my employee barely speaks to me

A reader writes:

I manage two wonderful employees who share an office next to mine. One of my employees (we’ll call him Neal) is very outgoing and friendly. We have some similar views on life (politics, child-rearing, etc) and talk easily and often.

My other employee (we’ll call her Beth) is wonderful at her job but rarely says a complete sentence to me. She’s introverted and quiet, doesn’t participate in company events, and eats lunch an hour later than the rest of the office to be alone. I try not to take her introversion personally, but can’t help but be aware that she is on friendly terms with Neal and other people in the office. She doesn’t talk often, but she does talk – and even laugh – with them. I’ve been her manager now for almost two years, and I think I could fit everything she’s said to me on one typed sheet.

She actively seems uncomfortable if I walk into the office to talk to her if it’s anything more than “hey, did you get that invoice?” She emails me even though we work next door to each other. I’m not confident I’d know if she were encountering a problem in her work.

I’m not aware that we’ve had any encounters that might have led to her not wishing to talk to me. I’ve wracked my brain trying to find a reason. When she and I went over her last employee evaluation, I suggested that we add a goal of her updating me once a month on her work so that I’d be in the loop, but that has not happened and I haven’t pushed the issue. I had no concerns with the quality of her work then nor now, and I made sure she knew that. It might simply be the boss-employee relationship itself that’s putting up a barrier between us.

Technically we can continue like this indefinitely, but when I have one employee poking his head in to say good night and chat for a second at the end of the day and one rushing out before I can say so much as good night, it’s hard not to be a little hurt and concerned by the contrast. We are about to go through some big changes this summer as we are replacing the software we use with a new product. We are going to have to communicate about this as both Neal and Beth will need extensive training.

Do you have any advice? I want to be a good manager to her, but I feel like I can’t connect with this employee on any level and I’m stumped. I’ve been in many management positions and never run into a problem like this.

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

{ 212 comments… read them below }

  1. The Rural Juror*

    It’s amazing how different letters can be from day to day on AAM! This LW is dealing with a situation so incredibly opposite of the LW who had an employee who wouldn’t leave them alone and needed constant reassurance.

    1. Raven*

      Or a lot of similar letters, yeah — this employee is not singing, making bodily noises, playing offensive music, arguing about politics, pushing an MLM, or anything else that letter-writers here normally deal with. This is almost refreshing! (but not for the question asker, LOL)

    2. Chilipepper Attitude*

      Or what if the letter writer who felt they were too quiet is the employee of this letter writer!? Obv not, but they almost could be.

  2. AJ*

    I did this with one of my previous managers and it was mostly because our personalities really conflicted. I didn’t have anything against my manager personally, I just was put off by their management style (especially after this last year of chaos). You could try doing a work life balance check in with them to see if there’s anything overall outside of just your relationship with them that could be cause. But outside of that, continue to give this person their space. If they are putting up boundaries and still doing a good job, no reason to not to trust they aren’t doing what is best for them.

    1. Elle Jones*

      I second this comment. It might well be the political conversations she overhears between the boss and the other employee. I don’t think that’s a camaraderie-building topic for the office. Just let her do her job if she’s doing it well.

      1. Lacey*

        Yup! I have a boss who loves talking politics in the office and I do not! I try to be very friendly in our conversations about the weather. Because that’s as much as I want to discuss!

      2. Just Another Zebra*

        This is such a good point. I work in an office that is predominantly “opposite political party” to my own beliefs. I don’t participate in these conversations when I walk through them, or they start around me, because that’s not really what work is for.

      3. Quiet Liberal*

        This is me! I’m the only person working from home and this is the main reason I hope to stay here. I generally kept a low profile when in the office because it was hard to stomach all the political talk. I do like my coworkers otherwise.

      4. just passing through*

        Worth noting that this is true even if Beth broadly shares your beliefs! Personally, for me, discussing hot-button issues requires a lot of emotional energy and focus, and being around people who were regularly discussing how X law will impact Y situation or why Z senator is failing to do their job properly–even if I agree that Y situation needs to be remedied or that Z senator is the worst–would be very distracting and draining. And it would be even harder for me to ask people to cut it out if I did agree with their point of view than if I didn’t, because I’d be afraid they thought I was defending Z senator or dismissing the importance of Y situation. But it would impede my concentration on work.

        Worth bearing in mind. Of course there are issues that could be considered “political” that need to be discussed and taken seriously precisely because it’s a workplace–e.g. if you’re addressing how to listen to women and minorities in your workplace.

