I had to fire someone and I feel like a failure

A reader writes:

I’m in a position that I’ve never been in before. In 2018, I took on a really exciting role with a new company building a team from the ground up. I hired a handful of people, and got to work setting up the new team and really helping to grow a new business. This was a first for me, it was a challenge, and I loved it!

At the beginning of 2019, I hired Bob. Bob had more than 15 years of experience in the industry. His last position read almost word for word what I was looking for. He knocked the interview out of the park! He had a great personality, talked about how much he loved digging into things, and generally sold himself in a beautiful manner. Everyone who interviewed him was so excited.

Bob started at 9:00 on a Monday and completely disappeared at 3:45 that afternoon. I was in a meeting, and when I got out of the meeting everyone was looking for him. When he returned to work on Tuesday, I reiterated that because we are support staff, we are expected to be on shift from 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday. Because we support people globally, I’ll actually work longer hours to support our overseas partners, and I pick up the weekend shifts because I’ve always hated managers who make their team work the weekends. Bob was unhappy that he could not leave the the office at 3:45 each day. He complained about the commute, and having to drive home in traffic. Unfortunately, we could make a no concessions and he agreed to work from 9-5. From that point on, he complained and moped around the office and people started talking to me and other staff members about how Bob constantly looked miserable. I spoke with him and I made as many concessions as I could, including letting him leave at 4:45 instead of 5. My boss also spoke with him, and during that meeting Bob said he loved the job!

Unfortunately in mid-2019, I got very sick. By September, I was forced to work from home 100% as I was going through multiple rounds of chemotherapy. Not once did I or my team miss a deadline. However, in mid-2020 when I finished up chemotherapy and moved on to radiation and surgery, my team had a long meeting with me without Bob: Apparently, as I was working from home, Bob had taken the opportunity to go back to leaving at 3:45 pm and disappearing throughout the course of the day, and it only became worse in early 2020 as we all went work-from-home. He was not responsive to emails, texts, or instant messages, and the staff was covering a large part of his work because they didn’t want to pile more on me while I was undergoing chemo.

In July 2020, with beating cancer on the horizon, I had a long conversation with Bob about what I had been told not only by my team but my other teams that interact with mine. Bob was defensive, he tried to gaslight me, he tried to blame his inability to work largely on the fact that I was not in the office to hold his hand (his words). This man with more than 15 years of experience in the industry had the audacity to tell me that he was an entry-level employee and that he required constant handholding, and that in no way shape or form had he ever indicated that he had experience with our work. I pulled his résumé with him, and we line by line went over what the job description was, what we had talked about in the job interview, what his training had been, and what his history was according to his résumé.

After a few weeks of him badmouthing me, badmouthing the team, disappearing throughout the course of the day, taking random time off because his kid was sick, because his wife was out of work and she was depressed, and because he had emergencies at home, we had another conversation with him, me, my boss, and HR. We laid out the job description and his assignments, and we were very understanding about the sick kid, the depressed wife, the issues at home … let’s face it, 2020 was a dumpster fire. My own husband was out of work, my 17-year-old was doing her senior year in high school from home, it was a mess, we all acknowledge it and we made every effort to support our staff during the year from hell.

Over the next few weeks, Bob continued his downward spiral. Everything was a fight, every assignment wasn’t in his wheelhouse, everything that we needed to be done for the group he couldn’t do. It was just an absolute mess.

We spoke with legal, HR, individual attorneys, and at the end of the discussions we decided that we had no choice but to terminate him. However we wanted to give him one last chance to be the person we interviewed. So we put him on a six-week performance improvement plan. We outlined every piece of work that he needed to do. We outlined timelines, who he could go to for help, what he could do if he was running behind and needed assistance.

At the end of the six weeks, we reviewed all of our weekly meetings and the every-other-day meetings we had started during the improvement plan, and he blamed us. It was HR’s fault for hiring him when he clearly couldn’t do the job, it was my fault for getting sick (because I eat meat and sugar and according to him both cause cancer!), it was my boss’s fault for taking two weeks off when his wife gave birth. He just kept piling on the excuses.

At the end of the meeting, we ended up letting him go.

It’s the first time I’ve ever had to let anybody go. And honestly I think I’m more upset than he was! I feel like somehow I failed. I failed in interviewing him. I failed in not catching the fact that he wasn’t working, that he wasn’t pulling his weight in the department. I just feel like such a failure. How do I move on from this? I need to replace him, and all I keep thinking is I’m going to hire badly again.

Rationally I know that I didn’t do such a horrendous job. I hired six people for a new department, five of whom are still there. And yet that inkling in the back of my brain, I still feel like a failure. Is there an easy way to move on?

This is Bob’s fault, not yours. You bent over backwards to try to make things work with him! You gave him far more chances than you needed to.

Bob just sucked.

I don’t say that because he was bad at the job. Some people are bad at their jobs, and that doesn’t mean they suck. Bob sucks because he:
* Unilaterally decided he could significantly shorten his work hours without talking to anyone about it or clearing that first (not a normal assumption to make), moped and complained when he was told he couldn’t, and then started doing it again anyway as soon as you weren’t physically present to see it.
* Disappeared throughout the day and wouldn’t respond to emails, texts, or instant messages, while you were dealing with chemo
* Tried to blame his not doing his work on you not being there while you were having chemo
* Claimed to be an entry-level employee despite having 15 years of experience (and presumably having accepted a non-entry-level job)
* Claimed not to have the experience that was on his resume and that was discussed in his interview
* Badmouthed you (you! who had tried so hard to accommodate him) and others
* Blamed you for getting sick
* Blamed you for getting sick (that one has to be on there twice)

I’m hard pressed to think of how the case for firing Bob could be more clear-cut.

If you did anything wrong here, it’s that you were too accommodating with Bob, at the expense of others on your team and the organization itself.

You can’t be more invested in saving someone’s job than they are! And Bob wasn’t even trying to save his job. He had every opportunity to turn things around and didn’t. You were the one working hard to save this. He wasn’t.

Bob behaved like a jerk — to you, to your boss, to his coworkers. You had an obligation to them and to your organization to say no more.

Your obligation as a manager is not to make every person you hire work out at all costs. Hiring isn’t a perfect science; you will make mistakes. Some of them will be harder than Bob was — a person who is genuinely trying and still can’t cut it is more painful to let go than someone like Bob is, and it’s still something you will have to deal with as a manager at some point. It’s part of the job, and it will happen because we are humans hiring humans and you can’t predict with perfect accuracy how someone will mesh with a job, no matter how hard you both try. Sometimes hiring decisions are wrong.

Your obligations as a manager are to be as thorough and rigorous in hiring as you can be, to set clear and reasonable goals and expectations for people, to give clear and timely feedback, to address problems forthrightly when they crop up, and to give people reasonable chances to resolve those problems. It is not your obligation to make things work no matter what the cost, or when it’s clear someone is the wrong fit for the job. It is not your obligation to work harder than they are to make a situation work. To the contrary, your responsibilities to the rest of your team mean that you are obligated to recognize when something isn’t working out and be willing to move people out (kindly and fairly) when that’s the case.

That doesn’t mean firings should ever be easy. They’re not. Taking away someone’s income source is a big deal. That’s why you give clear feedback and warnings, and why you spell it out when someone’s job in jeopardy and give them time and support to fix the issues.

You did your part, but Bob didn’t do his.

You’re being very hard on yourself, so it’s worth asking: Would you be this hard on one of your staff members if they made a hiring mistake? I doubt you would — you sound like you’re quite generous with others. Extend that generosity to yourself too!

As for failing because you didn’t catch that Bob wasn’t pulling his weight: You were dealing with cancer and chemo. You expected Bob to behave like a responsible adult. Would it have been better if you’d checked in more often? Maybe. Are you to blame for Bob’s shirking his work because you didn’t check in enough while you were in crisis? No. Bob is.

When something goes wrong like this, it is useful to think about what lessons you can take from it. Looking back on Bob’s hiring process, were there warning signs at the time? Areas you didn’t probe into? References you didn’t check? If so, good — now you can incorporate those lessons for the future. And are there lessons from the rest of it — things you can decide you’d do differently next time? Maybe there are places where you should have moved faster. Maybe it would have gone differently if you’d deputized someone to act on the Bob issues in your absence. I don’t know all the details, but I’m sure there are lessons in there — drawing them out and carrying them forward is how you move on.

But please don’t let Bob mess with your mind like this. He tried to gaslight you while he was there; don’t let him keep doing it now that he’s gone.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 296 comments… read them below }

  1. yup yup*

    “It was my fault for getting sick (because I eat meat and sugar and according to him both cause cancer!)” — as a fellow cancer patient, I would like to say Bob is an asshole. Please don’t waste another minute regretting this inevitable outcome.

    1. PT*

      In my opinion, your company failed you when you were not allowed to terminate him the minute he said this. This is insubordination and disability discrimination. He should have been out the door as soon as possible after that sentence left his mouth.

      1. Let's Just Say*

        It sounds like Bob said that at the meeting where he ended up being fired, so he was out the door immediately.

      2. Pantalaimon*

        This appears to be neither insubordination (which would be refusing to obey orders) nor disability discrimination (because it’s upward, single instance, no adverse employment action, etc) imo.

        Just incredibly uncouth. I agree with you that firing him when this happened, after everything else, would have been the correct course of action, though.

        1. LL*

          I think the leaving at 3:45pm after explicitly being told not to counts as insubordination. Especially since he resumed doing this when his manager was out sick, so he knew it wouldn’t fly under normal circumstances.

          The rest of his comments are just outlandishly bizarre….

          1. Pantalaimon*

            Completely! But the parent comment of this threat was talking only about the “meat and sugar” comments, which is gross but not insubordination. Something doesn’t need to be insubordination or discrimination to be a fireable offense, and calling things both when they aren’t either is confusing and distracting.

    2. chewingle*

      YEP. Bob is a dumpster fire of a human who tried to take advantage of you while you were sick. Don’t waste your guilt on him. Wow.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this. If anyone ever deserved to be fired, Bob definitely did! His failures were all on him.

    3. Quill*

      Punt Bob into the sun for blaming you for getting cancer.

      Tumors are caused because DNA is a fragile little molecule with a ludicrous amount of possible changes, which can be caused by basically any chemical process that exists, end of story.

      1. Jayne*

        Allow me to quote the National Cancer Institute: “Approximately 39.5% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes (based on 2015–2017 data).”

        People don’t deserve cancer, even if they are melting snickers on top of steaks. Just like Bob does not deserve a job he refused to do nor to live in your head rent-free.

        You did your best to help an employee who was not doing his best. You sound like a compassionate manager who tried to help an employee in this weird time. You and your company were taken advantage by a scammer.

        Fly free of guilt.

        1. Dream Jobbed*

          Well, if you are melting Snickers on top of steak, you deserve something for wasting both a good steak and a good candy bar. Probably not cancer, but at least eternal posting of this crime against humanity on Facebook. :)

          OP: Agree with everyone else. Bob is a jerk and wanted to blame anyone and anything on his refusal to sit his butt down and just do the fricken work! Do not allow him to disturb another moment of your peace. You went so far above and beyond, but you can’t help those who are determined not to help themselves. You tried to take care of him, now it’s time to take care of you with a clear conscience.

          1. Quill*

            Would I melt a snickers on a steak? No.
            Would I take a bite if someone else had committed this crime, just to see what it was like? Yes.

            But also I like chicken mole, so there may already be a predisposition to be willing to try chocolate plus meat.

          2. Arts Akimbo*

            Steak with… a caramelized peanut mole sauce? :D Ok, I would try a bite!

            Bob is truly not worth a single further ounce of your energy and thought, OP!

    4. OP 382021*

      Thank you!
      He did say this at the last meeting where HR, my boss and I went away and discussed that out next step was termination.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Frankly mate I’m amazed at your sheer level of control. I’d have…..reacted badly, very badly, to anyone blaming my health issues on my own actions.

        Like, multiple swear words badly.

        He was a revolting, lazy, worthless toe rag. But, I get the feeling, I do. I had to fire someone I hired (he looked great at interview and on paper but…started turning up to work drunk or not turning up at all). It hurts. It makes you question yourself…

        …but it helps to remember this: some people are expert liars. To believe someone who seems genuine at first is not a fault.

        1. Lady Meyneth*

          “Like, multiple swear words badly.”

          Honestly, even that feels too tame for Bob. I’m not a violent person, but I watched my grampa’s battle and eventual loss to cancer, and I’d be hard pressed not to punch anyone who said it was his fault.

        2. onco fonco*

          100%. Some people ARE expert liars. If you were cynical enough to weed every one of them out, you’d also be weeding out everyone else from decent employees to full-on rock stars. You have to operate with a certain amount of trust or you won’t be able to function. Getting taken for the occasional ride by awful people like Bob is a risk of being in business, like so many things. You can learn from it, like being sure to check references etc. if you didn’t before, but even then you’re putting your faith in other people to be honest and helpful. It stinks, but it’s just one of those things that happens sometimes, and the only person at fault is Bob.

      2. Bagpuss*

        I think this is just another example of how right you were to fire him, and how this was 100% a Bob issue and not a you-being-a-bad0manger issue.
        It’s always horrible to have to fire someone but in this case, you bent over backwards to accommodate him, and your only error was not firing him much, much sooner (and it sounds as though part of that was that your other reports didn’t share the information you needed to make that decision – which may suggest that there are ways you, and your own boss, could have improved on how you manage check ins and so on while you were ill or WFH, (but it sounds as though a lot of it was as a result of them not wanting to bother you while you were sick, and not thinking to escalate it to your own boss as an alternative to bothering you!)

        If you are still going to be WFH, maybe plan for regular check ins and expressly tell your other reports that you really appreciate them trying to keep things off your plate, especially while you were unwell, but that in future you’d rather that they let you know if they have any issues and you will delegate to another person to deal if you need to!

        really glad that you are recovering, and please, don’t beat yourself up over Bob. You are all well rid of him.

      3. KayDeeAye*

        I too have made some bad hires – not as bad as Dumpster Fire Bob, but definitely bad. The latest one was not totally my fault since I was only one vote, and not even the most important vote, but I and several other people fell for his charm, exaggerations and lies hook, line and sinker so I do share a measure of responsibility. But he was SO good in the interview and so clever about subtly exaggerating his experience, just like Dumpster Fire Bob, to the point that some of those exaggerations crossed the line into out-and-out lies. And he also tried to deny those lies when confronted with them, just like Dumpster Fire Bob.

        On the other hand, unlike Dumpster Fire Bob, he wasn’t a lazy, goldbricking, cruel, victim-blaming jerk, so there’s that.

        Anyway, OP, while there are things you can learn from this experience, what you should NOT learn is that you’re a failure. You were scammed. It happens. Take a look at those things you can change to lessen the chances this will happen again, thank your lucky stars that this twit is out of your life, and move on.

        And congratulations on your prognosis from a fellow survivor!

      4. Lady Meyneth*

        OP, you did everything you could, and more than you mayb should have, to make Bob work out. I’ve had a coworker who was a Bob when it came to productivity (though at least he didn’t suck as a human being, unlike Bob!), and it’s a huge drain on a team. Our team was so relieved when he was replaced and we no longer had to do his job on top of our own.

        Having to fire Bob is not your failure, it was you doing your job properly. Finally firing Bob is a win for the other 5 good employees you manage, because now they have a chance at having a better coworker, and not having to work with someone who’d say having cancer is someone’s fault. If he said that to his boss’face, in front of HR, can you imagine the miserable things he did to your team when you weren’t there? The mind just boggles.

      5. Leenie*

        Hi OP! I’m a very occasional commenter on here and am not sure if you’ll even see this since we’re a few hours on, but I did want to share a couple of thoughts. It sounds like, although no one was perfect, you have some great things going for you at your job. HR and your boss maybe could have been a bit more assertive in advising you. But they did support you in getting initial corrections and a formal PIP done, they supported you in meetings, and when you finally had enough, they supported you in immediately letting him go. We don’t actually see that here every day.

        And your team – well, they probably should have let you know about the issues sooner, but they clearly meant well. If anything, they were a little too conscientious and responsible. That’s a good problem to have, as long as you help them to remember that you’re there to resolve issues like this.

