global pandemic, or even more than one at the same time, like the poor guy in this story.

            1. KoiFeeder*

              Technically, there’s four responses- Fight and Flight, but also Freeze and Fawn. And Freeze is kind of the “logical” way to go when death is causing the stress. Can’t fight death, can’t appease death, can’t flee death, so…

              1. Avasarala*

                Well either way, none of the options are “TPS reports”. Or “ensure every last coworker knows about your emergency while you’re in the middle of dealing with it.”

          3. SarahTheEntwife*

            It really really depends. I’m also one of those people who gets weirdly capable and focused in a crisis, even though I’m not particularly a go-getter in general. But not everyone does that. And even for me I’ve noticed that my brain has a very particular definition of what constitutes a crisis. If there’s an immediate threat to life and safety *that I can do something about* I am ON IT. But if it’s a gradually increasing level of grinding stress, or a crisis that I can’t actually practically affect, I just kind of go apathetic and turn off. And the situation in this letter would probably fall into the latter category for me — a loved one is desperately sick and probably dying, but I can’t visit them and there’s nothing I can do to make them better.

      9. Eukomos*

        It’s great that you were able to do that, but not everyone could, and they’re not irresponsible for having a different reaction to grief than you do.

      10. Ornery*

        Yes. Exactly. Can people stop making excuses for why they’re not acting like responsible adults?

        1. AMH*

          Extending compassion and grace and understanding that everyone doesn’t react to traumatic situations the same is in fact being an adult, in my opinion. At least the kind of adult that I have always wanted to be.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            This is very well said.

            I’ve had staff who could (and did) react to extreme stress by becoming if anything over-productive and focused on their tasks more intently. I’ve also had staff who are more like me I.e. under extreme stress will completely offline from the world for a while.

            You may go your entire working relationship with a person without knowing what their response would be.

        2. k*

          I hope that you never lose a loved one and be accused of “making excuses” for reacting emotionally to it. What a grotesque and callous thing to say.

          1. Scarlet*

            I disagree. Although we all react differently in emotionally charged situations, part of being an adult is owning up to your responsibilities and taking care of them. When I lost my brother last year the first thing I did was text my boss, who was great and really understanding of it (thankfully!)

            100% reasonable in my opinion to not immediately think “My dad is dying; I need to tell my boss ASAP”. But are you really suggesting that he went weeks without remembering “oh wait, I have a job and responsibilities”?

            It’s like suggesting someone should be excused for neglecting a pet or a child because they were grieving. A responsibility is a responsibility. Of course family comes first, but you can’t neglect everything in your life because you’re going through the death of a loved one.

            1. Delphine*

              Not notifying your boss of your absence is not nearly the same as neglecting a pet or a child. Come on.

        3. Anonapots*

          Wow. Y’all are really good at taking a lovely thing and turning it into crap. That’s quite a talent.

      11. Not So NewReader*

        I agree. However in times of crisis most people will not attempt to learn new skills. Calling the boss in a timely manner would be a new skill for this guy, so no, he won’t be able to do that. (Not snark, I actually mean that. I would say that of myself- I can’t learn a new skill if I am in crisis.)
        Under the heading of fairness, I’d let this time be a free pass. Any boss who goes in on a situation like this specific event is going to look foolish at best. In all likelihood, this guy would be totally baffled if someone said they were able to remember to call their boss when faced with a dying parent. “People actually do THIS??” He would not understand how it is possible. And reality, now is not the time for the boss to drive that point home.

      12. Blue Anne*

        Assuming that everyone should be able to react that way and criticizing people who don’t seems uniquely callous to me.

        Everyone reacts differently. That’s fine. When my dad died, the thing that bothered me most about the reactions of other people was how often “Oh honey, I know how you feel” came up. No, you don’t, every situation is different, every person is different, every reaction will be different.

        I was in high school and went back to school the next day. I am now a responsible adult, but I don’t think that’s related to how I handle grief. If anything, immediately returning to my responsibilities was an unhealthy, avoidant coping mechanism, and 15 years later I’m talking through my dad’s death in therapy.

        1. Scarlet*

          My mother used to tell me that when someone you love dies, you’ll be surprised either by how kind some people are or how cruel they are.

          A month after my brother died, one of my mother’s “friends” said to her “so are you over it yet?”

          I don’t think she meant it quite as mean as it sounded, but nevertheless my mother LAID into this woman. People just don’t think. A lot of them seem to want to say the “magic words” that make things better or help the person in some way, but they don’t realize that those words don’t exist, so they end up saying something like “I know how you feel”. It’s an attempt to be nice and compassionate, but it’s insulting and downplays the person’s feelings without them realizing it.

    3. I'm just here for the cats*

      Wow! Im surprised how many people are like “he needed to let LW know ASAP.” That’s like the opposite of what the letter is about. We need compassion more now than ever. And remember the LW is not his main manager. Maybe he called his main manger letting them know and thought that the LW would know from them. LW doesn’t say if she reached out to the person’s actual boss.

      Furthermore, when you’ve lost a parent there is a huge amount of stress and stuff you need to do, and that’s in normal circumstances. I mean think about it. He never got to say goodbye. There not allowing people in to care centersnor hospitals to see their family members. This is a really bad time for him and the LW did the exact right thing.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        We are living in a time of enormous anxiety, fear, depression, and grief.

        Nobody’s brain is working properly at this time. I know mine isn’t, and I’m not affected by any of the issues this person was facing.

        Yep, he was a poor performer, and once things get back to normal in a year or so (yes, I think this is going to go on that long), then it can be addressed. Possibly before then, but not right in the moment.

      2. Lavender Menace*

        I can be compassionate and understand that everyone might not be able to do that immediately and still recognize that it is, indeed, the right thing to do.

        I have an anxiety disorder that interferes with my social interaction and communication. Sometimes it means that I literally can’t send an email or a text because I am having a panic attack and the very thought of talking to someone, at all, makes it hard for me to breathe. I’m very grateful that my manager and peers are understanding of my disorder and know sometimes if they don’t hear from me, they need to check in compassionately to make sure I’m OK.

        That said, I still know that not communicating is not exactly a responsible thing to do. They can both be true at the same time. I am happy that my team can forgive areas in which I fall short because that’s what we do as humans…but it doesn’t mean that I didn’t fall short.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          A) That’s not the point of the letter. Not at all.

          2) LW isn’t this guy’s direct manager. It’s possible that he did tell his manager, but somehow LW never got the memo.

          1. Anonapots*

            Seriously. This is the one time on AAM that the phrase, “Yes, but nobody asked you” is relevant. The OP didn’t write in asking for anyone’s validation or advice on how to move forward.

        2. Avasarala*

          And how would you feel if, mid panic attack, your coworkers sent you emails and texts berating you for not being communicative (as OP said they were about to do)?

          The whole point of this is sometimes it’s better to show compassion, and especially in this global pandemic crisis where everyone is stressed and everything is harder to do.

          We don’t need to determine who is without sin and who is entirely at fault here. We can just say, what a good reminder to lead with compassion in these difficult times.