        1. Aquitane*

          I was recently in a social-ish meeting where a couple team members talked about how they don’t understand why people crate train their dogs. I spoke up and I think we had a really productive conversation about how different dog environments mean different dog needs, etc, but it definitely was an awkward encounter at first. And I’m a very extroverted person. People have very strong opinions about child-rearing, and if it’s one of their 2 prominent shared interests…. I can only imagine how intimidating that might be. Gave off vibes like these:

      5. MeditativeRose*

        ^^^This. I almost thought this letter was written about me! I suspect the employee is not super comfy with what she’s overhearing and/or feels . I had a friendly enough relationship with my manager my first 6 months. But as I got to know both her management style (unorganized, MIA until deadline time then the worst micromanagement, gossipy, etc) AND her politics (which I’m not comfy with discussing in the office under any circumstances but the past year of having to go into an office every single day – though my job as an accountant is perfectly suited for working remotely – during a pandemic AND very tense political situation, I’ve developed a pretty awkward dislike of her. I stopped discussing anything non-work related with her and in fact, began to actively avoid her whenever possible, which I am well aware is super unhealthy and dysfunctional. I work in an office that is very “opposite political party” from me and they are not shy about their conversations. If I don’t keep my ear buds jammed deep into my ears, I overhear A LOT of political/social commentary that really should not be discussed in any professional environment. Just when I thought things might be a little ok, the Derek Chauvin verdict came in and CDC Mask Guideline changes were announced. That did me in. After the past year+ of this, I’m leaving at the end of the month and letting the chips fall where they may.

    2. shocked I tell you*

      Exactly. I’m personally no longer interested in having interpersonal relationships with co-workers or managers. Sure I am polite and do my job, but we don’t need to be friends. I’ve found over the last few years this dynamic has been incredibly draining for me and honestly, I’m just not interested. I’d prefert to keep professional boundaries, especially with my managers.

      1. JC*

        Exactly the same. I’ve reached the point where I want to clock in (metaphorically- I’m salaried), do my job, clock out, and spend my free time with my friends and loved ones. I can’t stand the forced socialising and chatting, I don’t want to spend lunch breaks talking about the latest banal tv show or office gossip. I am introverted so being constantly “on” is draining. But I’ve also realised over the past few years that I really don’t have much in common with my coworkers and won’t go above and beyond basic politeness. This will probably hinder my career progression and pay rises, but I’ve resigned myself to that.

        1. Batty Twerp*

          Does that really extend to not saying “hello” or “good night” though?

          1. Just @ me next time*

            For me, saying hello and goodbye is emotionally exhausting! I have to worry about whether I’m interrupting someone, if my face is doing something stupid, if they’re going to make small talk I’m not prepared for, etc.

          2. JC*

            Honestly sometimes it does. I just want to get up and leave without the rigmarole of raising my voice so everyone around me hears, or going past several people on the row (and risk getting held up or dragged into a conversation when I just want to go home). Typically I’m polite, I acknowledge people and say hi, bye. But if people around me are working heads down then I don’t interrupt them and will just leave. Also, some days I am happy to put headphones on and speak to no one.

          3. Pickled Limes*

            A lot of this is going to depend on how previous hellos and goodbyes have gone. At one point I had a boss who would come by to say good morning to me every day. In her mind, this was a super quick morning greeting. But it actually took a lot more time than she realized, and since she wasn’t particularly self aware or good at regulating her emotions, there were some psychological landmines mixed in there as well. Knowing that about her, there were some nights when I skipped stopping by her office to say goodnight because I knew it would keep me in the office 15 minutes longer than I wanted and would probably involve some kind of mental or emotional effort on my part, and on that particular day, I just didn’t have it in me.

            This is particularly true when we’re talking about someone with strong introvert tendencies. Small talk is one of the most exhausting conversations for an introvert, and if you have to do an entire day of talking to people, skipping the small talk may be what you have to do to keep your energy up.

          4. Koalafied*

            I like to think of myself as a pretty friendly introvert. I don’t mind small talk and have warm working relationships, but I keep work relationships very surface level to avoid overextending myself emotionally. Either we’re only going to talk about the weather and what I planted in my garden this week, or we’re going to talk about our childhoods and insecurities and whether we believe in gods and what the most dysfunctional relationships of our lives were. There’s no middle ground and #2 is off the table, so get ready to hear about my garden and nothing but my garden.

            But the thing is… I’m often just so inside myself that other people don’t cross my mind. If a meeting is starting, I’m already in an outward-facing mode and it feels natural to make a bit of polite small talk before getting down to business. But at the end of a workday, when I’ve been working on something in my office alone and haven’t been talking to other people, I’ve gone inward-facing and I just kind of, don’t register people?

            I know people are around in a low key background awareness of my surroundings way, but with my attention focused inward, a person in an office I’m walking past isn’t any more attention-grabbing to me than a piece of furniture in an office I’m walking past. I know there’s stuff in that office but none of it is relevant or useful to what I’m doing right now (which is probably working out a problem in my head, processing how I feel about stuff that happened that day, planning what stops I need to make on the way home, etc), and all my attention is on that so I tune out all the background noise.