        So when I read your letter, I saw a situation where you have a team that is hardworking and caring. You have a boss and corporate structure who are there to help you carry out your plans and trust your judgment on these issues. This all says really good things about you as a manager and as an employee. You have the respect and trust of a lot of people who sound like great colleagues who really want to produce good work with you. And it sounds like you’ve earned that respect and trust.

        So please don’t let this one gaslighting slacker take away from all of the checks that you have in the positive column. He’s not worth it!

      6. RVA Cat*

        What Bob deserves is for his cruel words to haunt him every time someone calls you for a reference!

        1. Caroline Bowman*

          100% this. If ever you are called for a reference, obviously give that in line with company policy, but try and work in that you couldn’t find a way forward after he blamed you for getting cancer.

          Let them think about that for a bit. It is a nice precis of Why No One Should Ever Hire Bob For Any Job. Dear God. Seriously.

          It’s all this living that kills us, all of us, in the end! I hope your cancer debacle is now in the rear-view mirror forever. Do not let this hateful person take one more moment of your very precious time.

      7. Momma Bear*

        People can be unpredictable. I’ve had coworkers get arrested and lie about it (like nobody would notice you’re missing?), coworkers take regular 2+ hr lunches, and the same thing Bob did – be unavailable when WFH. I even had one coworker move to another state and just…not tell anyone. Etc. You didn’t predict Bob would go this far. He had a good resume and apparently interviewed well. He took advantage. You gave him every opportunity. You’re allowed to prioritize your health. Please feel no guilt. Unlike you and your cancer, he did this to himself.

    5. AdAgencyChick*

      Yup, if he had done NOTHING ELSE wrong, him saying that to you is enough to fire him and go through life knowing that he, not you, has deprived himself of a livelihood by being someone nobody should have to work with.

      Not just you, OP. NOBODY should have to work with someone who would say such a thing. If it helps you feel less guilt — you are preventing this person from spreading his toxicity to others in your workplace!

    6. Artemesia*

      This. This comment gives you a ‘don’t feel slightly guilty’ card. Outrageous. Your only mistake and it is understandable while fighting cancer and 2020 is that he wasn’t fired a couple of months in. You have every reason to think he would be effective — good resume and interview. Sometimes you get fooled. The first clue was on day 1 when he strolled off the job without notice at 3:45. He should have been kept on a short leash and fired early on BUT given all the chaos in the world and your life it shows you have compassion that you didn’t move quickly on that. But next time you make a bad hire (and we all do if we do a lot of hiring) cut your losses quicker.

    7. Scarlet2*

      “It was my fault for getting sick (because I eat meat and sugar and according to him both cause cancer!)”

      Yeet this guy into the sun, seriously.

      1. Carol the happy elf*

        We had a “Bob” at one place I worked; but they were wary because a “Previousbob” had pulled the same kind of stuff. A Blow-them-away interview, enthusiastic references, and then pthbbbb on all levels. So Newbob and every other new hire were put on an hourly clock-in/clock-out until their probationary time was up and satisfactory. They also had a “See me about this” box for coworkers to address what they were seeing. NOT an anonymous gossip box, but real concerns and any kudos.
        They also, on the three times someone was fired while I worked there, would have a meeting to address the issues.
        This wasn’t bad; we’re talking someone who attacked his ex in a mall parking lot (they let us know that police would be searching his desk, and asked if any of us had felt unsafe.) Another one would take drugs; she fell down a flight of stairs in the fire escape, and the last one just didn’t have enough education, despite advanced degrees.
        I felt guilty about the woman who fell down the stairwell, because I was supposed to have a meeting with her, went looking for her, and I called 911, which made it my fault that she failed a drug test when the ER drew blood. (Ambulances are SO. DISRUPTIVE.)
        The best thing to do is learn from having survived being manipulated, recognize the odor, and move forward.
        The worst thing would be to let this loser be the brainworm that seals your confidence.

        1. Anax*

          As a layperson with a fainting disorder –

          Don’t feel guilty. Falling down the stairs can be a big deal, especially if, as it sounds like, she lost consciousness! Unexplained fainting can be a sign of a major cardiac issue, which can be life-threatening. And if she hit her head or spine on the way down – also common! – she needed to be checked for major injuries which she might not have recognized.

          (Also, I would hope the company wanted to know if the stairs themselves were the cause. Goodness knows I’ve fallen down enough marble staircases to last a lifetime.)

          Calling 911 was absolutely the appropriate call, even if she was upset about it, and even if her drug use didn’t seem to affect her actual work. That was a medical emergency.

        2. Anon for this*

          Plus, remember what Allison always says: it’s not your fault that she failed the drug test because you called 911; it was her fault for having drugs in her system.

          1. Momma Bear*

            Agreed. If someone falls down the stairs and gets injured, you SHOULD call 911. Her drug use was the problem, not the call. I hope she got the help she needed.

  2. MysteriousMise*

    Good grief.

    Perhaps there should be a Most Justified Action of the Year Award, this year.

    Don’t beat yourself up, OP. The fact you feel this way is a testament to your character, but Bob deserves no more of your mental bandwidth.

    1. Escaped a Work Cult*

      Exactly right. You did everything to ensure he could succeed but the idiom “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink it” applies here.

    2. I'm that guy*

      I can think of better reasons to fire someone, but most of those involve the employee committing a crime. The OP has nothing to feel guilty about. Bob should have been fired a year ago.

      1. Ally McBeal*

        I once had an HR colleague tell me about the time that she had to bring in an employee for a reprimand about sexual harassment, and in that meeting, the employee said that he couldn’t concentrate on the meeting because the HR colleague was too scantily clad. He sexually harassed the person reprimanding him for sexually harassing someone else! That’s a personal favorite for “why we should immediately fire someone.”

        1. DonnaMartinGraduates!*

          oh wow, that’s — uh — pretty ballsy! I’m dying to know what this joker considers “scantily clad” and, therefore, so “objectionable” …

          Perhaps he gained a glimpse of her ankles (shock!)

          1. Ally McBeal*

            I was on a committee with her for about a year, we met once or twice a month, and never once did I see her in anything that could be considered scantily clad. (She’s a Black woman and very aware of having to be “twice as good” in order to succeed; plus like many Black professional women I know she was very stylish and had great accessories.) I can’t remember if it was a hint of cleavage or a skirt that hit slightly above the knee, but it was one of those. He was just one of those old-school union guys who apparently didn’t care that we live in the 21st century.

        2. Caroline Bowman*

          I absolutely love this. I am an ex-HR bod and man, that is a winner!

          That’s even better than HR trying to figure out who took naked photocopies of their genitalia (male) after one drinks evening. ”Is this your penis, Jasper?” rates as one of the most-difficult-to-ask-with-a-businesslike-demeanour questions I’ve ever had to ask, humourless, HR-style, but being sexually harassed during a sexual harassment meeting is… very special.

    3. GammaGirl1908*

      Especially because, frankly, Bob lied his way into this job, and then felt entitled to keep the job despite not doing it, having no plans for learning it, making no effort to get better at it, and flouting every rule in the place.

      No amount of handholding was going to make him acceptable. Bob was ALWAYS going to be fired. This conclusion was inevitable. Once that was established, LW’s only mistake was not punting him sooner.

    4. OP 382021*

      It has been hard! I feel like a failure. Seeing the responses though is helping me to heal.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        OP. you are not a failure. You sound like a very nice person who tried to make this work and Bob took advantage of that. And then exposes his true self when called on this. Here are a few thoughts that might help you–as a nice person–approach hiring in a way that will not cause this emotional turmoil:

        1. If you get 75% of your hires right, you are doing extremely well. Heck, even 50% makes you better than many managers. You did that.
        2. The interview process is not perfect. You spend a couple of hours with someone who may work with you for years. That means you should expect some people not to work out. Heck, I once let someone go less than two weeks after they started and we were both happy. It was clear to both of us that they weren’t a fit.
        3. Early impressions tend to be accurate. Bob started leaving early his first day on the job! That wasn’t a misunderstanding. It was a sign.

        My point is that you didn’t fail. You hired five people and one was a dud. That is success. As Alison said, next time you can fire him quickly and realize it’s not you, it’s him.

        1. tangerineRose*

          He sounds like he was basically a con artist in some ways – don’t know if he lied on his resume or just didn’t feel like bothering to do his work. It’s hard to get conned, but sometimes it happens. This was completely on him, not on you.

      2. shhhhimhiding*

        Hi OP! I’m getting a strong impression that you’ve got the same bad habit I do, in that you feel very responsible for the well beings of others. I suspect you feel like if there’s a thing you can imagine doing to make someone’s life better or easier, and you are unable to do it, it may feel like you’ve failed.

        You did not fail Bob, you’ve shown an amazing amount of compassion and grace to someone that did not appreciate your willingness to accommodate them. You did everything you should do, everything you could do, and debatably even a few things that were really outside those bounds. You’re a good manager, it’s very clear from how much you care about your employees. Absolve yourself of this one. Some people just suck, and it has nothing to do with you.

      3. mcfizzle*

        Sounds like you have a ton to heal from, but this shouldn’t be one of them. I once had a very similar colleague; smart, capable, interviewed great. And was 15 minutes late on his first day. Let’s say it was very quickly downhill from there. I too wondered how I missed it in his interview, but again, dude was really smart. He knew how to nail that portion, and then coasted endlessly from there. I became a body language expert (well, maybe not an expert!) and I now realize he was much too relaxed in the interview, even if he was doing well at it. That’s about the only thing I’ve ever found in a years’ long quest to try to ensure we didn’t have it happen again.

      4. Temperance*

        How are you the failure here? This guy is one of those assholes who clearly interviews well and then just is entitled and shitty at work.

      5. HQetc*

        Hey, you are responsible and considerate enough to set a screen name that makes you easy to find, and won’t trip people up if you forget to change it later. I’ve had one interaction with you, and I can already see some signs of you as a conscientious, thoughtful person. Assuming you carry that ethos over to your management, this was a Bob problem, not a you problem. Let it go, and keep looking out for your team as a whole. It’s telling that they wanted to have your back during your chemo, and that probably comes from a culture you built. Give your self some credit for that, and keep focusing on the good work that you do.

      6. Coffee Bean*

        You are the polar opposite of a failure. Think of all you have been through and what you accomplished in spite of your illness. You gave Leave Early Bob every chance in the world to improve, and he failed. Not you. I hope you are fully in remission as well. Lastly, I hope that you find some comfort in all these comments in support of you.

  3. PolarVortex*

    Oh OP, this is not anything you need to feel bad about, you did everything and more. Be kind to yourself.

  4. Daffy Duck*

    OP, thank you for firing Bob.
    Everyone who has ever had to pick up his slack
    (Your direct reports can’t say this)

    1. Rebecca*

      Totally agree – the OP gets a big thank you from every single one of Bob’s coworkers who had to sit there and watch him not work, leave early, complain, whine, grump around, and on top of it let them pick up the slack, day after day, week after week. OP, you’re lucky that other team members didn’t bail on you long before this.

      1. Amaranth*

        It sounds like the staff were carrying Bob’s work because they didn’t want OP to be burdened, but that strikes me as a failure in the system, too. Maybe it means stressing ‘go to Phil if I’m not available, or if you need an on-site manager’ or maybe it means naming a team lead who is given the responsibility to give accurate status reports.

    2. Bre*

      YES! We’ve all had to work with our version of Bob and when they are gone, there is so much relief.

      OP, your Bob was worse than my Bob and you totally did the right thing.

    3. OP 382021*

      My poor team. They put up with so much while I wasn’t present. I feel terrible that they were in this position.

      1. Hazel Tunney*

        No more feeling bad….

        Blow up three balloons. Write B, O, and B on them. Then pop them one at a time. Say “(curse) you, Bob” each time.

        Then breathe and move on.

        You sound awesome, btw!

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          And then go on YouTube and watch John Oliver’s “Eat Shit, Bob” musical number. Several times.

          Bob sucks.

      2. Threeve*

        I hope you can find a way to let go of this guilt. Ask yourself:
        -Did Bob physically hurt anyone?
        -Harass anyone?
        -Destroy anything?
        -Permanently damage anyone’s career?
        -Was he anything except very frustrating?

        Think of Bob as a fender bender. Exactly the opposite of what you want to happen, and, yes, scary, stressful, and maybe expensive… but it isn’t a huge flaming wreck. The damage gets fixed, you haven’t gone bankrupt paying for it, and eventually it won’t stick as “stress about it forever and be terrified every time you get in the car,” but just a casual “be a little more careful in that intersection.” It’ll be okay.

      3. Chilipepper*

        Its good you say “my poor team” but I want to push back in case you feel too guilty there too.

        Our Bob got so fed up with the rest of the team they insisted on being moved to another department, and the employer accomodated that!!

        Our team is working so very much better without Bob. I can see that my manager should have removed or somehow managed our Bob ages ago. And our manager was not dealing with an illness and we are not working from home!

        Moving forward, I don’t need tons of apologies from the manager for “failing” us re Bob, I need to know that the manager will handle any future Bobs very differently. If you were my manager I would totally understand it was 2020, chemo, all the things. I just want to know there are processes in place for next time.

        1. Reluctant Manager*

          THIS. You taught your team that you will try to help your staff succeed. Then you taught them that they can count on you to end the nightmare when a colleague isn’t working out. Next time, fire faster, but now that you’ve seen the signs you’ll know.

      4. tangerineRose*

        You were sick. You aren’t superhuman; don’t beat yourself up for being human.

      5. fhqwhgads*

        No need to continue feeling terrible. You’ve fixed the problem now. So that’s a good thing.

    4. turquoisecow*


      What I think a lot of managers and companies don’t get is that having someone like Bob brings everyone down. Other people have to pick up the slack. Other people are seeing Bob get away with murder and concluding that they can do the same, or that the company is unfair in holding them to standards that Bob is not held to. Other employees may leave because they’re tired of dealing with Bob and management isn’t helping.

      OP, Bob is gone and I’m sure the rest of your team is breathing a huge sigh of relief, even if none of them come forward and tell you that directly. You’ve probably made their lives easier now.

    5. Dust Bunny*

      Seconding this all the way home.

      You cannot fix people who don’t want to be fixed, and this guy was just not going to get on board. There is nothing you can do about that except cut him loose and get him out of your better employees’ hair.

    6. Yo*

      My direct reports have come *this* close to saying this directly to me and I think the only reason they don’t is because they don’t want to make me uncomfortable. In addition to being relieved that they no longer have to pick up the slack, I think they also saw me performing the Sisyphean task of trying to manage this person and felt bad for me.

    7. ArtsyGirl*

      Absolutely this! I used to work with a Bob and it was soul crushing. My previous job was awarded a multi-year grant by a major foundation that was to be used in hiring outside consultants for very, very generous pay. I was given the task of assisting these consultants and the majority were amazing people. My Bob came in the 4th year of the grant and it was a dumpster fire. One of the stipulations of the grant was that all of the candidates needed a specific, basic degree. Bob did not have this degree but was in the process of completing it so the foundation granted an exception with the expectation that it would be complete X months into the program. Bob was a man child and the living embodiment of #mediocrewhiteman – he was given the plum consulting job because he was friends with a higher up. He would wander into work mid to late morning, play around on his computer and then promptly disappear for 2-3 hour lunches without telling anyone where he was going or when he would be back. When he would return, he would futz around for another hour and then take off again since it would be 5 PM. He missed flights, appointments, and deadlines – if I got 10 hours of actual work out of him in the year he was on staff I would be amazed. He did not answer emails nor phone calls and blamed technology. I would have to physically print out his daily itinerary and go over it item by item and he still would blow off meetings. He would visit the site and walk off with keys or leave things unlocked and the lights on so that I would get angry calls from the site manager. Of course he did not finish his degree. Turns out he had lied about how close he was to finishing it. I was told not to mention this to the foundation in my annual report which put my reputation on the line. I had a sit down with my manger to tell him that I was beyond frustrated by the situation and got a shrug and told to just wait him out. It was enraging and really made me question my workplace because Bob could do no work and be rewarded while the rest of us had to carry his deadweight.