      3. knead me seymour*

        Agreed. I don’t think anyone here is trying to recommend that you don’t notify your employer in an emergency. Obviously you should do that if you can. But emergencies are, you know, emergencies, and they can be unpredictable, and so can your reactions to them. It’s not particularly helpful advice, and sometimes the compassionate thing is to realize that everyone can have times when things slip through the cracks.

    4. JerryLarryTerryGarry*

      The LW isn’t the manager, though. How many calls should the guy have to make?

      1. James*

        As many as it takes. When my grandmother died I spent half a day contacting people to let them know I would be out of the state and getting my shifts covered.

        Alternatively, the manager can make those calls. “Joe has had a family emergency and won’t be able to cover his assigned duties until X date. Does anyone have availability to help puck up the load?” or something along those lines. I’ve had to do that in the past.

        1. Turquoisecow*

          I think it’s ridiculous to expect most people to notify all their coworkers if they’ve been sick or had a death in the family or any other emergency. Every job I’ve ever worked the expectation has been you notify your direct supervisor. Maybe copy a few coworkers if you send an email, but call them? No. I don’t have most of my coworkers’ phone numbers.

          And if I’m dealing with the death of a parent, I’m frankly not going to be thinking about them, I’m going to be thinking about family and funeral arrangements and all the other million things that have to be done. Call the boss? Sure. Call everyone else? No.

          1. allathian*

            Definitely agreed. I think the key points here are to lead with compassion and to remember that the OP is not the direct supervisor. If I need sick leave, I’ll tell my manager and my team lead, possibly my closest coworker who has the same job description as I do. I trust them to inform anyone else who may need to know. If I was in hospital and needed someone to get in touch with one other person, I’d ask my husband to call my manager, who’d let everyone else know.

          2. James*

            “I think it’s ridiculous to expect most people to notify all their coworkers …”

            I 100% agree.

            I do not think, however, that it’s ridiculous to notify coworkers who are relying on you that you will be out of touch. Further, I think it’s irresponsible to not notify your manager that you’ll be out of touch (and it’s the manager’s job to communicate that with the team). One phone call or text to the manager is not too much to ask. I did things differently–different family dynamics, different work dynamics, etc–but seriously, a quick “There was a family emergency, I need to take some time off to deal with it” text takes ten seconds to type.

        2. Avasarala*

          What Turquoise said… and if those are your last moments with your loved one, do you want to spend them on the phone with someone who is not even your direct supervisor, but manages one project you work on??

          The priority list goes:
          1. Health
          2. Family and loved ones
          3. Work

          1. James*

            I am not expecting people to communicate with their manager as their mother is breathing her dying breath, and I think it’s ridiculous that people are portraying my statement as such.

            I’ve lost relatives, some very close to me. It’s a process, and there’s always times within that process during which you can contact people. In fact, anyone who’s been through the death of a loved one knows that there are a myriad of people you need to contact–the funeral home, the cemetery, the hospitals, insurance companies, banks, other relatives, the list is pretty long.

            And again, I’m not saying you need to personally contact every one of your coworkers. I do, because I work in a weird hybred between matrix management and formal management; my manager is also working under me and only ever has a general notion of my responsibilities. It’s up to me to make these calls. If your company is well-run, a single call/text to the manager is all you need.

            Bear in mind, this helps the employee as well as the employer. Your company may offer bereavement time separate from your PTO/sick leave. This is specifically to allow you breathing room during which you can focus on your family and loved ones.

      2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        One. You make one call to your manager/supervisor or someone who pass along the information. You could even ask your best friend to call for you. I 100% get that family is more important than your job, but you can’t just drop off the face of the earth and not let anyone know what’s going on with you.

        1. James*

          The reasons don’t necessarily have to do with being a jerk, either. They can come from a place of compassion.

          At a jobsite I was on a few years ago a coworker got sick–really bad, couldn’t get out of the hotel room. He was supposed to go home that day, so when he didn’t show up to work none of us thought it was a problem. When his wife called and asked where he was, we realized something serious had happened. They had to break down his door to get to him, and he was within hours of death when he got to the ER (he recovered just fine, fortunately!). We have robust communications policies and we all know the risks, so we all (mostly) follow them; if the guy above hadn’t, we’d have thought he was at home with his wife, she’d have though he was working on the site, and he’d have been dead.

          That’s not the only story I know of, either. Lack of communication can kill. Okay, I’ll grant that field worker on Superfund sites means I’m at a much higher risk than most, but it’s a real concern.

          If you fall off the face of the Earth coworkers don’t know if you’re alive or dead. I’m not saying that they need to babysit you–but it’s perfectly reasonable, especially in a pandemic, to be concerned when someone just stops communicating.

      3. BB*

        I don’t think it needs to be that black and white. For example, about a month ago I had the most horrific professional call of my life when I was meeting (virtually of course) with one of my project managers (peer, not direct report) when she suddenly let out a blood curdling scream saying she had to get off immediately, had just received a text that her mother had passed away suddenly, and asking me to please let everyone know.

        We only had a little bit of cross over in our work, and work in different parts of the country so I don’t even know all of her team members – but I handled that portion and made sure HR and her management team were aware. None of us heard from her again for a week and a half, but it was not an issue because everyone was made aware of the circumstances, even if not directly from her.

    5. bunniferous*

      Those of you who are focusing on his poor prior performance….while in the long run that absolutely matters-it is really not the point of what OP is sharing here. My takeaway is context matters, and while in one sense “the show must go on” in another sense, these really are not normal times, and we have to remember that life is not just work and to acknowledge that is healthy for the workplace.

      I say that as someone who was frantically trying to work from her cellphone while my husband was in the hospital with congestive heart failure over these past holidays. My bosses were more worried about what we were dealing with healthwise than the work (even though there were deadlines, etc and things that HAD to be done.) I would walk over broken glass for these people. Because they care about me as a person, not just for what I do for them.

    6. Batgirl*

      Normal processes and notifications don’t really apply right now though do they? In the normal course of events this man would tell his manager he had to dash off to the hospital say goodbye/had to travel home across the country/would be physically absent from the office while seeing to arrangements. That no longer applies. Sure, it’s a good idea to tell your manager you’re going to be emotionally absent and unresponsive but you’re actually still in the same room and just as unoccupied as you were before the death. You’re reachable, as shown by the response to the text. For all we know the guy fully intended to log on every day and work as a coping strategy. He may have even seen the emails and time just flew past him. His lack of response may have been shock. Deciding to tell a manager that you won’t be “in” is a bit trickier and more of an emotional status than it has been.
      Managers need to be aware they are working blind with people’s situations right now.

    7. The pest, Ramona*

      Well, he could have left home in the middle of the night for a dire situation and forgot his charger while also draining his battery trying to keep other family members informed. I know it’s a thing that happens…

      1. WellRed*

        Yes, and we all have a subversive twin making pharmacy deliveries while we are off work due to Covid.

    8. LGC*

      …I read this comment thread, and now I kind of wish I didn’t.