            When I’m engrossed in my own thoughts, to be able to pull myself out of that and say hello or goodbye to people whose offices I pass – even if it’s my boss – is possible, and it’s not even something I object to doing, but it is something I have to consciously remind myself to do and it’s easy for me to just forget, especially when I have a lot on my mind, that I’m supposed to pay attention to the people outside my head.

            1. river*

              I relate to this so strongly. I’m busy in my head, and I just tune out everything else. It’s not intended as a slight to other people, and I’d prefer it if they didn’t interrupt me.

      2. Chilipepper Attitude*

        But it does not sound like the OP is actually being minimally polite.

    3. KayDeeAye*

      It’s fine if all she wants to focus on at work is work…but it sounds to me as though she isn’t talking to the OP about anything, including work! That’s a problem. It’s not an insurmountable problem, though, so I think if she and the OP work on this issue together, they can find a compromise that works for everyone.

      I agree that the political conversations might be a bit problematic, though. Maybe not, but there’s definitely a possibility.

      1. A*

        Agreed that not checking in about work related matters can be problematic, and definitely worth revisiting the conversation. My interpretation of OP’s letter was that this may not have been made clear to the employee – it was mentioned as a suggestion during the performance review but never enforced. Yes, the employee should be taking initiative – but so should OP! If they want monthly 1:1s, go ahead and setup the re-occurring meeting. Don’t leave it open ended in a manner that could be interpreted as optional.

        The small talk stuff I don’t think should be an issue, and employee should be able to do their job without fear that their boss will take it personally if they don’t stop in to say goodnight etc.

        1. Clisby*

          I agree – I don’t understand this suggestion of a monthly update. Why isn’t the LW saying, “I have monthly 1:1s with my reports, and this is the format” ? And then have the meetings? At least for the last 27 years of my working life (in IT) this was the norm. It could be sort of tedious, but one good thing about it was that at every 1:1 I had to report on what I had done (or not done) toward all the goals listed for my next yearly evaluation. So if, month after month, nothing was being done toward a particular goal it became obvious that either my priorities needed to change, or that goal needed to be dropped. Keeping copies of all these reports made it a snap to do my own self-evaluation each year.

          1. Amaranth*

            The lack of follow through seems to underline that OP really isn’t especially concerned about the lack of communication and supports that everything is going fine without it.

            1. KayDeeAye*

              That is not how I read it. I think the OP wants this problem to be corrected without causing any waves. Saying, “I’m going to start having 1-1s with everybody every X number of days/weeks” doesn’t sound like making waves to me, but it does to the OP, I think, and it clearly does to Beth. I think the OP just has to get over this idea that if she just keeps being nice to the OP, all problems will go away.

    4. Lady Meyneth*

      Plus, could it be at all related to office politics?

      When I started my current job, my manager, who is AWESOME, had just been promoted into her role. One of my peers, let’s call him Joe, was extremely upset he hadn’t got the promotion, and made things very uncomfortable for the rest of us if we even mentioned anything positive about my boss. Joe was ultimately fired for openly disrespecting our boss and outright ignoring her directives. But until he was out of the office, I made sure not to be too social with the manager, since I had to work directly with Joe pretty much daily and he’d have made my life hell over it. Our team overall got a lot more friendly after Joe was gone.

  3. JelloStapler*

    Do you have biweekly 1:1s with your employees? If you start that as a routine, it will help be sure you are keeping up with each other’s work and needs. Were you always supervising her since she started in the company or did she get moved to work with you? There could be a lot of reasons completely outside of your management style (as well as because of it) that could be at lay here. She may just have a firm line between supervisor/supervisee.

    1. Jack Straw*

      As I read the letter, I was surprised that the suggested 1:1 wasn’t scheduled by the LW but was left to Beth (the introvert who didn’t request it) to schedule/make happen.

      1. Heather*

        Yeah, this is really just bad management. (Sorry LW! But it’s true.) You need to talk to your employees, and if that’s not happening organically you need to make it happen. Not sure why LW is putting this on Beth.

      2. Lacey*

        Yeah, the employee isn’t going to schedule it, they’re going to assume the manager will. And then when the manager doesn’t, they’ll just think, “Oh, they’re flakey”

        1. Just Another Zebra*

          I don’t even know that I’d think they were flaky. I put more details in my response below, but if I don’t hear from my manager, I assume all is well and there’s no need to course correct. But I’m not scheduling a meeting unless there’s something to discuss.

          1. A*

            Exactly. I wonder if employee has worked in other environments where their boss is less readily available. I don’t reach out to my boss unless it is 100% absolutely necessary (sometimes going weeks without any communication) because she is flat out. Working 70+ hour weeks, and we are in global positions so we have unusual schedules based on other time zones.