      1. what ever happened to roger rabbit*

        The two things that strike me about your story are:
        1) he experienced no consequences, and
        2) this only worked because he had enablers.

        You couldn’t fix it because higher-ups were invested in him. He experienced no consequences because of the same. That is pretty much privilege in action.

        And since the burden was born by you and your team, and not your org, they would not hesitate to do it again.

        I’m glad it was your previous job and that you were able to leave.

    1. Sharrbe*

      Was just going to say that. They accept no blame for anything and try to gaslight the hell out of you.

    2. L.H. Puttgrass*

      Con artist is right. With all his other problems, I wonder if Bob’s resume was 100% accurate.

      1. Ann*

        That’s what I’m thinking: he conned his way into the job. Cons are charming (at first anyway).

        1. NotJane*

          I thought the same thing, too. I bet this is his M.O. in life. Conning/charming his way into a job, then manipulating/bullying his way into keeping said job for way longer than he deserves.

          There’s a quote that I’ve always found really insightful and was reminded of as I read this post (it’s from “The Sociopath Next Door” by Martha Stout; I’ve never read the book, I just like the quote):

          “After listening for almost twenty-five years to the stories my patients tell me about sociopaths who have invaded and injured their lives, when I am asked, ‘How can I tell whom not to trust?’ the answer I give usually surprises people. The natural expectation is that I will describe some sinister-sounding detail of behavior or snippet of body language or threatening use of language that is the subtle giveaway. Instead, I take people aback by assuring them that the tip-off is none of these things, for none of these things is reliably present. Rather, the best clue is, of all things, the pity play. The most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy.”

      2. OP 382021*

        He passed the background checks. But it’s hard to validate statements on the resume. Our background checks make sure they worked where they said they worked not that they did the tasks they claim to have done. I am all for selling yourself, as long as you can back it up and do the work.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s one lesson to take away then — don’t just do background checks; do actual reference checks where you talk about the person’s work. (If you’re not, you need to be willing to fire very swiftly when it becomes clear someone doesn’t have the skills to do the job, and I do not think you want to fire swiftly. You’ve got to pick at least one though.)

          1. OP 382021*

            That is one of our takeaways that I did talk to human resources about, because right now all of our reference checks are really of the “hey did they work there” variety, they are not actual reference checks.

            1. Cascadia*

              Oh yea – Our reference checks are either written or a phone call where I actually call their previous supervisor and ask a bunch of questions – how would you rate them on this ability to do X? how were their interpersonal skills? How well do they work with minimum supervision and with a team? What are their areas of strength? What are their weaknesses? Would you hire them again? Anything else you think I should know about X? The content of the replies is important you to hear as the hiring manager, not the HR person. You should do these phone calls yourself if possible. You can hear when someone hesitates, or when they just gush about someone. Unless Bob became a completely different person when he changed jobs, I think you might have gotten some warning signs if you had done this type of reference check. That being said, don’t beat yourself up! Learn from it, and move on!

        2. EPLawyer*

          There’s an actionable item you can do then — make them REFERENCE checks not employment checks. Actually talk to people listed not just verify dates of employment.

          You did all you could. Bob is just a bad employee. It happens. NO ONE has ever hired perfectly. It can’t be done. You do the best you can.

          But wow, to sit there and say “I didn’t do those things and you should have known it” when it was ON HIS RESUME. That’s grounds for firing right there — lying on your resume is a big deal and he admitted he did it.

          1. JSPA*

            Pathological liars exist. Scammers exist. Entitled people who think they’re a gift to the universe exist.

            Some people are that way all their lives. Some of them can turn it off and on. Some of them end up like that due to any number of sorts of physical, psychological or emotional trauma.

            Some people become unable (for whatever reasons) to do tasks they used to be able to do.

            Some people spend their work lives “failing up.”

            For all of the above, their employers are sometimes so desperate that they’ll give a good or neutral assessment, to get rid of them; or sometimes the employer is in free-fall themselves, and unaware how bad the employee is.

            You have to remind yourself that the vast majority of people applying will not be like that. A web of carefully-constructed, intentional lies is not easy to guard against–it just isn’t. Remind yourself: this person has apparently made an ~20 career out of scamming employers. Twenty years of practice at messing with people’s heads, rather than learning to do his job. Of course he’s an excellent scammer by now. If it were an academic subject, he’d have graduated Summa cum Laude, then picked up a masters, two Ph.D.’s and several Post-docs in scammery, subterfuge and BS-ing, plus certificates in acting wounded, being accusatory, and excess neediness.

            You can’t let the fact that you hit one manipulative master scam artist (out of several hires!) derail your self-confidence.

        3. meyer lemon*

          Bob sounds like he was just a straight-up liar who was willing to do whatever it took to get his way, even if he greatly inconvenienced you and his coworkers. There may have been ways to screen for Bobs, but it’s easy for people like him to slip through the cracks because most of us don’t go around assuming the worst of people. Sometimes the only thing to do with Bobs is to let them go.

          You sound like a very compassionate manager, and Bob took advantage of that, but I’m sure the rest of your employees really appreciate it.

          1. Batgirl*

            That is what I find so fascinating about liars. They never seem to worry about having to deliver what they promised.

        1. ArtsyGirl*

          The commute excuse would not work anymore while everyone was WFH during the pandemic.

    3. Archaeopteryx*

      Yes, although you did nothing wrong besides be way too accommodating and give way too many chances to someone who didn’t deserve them, one take away from this that would be helpful is looking for big red flags – even if there weren’t any during the hiring process, someone who unilaterally decides to start leaving his job early, then gets upset when told he can’t do that, and starts doing it again has Big Big Brain Problems and that should be a big red flag that it’s pretty likely that you’re going to have to get rid of him. This just isn’t a normal competent worker’s thought process at all.

  5. Antilles*

    “Bob started at 9:00 on a Monday and completely disappeared at 3:45 that afternoon.”
    This seems like an enormous red flag right here, on day 1.
    I’ve worked in companies with flexible hours. I’ve worked in firms with a hands-off approach of set your own hours as long as stuff gets done. I’ve worked in firms where people leave early to dodge traffic or for appointments.
    But even in those sorts of scenarios, you usually don’t just vanish without telling someone…and sure as heck not on the very first day!

    1. ThatGirl*

      Exactly! Man, on the first day of any new job I always check in with my boss before I leave, and never before an agreed-upon time.

      1. StressedButOkay*

        Yes! I tend to hang around on my first day to make sure everything I need to wrap up is wrapped up – there’s generally so many moving parts on day one, something almost always gets forgotten.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*


      And when Bob started fussing about being expected to work until 5pm every day, I feel like that would have been a good time to bust out the Alison “this is a requirement of the job. If you don’t think you can fulfill it, perhaps this is not a good fit for you.”

      Alas, hindsight and all that.

      1. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

        I agree! Maybe one of the lessons here for the letter writer is how to intervene quickly and directly if she ever finds herself spotting a significant performance issue early on–and then how to stick with it. I think it was likely a mistake here to have ever given in to leaving 15 minutes early if that sort of flexibility wasn’t generally available or the result of a specific and protected need for accommodation (e.g. letting an observant Jewish employee leave early enough on Fridays to be home before sundown, and finding a way to fairly handle and redistribute the lost time). Hindsight is of course, 20/20 and no one should assume that the first sign of mismatched expectations means you have a Bob on your hands, but his reaction to being told “no” was very telling and I think had that line been held firmly and matter-of-factly this issue might have reached the same outcome a little sooner. If you ever feel like you are persuading an employee to behave in their own best interest, you have a serious problem on your hands and your attempts to persuade are likely futile.

      2. OP 382021*

        We did talk to HR after this happened in day one, but our HR Department is growing too and weren’t in a position to help us out. So we took the route I’d trying to coach Bob into being present. In hindsight, I am kicking myself over some of the early days with him.

        1. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

          That makes a lot of sense! And I don’t mean to suggest your judgment was off in the early days by giving him feedback and a chance to improve. Of course that was the right impulse.

          Mostly, I was struck by the idea that you made “concessions” for Bob, like eventually allowing him to leave at 4:45 instead of 5:00pm? What was that about? I can understand if you think you are dealing with a reasonable person, then a compromise might seem like the right way to put the issue to bed, but you weren’t dealing with a reasonable person in the end. In your shoes, I would be looking at that moment as the chance to approach a future performance issue differently and perhaps that moment would have been the right time to give him a more formal warning, or PIP, or whatever communicates “this is the expectation, and you are required to meet it. End of negotiation.”

          1. Artemesia*

            This. If my new guy said ‘if I don’t get the 4:48 bus I have to wait another hour, I’d make adjustments if possible. But this guy should have been required to be there and terminated when he left early given his other charms.

          2. Anonymous Nonprofit*

            OT: I love your screenname. Guessing you’re a That’s Messed Up fan.

            Sorry Alison.

        2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          It’s great to coach. You should always do that before terminating someone. However, this is why many companies have a set probationary period. You have a certain amount of time to learn the job and meld into the corporate culture. Mentally, it sets an expectation for how long coaching on some items (e.g., working hours) should last. Going forward, you may want to set a timeline for new hires and accept that your coaching on basic (not advanced) issues can last only so long.

        3. ENFP in Texas*

          Stop living in the past. You can’t change the choices you made, so don’t beat yourself up over it. As long as you learned something that you can use in the future, then it was not all in vain.

          View it as an opportunity to learn instead of punishing yourself, and move forward. :) Life is hard enough without clinging to reasons to beat yourself up over stuff that’s in the past.

        4. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Sounds like it was definitely a learning experience, but as everyone has said, don’t beat yourself up too much. You gave him the benefit of the doubt and tried coaching. You couldn’t have guessed that he’d end up being such a giant douche.

        5. Dr Rat*

          It’s going to sound like a bumper sticker, but the whole point of making a mistake is that you learn something from it. Kicking yourself does no one, including you and Dumpster Fire Bob, any good at all. Good employees will take you being kind and accommodating to mean that you are a kind and accommodating manager. Unscrupulous Dumpster Fire Bobs will take it as a sign of weakness that they can walk all over you. Next time you get a DFB, you will know the signs and you will do better.

          The only time to beat yourself up for making a mistake is when you make the same mistake over and over again without learning anything from it or changing your ways. As they say – live and learn. In the meantime, put on Frozen and listen to Let it Go and take it to heart.

    3. MistOrMister*

      I find it odd that Bob had the nerve to mope and complain after they told him he couldn’t leave before 5. I have never in my life started a job and not been told the hours when I accepted the offer. Did Bob just think the rules didn’t apply to him? It’s bizarre.

      1. Let's Just Say*

        And he knew about the commute, presumably, when he accepted the job. So complaining about that right off the bat doesn’t make sense either. Honestly the whole situation is so weird. It sounds like Bob thought he could earn an easy paycheck while utterly slacking off, and claim ignorance (despite being hired for his industry experience) any time he was called on it. Maybe this has worked for him in other jobs? I wonder if OP checked Bob’s references before hiring him…I’m so curious what his last manager would have to say.

      2. ThatGirl*

        Yeah, I’ve always discussed hours with my manager, even at jobs where they were really flexible. At my last company I specifically negotiated an earlier start and shorter lunch immediately; it was important to me but I also wasn’t gonna just walk out the door at 4 pm. with no discussion!

      3. It happens*

        I’ve been on the other side of this. It was indicative of larger problems. No hours provided. Boss never around. Discussed hours with peer, told we were on flextime. Established an 8 hour schedule around peer preferring to come in later. Peer lied and complained about me “leaving early”.

      4. Antilles*

        It’s especially odd since he was being asked to work eight hours a day, from 9 am to 5 pm. Even in the unlikely case that it really hadn’t come up, it’s weird that someone with 15 years of experience is acting so off guard about the idea of working the most standard business hours imaginable.
        The complaints/moping would have been my red flag #2 and would likely have been the impetus for a very firm “this is the job and the role doesn’t allow the hours to change, so get in tune or get out” kind of conversation.

      5. James*

        I have, but mostly because my work for most of my professional life has been driven by the work, not the clock. Flex hours are to the company and client’s benefit, not ours, as I explain it to people. Sometimes it means I can knock off work at noon on Friday, but more frequently it means I’m at work until 7 pm making sure everything is done. This isn’t just me, it’s the nature of the work, and everyone getting into this line of work knows it before they graduate from college.

        I have had people push back against this, and have learned that pettiness about clock-in/clock-out time is a HUGE red flag. Ultimately I suppose it doesn’t matter if you’re here ten or fifteen minutes late, or leave a bit early, but pushing back against being on time seems to correlate strongly with a lot of other issues. One guy that pushed back against coming in on time was utterly inept, another guy eventually ghosted us (to the point where we called his emergency contact to make sure he was okay), that sort of thing. I have never in my life seen or heard of someone that was a good employee except that they skipped out early.

    4. RC Rascal*

      Most companies have 90 day probation periods. When you see this kind of stuff immediately, you need to start thinking about if you need to take advantage of that and cut the person off quickly. It gets harder later.

  6. Ashley*

    If you want to take anything from Bob’s employment is putting a process is to your other reports about how to handle a problem co-worker if you happen to be out. That could mean if you are on vacation on the classic, if I get hit by a bus and am unavailable scenario. (And I think COVID has taught many of us the importance of planning for those situations where someone is suddenly not available because they are out sick unexpectedly for an undetermined period.) I get your reports trying to minimize your problems while you were out sick, but it sucks to deal with a slacker co-worker who takes advantage of their boss not being there to that level. I would be so glad the co-worker is gone, grateful to know my company really does try to work with people but firing, but also wondering if they maybe try a little to hard.
    Few people deserve to be fired as much as Bob did.

    1. Forrest*

      Yeah, this seemed like a learning point to me. Your team picked up the slack whilst you were ill — that’s awesome, but is it the best outcome? Would you have preferred them to keep you better apprised of the Bob situation? Or for your boss to have had a clearer picture of what was going on? Could someone in your team stepped up to Team Leader as a temporary secondment and had authority to seek help from your boss and HR on days when you weren’t available? Could you have hired a consultant to take on some of the more straightforward parts of your role so you could focus on other parts? Could that PIP have started (and finished) significantly earlier, and NewNotBob could be in place by now?

      I don’t think the answers here are necessarily “you/the company should have done X”– maybe there are great reasons why none of that stuff could have happened, and this was absolutely the best case scenario. Between your personal illness and the whole global pandemic situation, this has been a terrible eighteen months, maybe Bob staying on too long was the ball that was most amenable to being dropped and that’s OK! But this is what I would reflect on, not “could Bob have been the perfect person IF ONLY I’D [insert implausible thing here]”.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        Your team picked up the slack whilst you were ill — that’s awesome, but is it the best outcome? Would you have preferred them to keep you better apprised of the Bob situation? Or for your boss to have had a clearer picture of what was going on?

        Honestly, this was where my mind went. I say this as someone who has acted in a similar way to those team members although the context was different – let’s just say that my previous manager had the nickname Professor Umbridge for a reason, and if I became aware of a mistake along the lines of “Penelope’s just saved Cecil Mongoose’s report in Fergus Mongoose’s file” I’d quietly fix that myself to save Umbridge yelling at Penelope in front of everyone (specifically in the case of one employee who Umbridge scapegoated although I would have done it for anyone) or her gathering everyone round demanding to know who was going to own up to it (yes, this actually happened). After Umbridge was gone and I had a sane manager, I did find myself wondering whether, in trying to save people from having their heads bitten off, I could have inadvertently covered up a genuine training issue ever.

        I can see how the team could have been acting with the best of intentions but inadvertently covered up the problem – if it was visible that the work had been done, it might not have been immediately obvious that it wasn’t Bob who had done it and might not have looked like there was a cause for concern.

      2. OP 382021*

        I thanked my team for trying to cover and told them if there is never a next time to please escalate it to me. I could have escalated this to my bias or even to my CIO in my absence. There were people on hand and while I adore that my team wanted to spare me, I hate that they had to deal with all of this crap.