      I’ve had to deal with this prior to the arrival of Ms. Rona, and it’s like…it’s both true that the person’s actions were irresponsible and they also went through a traumatic thing. (Put another way – Cedric’s dad just died in an unimaginably horrific and often painfully slow way.) I wrote in response to the comment thread below about this, but since this is slightly different: you can both support Cedric in the moment and also hold him accountable for whatever carelessness later. (I’m not a fan of “whoops, pandemic” as a blanket excuse – we’re all going through at least some sort of hardship unless you’re [POLITICS REDACTED]. And some people are super private, but also, it doesn’t take that long to say, “Hey, I need some time off for a personal issue.”)

      Cedric’s disappearance is important. But it’s not urgent, or at least it’s not more urgent than his father dying.

    9. Mookie*

      There’s no relationship there. His poor performance seems disconnected to checking in. Many otherwise conscientious employees may do the same. The reaction to no response from either camp would be the same.

    10. B*

      I had something similar happen recently in the family emergency territory (literally last week). I immediately told my manager and then reached out to my brother’s (who was the one with medical issues) manager.

      I think it comes down to how I react to stress and my relationship with my manager. I immediately went into searching for short term disability and trying to figure out what we needed to do for his job to make sure he was covered. My bosses reaction was “take whatever you need” but what I needed was work and structure while we lived the rollercoaster of hospital phone calls.

      But I knew when I made that call that would be how my boss would respond. I knew my brother’s boss would be understanding. (He’s bumbling as a boss but people oriented). If I knew I was on the last straw…I could see the disappearing act. Don’t agree with it and personally it frustrates me to hear that, but it takes different people to make the world go round I guess.

    1. Observer*

      His past history does not negate that fact that IN THIS MOMENT a bit of compassion and empathy are the right way to go.

      It’s not like the OP is suddenly going to overlook the past history.

    2. Gatomon*

      If it were me, I’d give the employee some extra allowance for grief impacting their performance and evaluate their performance and the pandemic situation in a few months. Perhaps some critical responsibilities can be shifted elsewhere temporarily, with the expectation that they return to that role when he’s replaced or his performance comes up to expectations – whichever is first.

      I know I wasn’t at my best for several months after my dad died suddenly, and that was in normal circumstances, while seeing a therapist. The pandemic really complicates things.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        We don’t know the timeline here, so this is mere speculation, but it may that his father’s condition was a big contributor to his poor performance. As he grieves his father and starts to get through this, he may actually improve.

    3. pamplemousse*

      Well, whenever they ultimately deal with the performance issue, LW will have the full picture of what happened in this instance, and their coworker will know that LW has treated them with respect in the past. That’s a win/win.

      Also prevents a terribly awkward situation where LW cites this as one of the reasons they’re being taken off the team and the coworker counters “you know my dad died that week, right?”

    4. JSPA*

      So if he was working towards a PIP, or being shuttled off the project, that’s still the trajectory. However, this particular couple of weeks doesn’t get counted in the balance. And he’s treated as a human being first, and an employee, second, in terms of respect and tone taken. Which is pretty much a good way to treat any human being.

    5. Tobias Funke*

      You wait until the dude comes back from burying his dad?

      I was really looking forward to this thread based on the title and the letter. That’ll show me.

      1. PollyQ*

        Right? I’m really dismayed at how many people who have clicked into a post about grace and compassion have decided instead to insist that no, the person didn’t deserve that because he sucked before and/or because the commenter didn’t have a problem coping in a similar situation, so therefore no one should have a problem coping.

        1. KarenK*

          I never meant that because I was able to cope in situations like this, that everyone should be able to cope as well. I come from a long line of rather cold, unemotional women.

          I still think he could have let someone know what was going on, but I’m glad the OP was able to show compassion for the OP’s sake.

      2. Avasarala*

        Yeah, usually people are pretty compassionate about workers being human, not robots. Guess OP should have left a note on his father’s grave asking him about work.

      3. k*

        Same; my takeaway after reading the comments here is that I hope that I die before my parents do, because I have just learned that the reaction is very likely to involve being accused of “making excuses” or being a “mediocre performer.”

      4. Keymaster of Gozer*

        For me, I’ve been comforted by the people who have replied here saying that they would extend compassion to someone or that withdrawal from the world is a valid response to trauma.

        (Saying that as someone who did this year stop responding to the world for several weeks because things just got far far too bad to the point of needing a psychiatric help)

      5. Kit*

        Yup. This entire comment section is a depressing indictment of humanity, frankly. I wish I hadn’t read this post.

    6. NW Mossy*

      You keep the lines of communication open and continue to engage, coach, and offer feedback as warranted. Bread-and-butter manager stuff.

      There’s something about reading the story of Cedric the Underperformer and others like him that always activates a latent desire for swift, certain, and harsh justice. It appeals to that deep sense that people should be punished for poor behavior (and by contrast, that “good people” should be elevated in status).

      But effective management isn’t about punishment. It’s about an ongoing conversation with someone that brings out the best performance they’re able to give, and helping them to another role if their best doesn’t cut it. Over the years, I’ve regularly been pleasantly surprised at the extent to which kindness is an incredibly effective tool to engage someone’s willingness to do better.

      1. Jean (just Jean)*

        Your last paragraph is useful for non-managers also (meaning non-managers in the formal/job title sense) because all of us communicate. Sometimes we have to communicate over the speed bump of our temporary disappointment or negative surprise when the other person overlooked our first email message, or missed the point of our message, or replied in a way that could be interpreted as snarky. Leading with grace is not only the better, bigger way to behave. Doing so can also help us to keep our feet out of our mouths.

        TL:DR: Yes! Simple, matter-of-fact and polite communication never goes out of style, even when it’s tempting to go full blowtorch.*

        * term first used by another AAM reader some time in the last 4 weeks

    7. Treebeardette*

      OP isn’t the manger. His actual manager may already know the circumstances. There’s no point is talking about this side when that’s not what the LW asked for.

    8. LGC*

      Okay, so this might be a bit more of a pile-on, but it bears repeating – the non-performance can wait. Clearly, if you’ve waited this long and the company hasn’t completely collapsed, you can extend grace for a couple of extra weeks or whatever.

      Yeah, he has problems, but unless he – like – stole from the company (for example) or something equally egregious, addressing it can wait a bit.

    9. Mookie*

      The goal of management is not to frame normal human miscalculation and error in the worst possible light. Managers should not be adversaries, intently looking for disqualifying proof. This mindset is toxic, zero sum, and ignores the reality that everyone needs to eat, to pay for it we occupy most of our waking days with strangers, and that it pays in figurative dividends (perhaps you only gauge behavior by how literally lucrative it is for you?) to treat humans you supervise as humans, not disappointing robots you are keeping a tally on. His poor performance didn’t make his dad ill, so what lesson are you giving here?

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Shouldn’t it? I’ve definitely had managers be understanding at annual review time because they knew I had had serious things going on outside of work that year, and had previously adjusted my goals and responsibilities so I could focus on what I was able to do.

  5. Campfire Raccoon*

    Thank you for the reminder. With our own stress, it’s sometimes easy to forget.