        1. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

          I think give yourself credit that with the exception of Bob, it seems like you built a very hard-working, dedicated, caring team! Obviously you hope they don’t have to deal with this ever again, and will escalate the issue if it were to ever happen, but they seem great!

        2. Working Hypothesis*

          It sounds like you’re on the ball about avoiding future problems of similar type, then, in addition to everything else you’re doing right as a manager. For heavens sake, please cut yourself some slack. You didn’t handle *every* detail perfectly — while you were fighting cancer!! — but on the whole you did pretty darn well, and your team’s loyalty and protectiveness says a great deal about how well THEY think you do your job.

    2. Documenter*

      Agreed; this may be harsh but you beat two cancers. Your spirit will be stronger for these experiences. Bad employees are a part of how we grow as managers. You did everything a great manager would do to pull him along, but like bad cells some just want to do their own thing. If it helps, you have released him to his next job that hopefully he will do better with. Whatever his problem is, maybe this will be a wake-up call to pull it together.

  7. ThatGirl*

    Dear god, the whole time I was thinking that you were being TOO lenient. He clearly misrepresented himself in one way or another and did not have any sense of professionalism.

    Reminds me a little of a copyeditor I worked with years ago — his resume showed he had tons of experience, interviewed well, aced the test, our desk chief was super excited about it. And then … he totally sucked. He took FOREVER to put pages together, he didn’t seem at all familiar with the very standard software we were using, and he was personally very off-putting as well — would mumble disconcerting things under his breath and talk about his gun collection, and I feel like I should add that he was an older guy probably in his 50s while a good chunk of the desk was women in their 20s. Anyway, the last straw for him was when he damaged a coworker’s car in the parking lot, lied about it, and then started screaming and yelling when confronted. So at least Bob didn’t go that way…

    1. Liz*

      I had a similar co-worker who thankfully I did not have to work with his entire tenure at my company. He was hired by a director (male) who I think may have “promised” or at least hinted at, then when he retired the new hire would take over his position. Director was a bit of a sexist, and all his direct reports were women, so I’m sure his hiring a man had a lot to do with it.

      Director retired, and what do you know? they opened up the job, and a woman got it. After that the new hire pretty much did as he pleased, which wasn’t much. He was shuffled from dept. to dept, including mine, and was a huge PITA to work with. He barely did any work, spent a large part of his day making loud, personal phone calls. Why he lasted so long I’ll never know, but one day, poof, he was gone. No one missed him.

      1. Artemesia*

        I used to work with a boss who would make these huge promises to people that could not be delivered on and then I’d have to clean up the mess as their manager when the person was mad they didn’t get the promotion or the salary they expected. I always sympathized with the employee who had been hired under false pretenses but I couldn’t fix either the boss’s tendency to overpromise or get the employee what they felt they were promised. The only thing that ended up working was to have a good chat with the new person and find out WHAT nonsense they had been promised and then explain to the person that we didn’t have the power in the organization to do that for them BEFORE they agreed to work with us. It was a delicate dance — I had to spin it as the boss’s enthusiasm for them and their work and his tendency to want to do everything for someone who we were so thrilled to hire. and then the implacable bureaucracy that meant we could not do a or b but would probably be able to arrange c.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          Did you ever just try telling them the truth about your boss and figuring that you’ll get the ones for whom it isn’t a huge deal that the guy two rungs up from them is stupid? I mean, if they’d be working for you directly and not for him, I would expect a fair number of them to just sigh and say, “All right, then — tell me the straight dope. And keep him off my back.” It’s not like the quirks of one’s grandboss are usually a daily concern of the employee at most jobs.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      OP, you’ve already been beat up by health issues, your body does not need your mind beating you up some more.
      Here I see you feeling guilty for firing him and feeling guilty for putting your staff through this. You aren’t letting you up for air. Oddly, to learn to be a fair, just leader you must be fair and just to your own self, too.

      Just make a promise to yourself that this will never, ever happen again. Remember the rule of three. You see something three times and it’s okay to address it. He leaves at 3:45 three times after being told not to, it’s a write up then on to a PIP, then out the door if there are no improvements.
      As far as his poutiness, that is an unwillingness to get along with cohorts and that one you can also call out. He’s being paid to work along in an approachable and accommodating manner. I am not seeing much evidence of either.
      People like this are a detriment to the organization. Your good people will leave if this type of person is allowed to continue on unchecked.

      For your own health, for the sake of your job at some point you should push all this guilt to the back burner and forgive your own self- you know, for being human. You went through a major, major life event. You came out the other side- congratulations. Now you are free to handle things differently in the future. And that is how I would frame it. “I am free to do things differently in the future.”

  8. WellRed*

    OP, this is not on you. When Bob first started leaving at 3;45, well, I guess in hindsight there was gonna be problems but who could predict this?
    I do have one thought: While you were dealing with chemo etc., did you delegate enough? Give yourself enough grace to take care of yourself? Empower people to feel like they could let you know this was going on? It’s OK if you didn’t but I’m wondering where your boss was, if nothing else. This went pretty far, pandemic or otherwise.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      I wondered about this also. I mean, it’s pretty clear that OP was an excellent manager overall, or their team wouldn’t have stayed through as much of this as they ultimately had to. They’re doing a lot of things right. And cancer treatment makes it really hard to focus on everything else, both because of the cancer and the treatment.

      So nothing against OP for this happening, but it is still true that their team somehow ended up with the message that the OP would prefer not to be bothered with the information that one of the staff members was seriously making trouble in the office while they were working from home due to illness. If they got that message because it was true, that’s understandable but not ideal. If they got that message because it was not true, but somehow OP did not fully communicate their expectations and priorities while they were preparing to be out of the office for a while, that’s also understandable but not ideal.

      In either case, there’s certainly some stuff they can do better the next time they have to deal with a Bob, but it’s not a big thing compared to how much they’re doing right!

    2. OP 382021*

      I tried delegating where possible, but as a new department, I was trying to juggle too much. Talk about hindsight on that one! I had never in my life been sick like this before, and I really didn’t deal with focusing on myself well at all. Add into that the mess that was 2020, I really should’ve spent more time taking care of myself and last time taking care of work.

      I have done my best to empower my team, and I have some people that I know would step in and take my position in a heartbeat. And I have some people that are fine on the road that they are on and aren’t looking to change lanes and take over my job. And I am OK with both of those! I do wish that they had complained a little bit more. And I told him that, next time not to hold back. Let me know what’s going on.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Great step forward right there, OP.
        Let everyone know that moodiness/poutiness day after day is not something you want or condone.
        And let them know that people sneaking out early is not acceptable.
        Let them know where your boundaries are, so they know what to tell you and when to tell you.

        I want to believe that this will never happen again, OP. So I am thinking of a different scenario where you go on vacation for two weeks… or a month or whatever. Usually, a person becomes the designated point person in the boss’ absence. Give someone the authority to be a mini-you. Set their boundaries, what they can and can not do. Tell them the types of things you expect them to inform you of if/when they happen.

        I think once you build a strong plan much of your guilt will lessen a lot.

      2. Working Hypothesis*

        It really sounds like you’re doing a great job of setting up planning so that anything remotely in the same category will be handled a lot more smoothly if it ever happens again. Give yourself a lot of credit, OP! That’s exactly what a good manager does when they’ve had a situation go pear-shaped… *whether or not* it’s due in some part to their own mistakes.

  9. cbh*

    OP Alison and many many AAM supporters will tell you you are in the right here. You did everything a good manager should do.

    I want to preface by saying I think you acted professionally and handled the situation properly. I do want to say I think you are a little hard on yourself and understand why you feel guilty (even though you shouldn’t). 2020 was a crappy year for everyone; add ontop of that you had a major health issue, your son’s well earned fun senior year was spent in quarantine, your husband (I’m assuming) was job hunting during a crazy time in the world. That is a lot of chaos in one’s life. Reading your letter I almost felt like you were very very stressed and this is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Take some time and be proud of you and your family for getting through a challenging year. Just wanted you to know you did nothing wrong. Bob is responsible for his own behavior, not you. You are there to guide him and Bob didn’t want the professional help.

    1. OP 382021*

      Thank you for that!
      Hubby is job hunting and he is one who found this blog and encouraged me to reach out and get feedback on what happened and how I was coping.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Uh, that’s pretty impressive. Kudos to Hubs. And cheers for you for actually reaching out.

  10. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    Was Bob deliberately trying to get himself fired the whole time, perhaps for unemployment or other reasons? Maybe OP was trying to keep him on when he did literally everything to be let go? It’s the only answer I could figure for someone to be that upside-down as a person.

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        I mean, he couldn’t have been blind to the consequences of ALL those behaviors (unlike your own well-intentioned but heavily awkward Mr. Collins, Miss Lucas”

    1. Cat Tree*

      If I had to guess, I’d say that Bob used to work somewhere with lower standards and he couldn’t adjust to meeting “normal” expectations. I put “normal” in quotes because this like staying at work all day and being available to support coworkers should be a basic workplace standard. But I’ve worked at quite a few places where most people rarely got any work done so it’s unfortunately common. At my most recent previous job, the guys in my department bragged to me about how little work they had to do. There was a rumor that we would all have to start tracking how our time was used, to better estimate how much the company should charge clients. I don’t love these systems, but this one wasn’t intended to be onerous, just estimating our projects in hour chunks each day. And the others in my department were annoyed because they did only 2 or 3 hours each day and would have to find a way to stretch it. (That wasn’t implemented while I was there but might have been later.)

      Personally I hated these workplaces because my boss set my workload based on others’ output and I was always bored to tears. But if my former coworkers came to a place where they would need to work 6-7ish hours most days (allowing for breaks, socializing, networking, etc) just to finish their expected work, they would have a hard time adjusting. And as they stay longer in these places, they just get more used to that pattern which makes a transition even harder.

    2. OP 382021*

      I can’t tell if he was used to skating by or if he was after some sort of payout. A lot of companies in our sector will offer a cash settlement upon termination. We are just not one of them.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        Wow. Cash severance for a layoff, sure, but on termination for horrible performance? Why would anyone reward that behavior?

    3. OP 382021*

      I can’t tell if he was used to skating by or if he was after some sort of payout. A lot of companies in our sector will offer a cash settlement upon termination. We are just not one of them

        1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

          This could be!! That’s an interesting idea and makes sense as well.

    4. Sparkles McFadden*

      Some people expect to get cut all kinds of slack because they feel like they’re doing you a favor by showing up at all.

    5. Anonymous Hippo*

      Some people really just have a ridiculous sense of entitlement, and expect the world to revolve around them and their “needs.”

  11. MistOrMister*

    I really liked this paragraph:
    “You’re being very hard on yourself, so it’s worth asking: Would you be this hard on one of your staff members if they made a hiring mistake? I doubt you would — you sound like you’re quite generous with others. Extend that generosity to yourself too!”

    OP, it really sounds like you went above and beyond for Bob. I can understand wanting to help him, but he got many more chances than he deserved.

    One thing that jumped out in OPs letter was that the team took on extra work that Bob should have been doing in order to not burden OP during a tough time. I hope OP realizes that they have a solid team that seems to value them highly. People don’t step up like that for bad managers. Bob was an anomaly, and it sucks to have had to fire him, but clearly OP is doing something right and should be proud of the job they’ve done.

    1. Double A*

      That last sentence is a really good point, and that is actually the point as the OP I’d spend the most time reflecting on. This was probably hardest on the team, who kept it together and did extra work because of their respect and compassion for the OP. Spend your energy making sure these great people are taken care of!

      So, if anything like this happens again, the reflection is how can you better empower your team to get the issue dealt with if you’re not available? Who would have handled the Bob situation in OP’s absence? Could someone else have put him on a PIP?

      I’d spend some time reflecting on contingency plans and who can step up into empowered interim roles in the event that a manager is unavailable. There’s no shame in having hired a bad apple, and considering the year the world and the OP had, it’d understandable why the situation dragged one. But once you’ve got the bad apple out, you want to make sure your barrel is still in good shape and that you’re caring for your good apples.

    2. SarahKay*

      The “Extend that generosity to yourself too!” line is what I was thinking when I read this letter. (Well, that, and ‘Good grief, get rid of him!’.)
      OP, please, be as kind to yourself as you are to others. I know how hard that can be as I struggle with it myself, but it’s a skill, like any other, that improves with practice.
      As MistOrMister pointed out, you have a team that stepped up for you, which doesn’t happen if they don’t value you, so clearly you’re doing a lot of things right.

    3. Polly Hedron*

      I hope OP realizes that they have a solid team that seems to value them highly. People don’t step up like that for bad managers.

      OP, you are a great manager whose only fault is an excess of compassion. I want to come and work for you!

  12. 5D-ENTP*

    5 out of 6 good, longterm direct hires is pretty dang awesome.

    No way do we have those odds in our favor in my workplace, but one thing we’ve definitely learned is to fire way faster than we used to.

    Bob got an insane amount of chances.

    1. MtnLaurel*

      I came here to say exactly that. One bad hire doesn’t mean you suck at it. It means you made a mistake that you can now correct and return to your pattern of consistently good hires. This is an aberration that happens to literally everyone.

  13. Trek*

    My only thought is to ask if you checked references. Going forward please do so if you did not in this case. However with that being said it could have played out the exact same way.

    Your team’s concern for you and their willingness to take on more work to make your job/life easier during this time speaks volumes to the type of manager you are and you should also take this as a positive; your team is loyal to you and care about their jobs.

    Ultimately Bob wanted a pay check for doing nothing. I have no doubt he will continue to struggle in future jobs and he more than likely struggled in past jobs. Some people can fool people. That doesn’t mean you made a mistake it means it’s wrong that they tried to fool you in the first place. What’s truly sad is that people like Bob fool themselves more than others, convinced they are good employees and everyone else is the problem.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I once worked for somebody who came with incredible references. It was later found out that her former employer wanted to get rid of her.

      1. Bluesboy*

        I had a terrible German teacher at school. He eventually left to become Head of Languages at another school. Years later as an adult I met one of the teachers again. She told me that as it was basically impossible to fire a teacher, he had gone from strength to strength career wise, since the only way to get rid of him was to give him amazing references whenever he applied anywhere else…

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          This is one of the reasons it’s always a good idea to get references from people the candidate is not working for any longer even if they also willingly give you access to their current boss. It’s fine to go to their current people *too*, so long as they don’t ask you not to; but if you talk to two or three former managers in the chain as well as the one they’re working for presently, you can generally find out this kind of thing… they’ve already moved him out of their place, so they have nothing to lose anymore by telling the truth about him.

    2. Sue*

      Either the references lied about him or he was on some kind of steep downward spiral. I hope OP’s company will be honest if they ever get a reference check on him.

    3. JustaTech*

      I once worked with a scientists who was really difficult in a “innocent doofus” kind of way. He wasn’t a jerk, and he didn’t shirk his work, but he was so utterly inefficient, so totally lacking in basic social interaction, that he was just a huge anchor. Friendly, but an anchor. (Oh, and he hoarded reagents, “borrowed” other people’s stuff, and contaminated everything.)

      One day my boss (in his first “boss” position) was complaining about how useless this guy was to our lab manager, who had worked with Dr Useless before. “If you had called *any* of Dr Useless’s references you would have known all of this! Of course the Sequencing Center said nice things about him, they wanted him gone. If you had bothered to call anyone, or ask *me* they would have told you what he’s really like!” she snapped. (She was in the middle of cleaning up the fallout from yet another misunderstanding with Dr Useless and was beyond frustrated.)

      So yeah, maybe people offer references just to get rid of people, but if you never ask anyone you never give them the chance to tell you anything.

  14. BSS*

    Isn’t this exactly why most employers have a 90-day probation period? At my workplace we’ve had a few new hires in recent memory let go at or before the 90-day mark for reason’s similar to Bob’s.

    1. Cat Tree*

      It really depends on the industry and type of job. I’ve never known of a probation period for professional salary jobs. The closest I got was during a recession when I had to accept a low-ball offer with the promise of a pay bump in 6 months if my work warranted it. (The pay bump was in the offer letter and I received it, but left that toxic place a few months later.)

      1. old curmudgeon*

        State government jobs in at least one state (the one where I live) have a minimum one-year probationary period. That’s for everything – call-center workers, mailroom staff, accountants, policy analysts, software developers, everything except executive-level positions. Executive positions have a two-year probation.

        While it’s something of a pain to deal with, a lengthy standard probation gives the hiring manager at least a full year of performance to evaluate, and gives the probationer a full year of opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. Someone on probation is expected to receive extra training and mentoring, and they are also expected to demonstrate their willingness and ability to put that extra training to work. A probationary employee receives quarterly evaluations instead of being evaluated annually like non-probationary employees. A lot of people complain about it, but I know of at least one individual in my work unit who did not pass their probation, as indeed they should not have, so in my limited experience, I think it works the way it was intended.

        Now, that said, the probation requirements in my state’s government were set by the state legislature, and obviously that’s not going to happen in the private sector. But just in general, I don’t think it is at all a bad idea for an employer to have a policy of requiring all new hires to go through a probationary period, with the expectation that it will be successfully passed in order to keep the job.

        1. allathian*

          The harder it is to fire a poorly-performing employee, the longer the probationary period. From a European perspective, most employees in the US, at least in the private sector, never get off probation. Even if decent employers don’t fire employees on a whim, they have the legal right to do so, except when they want to fire someone for being in a protected class.

      2. ThatGirl*

        I’ve had 90-day “probations” at a couple of professional jobs, not so much that I was on thin ice as it was a “let’s make sure this is working out for everyone”. Probation may not be the right word? And it probably wasn’t any different, legally speaking, whether they let me go on day 80 or day 100. But it was sort of understood that that was a preliminary be on your best behavior period, I was getting on-boarded, shouldn’t take any PTO if I could help it, etc.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah. I work for the public sector in the Nordics, and when I was hired, I had a probationary period of 4 months. This meant that they could have let me go very easily, and I could have quit with no notice if it wasn’t working out. This is a big deal, because the notice period for individual contributors is 2 months. All managerial and executive positions are also fixed term, so people who hold them have to reapply for their own jobs every 5 years or so. They hire the top executive first, who can then hire the sort of team they want. The periods are tiered, so that the top executive gets hired first, then the rest of the C-suite, and so on down the ranks. It’s very hard to get rid of a poor performer, and if it’s merely a matter of personal chemistry or different ways of working, it’s practically impossible unless you have documentation of serious performance issues. This is also one reason why I don’t want to get into management, I don’t want to reapply for my own job every 5 years…

      3. Firecat*

        Same and frankly that would be a deal breaker for me. Either you’re committed to hiring me or I’m not committed to putting in my notice at my current employer for you.

    2. OP 382021*

      We don’t have a probation period. And we’re in an industry where there is largely no probation period. We are also in an industry where people tend to sue at the drop of a hat, so we also have to be very extremely careful when writing up or terminating.

      1. LilyP*

        Could you establish a personal process just for yourself of having a 90-day review with any new hires, and commit to taking a hard look at that point towards their performance so far and whether they’re a good fit long-term? Then at least there’s an informal check-in and you can start a PIP/documenting issues very early if someone is really effing around on you like Bob was.

  15. Observer*

    OP, maybe it would help you to focus on the things you could do differently? Not that I think you did so badly, but sometimes looking at SOMETHING you can do helps to shift your thinking.

    Some possible things:

    1. If you didn’t check references, do so. And, if you can, try to talk to people who are NOT on the list an applicant provides. Also, if you can talk to co-workers, that can be useful too.

    2. Have a probationary period and act quickly and decisively on red flags.

    3. Make sure staff have a way to bring up problems – including with coworkers and clients – whether or not you are available. It would have been to everyone’s benefit if someone had told your boss about Bob’s behavior much earlier.

    But also realize that this guy is a con artist. People like that are really good at selling snake oil.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      Probationary periods are tricky because good candidates will often not accept them; it puts them in a risky situation since they have to leave their former position on the strength of the new one, and so they need the new one to be secure. Granted it’ll never be fully secure in the US because of at-will employment, but they understandably want whatever they can get. If you offer them an unstable position, the ones with other good options will decline it, leaving you with a staff made up of people who couldn’t get any better job.

  16. Slow Gin Lizz*

    I agree with everything Alison said except this: “Would it have been better if you’d checked in more often? Maybe.” I think the answer to that question is 99% likely to actually be “No.” His saying that it was your fault because you weren’t holding his hand (!) is just his gaslighting you. Even if you had been holding his hand, I don’t think any of his behaviors would have improved and he certainly wouldn’t have been the guy you interviewed and hoped he would eventually start being.

    As others have said, don’t beat yourself up about this! Five out of six excellent long-term hires is a fantastic track record. Bob was definitely an anomaly and you should treat him as such.

    1. Elenna*

      My read of that is that maybe if OP had checked in with their team often, they might have caught the Bob issues and started the PIP process earlier, so their team might have had to spend less time dealing with Bob. Not blaming OP (2020 really was a dumpster fire, and adding cancer on top of that? Oof.), but I can see that being something to learn from in the future.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        It sounds to me like the team was not being forthcoming about the Bob issues, but they weren’t trying to protect Bob – they were trying to protect the OP.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          This is true, but it’s still on the OP to ask explicitly about what’s going on with Bob, and make sure the team knows they really want all relevant information. If the whole team somehow got the impression that OP would be happier in blissful ignorance than they would by getting the relevant data with which to do their job, that’s a communication error on OP. Managers need to make clear their priorities to their team, and if their priority was “real info,” not “don’t make me deal with more than you can help,” that message clearly didn’t get through.

          It’s not a big error and they’re certainly not a failure for it! But I think it was an error, and if the OP wants to figure out what they can learn from this incident, it should be on the list.

        2. Working Hypothesis*

          P.S. I love your name, which I just noticed. (I read the comments but not always the headers on them.) I’m a Janeite and Charlotte has always been a favorite of mine.

    2. Chris*

      When Alison is talking about checking in on him more often I don’t think she’s talking about holding Bob’s hand. She’s talking about getting to the point of letting Bob go more quickly rather than allowing it to drag out as long as it did.

    3. GammaGirl1908*

      Also, if LW had checked in on Bob a lot more, he surely would have raged that he couldn’t work under this level of micromanagement, so there’s that.

      1. Observer*

        True enough. But that would have been a strong signal to the OP that SOMETHING is seriously wrong.

    4. Esmeralda*

      It depends on how frequently the boss is checking in. And checking in doesn’t necessarily mean hand-holding level of support. I’ve had bosses who checked in once a year, at my annual evaluation… My current boss meets w me 1-on-1 monthly. We go over goals, projects, what are things I need, how can he support me, plus any observations or suggestions I have re our department. I know he meets more often w some coworkers who need more coaching for instance. He meets w team leads more frequently.

      I’m the dept mentor for new hires, so I check in with them every two weeks for about 6 months, then less frequently if they are clearly ok to operate more independently and especially if they’ve shown that they recognize areas where they need help and seek out assistance independently.

      That’s what “checking in” means to me.

    5. No Sleep Till Hippo*

      Honestly, I can’t think of any situation in which “You’re not holding my hand enough” DOESN’T translate into anything but “I’m never going to do anything but the bare minimum, you should do yourself a favor and fire me now.”

      Really, even if this were an intern or someone’s first day in their first job ever. I could see something like “I’m really going to need your help until I get the hang of this,” but as soon as hand-holding comes into it that’s a red flag in my book. 15 years of experience?!? Here, take my hand, let me lead you to the door. I trust you know how to walk out of it on your own.

  17. AmosBurton*

    I understand the feeling. I have had to fire people before. A couple were very nice people who just couldn’t do the job, and I felt very bad and tried to help. One was just a scumbag (like Bob) and I felt gleeful that I got to parade him in front of his former coworkers, being escorted out by security.

    In the end, work is a business transaction, however much we like the folks who work for us. Your job is to help your company AND your team by getting rid of folks who are harming them, as Bob was. It says positive things about you as a person that you felt bad. That may well mean you are a good, kind and decent manager.

    It isn’t easy to save those characteristics for people who deserve to be treated that way, but it helped me to recognize that my “Bob” exploited those things, lied, was racist and sexist and was generally unworthy of being treated decently. You’ll probably always feel bad for firing decent people, but when you have to let go of a scumbag? Just keep in mind all of the things he or she did to *be* that scumbag. That helped make it easier for me.

  18. JohannaCabal*

    OP, you did what you could. I also had to fire someone who dazzled everyone in the interview and had years of experience in the industry. We looked at their resume again after we fired them and it looked fishy. In the interview, they’d talked about doing part-time, freelance work in addition to full-time work in the field. A closer look at the resume showed some of the dates looked wrong; it became apparent they were hiding gaps and short term stays by mixing in the part-time and full-time dates.

    Keep in mind, the resume went through someone else before me at this org. And (sigh) if I’d been allowed to contact references, I might have uncovered enough to pass on hiring the person.

    I would suggest doing a post-mortem of the hiring process. Sometimes the pressure to fill a position can also lead to things being overlooked, particularly if the candidate interviews well.

    1. Corporate Lawyer*

      I particularly like the last paragraph of this comment which contains some good, actionable advice. OP, allow me to join the chorus of people saying that you did nothing wrong, because you did nothing wrong, but you expressed concern about your ability to avoid another bad hire, and a post-mortem of the hiring process may reveal things you could do differently in the future and allay some of your worry. Or not! Maybe you’ll find that there was nothing with the hiring process at all, and Bob just managed to misrepresent himself throughout, which can happen to even the most skilled hiring managers. Either way, you come away with useful information.

    2. Firecat*

      Just be careful not to be so focused on hiring – not bob – that you turn off good candidates or throw the baby out with the bathwater.

      For example, if someone needed flexibility every Wednesday for a family issue, but had a plan in place to make up the time you don’t want to knee jerk say no because Bob was a slacker. You also dont want to probe super deep into availability and working a full 40 hours because that can make OPs workplace seem like a 24/7/365 gig.

  19. Barking Mad in the US*

    Caveat-I hate hiring because people will misrepresent themselves in an interview (and I’ve ended up losing my job because of being played and manipulated, so reading your letter triggered me all over the place-not horribly so, but alarms nonetheless). However, dear LW, you did nothing wrong. We can only go by how the candidate presents themselves and how they act. I agree with the folks here-you were fair. You gave him soooo many opportunities to make this right. He’s not an ethical person and played you. Remember that. This was completely justified on any level. Period. Bob manipulates people to get what he wants-I’m not going to offer anything more than that. You are clearly a good manager and it looks like your team respects and cares for you, so concentrate on that (and stomping cancer so far into the ground an archeologist in a zillion years might find it!).

  20. MsGuacamole*

    My ex husband was fantastic during interviews. He’s charming, charismatic, and can bullshit his way out of almost anything.

    I also learned later that he hired someone to do his resume (I knew that part) and that it was heavily padded. He’s in finance and I’m in education so I didn’t understand most of the terms on his resume. But a friend of ours also in finance had a conversation with him, and he said it was obvious he didn’t know how to do many of the things on his resume. Our friend told me this because he was concerned due to my now-ex’s spotty job history.

    When he did get jobs, he sucked at them. He was lazy and got pouty if he had to do things he didn’t want to do (that were explicitly part of his job!) and he blamed others for his failures. And he was in over his head. He always quit, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he actually got fired and lied to me.

    All this to say, you shouldn’t blame yourself. Some people are great at basically conning their way into jobs but are actually terrible employees. I think you handled it great!

    1. Emma*

      I have a friend who used to be somewhat like this: be was charming and interviewed well, and as a result often got jobs he wasn’t qualified for.

      In his case, he wasn’t lying or trying to be manipulative. He just needed work, and was willing to turn his hand to pretty much anything, and was good at convincing employers to give him a chance. But I’ll never forget the day he rang me to far he had just got hired at a computer repair shop, and he started tomorrow, and could I teach him how to repair computers before then please?

    2. Dr Rat*

      A friend who used to work in the tech industry would interview candidates who claimed to be proficient in a certain coding language. Most applicants were used to interviewing with managers who had no idea how to code themselves. My friend was an excellent programmer and would say, great, you’re proficient at this language, take 10 minutes and write a quick program to execute (this simple function).

      He said in most cases he was happy if the test ended with them not making the computer explode.

  21. Chris*

    Every time you hire someone you’re rolling the dice. Most of the time, it works out OK. Sometimes, it works out much better than OK and you get a real rock star. But some of the time it doesn’t work out and you get a dud. Someone who’s not a good fit for the role, or who just sucks (like Bob). Do your due diligence, interview well, check references, etc., everything you can to weight those dice in your favor, but it’s never going to be a guarantee.

    The key is, hiring someone is not the end of the process. Continue to evaluate. If they have strengths, what can do you to play to those strengths? If they have weaknesses, what resources can you provide to help them address those weaknesses? If you provide the appropriate resources and there’s still no improvement it’s a sign that it’s time to move on.

    If someone’s the wrong person for the job, letting them stay is a disservice. It’s a disservice to your team, who’s having to deal with this person and take up the slack when they fall short. It’s a disservice to you as their manager, taking up an inordinate amount of your time and bandwidth. It’s also ultimately a disservice to them. They’re probably not enjoying this process and the longer it drags out the more it’s hurting both their future job prospects and their ability to function effectively in a role that’s a better fit for them.

    If you have a struggling performer by all means help them improve, but once it’s clear that improvement’s no longer in the cards, moving them along (whether by mutual agreement or termination) is the right thing to do.

  22. BB8*

    Oh OP, I feel for you. I experienced something very similar on the job front (though not with the additional layer of personal health issues, hope you are doing better) in the past few months, and I was similarly devestated when I had to fire someone, I know I made the right decision for my team, for the work, etc, and I still feel like a failure.

    In both our cases, its not our fault though, we both did what good managers do, which was lay out what was expected, and give feedback, and explain consequences. Bob is the one who failed here, not you.

    Wish I had a solution, but wanted to just offer that you aren’t alone in feeling this way.

  23. Delta Delta*

    Looking more big-picture, it looks like Bob was a bad fit for the position but it may not have revealed itself until he worked there. that happens sometimes, and it doesn’t mean someone’s a failure, it just means it wasn’t what everyone thought at first. Bob surely didn’t help himself, and bob is terrible, but at some level, Bob probably knows that.

  24. Allie*

    You’re going to hire wrong occasionally. It just happens. People can seem great in interviews, have the right resumes and pass references and then turn out to be a bad hire. It just happens. Not very often, but it happens. I wish I could tell you some universal tell for that happening but I have not observed one in the hundreds of interviews I have sat through. Your mistake here honestly wasn’t firing him sooner.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Yep. Some people are so good at interviewing. But doing the actual job? Not so much.

  25. Mental Lentil*

    I think a huge part of feeling the way OP does is that they kept Bob on for so long and gave him so many chances. As I was reading this, I kept thinking “Oh, and this is when they fired him” and then I read that they gave him another chance.

    I know nobody with a kind heart (and OP and OP’s company sound like wonderful people) wants to fire somebody in the middle of a pandemic, but really, Bob was there too long. Bob should have been let go a lot earlier than he was. At that point, you are not as invested emotionally in this process. (And honestly, this felt like multiple interventions with someone who was determined to relapse.)

    OP, you’re a good person. Please follow Alison’s advice and let this one go. It’s not on you.

    1. JohannaCabal*

      In my experience, the earlier you can “offload” the Bobs of this world the better. Also, at one job, a manager delayed the PIP process and the day they were going to start it, employee announced they were pregnant. While the company could have gone forward, HR was concerned about how this would look from a legal and PR standpoint, so the employee stayed on an extra 18 months (of course, that team’s productivity actually grew when said employee was on parental leave, then promptly dropped upon their return).

      1. allathian*

        Well, at least the changes in productivity proved that the bad employee really needed to go.

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      I’m glad I read the book for various American reasons but, man, was it torture trying to read that damn thing!

      And if only Bob had the tranquility that Bartleby had.

    2. wendelenn*

      We had a letter here a couple of weeks ago from a person whose employee literally said “I would prefer not to.” The Bartleby references were all over the comments.