    1. Jean (just Jean)*

      +1000
      For some of us, probability of inserting foot in mouth is directly proportional to personal stress level.
      These are not fun times. Everybody’s at least a little bit off-balance.

        1. J*

          Ya done good, OP. And thank you for writing in to share– it’s an important reminder.

  6. Machiavellian Manul*

    Thank you for sharing this. I have taken workshops/webinars/read books about leading from a compassionate point of view (which I feel is especially important, since I work with the public). I can sometimes become irritated/impatient, especially when it seems like things aren’t happening with someone and I can’t figure out why my message isn’t getting across. Taking a step back, and approaching from an angle of compassion is a way I re-set myself to handle a situation, and often, I have found this way also just works better (at least, most of the time). Reading what you wrote was great, and just underscored that I need to remind myself to keep on this track, especially when I’m frustrated with one of my team. Nice to have a good story like yours in times like these, too.

  7. JerryLarryTerryGarry*

    The LW isn’t the manager, though. How many calls should the guy have to make?

  8. Bookworm*

    Thank for sharing this, OP. Not everyone is stopping to think and pause right now (just look at some of the letters that are coming in and any number of stories of people flipping out because they can’t get haircuts or ice cream or whatever). This employee may have frustrated you, but it IS a trying time for everyone, you included.

    Condolences to your employee and best wishes to you.

  9. HRLady*

    OP, good on you! Based on this avoidance behavior, perhaps the other performance issues are related to handling of stress and other non-work situations. Or, they could be related to something organizational that is creating a non-supportive work environment for the employee. Some suggestions: I think it would be great to continue to check in on the employee to see how they are doing. Build a question about “How is everything going?” into your regular meetings with said employee. Know that if you ask this question on the regular, that they might share about outside stressors that could be impacting their performance. It’s good as a supervisor to have both the corrective role and the supportive role.

    1. OP*

      that’s a nice point to keep in mind.
      (he’s also just ridiculous – but you’re right there may be more behind it)

  10. You're Mean*

    Jeez, some of you are extremely hard hearted. “Business” is not the be all, end all. Mean.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I very much agree with you, and am disappointed by some of the responses here.

    2. Hazelnut*

      Agreed. For readers fortunate to have not gone through something like this, bereavement does all sorts of weird stuff to your thought processes and it’s amazing what things you forget at such times.

      1. Lavender Menace*

        There are lots of stories others are sharing of times they have been similarly bereaved and have done different actions. To be clear, I am not saying that to say “he should’ve done better!” I am saying that because I don’t want anyone assuming that if you have a different opinion it must be because you’ve never been bereaved.

        1. J*

          But what’s the point of that? A different opinion? About whether we should restrain ourselves from being jerks out of the gate? No one is saying that Cedric should get employee of the year or something.

    3. Krickets*

      Agree.

      Sometimes I don’t understand the animosity or aggravation that comes from managers/superiors in general. Do you NOT like people? Why work with them? Why not make an effort to be better and just be compassionate and kind?

      I’m not saying that the LW was like that, but it just reminded me of work environments where things come up and the BOTD is not given.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Now, to be fair, I actually don’t like people and it’s surprisingly difficult to find a job where I don’t have to work with people. But I’m certainly not going to volunteer to be a manager, given my personality.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I think people are reacting with what they themselves have seen. Some businesses are harsh and some are down right cruel. I have worked a few places where they did not care what you had going on at home. I seriously mean NOTHING mattered to them. I can think of a few places where this guy would have been fired over the phone.

      This guy is at the opposite end of the spectrum where he randomly just checks out. Apparently, no one ever told him he can’t do that. Unfortunately, the situation has gotten huge, with the addition of Covid-19 and now dad’s passing.

      But yes, I did call work when I lost my parents, each time. I used telephone trees for family and friends (it was a while ago) so I got the trees started and then I called my work place. I did this sooner rather than later, because I figured I would probably forget to call work. When I lost my second parent, I learned from the first time around to prep the boss for the call so I did not have to have a long conversation in the actual moment.

      But I do think that because this guy has been allowed to keep doing this, now is not the time to correct the overall pattern. The point would be totally lost and rightfully so.

  11. designbot*

    It also sounds like a reminder that when one form of communication isn’t working, try a different one! Emailing someone repeatedly and getting zero response is such a common pitfall, and calling or texting or chatting might be more effective for that person. I know we generally don’t want to dance around our employees’ habits that way, but if I have to admit that by the time I got to the text for email 3, I was going “why are you still trying the same tactic when it’s not getting you anywhere?”

    1. Oof*

      Me too! I think because he had already had issues. I know when it’s someone who is frustrating me, I go less out of my way for them, but yeah – I would have phoned before the 3rd message. But this is a difficult time for EVERYONE, so I can’t say that I wouldn’t skip that step because of frayed nerves and aggravation.

    2. Amethystmoon*

      Yes. I learned this with Toastmasters today. Had a club officer who wasn’t responding to e-mails or texts for the last couple of weeks and had not shown up to meetings. Finally actually called, and the person answered. She was very busy with work. So yes, definitely do try other methods of communication.

  12. EEB*

    I had a similar experience a few months ago. A contributor I was working with owed me an assignment that had a concrete deadline. He was normally a good communicator, but he missed his deadline and did not respond to several emails that I sent him. When he did finally respond, it was to say that his young daughter was sick and had been in and out of the hospital for weeks. His response made me soooo glad that my check-in emails had been relatively polite and civil. It was a good reminder that we don’t always know what’s going on in someone’s world, even before COVID, and shouldn’t express frustration or write someone off without finding out more. (Fortunately, his daughter ended up making a full recovery! The contributor still wanted to complete the assignment, so we also move some things around so the contributor could send in his assignment a few weeks later than planned.)

  13. jamberoo*

    I really really appreciate both OP and Alison sharing this. Recently I went on a trip and forgot my anti-depressants, and stupidly thought it wouldn’t be too big a deal if I failed to take them for a week.

    Wrong! Back home I had a massive ‘episode’ and stopped working for two days. My manager is excellent and reached out to me the exact same way after it became clear I was not responding to anybody. She was understanding but firm in laying down the law that I need to let her know somehow that something isn’t right, so she can look after my tasks and respond to others appropriately.

    All to say, thank you OP for being open-minded about why someone appeared to be ghosting their responsibilities.

    1. pancakes*

      FYI, it’s worth talking to a local pharmacist in a situation like that, especially if your prescription is with a chain pharmacy — they can sometimes get you a small number of pills to tide you over in the meantime, and just take them out of your next refill.

  14. Chronic Overthinker*

    OP: Compassion is so important during this weird time. Work is important and the underlying performance issues still need to be addressed, but at least you know why his performance as of late was the way it was. Does that excuse the behavior, no, but it does give you pause.

  15. OhBehave*

    Love the lesson in grace. However, a quick response is all I would need (My dad is ill.).
    I was in the hospital with a stroke in 2018. I gave my kids and hubby a list of people to call. My husband called my boss to explain the situation. It took 5 minutes.