  26. SeattleSarah*

    You didn’t make a bad decision by hiring Bob. He was well-qualified on paper, and he interviewed extremely well. You stated that everyone who interviewed him thought he was fantastic. I am assuming you checked references which were also probably glowing as well. Honestly, you made the best decision with the information you had available at the time. As time went on, you gained additional information which indicated that Bob was not a good fit and made a corrective action to terminate him. Basically, you did everything right even if the end result was different than what you hoped.

    Good managers sometimes hire bad people because the hiring process is basically a gamble. You can do everything right and still end up with a bad employee which is exactly what happened here. I hired someone similar to Bob a few years back. Great resume, great interviews, glowing references. She was interviewed by a total of six people, and everyone had her as a top choice. Within the first two weeks, I knew I had made a mistake. She was incompetent, created drama, and was racist to boot. After going through a PIP, I ended up having to terminate her. I felt awful for a long time, but I ultimately realized that there wasn’t much I could have done differently. We vetted her every way possible, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

    What is important is that you listened to your employees, you took corrective action immediately, you acted with kindness and compassion to Bob (even when he didn’t dserve it!), and gave him every chance possible to change course. You sound like a great manager.

    1. Sara without an H*

      There are people out there who interview brilliantly. It’s a kind of performance art, they have a talent for it, and they improve with practice.

      The problem is, interview performance isn’t always tied to actual performance on the job. That’s why you always want to check references and, if possible, have some sample tasks for the candidate to perform.

  27. Not playing your game anymore*

    I have no sympathy for this Bob character and he’d have been gone the 3rd time he disappeared. (1st, explain the expectation again. 2nd, final warning. 3rd, you’re done here. ) We have problems sometimes because our hours are irregular. In the before times we were open as early as 6:30 to as late as midnight. In former times we always made it very explicit at the time of hiring what the shift would be, that you will work primarily x and y, and may be scheduled to cover a or b but will not be asked to cover z or c because that’s just not humane (i.e. you either have early and mid shifts or mid and late but not early and late) We let people know at the time of hire what has to happen to change shifts and really stress that if you’re hired for a shift that’s your shift until a position that you qualify for opens up on a different shift. So, I have no sympathy for an employee who can’t manage to work one standard day shift. We’ve have had to let people go who were hired for late shifts, who then refused to work them because 10 pm is too late! I’m dreading having to re institute shift work when we go back to “normal” after people having had a great deal of flexibility to wfh full or part days, to come in and do stuff that can’t be done from home at whatever time they were least likely to encounter a coworker, and having just one person at a given time needing to check messages and be available to zoom if needed.

    1. Firecat*

      Will you really have to go back to the old way? If one person at a time available for zoom/messages worked can it work post pandemic?

  28. designbot*

    Bob deliberately mislead you, seemingly every chance he got. Think about it from the other side—what would it have taken for you to spot this earlier? It would take you not believing what was on his resume, which is generally an unproductive habit. It would have taken you peeling yourself away **from your cancer treatment** to babysit him. These are not reasonable solutions, ergo this is on Bob, not on you. You can’t adopt a general distrust of people without cause, and you can’t neglect your own health. I mean, technically you could, but that’s not the life I’d want to lead and I doubt it’s the one you want to lead.
    The only thing I could potentially fault here is not taking action more swiftly when your team came to you with concerns about Bob, and that’s the lesson I’d take out of it. When a whole department bands together to tell you about a serious concern with one of their own, it’s already at a really serious level and should be treated as such.
    Good luck with your next hire, and especially with your health! I hope all this craziness is behind you.

  29. AKchic*

    I’m going to say it:

    I think ultimately, Bob wanted to get fired. I don’t think he started out wanting to get fired when he wanted to be able to leave work early and still get that full salary, but when he realized you weren’t a pushover, he eventually decided he DID want to get fired. Why? Because it’s the easy way out in a lot of ways. And because he’s a contrary being.

    Bob reminds me of my first ex-husband when he *did* work. Nothing was ever his fault. He had to have ALL the perks, while touting great experience, but if anything went wrong, oh, it’s *your* fault for hiring such an inexperienced person (despite what’s written on his resume, which may or may not be accurate) and not being with him every step of the way, and how dare you not understand that he needs such hand-holding and extra perks because he’s who he is and has such a hard knock life, you evil evil blah blah blah. [insert fake tears here]

    Was there a kernel of truth in Bob’s (or even my ex’s) tale(s) of woe? That’s not for you to figure out. Compassion is never an unkindness, per se. However, Bob hasn’t actually done anything to merit the excess kindness your company, and you, gave him. Everyone hid the fact that he was doing things they knew he wasn’t supposed to be doing. It should have been reported ASAP so someone could have been doing something and he could have been replaced while you were working from home. I wonder what else he was doing to his coworkers to create this level of complicity and silence. Any other bullying/intimidating tactics that the others are being silent about, perhaps?

    However, none of this is your fault. You were dealing with the information you had, when you got it. You were working with a compassionate lean due to the pandemic. I wish your staff had been compassionate enough to give you more honesty earlier.

    1. Bernice Clifton*

      I agree. Bob would rather make a bad situation worse by insulting a person whose JOB it is to correct him than admit any kind of failure on his part. I’m sure Bob has convinced himself that he was fired because everyone was threatened by his greatness.

  30. Becky S*

    It is a serious morale booster to get rid of unproductive employees. Addressing poor performance is something you do for your good employees. They deserve that~

    1. Ashley*

      Yes! Why should I work 8+ hours if co-worker gets away with partial days and not accomplishing anything. Terrible employees that are allowed to continue to be terrible kill morale. (And we can get it takes awhile, but giving employees a peak at it is being addressed can even be helpful.)

  31. StressedButOkay*

    Bob blamed you for getting sick and blamed your boss for daring to be out after the birth of a child. This is a person who will never take personal responsibility for their mistakes and failings – and that is not a burden you should ever carry. Bob was a very good salesman and a conman, who was clearly looking to game the system from day one. Firing someone is hard but needed at times – you did the right now.

    1. Observer*

      Really. This is totally true.

      The comment about the OP’s cancer was so jaw dropping that I think a lot of us overlooked his complaining that the GrandBoss was out after the birth a child. Which makes me wonder about whether, on top of everything else, he was being a SEXIST jerk rather than “just” an all-round nasty piece of work.

  32. The Prettiest Curse*

    Wow, Bob is an arsehole. Don’t feel bad about firing him. I guarantee you that HE doesn’t feel bad about all the ways in which he screwed over you and your team.

    This absolutely isn’t a case in which someone tried their hardest and it just didn’t work out because they weren’t right for the job. This is a case of someone who didn’t want to abide by the conditions of the job from the very beginning.

    OP, I wish you all the best in your continued recovery and in finding someone awesome to replace Bob.

  33. EmpatheticManager*

    OP, I feel your pain. I had a similar situation with an employee who seemed fabulous in the interview, and turned out to be a nightmare. She didn’t do her work most of the time and when she absolutely had to work, the quality was terrible. She wouldn’t prepare for meetings and trainings and would sit there on her phone when she was supposed to be interacting. Her communication skills were nonexistent. She wouldn’t answer questions directly, employed “word salad” to sound good while saying nothing, and ignored emails. And she’d disappear from the office inexplicably for long periods of time. I received nothing but complains about her. Easy to fire this person, right?

    Wrong. She was such a master at gaslighting that she could derail me (an experienced manager) and anyone else I tried to bring in on our conversations. She was always in the right, and everyone else was being unfair and misunderstanding her. She would claim you said something that you never said (at one point I started putting everything in writing, and she still did this). Every failure to meet a deadline was because we were too hard on her or we weren’t clear enough or “it was just a personality conflict.” By the time you walked out of a meeting with her, you felt like you just went crazy because SOMEHOW she turned a straightforward performance meeting into this complex, surreal conversation that left you feeling like the bad guy for expecting basic work.

    I let the situation drag on far too long, and when I finally fired her, I still felt bad about it for months. I believe we don’t talk enough about how managers can actually be gaslit and manipulated by our own employees. Employees like this often have a history of this behavior and have become very, very good at it. As a supervisor, it can mess with your head, but you just have to keep telling yourself the truth until your brain starts to believe it. I’m sorry you went through this situation.

    1. Properlike*

      Oh yes. I’ve met this person in several incarnations. It’s amazing how other people don’t see through them, and how *you* start to feel like you sound crazy trying to get those people to realize what’s actually happening. Few things are more demoralizing when you have a supervisor who believes them over you and blames everything on a “personality conflict” (which, of course, means *you* have to change, not the actual problem employee.) Gee, I seem to still be carrying some baggage around this situation. ;)

  34. Michael Valentine*

    I worked with a Bob who was also a con artist. His name actually was Bob! Shiny resume, slick materials, lots of buzz words in his vocab. And he could not do the job. Completely full of baloney, that guy. Anyway, he left on his own accord a day before his 90 day probation was up. Test periods are amazing, if you don’t have one!

    Also, keep in mind that having an incompetent jerk coworker is so demoralizing for colleagues. My current boss hired one a couple of years ago, and it took 9 months to fire her. Way too long. I could immediately tell this hire was not going to work out, but my boss wouldn’t give up. We still shudder at the thought of that terrible employee.

    1. Rebecca*

      Our Bob was 1.5 YEARS. 18 long months. She asked me 1 hour into her very first day “when can I start taking time off? As it accumulates or do I have to wait?” I said, ask our manager. It went downhill from there. She called in sick 5x in the first 4 weeks, so she missed one full week of work in the first month, handled her personal side business during working hours, arranged her kid’s sports and other schedules, and sometimes found time to do her job, if it suited her. One memorable time, she called in sick and then posted photos on Facebook of her at an airport in another state (yes, it was that day and not just posting as a catchup). She ended up quitting shortly after that when our manager told her she couldn’t take the afternoon off because one of her kids had an evening activity at the school. We were so glad she was gone.

      1. allathian*

        Ouch, that sounds awful!

        Parents like this, who are really awful at their jobs and who use their kids as an excuse to get what they want are only going to make it harder for other parents, and let’s face it, this mostly concerns moms, to get even that little bit of flexibility that makes it a bit easier to combine working and parenting. I bet that if your Bob had been a decent employee, her manager would have been willing to let her take PTO one afternoon for the kid’s evening activity.

        The sick time is tough. On the one hand, people can and do get sick even during their first weeks on the job. On the other, it does look bad if there are a lot of absences. And on the third hand, it’s not good to delve too deeply into when someone has a genuine reason to take time off and when they’re just slacking.

        Arranging the kid’s sports and other schedules should be done during lunch if it has to be done during working hours at all.

        The one absolute no-no in my book would be to handle a personal side business during working hours, especially if you’re hourly.

        But yeah, overall it sounds like good riddance to a bad employee.

  35. Bex*

    OP, speaking as a coworker of a Bob, you shouldn’t feel bad. I and another colleague are incredibly frustrated with our own Bob, and while I haven’t started searching, my colleague has made a few remarks indicating they’re considering it. Keeping Bob on in the name of kindness/etc can lead to you losing all those good employees who don’t require constant monitoring. No company has zero turnover – I mean, even cults have a few people who leave or get booted out! That someone is let go isn’t necessarily a mark against you (and sometimes not the employee either) – it means you’re doing your job when you realize the current person in a role isn’t working out.

  36. BRR*

    I think to a limited degree, it’s ok to feel like a failure. It doesn’t mean you are a failure, you certainly weren’t in this instance. It means you’re human and have compassion. It sucks to see even a terrible person/employee get fired. But you did literally everything you could.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Adding: OP, you have more compassion in your little finger than Bob has in his whole existence.

      My boss broke her back in a fall. I stood on my head helping her with her work during that time. This is what people do for each other. They DON’T frig around and try to pull one (or ten) over on the sick boss. We are talking about a heartless individual who has absolutely no empathy for a fellow human being.

      I can tell you for a fact, I fired someone and I did not worry about it. The person had been given a thousand chances. My boss let Person stay on and on. Meanwhile, I knew the crew was actually SCARED of this person. They were physically afraid for their well-being. I got so ticked that this was going on. This crew was not paid enough to take on this level of risk. I got my ducks in a row, cleared it with management, brought a witness and out the door this person went. And everyone exhaled. No regrets. It was absolutely the right thing to do for the rest of the people in the group. People started smiling again, I could hear them joking with each other, the whole atmosphere changed in a flash.

      Make it a goal not to care more about their jobs than they do. For your own sake.

  37. Seeking Second Childhood*

    As someone who has worked with someone like Bob, let me thank you for firing him.
    It’s a lot of extra work to work with someone who regularly vanishes, does not participate in meetings, is unable to answer questions about projects assigned to them, and finds every opportunity to blame someone/everyone/anyone for their own errors.

  38. OhNoYouDidn't*

    Wringing your hands about Bob is just casting pearls before swine. Shake his dust off your feet and walk on.

  39. D3*

    I think this comment of Alison’s deserves to be highlighted:

    “You can’t be more invested in saving someone’s job than they are!”

    OP, you gave him every chance. Expectations were clear. He just didn’t care enough to do it. Time to release yourself from guilt.

  40. CW*

    If you ask me, Bob sounds like a narcissist.

    It wasn’t your fault at all! You did everything right and gave Bob more chances than most manager would have. You are a great manager and employee. Bob was terrible and somehow tried to pin it on you. Don’t feel bad.

  41. Malarkey01*

    Firing sucks, all around. I think it’s the worst thing managers have to do, and while it never gets exactly easier, with time I think you’ll learn how to make that decision faster- which is good for your team, company, and self.

    One thing I’ve learned is never get into a back and forth with an employee- absolutely raise concerns and really listen to their response and try to talk through solutions together- but when they are arguing the merits (such that you’re going through their resume with them or listening to excuses that’s don’t connect to the work, or having a disagreement about what the job entails) you’re wasting energy and they are showing you an employee that cannot follow your instructions/effectively do their job. When he said he was only entry level and didn’t have the experience (ridiculous and not true but okay), take that and say Bob this job requires x and z if there’s been a misunderstanding about your qualifications I’m sorry but you’re not a fit for the job, DONT try to prove him wrong by going through the resume.

    Your company seems nervous about firing in general, the multiple HR meetings and consulting lawyers for what is pretty clear cut performance, and that may be part of why you feel unsure now. Please take heart that you’re not a failure, this is just one of the things that managers have to do.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, it’s hard to make these decisions without management backing you. As you go along you might be able to coax management to being a little more resilient. You mention a lot of lawsuits. A good thing to do is to have a standard operating procedure with documentation along the way. The lawyer and HR can help put an action plan in writing.

  42. Bookworm*

    As someone who hasn’t quite in a situation like this (!!!) but have felt unfairly punished or upset because my contract wasn’t renewed for asinine reasons, etc. it really sounds like you went above and beyond to work with him. Some people sound really great on paper, may interview well, etc. but they actually aren’t OR they think because they’ve already “done the work” (ie Bob’s 15 years) the rules don’t apply to him, etc.

    You tried, OP. It sounds like your org tried. I’d personally appreciate someone who was willing to go so far to work with me but in the end it clearly wasn’t a good fit and it wasn’t because you didn’t try. This is not on you, OP and I’m sorry you went through ALL of that.

  43. Kahunabob*

    OP, as a lot of folks already told you, this isn’t something to blame yourself for. Dude had all the opportunity to either ask for help, get better or be honest. Yet from day one he chose only the easiest, laziest aproach.

    Sometimes a bad apple is just that, a bad apple. Learn from it. Maybe discuss it with your team, treat it like a learning experience for everyone. Promote a work space where people will speak up if the team or the individual is impacted without feeling like either a snitch or being judged in some way.

    More importantly: it reads like you’re on the road to kicking cancer in the spleen something fierce! Congrats! Having a couple of close family members dealing with that disease it’s always good to know that people are fighting back. Sending good vibes and hoping you’ll be diagnosed cancer free / in remission (non-native speaker: what’s the correct English term here?) as soon as possible.

  44. Hazel Tunney*

    No more feeling bad….

    Blow up three balloons. Write B, O, and B on them. Then pop them one at a time. Say “(curse) you, Bob” each time.

    Then breathe and move on.

    You sound awesome, btw!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        That’s 12 balloons. Have some aspirin handy for the headache that follows.

    1. James*

      I’m not a huge fan. This is a curse, when what you want is a banishment. Leaving aside the religious connotations, this is giving Bob too much real-estate in your head. The issue isn’t Bob–he’ll get what he deserves–it’s the LW’s emotions towards Bob, and even more specifically the LW’s emotions towards the act of firing Bob.

      Maybe take a candle, write the issues with Bob (lateness, gaslighting, lying, etc), and burn it, consciously trying to let go of these issues as they melt and burn away.

      Alternatively: Write a letter to Bob on seed paper (such as here: https://botanicalpaperworks.com/catalog/seed-paper/8-5×11/). Then bury it. Writing a letter you don’t send is a common method for dealing with emotional distress, and planting it would allow it to transform–in a literal sense–into something good. Bonus points if you can find a native wildflower blend, as that would also help local wildlife!

  45. Batgirl*

    This is just what happens with compulsive liars. The problem is that they tend to be outliers, and the actual correct course of action is usually to give people benefit of the doubt etc, coaching, time to improve etc. It’s not your fault OP, that Bob isn’t the standard issue person who is usually due a break, that you thought he was. Then there’s the things that probably are genuine, like his palpable misery at not being able to knock off early. Good humans respond to things like strong emotions in others and give whatever leeway they can and self assess the expectations causing the misery. Which distracts from the main issue which is that Bob spinning whatever story he wants to get whatever he wants. It’s always so much easier in hindsight! The only thing you can really do to avoid another Bob is to speak with managers personally and get an idea of character when checking references; and not even that will always catch a really good liar.

  46. Kaiko*

    OP, don’t let perfectionism get you down. You didn’t fail at hiring; you made a good choice to hire someone who interviewed well and came with an appealing background; you made another good choice to let him go when it became clear that he either couldn’t or wouldn’t do the job he was in.

  47. CCSF*

    As others have said, PLEASE extend yourself some grace. What would you say to your partner, child, coworker, friend if they were in a similar situation? Say that TO YOURSELF. <3

    Signed, a fellow working cancer patient

  48. LongTimeReader*

    What happened with Bob is 100% not your fault. He was deceitful and never really wanted to do the work he was hired to do.

    However, one thing you could do to potentially feel more confident in your new hires going forward is ask your team what they think a new hire should know about your work that may not be super clear in the job description. You could also bring your staff into the interview process so you have other perspectives!

  49. James*

    One ting that was hard for me to learn is that as a manager, your first responsibility is not to your team members, it’s to the company. Ideally you assist the company by putting your team members first–happy team members are productive team members, after all! But sometimes you have to do things that aren’t in the immediate short-term best interest of the team. You have to ask them to work weekends, or to work early/late. You have to add responsibilities to their plates, or take them away. Sometimes you have to fire someone. The important thing to remember is that while this may hurt one person, it’s in the long-term best interest of everyone else. That’s particularly true in this case!

    Another thing to remember: Bad behavior that goes unpunished spreads. Why should I work late if Bob doesn’t? Why should I go to work when I’d rather be home? Bob leaves whenever he wants! Every organization has great workers and worse ones, unless it’s an organization of one (and there you have good days and bad days). Your worse employees will start copying Bob, and your better ones will become resentful. This leads to factions, a total dissolution of team loyalty, and eventually everyone leaves. The good ones jump ship first, and the rest either jump ship or get fired.

    Can you tell I’ve seen this a time or two? :D

    You made the right call. It was a hard call, but that’s why they pay us the medium bucks (as my boss likes to say).

    1. Flying Fish*

      “that’s why they pay us the medium bucks”

      This is fantastic, I’m going to borrow this!

        1. James*

          Not so much in my case. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to make more! But I acknowledge that I’m actually paid pretty well. At the bottom of the pay scale for my current role, but I’m in sort of a probationary period in that role, so that makes sense; they’re dangling that raise as a carrot right now. But I’m comfortable, have a good house, a good family, and can afford to do the things I want to do.

          I do not presume to speak for anyone else, of course.

  50. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

    I think you did do something wrong, but not to Bob. That jerk dug his own grave. You let the rest of your team down by giving him so many unwarranted chances. He was a glass bowl who was only going to be a glass bowl. Don’t let him do a number on your head!

  51. learnedthehardway*

    OP, PLEASE do not blame yourself. Bob was “all sizzle and no steak” – a candidate who looks and sounds great, seems to have all the pieces, and then completely bombs in the role. It happens. And some people are amazing at presenting themselves – and do so on purpose, knowing they have no real intention of doing the heavy lifting in the role. They’re basically frauds/con artists.

    If you ask me, you handled everything very, very well. You would have seen Bob for what he was sooner, had you not been ill. He took advantage of that, which is deplorable of him.

    Anyway, this was Bob’s failure, not yours.

  52. Greg C.*

    “It was my fault for getting sick (because I eat meat and sugar and according to him both cause cancer!)” . I would have fired him right then and there for that statement alone never mind all the other issues.

    1. Observer*

      Either that or when he complained that GrandBoss took off a few weeks after the birth of her child.

      But, they did fire him at the end of this meeting, so I think reasonably responsive.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      “Any further personal comments of that nature will culminate in a write up. Don’t ever say that again about anyone, it’s not appropriate in a workplace.”

  53. Hemingway*

    The only problem I see here OP is that you spent a lot of energy on something that you shouldn’t have. Going through his resume line by line is one example. He clearly was lying, gaslighting, and not working at that point, it’s good to know that people like that don’t care about reasons, they are doing what they want.

    I also have felt guilty about someone not working out. They blamed it on me, and I know what he said wasn’t true, but it did hurt my feelings.

  54. retired*

    This was very helpful. I’m suddenly working with a Bob and am considering going to his boss,

  55. Volunteer Enforcer*

    In my opinion there are people who can interview great and do shoddily at the job. Bob is an obvious example of this.

  56. Observer*

    Either that or when he complained that GrandBoss took off a few weeks after the birth of her child.

    But, they did fire him at the end of this meeting, so I think reasonably responsive.

  57. hbc*

    “I feel like somehow I failed. I failed in interviewing him. I failed in not catching the fact that he wasn’t working, that he wasn’t pulling his weight in the department. I just feel like such a failure.”

    I’m firmly of the belief that a person can’t be a failure. It is an incomplete sentence, no matter what a grammarian may say. Okay, maybe it’s short-hand, but there is always some implied thing that the person failed *to* do–something incomplete, something concrete that wasn’t done.

    For example, you didn’t “fail in interviewing him.” You failed *to* spot signs of future problems in his interview. Pick apart what that means–were there signs you missed? Did anyone else see problems? Is it just that an interview is an imperfect predictor of a person’s work habits? Is there something you can do better next time?

    You are going to fail to do a lot of things perfectly. The biggest failure of all of the possible failures would be to declare yourself a lost cause and not grow from the experience.

  58. InTheTumbleWeeds*

    You don’t need to hear it again, because it’s been said six ways to Sunday in the comments, but they’re 100% correct. This is entirely on Bob. What people show in interviews is only a small part of themselves and sometimes it works out – and sometimes it doesn’t. He veered off path and you did everything you could to steer him back, but he made the choice to take it in the direction it ended.

    My small group ended up with a new salaried employee in 2019 who was charming in the interview, talked the talk, had years of experience in the industry, and although this position was a step down but still adjacent to his previous position and his training for this particular role was outdated, he was enthusiastic about the change and challenge. He also ended up being a Bob.

    On a good week he worked 35 hours while we routinely worked 45+, would go home hours early even when he was needed, lied about where he was or the progress he made on a project and made no attempt to get the required training for a severely lacking skillset , all while spending hours attending meetings our departments presence was not required in. He was well liked, fit seamlessly into the “good ole’ boys club” and had people believing he was the dept lead (he was not) so local folks thought things were fine (our groups management is in another state). His personal philosophy was that work was just some place that paid for, but should not interfere with his personal life (his words). Despite our best efforts, six months in he was still completely unreliable and minimally trained. COVID hit, budgets were cut and he was one of many that were laid off. We’ve been without an individual in that position for a year now and while it’s extra work for my co-worker we’re better off.

    Sometimes you get a polished gem, sometimes a diamond in the rough that needs a little polishing and sometimes you get a painted rock that will only ever be a rock. Unfortunately there’s no way to know without actually hiring someone and giving them a chance to prove themselves.

  59. Josh S*

    Here’s how to think about it so you can get over the feel-bad of it: You didn’t fire Bob–Bob fired himself. You just formalized the decision he had already made via his actions.

    Truly, you gave him more than enough opportunities to succeed. He repeatedly chose not to take them. That’s not a reflection on you, it’s a reflection on him.

    If anything, you did the right job hiring. You got someone who met the qualifications and who everyone was excited to have on the team. The biggest thing, IMO, is to be more attentive when people “opt-out.” When they ‘fire themselves’ by refusing to do what the job requires, that’s what they’re doing.

    Obviously you don’t want to be cruel, especially in a pandemic. You don’t jump straight to “fire the person” because of a screw up, or a single instance or short-term pattern (if it is out of character). But it’s a good prompting to say, “Hey! Somethings different. Are you okay because you’re not doing X, which is an expected part of the job!”

    And if that continues, they’re just confirming they don’t want the job anymore. PIP and eventual firing is just formalized notice of what they’re already doing by their actions.

    1. twocents*

      Yep! Some people just fire themselves. If Bob gaf about keeping the job, then he clearly didn’t care enough to take the barest minimum effort to try.

      I mean, who tf shows up at work on day 1 thinking they can switch an 8 hour day to a 6 hour one instead?

  60. Grig Larson*

    I have really only had to fire a handful of people over three decades. Each time it was either inexcusable to the extreme (usually job abandonment) or some kind of HR process in a few cases, where constant and vigilant documentation, signed warnings, or PIPs were put into place. This person definitely crossed into the latter.

    The closest I ever came to enjoying a termination was when I had to fire an employee for outright cash theft, after a long series of documented warnings about other fireable offenses, from falsifying paperwork to lying to clients about deliverability. I think this guy had a problem with pathological lying, but I was not in a place to provide his therapy. He continued to lie, by the way, after her left. He listed me as a reference (why????) and outright about his work, from the title he had to awards he supposedly won. I really felt bad for someone who was that out of step with reality. I have never really enjoyed terminating someone, and a few I had to fire or lay off for reasons out of my control. It’s not just I don’t want to be the bad guy, but when you let someone go, that means you have to re-interview, re-hire, re-rain, and it’s a huge hassle.

  61. Canadian Yankee*

    When I was in grad school, I was a laboratory teaching assistant and it actually took me a couple of semesters to get over having to give people bad grades when they handed in bad work. It was really a mental switch I had to push to realize that I wasn’t “giving a student a bad grade,” really what was happening was “the student earned a bad grade.”

    It’s the same thing here: you did not “fire Bob”. Instead, “Bob earned a termination.” Not only did he earn that termination, he worked *really* hard to earn that termination.

    1. irene adler*

      Betting you are correct.
      A clown like that gets hired. Not me though, even after 5 years of interviewing.

  62. Working Hypothesis*

    OP, I’m going to be frank here. I do think you screwed up. But not in the way you seem to believe that you screwed up. Not at all.

    Your mistake was keeping Bob nearly as long as you did. He was already showing extensive signs of really bad behavior before you got sick; I would argue that you should have been at least considering firing him already by that time. At very minimum, I think you had enough evidence that Bob was a problem to know that, when you had to switch to work-from-home because you were ill, you were going to need to leave somebody in the office on very EXPLICIT Bob-watch duty, with literal instructions to keep you informed of when he arrived, when he left, and anything remotely problematic they saw him do in between. That was information you really needed! Because I’m honestly surprised that the behavior your team eventually reported to you didn’t cause you to lose at least one good team member in that period, simply because they refused to deal with Bob’s BS for one more day.

    That is probably the harshest judgment you’re going to see from anyone in this comment thread and it STILL doesn’t make you a failure!! It just means that you were a manager who made an extremely common managerial mistake: you went too far to protect a bad apple and didn’t go far enough to protect the rest of the barrel from him. Over and over and over again here on AAM, we see people writing in with questions about how to handle a coworker like Bob when their manager is refusing to fire him.

    It’s bad, but it’s also the kind of thing that basically good managers do often because their instincts are to be kind — and it’s much, much easier to notice whether or not you’re being kind to the person in front of you at the moment than it is to notice whether you’re being kind to all the people you’re not thinking about just then, but whose lives the person in front of you is affecting.

    Add to all of that the fact that you were trying to do most of this while I’m treatment for cancer? You get a pass. Really. It was a mistake, that’s all. Managers — and everyone else — make mistakes at work. You wouldn’t declare one of your team to be a failure for making a single mistake; you’d just teach them how to do it right next time. Give yourself some of the same latitude!!

    Learn from this: you need to be much quicker to fire willful assholes in future or you’re going to lose good team members. This time, you got away with it and eventually you fixed the issue. But you’re really not a failure or anything of the kind for making a single error… and none of the things you actually *said* were making you feel like a failure were even errors in the first place!! Write them off, learn to take quicker steps when you have to, and move on.

    Best wishes, and I hope the cancer is gone for good!

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      Nicely put. This is great constructive criticism.

      I am betting the pandemic, along with the stress of her health issues, made the LW question her decisions more than she might have in normal times, but this is a good lesson for any manager.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        I bet you’re right. And also, pretty clearly, the OP was not at their best during cancer treatment because nobody on the planet would be… and so, while trying to work through serious illness and treatment that probably felt even worse than the disease, they weren’t quite so on the ball as to chase down detailed information about what Bob was up to on their own initiative, while their team members were telling them that everything was okay.

        This is totally understandable and I’m sure that under normal circumstances, they’re much too conscientious about details to miss something like that for so long even if they were hearing generally reassuring messages. As somebody said above, teams don’t get this protective of bad bosses, so obviously, OP is a manager they think very highly of, in addition to everything we have already seen from the way they speak of their own work. They’re good at what they do, and they probably would have already done most of the things they messed up here better if they weren’t trying to work through cancer treatment, which an AWFUL lot of people are totally incapable of doing *at all*.

        But since I’m not 100% positive *which* pieces they’d have gotten right if they hadn’t been trying to work through cancer treatment and which pieces were the result of this being the first time they’ve had to manage a full-scale catastrophic Bob before, I tried to talk through everything I could see that might have been properly on them to do differently.

        OP, you’re not merely not a failure, you’re clearly very good at your work. Everything from the way you analyze your own actions to the way your team stayed cohesive and loyal even through a pretty trying time says so. Whatever bits and pieces you need to learn in order to do this better the next time a Bobnado strikes your region of the professional world, you’ll learn. You’ll handle it better next time. You didn’t handle it terribly this time, just took a bit longer to fully process the situation than you should have.

        You’ll be just fine. And the people who work for you will be, I suspect, very fortunate indeed.

    2. it's me*

      Good comment. Yeah, if anything I’m surprised your company gave him as many chances as it did!

  63. irene adler*

    Gosh, from the narrative, Bob had plenty of opportunity to turn this around and avoid being terminated.
    LW, please, get off YOUR back. You did what was necessary(firing Bob). It’s all on him.

    Instead of thinking about Bob and your feelings regarding his termination, think about the 5 good employees who kept things going while you dealt with Bob and other issues. They deserve recognition. They are your 5 success stories.

  64. NicoleK*

    OP, I applaud you for making the difficult decision to fire Bob. Too often managers/companies will keep people on who can’t or won’t do their jobs. And it really drains morale on a team.

  65. Atlantic Beach Pie*

    I have hired a couple of Bobs over the years. I work in a field where charisma is very important (sales) and charismatic people tend to do well in interviews. In one case, Bob completely misrepresented his experience and accomplishments in the interview, or in other words, LIED. He turned out to be a sociopath (I have a restraining order against him). When I got to fire him, I was so happy I took the next day off to go to an amusement park and celebrate.