    1. OP*

      We recently had a teammate have a stroke and his family couldn’t get into his phone to get his contacts to call work. They eventually got in touch by answering a call that came through

  16. Goliath Corp.*

    I wish my former Very Bad Manager had an ounce of this perspective. I once got laid into because I dared to be an hour late for work after spending the night in the hospital with my partner, who’d had emergency surgery. (And I’d kept my boss updated throughout.)

  17. mythopoeia*

    A lesson I learned when writing many emails every week following up on overdue submissions: never write an email that you will feel like an asshole about if the response is “I’m so sorry, my spouse/child/parent was in a car accident/is gravely ill/died suddenly.” You can always be as firm as the situation requires; you never need to be a jerk about it. I appreciate the OP’s doing that.

    1. Queer Earthling*

      This is a very good approach. You never know what’s going on with people.

    2. OP*

      I was SOOOOOO glad I paused for effect before diving into my passive aggressive follow-up in the text. I was not quite coming with grace, but it ended up appearing that way and was a critical reminder.

      1. Oof*

        I’ve had a few of those thank-goodness-I-paused moments in life. It’s the best “whew!” feeling, and not one you would ever plan for.

    3. Coverage Associate*

      A particular bad phrase I see often is “There’s no excuse for [skipping a not-safety-related step/task].” I actually did once respond to one of those with, “Sorry, I was blinded by a migraine so I completed the records in the morning instead of before I left in the evening.” More recently I did the records with a migraine, and included a record about doing them while sick because “there’s no excuse.”

    4. EvilQueenRegina*

      There was a letter here a few years back where a boss had just come back from holiday, thought an absent employee had no call no showed, so left a rude message of swearing on her voicemail, except the employee had died and the rude message went to her family. He then blamed his assistant for not informing him of the death (the assistant was also away and didn’t know about it either). It’s the possibility of something bad having happened that keeps me from ever going in all guns blazing with a confrontation, I keep that guy in mind. OP did the right thing in approaching it as they did.

        1. Scarlet*

          OMG that boils my blood. And that poor girl who died (and her parents!)

          I know cancel culture can be kind of toxic, but honestly sometimes people need to be named and shamed.

  18. Sad Grad*

    I’ve been following this site for years and I have even recommended it to others, but this post and so many of the responses are so depressing to me I might have to bow out of following AAM. Grace and understanding are always best management practices. Asking how you are doing – during a pandemic – is news as a good management practice? And so many are still hung up on past performance issues here? I just, I think I may have learned what there is to learn here. I have started taking on more of a role advocating for disability inclusiveness in workplaces. To see just regular life events barely accommodated is very depressing to me right now.

    1. Raising an otter villiage*

      I hear you and have the same concerns. I’ve been really taken aback by these responses. However, in defense of the blog on the whole, may I ask if you’ve been seeing any kind of pattern, or if this is your first issue? It has been my experience that this blog is a consistent source of disability accommodation advocacy.

      I’m also glad that Alison shared this. I don’t think it’s meant to be an example of exceptionalism, but as a gentle reminder for people to take a breath and reapproach whatever frustrations they have right now. Some of the comments show just how necessary that reminder is.

      1. Sad Grad*

        All these points are well taken. You’re right. Alison is a great voice for disability accommodation advocacy. This is a good platform for people to share insights on the issue and offer support. I received some pushback a while ago on what I saw as a reasonable mental health day others saw as inappropriate. I sense a pattern of prioritizing ability to execute tasks on time over humanity – but with a light touch, if that makes sense. I have learned a lot here that has been enormously helpful on what others’ perspectives usually are on workplace issues. Maybe I’ve learned that language and now confident in differentiating myself from it.

    2. Lena Clare*

      Good for you that you have learned what you need from this site! I confess that I am still learning.
      This post isn’t to my taste particularly, but it has been interesting following people’s opposing thoughts and reasons for such opinions (I am definitely in one camp so I can learn something from the other camp for sure).

      And there are probably new readers who might learn something from it. I didn’t grow up learning stuff like this; it isn’t intuitive. This blog has been a valuable source of guidance for me in how to behave in general, not just professionally. So something that seems basic to you might not be to others.

      Stay well!

    3. SwitchingGenres*

      This, exactly. The lack of empathy and compassion in many comments is so disappointing.

    4. Chronic Overthinker*

      We’re all still reeling from this new way to work. I know plenty of people who are now expected to have more productivity instead of less, even in the case of parents with children, disabled individuals, and the like. Knee-jerk reaction is to the fact that this isn’t the first instance of poor performance. Now applying grace to the situation, maybe there is more to the past performance issues as well. Everyone, including managers and staff are on a steep learning curve when it comes to WFH and are trying to accommodate but we are all learning how to manage performance in general in this new work environment.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      I go in a different direction. At the time my father was in his final illness and his last days, my then boss said, “How long will it take for you to wrap up this thing with your father dying and get back to work?”

      So I see the discussion as very relevant and very useful. We need to drag these bad behaviors out into the light of day and discuss why they are bad behaviors. There maybe people reading here who use what they just read to deal with their boss OR other people may decide to tell the boss to stick it after reading through here.

      It’s my thinking that on the whole, workplaces in the US have a lot of growing up to do. And this is one of the many reasons, I think this way. (That boss had done this to other people. He was told to stop and he didn’t. I reported it. He got told to stop in NO uncertain terms.)

      1. KoiFeeder*

        That’s a horrible thing to have had happen to you. I’m glad that the boss got some punishment.

    6. Avasarala*

      I would prepare to be disappointed every so often, by different rounds of commenters coming up against the limits of their grace and compassion. “I don’t have this issue and don’t know why others do, so I’m going to vehemently argue that it shouldn’t be a problem for anyone.” Everyone has their blind spots, even commenters here.

  19. I'm just here for the cats*

    I mentioned this in the tread above but thought I would put it in the mail thread. The LW is not the employees main boss. It seems to me she has no real authority (like firing). It’s more of a project manager. Where there are people from different teams who come together to work on projects. At a former employer I was on a similar team.
    Furthermore LW doesn’t say that she checked with his direct supervisor or anyone. Just that she sent emails.
    Some companies have specific call in procedures. He may have contacted his direct boss thinking that the message would get to LW. For example, one place I worked at had a number (outside my facility, in a different state) that I had to call if I was going to be out or late.
    I had to speak with someone, five my shift info, and get an approval number. Another place I worked had a voicemail line where you called, left a message with your info. It would then get listened to by someone (sometimes your manager, but a lot of the time another manger). The message would get passed on to that workers supervisor, who then out it on the calendar that employee was out (another team members would know). I wonder if something happened where he did call in but no one let the project manager (LW) know. Especially since they do this work on top of their regular work. They might not even the thought to mention. It to someone else.

    Just a thought

    1. OP*

      Thanks – exactly this.

      The field is also one, especially now that we’re remote, that we’re not in a “report to work,” regular hours situation, especially for this project work – more get the tasks done when you can by the deadline. MIA didn’t mean he wasn’t showing up, in fact, he probably did report for the in-person/live interaction portions of his work that wasn’t for me. MIA just meant we were getting close to the deadline and I hadn’t seen anything.