    In another case, Bobby was on a PIP and on the verge of being terminated when he got a new job that was a big promotion. He openly bragged to his colleagues that he told his new job that he exceeded his goals by 60%. In reality, he wasn’t even at 50% of his expected output a year in and spent most of his time trying to interfere in other team’s projects. He arrived at the 160% by combining the results of other people’s work and measuring it against his own goal number. Bobby was so out of it, though, that I’m not even sure that he realized that he wasn’t doing a good job, despite being told so in multiple verbal and written warnings and in no uncertain terms.

  66. Sparkles McFadden*

    LW, you did everything right. You didn’t arbitrarily fire Bob. Bob fired himself by not doing the job. Please reframe this situation as something you needed to do for the good of your team and the company.

    I have seen more than my share of Bobs in my career. They make people feel sorry for them and cast blame on everyone else. I had one guy who did nothing outlined on his PIP literally cry and ask: “Why are you doing this to me? Why do you hate me?” …and my boss said “Do we have to get rid of him? He’s so upset. I don’t want to fire someone who is this emotional.” (What?) When the HR rep asked why he didn’t do anything on his PIP, he claimed he’d never been trained (he was there for eight years before I got there) and said I chose tasks he didn’t know how to do (they were entry-level tasks anyone could do by following written instructions). That might have stuck if he hadn’t said “No one fired me the other times I was on warning and I didn’t do what they said, so you can’t fire me now.” I believe my boss and I (the boss was newer than I was) said “Uh…what?” It turns out the PIP used to happen every year with the prior manager and she just never followed up, so the guy pretty much hung out for years getting paid for not doing much of anything.

    Some bosses never want to do the hard work of firing someone, and everyone around that person suffers. You did something that needed to be done.

  67. AK*

    Am I the only one thinking he didn’t lie about being an entry level employee at this stage? As in, I wonder if he lied about the experience he did have, used someone else’s resume etc.?

    Regardless, Bob is an ass. And one you couldn’t save no matter how hard you tried. There is a 100% chance that he would have just gotten even worse with time if you hadn’t fired him. Stop thinking of this as failing your people for not keeping him on, and start thinking of it as saving your people by firing him.

  68. Health Insurance Nerd*

    Bad hires happen to the best of managers- some people are so incredibly great at interviewing, and end up being the total opposite of who they were in the interview(s) when it comes to time actually do the work. LW, you know this, but Bob’s failings were in no way your fault, and you were more accommodating than many other managers would have been. Of course you feel terrible about firing someone, that fact that you walked away from that experience STILL feeling badly after all the BS that jackhole pulled just means that you are a good and decent person!

  69. J.E.*

    I wonder why Bob even applied for the job if he claims to not have experience for specific tasks? Did Bob’s references have good things to say about him? I just wonder how/why his resume aligned with his current position and he had such a good interview to turn out to be a less than stellar employee.

    1. twocents*

      I wonder if they lied because they just wanted Bob out of their hair, and saw an easy path to that.

    2. RickT*

      Bob’s references probably gave the “you will be lucky to get Bob to work . . . . . . . . . . for you” type of reference. Everything was in the inflection, nothing in writing because Bob is probably a walking lawsuit waiting for an excuse to be filed.

      People like that don’t ghost on one job, they ghost at every job as soon as they think they can get away with it. OP going out for chemo was golden opportunity for him to avoid working for months.

  70. Tired of Covid-and People*

    OP, BOB was an actor and faker. This was not the first job he didn’t perform on after acing the application process. Some people just know how to play the game. Institute a 90 day or longer probation period for new hires, BOB may not be able to fake it for this long. Don’t beat up on yourself, and perhaps be willing to consider a less-than-perfect candidate, they might fool you! Good luck.

  71. Anonosaurus*

    Bob’s main skill sounds like making everything bad that happens to him someone else’s fault.
    He seems quite accomplished at this.
    Don’t let him do this to you.
    Reviewing your company’s hiring and referencing procedures is a constructive approach. Going over every single decision you made about Bob is not.
    I think you should put Bob on a mental rocket and fire him the hell out of your head. If only you could drop kick him into the sun for real.

  72. Bob*

    I’m a fellow Bob and i say he had to go.

    It is hard to fire someone becasue you do seem to care about people and want them to succeed. But in any relationship one person giving 100% is no substitute for two people giving 50%.
    He wanted to act like an entitled, spoiled brat.

    This does not work in a business situation, he is not 5 years old and you are not his parents. If he cannot abide by simple employment requirements then he has forfeited any moral authority in the matter.

    He was pushing your boundaries to see what he could get away with and then lashed out when you called him on it. You cannot fix people, you can only give them chances and consequences. You didn’t fire him the first day in a fit of rage, you gave him countless chances and tried to accommodate his brattiness as best you could, far beyond what most employers would do. In the end he would rather be fired then conform to very reasonable conditions of employment. And that is what happened.

  73. LizM*

    “It is not your obligation to work harder than they are to make a situation work. ”

    As someone who has gone through a very similar situation, this is a good reminder.

  74. it's me*

    None of this was remotely your fault. This guy had a whooooole lot of other stuff going on that you wouldn’t be able to even do anything about.

  75. Tara*

    I know this isn’t the boss’ POV from when another Bob’s wife wrote in saying about how her husband was slacking, but wow it kind of feels like it. I wonder how she feels reading this post, seems like a grim crystal ball.

  76. Calyx Teren*

    Bob’s ex-manager: Sales reps say there are two winning companies in any sale: the one that wins the deal, and the one that pulls out of the pipeline fastest. In other words, don’t waste time and money on sunk costs.

    This is a hard lesson as a people manager, and I echo all of Alison’s comments about taking it very seriously, recognizing the impact on people’s lives, etc. I learned the lesson the same way you did, by giving the first person WAY too many chances. To have a great team you have got to keep the good people (win the deal) and get rid of toxic people as fast as you possibly can (exit the pipeline first).

    You knew in your gut long ago that Bob wasn’t going to work out. Next time, after you do the first serious work to try to fix the situation and it becomes clear the person is not interested in being a good employee, get them out of the pipeline. Otherwise they will poison your team. Frankly, you’re lucky your team stayed engaged and tried to help, instead of not saying anything and being quietly demoralized or quitting because a worthless coworker (not worthless as a person, just as a coworker) was getting paid the same as them despite lazing around, taking up your bandwidth, and hurting the business. You should be spending the most time with your top performers, not your “needs improvement” people. Any time that’s not true, ask why.

    People management is an incredible thrill and you get to do so much for businesses and individuals. Don’t sweat the learning process, we all go through it. “Experience is what you get right after you need it.”

  77. DonnaMartinGraduates!*

    “…you sound like you’re quite generous with others. Extend that generosity to yourself too!”

    This is an important take-away from Alison’s most excellent advice. So many people strive to be the best and fairest person they can be, but are often way too hard on themselves.

    Be kind to yourself, too, OP! Don’t beat yourself up about things too much. You sound like an amazing manager. Please don’t second-guess yourself just because you had to sack a crummy employee.

  78. X-Man*

    I actually chuckled at him saying this was your fault for hiring him when he couldn’t do it. “Why would you hire me!? I suck!” Oh Bob.

  79. singlemaltgirl*

    i have terminated just under a dozen people over the course of my 20 year career in different industries. it has never gotten easier for me and i feel every single one acutely, for the reason alison states – it’s their income, their rent, their family’s security, food on their table, and for many people, including myself, inextricably tied to our self esteem and worth. it’s not something to be taken lightly. i remember every termination. i know that in just about every case, i used every tool in my manager’s tool box to help them. alison’s advice about you being more invested in their job security than they are rung so true. i’ve been that person, too – trying for them when they didn’t appear to be trying at all or they were actively undermining the process and opportunities to support them.

    i have to say, after every dismissal, it made the agency/company better and improved staff morale and/or productivity. and i had the ability to spend time on work instead of all my time managing an employee. i sometimes feel guilty for not making the decision sooner. I’ve never regretted a dismissal but I have regretted having to do it.

    on the hiring side, most of the people i’ve had to let go, i inherited and they were disinclined to change even though it was clear i was brought in to undergo major change management. b/c i know change is hard, i try more to help bring people around and sometimes it’s led to really great success and employee growth and accomplishment. But sometimes, i just can’t will it and manage it to happen. there’s only been a couple where i’ve hired and really called it wrong. in both cases, they lied through the interview process and their references were ‘friends’ as well as past supervisors/managers which i didn’t know at the time.

  80. cncx*

    Late to the game and this is totally tangential to the fact that Bob is probably a narcissist and has way bigger issues than this but still relevant- twice in my career i have seen people get rightfully fired for coverage issues. One was hired to work 3-11 and always had a reason to come in late or leave early; and another was responsible for covering the phones and just like Bob, negotiated fifteen minutes to officially 4:45 but complained daily and repeatedly when they couldn’t leave at 3:45. There are so many jobs where butt in chair is a thing of the past, but also jobs, especially in international teams, where coverage is part of the job even when it is slow. I work in a job where coverage is a core part of my job description even if that means i’m drinking coffee and reading AAM in the morning. And it’s also completely normal for bosses to pick up weekends with the understanding the rest of us will kick in during the week, just like OP did. I’m especially burnt by my 3:45 Bob so this is my hill to die on- sometimes coverage *IS* your job even if you’re twiddling your thumbs.

  81. Sun Tzu*

    And this, ladies and gentlemen of HR, is how shining at a job interview does not mean shining at the job.

  82. OP 382021*

    Hello everyone
    Letter Writer here. I wanted to thank everybody for the feedback. Lots of things that I know to do in the future, lots of things I should’ve noticed that were going on while they were going on, and while I have thanked my team repeatedly for trying to keep the lights on and trying not to stress me out with what was going on with Bob while I was in chemo, I have told them that should this ever happen again to please let me know. I could have escalated this to my direct boss, I could have escalated this to my CIO. I will certainly be careful as I start interviewing for the open position, and I will try not to be quite so hard on myself.

    I am still going through all of the awesome comments! Thank you all so very much!!

    1. Finland*

      I haven’t said much of anything in the comments until now, but one thing I’d like to add (that I hope isn’t repetition) is to not only have grace and mercy on yourself when you see that things could have been better, but to allow yourself to grieve for the response you wish you had.

      I think sometimes (myself included) people get so bogged down in perfectionism that instead of using the circumstances to learn and to do better next time, people use mistakes as excuse for self-punishment. I don’t know why we do this as human beings, but I just finished reading a Captain Awkward post from the archives (2015, I believe) where she said something along the lines of giving yourself a moment, maybe a week, to grieve for the thing you wish had happened, or to grieve for the person you hoped Bob might have been. After that, once you allowed yourself to grieve, don’t wallow. Instead, use that sense of disappoint and guilt to motivate yourself to do better.

      Like some others have mentioned, do a post-mortem on the situation and find out where the cracks are in your process that allowed Bob to not only get hired, but to remain as long as he did. That will give you so much confidence and self-esteem for the next time a situation like this arises, and you will be lightning fast at addressing it. Wallowing in misery is only going to make you want to check out when you most need to be checked in.

  83. Raida*

    One thing I’d add would be here:
    [As for failing because you didn’t catch that Bob wasn’t pulling his weight: You were dealing with cancer and chemo.]
    Your other staff took responsibility for him not doing his job and hid these issues from you. This is something for you to address – it is your job to make decisions in regards to staff. They weren’t trying to help out their mate Bob who was having a hard time getting his work done – they were hiding issues because they decided you couldn’t or shouldn’t handle the pressure.

    Clear up that with the staff – you can’t do your job without this information, you expect that information to not be covered up in the future. Do they think you would just allow Bob’s behaviour? If not, why did they take the burden and give him a free ride?

  84. Dawn*

    LW, I feel for you. Last year, in 2019, I was part of a hiring committee who hired (and, as part of my role, I personally recommended hiring) our own “Bob.”

    I am a teacher and teacher-leader on a three-person team at a small school in an economically disadvantaged rural community. Along with my colleague on my team and my principal, I served on the hiring committee for the science position on our team. We interviewed “Roberta” and LOVED her. Interview was great, and she drove for hours to come see the school. She had amazing experience, working exclusively with kids from disadvantaged backgrounds similar to ours. That was our biggest concern: our kids bring a lot of challenging life circumstances and trauma, and their behavior often reflects the tough hand they’ve been dealt in life, and we sometimes get teachers from wealthier districts who, despite impressive experience, really have no idea how to deal with this. This was a large part why the previous teacher was leaving. I also connected personally with her and, as the team leader, really made an effort to welcome her to the school and community. She was also assigned as her homeroom class probably the easiest class in the school. When I offered them the chance to go with a teacher they knew–we keep students for multiple years–their response was that “We’ve welcomed new teachers before and can do so again”–which in retrospect was heartbreaking.

    My colleague and I were so excited about her, we asked our principal if we could hire her on the spot. He did insist we complete the whole process! But this was how excited we were to have her.

    At first, everything was fine. Then the wheels started to wobble a little. She was from a state with a culture very different from ours, so I tried to coach her through some of the mismatches and in general. She was open to these ideas though I didn’t often see much change in her practice.

    Then the absences started. I’m very much in support of people taking time when they’re sick, especially teachers, who often push through being sick because it’s so difficult to plan for a sub and then miss valuable instructional days with kids. But in no time at all, she was missing at least a day each week, which on a three-person team that does *everything* that needs doing for our team was rough, especially when those absences started to sound more like excuses. (Like a snowy driveway in an area where we get FEET of snow each month.)

    Then I started to notice small issues where I’d given her clear directions being ignored. For example, she’d often prop open her outside classroom door–clearly a safety issue as anyone on the street could gain access to the school through that open door. When I brought it up, she told me school shootings didn’t happen in communities like ours. (Actually, in my three years there, I had two students with restraining orders against parents.) Having no supervisory authority, I finally had to go to my principal but nothing changed.

    Same with sub plans. She just … didn’t write them. She’d call out and leave the poor sub with nothing to do for the day with the kids. Or she’d write them on a sticky note … yes, *A* sticky note. The work was rarely enough to keep the kids occupied. We have trouble finding and keeping substitute teachers as it is; things like this don’t help.

    The turning point came when there was a major incident while she was on recess duty. She didn’t see the student who did it. She came to me–remember, this supposedly experienced teacher who’d worked in tough schools before–in hysterics, and when I told her she needed to get the behavior person to help, started shouting at me because *her* plan was to isolate the kids Lord-of-the-Flies style on the soccerfield until they decided who would be the fall guy.

    Then the abuse of the students started. She told a young man coping with family incarceration that she hated him because he jumped up in the air to touch the ceiling and fell when he landed. A colleague who worked next door could hear her screaming at them daily. My sweet students who’d been so glad to be her homeroom started coming to my class agitated and upset every day. I loved and trusted these kids. They were not lying to me. This is when I knew she had to go. My colleague and I–who’d been so excited to hire her–went to our principal and asked when he would make a decision about renewing her contract, making clear that we thought he should not. I never thought I’d advocate for a colleague to lose her job, but when you abuse your already traumatized students? Yeah, you can buzz off.

    Finally, she used up all her leave–we get good benefits, but not a day-per-week brand-new–and was offered the old resign-or-be-fired choice, and she chose to resign. The rest of the year–before we went remote due to covid–those of us left behind spent trying to heal the students she terrorized.

    Talk about guilt! Being so excited for this person to join our team who later terrorized my beloved students. There were a lot of introspective conversations in the months following her departure, among my colleague and principal and me: Where did we go wrong? What red flags did we miss? With the benefit of hindsight, of course, things I noticed that didn’t seem so troubling at the time *felt* like red flags … but I think it’s important to realize that, if we excluded or let go of everyone who made an occasional mistake, we’d never be able to retain anyone in the position. None of us are perfect, and I think we did right in working to coach her through her struggles, even if that coaching never bore fruit. Still, she got to the point where she hurt kids. What could we have done better??

    Am I regretful? Heck yeah. Did I learn from the experience and are there things I do differently when sitting on hiring committees now?? HECK yeah! But ultimately it was Roberta who decided to take a job with children when she was not emotionally prepared to actually fulfill her duties. I’ve come to understand where the lion’s share of the blame lies: with Roberta.

    LW, I hope you reach the point where you can do the same.

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