    2. CircleBack*

      Yes!! So much of the blame is falling on “Cedric” for not consistently communicating with the LW, but I would take a hard look at Cedric’s usual supervisor. I wouldn’t be calling 20 different people if I was in his situation – I would call my primary boss or HR and consider my job done.
      Does the regular supervisor need to be more in the loop on how much work Cedric does on this project for the LW, so they can make sure to communicate with the LW if something like this comes up? Can the supervisor pull in someone else to help the LW while Cedric is on reduced hours?

  20. NotMonkeyNotMyCircus*

    We are certainly living in strange times, I agree that compassion is needed more than ever. I am hesitant to say this, but sometimes people take advantage of things and aren’t always truthful. I had an employee once that was not reliable, wasn’t coming to work on time, leaving early, not doing his work. It was because he had a side gig as President of his kids hockey league association. But what was worse is that he would consistently lie about one of his kids being sick, so much so that my boss asked me to ask him for proof that he was at the hospital with one of his kids when he failed to show up or let us know. It sucked because sometimes he was telling the truth and sometimes he wasn’t, and it was hard to know the difference. I am all for being compassionate though. At our work we have bereavement leave for family members, and sometimes you have to bring in the news paper obituary, or some thing to that effect when you want to take the few days you are entitled to. But no one is really put off by that, and people are usually ready to provide, especially now days when funeral homes do everything online.

    1. Alice*

      Bringing in an obituary? Maybe no one at your office is put off by that, but I am super put off. I am glad I don’t work for your employer.

    2. Observer*

      Oh, come on. When you have a pattern, the sure you need to act on it. But it is a REALLY bad idea go in with that assumption.

    3. Delphine*

      I lost someone recently, quite traumatically. If my boss asked for an obituary I would have been disgusted.

  21. RedinSC*

    I do agree that compassion is important. But it’s also part of someone’s job to let you know when they just can’t do something.

    If Cedric needed to be out because of his father would it really have been too much to let someone at the company know that he needs time? Just going completely silent isn’t helpful.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      It’s possible that he did, and LW never got that memo; she isn’t his direct supervisor.

    2. Once Anon a Time*

      I mentioned this in my comment above as well. It would have cost him maybe a minute or two, at most, to reach out to someone and let them know what was going on. If the employee could not reach out themselves, they would have asked a family member or close friend to do it on their behalf. As a manager, I have received these calls from others and appreciate that the empolyee at least arranged for someone to let me know of the extenuating circumstance/emergency.

      And if this employee did reach out and the OP was not advised, that is a breakdown in communication and I would have serious concerns about the message not being relayed to those involved with the employee’s work. But that’s a whole different issue.

      1. Observer*

        So, as others have mentioned and the OP confirmed, it’s possible that he did actually let someone know, and that someone did not let the OP know.

        Also, time is not the only factor here. It’s a matter of having the headspace for this. Is Cedric a great employee? No. Does that mean that he doesn’t get some compassion when he is in a genuinely bad place? I would hope not!

    3. J*

      Sure. No one is arguing that Cedric has been a stellar employee in the past or that he’s being one now. But this isn’t about Cedric. This is about the OP, and what sort of person they want to be in this scenario.

  22. Tobias Funke*

    I sure am glad everyone in this thread handles everything perfectly all the time! Sure wish I was as awesome as you all are!

    OP, thank you for being a human being.

    1. Lena Clare*

      That’s a huge sweeping generalisation for absolutely everybody in the thread, and also very ironic!

      Stuff’s hard at the minute, why not practise compassion also for those not responding in the way you’d prefer?

      1. Important Moi*

        Anyone who feels the performance issues are to be addressed now or is immediately concerned with when performance issues will be addressed is strong enough to read a few comments not agreeing with their position.

        1. Lena Clare*

          My point was that Tobias is berating the commentariat for a lack that they themselves are displaying.

  23. Salty*

    I think that you have to be very careful to distinguish seeing someone as a person, vs. lowering the performance bar to a level where it no longer makes sense to keep them on in their position. I’m glad the OP didn’t mention say that they felt persuaded to keep this person on the team, but I also think that someone in Cedric’s shoes is likely thinking that he now has a pass to be non-responsive.

    1. OP*

      Oh yeah, the second things are back to normal and we’re on cycle again (this was closing out the project for the cycle, so there’s nothing further to manage right now) we’re gonna get real. Cedric’s role is an appointment, so it’s a little more complicated than a PIP, but I’d been laying the groundwork for a transition prior to all priorities shifting and this work appropriately taking a back seat.
      But this was a good reminder to try not to be a jerk when you can.

      1. allathian*

        Good for you! I was wondering, how much do you talk to Cedric’s direct supervisor/line manager? I mean, even if you will no longer be overseeing any part of his work, if I’m reading this right, he’s still going to keep his job at your organization, even if that will be for a lower salary than he’s currently earning.

    2. AMH*

      Yikes, I don’t see that at all. Someone in the grip of grief who is treated with compassion is probably not going to look back at that and somehow think they got away with something and take advantage going forward. It’s not like he was having a staycation and slacked off…

      I’m not saying he’s suddenly going to turn a corner and become a star employee, but treating him with grace isn’t going to worsen the situation, either.

      1. Salty*

        I’m speaking from experience with someone in almost this exact situation-I probably could have phrased it better. I don’t think that Cedric is sitting home gleefully rubbing his hands together. When I experienced this, the person in question (probably genuinely) thought that it was enough that he was going through personal problems and that he was “trying.” Whenever someone called him out on anything or even asked about anything, they got the response that he was “Doing his best” and that “X” was happening. Didn’t respond to emails? Because of X. Made some pretty egregious mistakes? Don’t forget about X. Totally blew off an assignment? Well, X, and therefore his work wasn’t getting done. (And this was on top of the company providing him with all sorts of paid and unpaid and intermittent leave and accommodations).

        OP’s mindset is also something else to consider. For awhile I omitted bringing things up to my superiors when this person made small mistakes, but I realized that I was never going to get any other response than “I’m trying” or “X” out of the employee in question, so I did have to start calling said mistakes and inattentiveness to their attention, and it turned out that he was doing that to pretty much everyone. But at first I was incredibly reluctant to do it because he was so forthcoming with his personal struggles.

  24. nep*

    Thanks, LW.
    (I do my best to do this when people drive like jerks…and especially during these times. I’m not always great at applying it, but it helps when I imagine the person is on the way to see a dying relative, or is stressed about a sick child, or the like…The person might simply drive like a jerk, but I’ll never know, so better to proceed with grace.)
    I love the word grace.
    Great reminder. Thanks for posting, Alison.

    1. nep*

      (I know they are different situations altogether…the gist of this just reminded me of this.)

  25. NeonFireworks*

    I had a year where I was an underperforming and likely disappointing employee because of a lot of bad luck happening all at once. I nearly lost my job because I (almost simultaneously) had a chronic health flare up, a housing crisis, AND a stalker I had to go to the police about. I spent most of that period, figuratively and otherwise, wanting to throw up. It was the worst soap opera.

    One of my bosses was incredible about it, fortunately.

  26. Marie*

    Thank you, absolutely beautiful insight and reminder. I taught k-university starting in 1989 and stopped after a serious car accident led to long term disability. The only regrets I have I looking back are times (thankfully not the overall norm) when I did not give gentle benefit of the doubt and compassion, when I put teaching the subject matter above human beings/kids.

  27. Former Employee*

    I recommend that everyone read “This Is Water” by David Foster Wallace. It’s very short and easy to understand. It is the commencement speech he gave to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College. Essentially, he points out that people who are at the age most are when they graduate college are wrapped up in themselves and don’t think much about others and when they do it’s often with annoyance because other people are slowing them down or in their way or otherwise getting between them and their objective. It’s a reminder that we don’t know what is going on in the lives of others and we need to keep that in mind. It is one of the best things I’ve ever read.

  28. Ornery*

    I’m all for being kind and compassionate and understanding, and most people who know me would say I’m a pushover as a manager. But to be honest? How hard is it to send a one line email saying “I’m having family problems, I can’t respond right now.” This kind of behavior drives me crazy. Yes, actually, if bad things are happening in my family, one of my first thoughts is how I will handle the job that keeps me employed and supplies me with money and benefits in exchange for my work. It’s nice that the original letter writer sent an email asking if everything was OK, but it sounds like this person was difficult to begin with, and it would’ve saved a lot of time and energy if the employee had just sent a quick message letting their boss know what was going on.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      I think there’s a breakdown here, based on what I’m seeing in the comments. LW isn’t Cedric’s regular boss; she’s leading an extra project. Cedric’s normal lower level of productivity didn’t (seemingly) include radio silence. LW had emailed several times; it’s the text that got through to him.

      I think it’s more likely that Cedric did tell his regular boss, and LW did not get that memo. Cedric hadn’t been checking his work email, and didn’t realize that LW was out of the loop.

      LW paused ten seconds between the text “Hi, is everything OK?”; I got the impression that if Cedric hadn’t replied with “My dad got sick with Covid and died,” pretty quickly, the next text might have been, “Where’s your piece of the project–we need it in two days.” What a horrible text to receive when your parent has died–and once LW knew, she’d have felt horrible.

      The message of this whole post isn’t to excuse a lack of communication, or to absolve Cedric of his mediocre performance before this. It’s not to give employees an infinite amount of slack. And it’s sure not to remind everybody that Hey! Some people lie, so you have to be careful about these things!

      It’s, just: If someone’s been out of touch, think for a minute before dropping the hammer down. Try a different method of contact, or check in with someone who might be in touch with them. Waiting a moment helped keep LW from sending a pretty unfortunate text; it might help any of us from adding to the load of someone already carrying a heavy burden.

      1. knead me seymour*

        Thanks for saying this. And even if the OP was Cedric’s boss, I don’t think there’s much to be gained by litigating his actions in a moment of crisis. The whole point of this message (which I really appreciate!) is that you can treat coworkers with compassion even when they seem to be behaving irresponsibly.

    2. Delphine*

      If you’re all for being compassionate, then you need to be compassionate in circumstances where it’s a little difficult to understand why a person reacted the way they did. You can’t reserve compassion only for situations and reactions that you relate to.

  29. some dude*

    There is so rarely any upside to being a jerk. Being compassionate is 100% of the time the right thing to do. I learned this as a parent. When I would get angry and uptight, it would make everything a thousand times worse. When I would lead with compassion, I could usually resolve things pretty well. And the people in this world who most need love and compassion often behave in ways that make it really difficult to give them love and compassion. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Jean (just Jean)*

      This is wise. Being compassionate is a good default. We’ll learn soon enough (either from our own intuition or from circumstances + looking backwards at our history with X person) if X person is taking advantage of our niceness. Most of the time there’s a spectrum between “compassion” and “doormat.”

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This is where my rule of three kicks in. The first time (for most things, but not all) it’s a genuine mistake and a free pass (meaning, “hey, do x not y. thanks!”). The second time it’s a yellow light and my eyes are wide open. The third time, nope, we are done doing this.
        Of course there are some things such as stealing or hitting that do not go under the rule of three. We don’t need to see that three times to verify there is an on-going problem. Here we can just cut to the “let’s sit down and talk about this now!” conversation.

  30. Tinker*

    Huh. Well, that happened.

    I guess something I’d point out here: if you ask if anything is wrong in a situation like this, you get back the answer “my father just died of the global pandemic”, your first thought is “and you couldn’t take five minutes to call and let me know?”, and that is the most important thing that you want to tell that person at that particular moment, *you can still do that*. It’s not, like, physically impossible at that point to say the words.

    This is not a choice I would personally make or recommend to others (for instance, that sort of stunning moment has a way of becoming a story, and are you sure that the story won’t be heard by someone whose opinion you care about and who doesn’t approve?) but it is a choice that is available. Just, you get to do it knowingly instead of accidentally.

  31. Brig*

    Terminate him, ASAP. He’ll find another job, it isn’t the end of the world. Yes, I know unemployment rates are absurd right now, but that isn’t your problem. Rip the bandaid off and do what you should have done before COVID-19 started.

    You’re using the death of his dad as an excuse for not taking the difficult action that you’ve already procrastinated on. Not only that, but you then proceeded to write Alison and share the “compassion” side of your justification, pitching it as a teaching moment to everybody else to always remember compassion—all so that you’d feel better about your bad decision thus far.

    Be compassionate & understanding to everyone. And don’t treat him any different than you’d treat someone else in the exact same scenario whose father hadn’t died. The compassionate thing to do here is to hold him accountable, let him know you can’t begin to fathom what it’s like to lose a parent, and that your thoughts and prayers are with him as he goes through dealing with losing a father — and then say “unfortunately, I have to let you go & terminate our employment, because of XYZ incidents in the past.” By not acting on this, you are hurting him, and hurting yourself, and you are hurting the company. He will be okay after termination. He will be fine. He will even eventually be better off for it.

    Alison, I’m really disappointed you didn’t call this out. Being a manager is not for soft people – especially in today’s ultra competitive business environment. It is also not for hard-asses or arrogant heartless pricks. It’s for people who can make the right decisions, no matter how hard that decision is. And guess what, by doing all the above, as painful as it is, I guarantee next time you won’t procrastinate the performance/termination discussions.

    (If you’re running a C-Team or a B-Team type of organization, ignore the above and just let the employee drag on for 6-12 months; and then, after draining company time and resources, and after he ruins team morale and devastates company culture— and after all of that, then you can go ahead and slowly weed him out. If that’s how your company and your superiors also handle low performers, then you are in the right place and don’t need to worry and you handled it just fine for your company culture. In my opinion it is dangerous to be a mediocre business these days, but there are plenty of billion dollar mediocre businesses out there doing just fine, and run by mediocre managers, and they’re fine and everybody sleeps fine at night. I don’t know your company and what their standard is– that’s your task, to figure out, what level you need to perform at, etc. Because a good manager knows to tailor their managing skills for the appropriate environment, you get me? Good luck!)

    1. Treebeardette*

      “You’re fired. BTW prayers for your father.” Lol the LW isn’t his manager and she was not looking for advice. You’re not a fortune teller. Here’s not okay and probably wouldn’t be okay being fired after his own father died.

      Your advice is wrong and doesn’t even follow what Allison as suggested multiple times during this pandemic much less during normal times.

      1. Brig*

        I agree, it is bad advice lol. My advice is for a specific scenario. Your mileage will absolutely vary. It also doesn’t entirely mesh with everything Alison talks about. To me, that situation sounds complicated, and, in fact, the person writing in is not even asking for advice from me or anybody else—but rather they are just sharing a concept. So, yeah, I think the point you should make is who the hell asked for my advice on this anyways? Haha, fair point.

        *On a side note, maybe the manager is usually a hardass and compassion is the lesson here, and that’s great. If a direct report of mine had completely dropped off & was unreachable for an unusually long period, I’d legimately be concerned about the person. The author clearly wasn’t:

        “As a last resort, I finally decided to text him. I led with ‘Hi Cedric — is everything okay?’ I’ll admit I intended this passive aggressively. I assumed he’d say everything was okay”

        Anyways, yes, for sure compassion and grace and mercy are all extremely extremely essential. If you don’t have those qualities by default, you’ll definitely want to over compensate, as it’s safer & you’ll be a better person for it.

        1. Troutwaxer*

          At fifty-something years old, I’m more and more beginning to believe that you should always ask what’s going on before you get mad or impose discipline. You might be right in this particular situation, and you might be wrong, but I’d always ask first.

          (Note to moderators, my email has changed. Thanks.)

    2. Negative assumptions become real*

      Not sure if this is satire, but I’ll bite. This violates a few things we know about EQ and does not align with most of what we know about good management. I guarantee you are not attracting or retaining talent i.e. people who have options.

      1. Tinker*

        I don’t know as I’d necessarily make that last guarantee. “We are elite and if you think the way we do things isn’t right, it’s just because you’re not good enough”, i.e. negging, is a strategy that is sometimes quite successful — including against people who are quite well-qualified and have a number of appealing options.

      2. Avasarala*

        Woof. Yeah this reads like “Tell him sorry but YOU’RE FIRED. It’ll be good for him. If you can’t do that you’re too soft for this job. Or if you want to be a mediocre company for losers, I guess it’s fine.”

        What movie villain stepped out of the screen to chime in on this heartfelt letter?

    3. LGC*

      Or LW could treat him like she’d treat anyone else who just lost their parent to a horrific death.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      You need to use a /sarcasm tag on this or another method to make it clear this isn’t meant as an actual opinion.

      (Please let this be satire)

    5. EvilQueenRegina*

      If OP only oversees that employee on that specific task and someone else formally line manages them, isn’t the decision on firing him for his other manager to make?

    6. Jedi Squirrel*

      If this isn’t satire, you are a horrible person.

      Even if it is satire, this is not the time and place for it.

    7. Delphine*

      But his father did die. You don’t get to ignore context.

      The actions you suggest taking are indeed the actions of an arrogant, heartless prick. I can honestly think of only a few things less compassionate and more cruel than firing someone immediately after you find out their father died.

  32. Pomona Sprout*

    Oof, I wish I had seen this sooner, before my encounter with the rude man at the bank today.

    My bank (one of those supermarket branch type things) has started closing earlier than they used to since the pandemic hit the fan. I had a couple of checks I’ve been needing to cash for a while, and I just haven’t been able to make it over there in time. I thought I was going to just barely make it there in time today, but no such luck. Tellers were still at their stations, but one of them told me they were closed, so I regretfully turned around and went to grab a cart to do some shopping so the trip wouldn’t be for nothing. But as I turned to head off down the aisle, I saw a man walk up to the window and start talking to the same teller, and the next thing I knew she was waiting on him.

    Well, I’m afraid I kind of lost it. You don’t tell a customer you’re closed and then turn right around and go ahead and help someone else. Especially if the person you just told you were closed hasn’t even left the area! I figure that he probably badgered her into waiting on him (she looked extremely young, and he was easily old enough to be her father, which may have made it a lot harder for her to stand up to him), so my wrath was directed at him, rather than her, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that I was admittedly rude to him. I won’t bore you all by sharing the whole conversation, but it concluded with him telling me he hoped I got covid19, followed by me telling him to go to hell. (Even when I’m rude, there are still SOME depths to which I won’t sink, and wishing a deadly disease on someone is one of them. I know some may feel that ging to hell would be worse, but I don’t believe in hell, so to me, “Go to hell” is just a figure of speech.)

    The teller ended up waiting on me after all, after he had finished his business and huffed his way out of there, and I apologized profusely the whole time. She was incredibly nice and understanding, and I was incredibly embarrassed and rather ashamed of myself.

    The thing is, I am not usually the kind of entitled snowflake who acts the way I did today, and I was really shocked at myself. As I was thinking about it afterward, it dawned on me just how much on edge the pandemic has made me, and that I’m a lot more stressed out than I even realized. Yikes. I am going to do my best after this to remember this post about starting with grace, and NOT act like an entitled snowflake again.

    1. Blueberry*

      This has indeed been a really stressful time for us all. What you did wasn’t right, but you’ve realized that and will mindfully do better. If it helps, I’m impressed with you for deciding to avoid self-justifications and instead take this as an opportunity to improve. This random internet fruit is cheering you on!

  33. Crop Tiger*

    I’m on the fence about this. Compassion is wonderful and should absolutely be the default, but it takes 30 seconds to send an email or tell someone else “call work”. I’ve had a parent and a sibling die, and my other parent almost die, but I was able to let my boss know in addition to notifying family. In my sibling’s case, not only was I talking to my boss but theirs as well, because they didn’t deserve to have their employee drop off the face of the earth either. I would want to know how long this person was incommunicado. A day? Fine. Two weeks? Not so good.

    1. Delphine*

      If you’re sitting there thinking about how long it takes to send an email, about what you’d have done in the same situation, you’re not being compassionate. Compassion is difficult.

  34. Long Time First Time*

    I think it is so important to always lead with compassion. I deal with a lot of very difficult customers in my industry, and it’s easy to get frustrated and take it personally. I find that if I lead with compassion, it makes it so much easier to deal with the actual issue because I’m able to strip away all the baggage, and it helps me to take it less personally. As a bonus, I’ve found that being compassionate has helped me turn some of my most difficult customers into my most loyal ones.

  35. Frankie Bergstein*

    Compassion is important not JUST “in this weird time”.

    At any given moment, folks are going through all kinds of challenges — financial insecurity, their health, others’ health, managing an ongoing condition, addiction — can we use what we learned about giving each other grace in the time of COVID-19 and carry it through the rest of our lives?

    This pandemic just happens to be a moment where everyone has the same hardship at the same time — it’s possible to have unseen hardships at other times.

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