            Unless my boss explicitly said they have tons of time on their hand and want to chat / catch up more – I assume they are busy. OP sounds like they have a fair amount of flexibility with their time and availability, but that often is not the case. OP just needs to be direct. Stop ‘suggesting’ monthly check ins and getting frustrated when employee doesn’t take the initiative – just set up the meeting occurrences yourself! This should be an easy fix. The personal offense to lack of small talk, perhaps not an easy fix but I don’t think that is on employee.

          2. Clisby*

            If I heard nothing from my manager, I would assume my manager knew nothing about what I was doing. That’s not really what I was after.

        2. Pickled Limes*

          Exactly this. If my boss suggested something and then never followed up on it, I’d probably just assume they’d changed their mind and move on with my work.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      It sounded like LW was trying to start the practice of monthly 1:1s and that’s what the letter describes as fizzling.

      1. Clorinda*

        That’s on LW, though. “Our meeting is at 2:30 on Tuesday. I’d like to see updates on projects A and B, and I’d like to hear some suggestions about X,” so there’s an actual plan, not just awkward “How are you?”–“Fine” mumbling.

        1. kelmarander*

          As someone whose one-to-one social anxiety is off the charts, I identify (painfully) with Beth! LW, it could be that you scare the bejeezus out of Beth. Her interactions with Neal are much less risky, so she may be able to get past her fear long enough to form an interpersonal relationship with him, but you are entirely too much of an anxiety trigger for her. For me, I fear rejection and disapproval if I open up beyond niceties to most authority figures. To some, that can come across as disinterest in them as a person, when I really do care deeply about them (I just don’t want them to care about me!).

          A few things have helped me get past my fear of 1x1s with my boss. First, she always tries to give me time to prepare. If she wants me to bring her an update or idea to our 1×1, she sends me an email or IM in advance, which gives me some alone-time to know what I’ll say in our meeting. Second, she let me sit in on some 1x1s with more extroverted colleagues to see what her expectation is regarding how I do my own 1x1s and work with those folks to script out how I might be able to better prepare myself. Lastly, she tries to let me run them as much as possible—this was REALLY DIFFICULT at first. She won’t shy away from asking questions or giving feedback, but she also tries to refrain from asking so many questions I freeze up from the “interrogation.” It made for awkward pauses sometimes, but she has signaled that she’s willing to work with me through both of our discomforts, and that has been career-changing for me.

          1. Nayo*

            As someone who also can get very anxious about one-on-one situations, I think there’s a decent chance that Beth’s avoidance has little to do with OP specifically, and more to do with workplace relationships being kind ofreally nerve-wracking for someone who is shy or has social anxiety or any other issue along those lines. I strongly related to Beth while reading this post, and my advice is this: OP, try not to take it personally! Unless you said something offensive or crossed a boundary with her or something, there probably isn’t anything you need to (or should) do, besides managing her professionally. If she’s not communicating well or enough as an employee, then focus on that, but don’t try to force an emotional connection—I know for me personally, I would be sick with anxiety if I thought my boss wanted a closer relationship than I was willing or able to give, and that would definitely have the opposite effect.

            Basically, I think Alison’s advice is spot-on.

        2. Esmeralda*

          Or even, “Please see admin to schedule monthly meetings with me, Beth. At our first meeting, we’ll discuss….”

          I have monthly meetings with my boss to update them on progress, discuss areas where I need resources/assistance, discuss goals, share my ideas for revamping office processes lol, etc. They asked me to set up the meetings (google calendars, I just made it the first Friday of every month). Some months we have to reschedule, but it’s on both our calendars on into infinity…

          I can of course talk to them more frequently (and do) if something comes up sooner. I have an AWESOME boss.

        3. TiffIf*

          Yup–I have weekly one on one meetings with my manager. He is the one who schedules them. I have weekly one on one meetings with the three colleagues who are junior to me (I don’t have hire/fire ability but I do have day to day responsibilities for their workload and assignments); I’m the one that schedules them.

          Occasionally one of my junior colleagues will need me to help with something that is her primary responsibility and I will tell her to put something on my calendar–but that’s just a one off where she needs specific training or information. any regular maintenance meetings should come from the senior (management) person.

          (My manager has one one ones with my junior colleagues about once every 6 weeks–outside of that I report anything to him as needed that come from my one on ones with them.)

    3. old biddy*

      LW should absolutely schedule 1:1 meetings and stick to it. I’m a social introvert and get along great with my boss, but 100% do the deer in the headlights thing where my mind goes blank if I pass him in the hall and he asks how things are going. With a 1:1 meeting I have a list of things I want to cover and we stay on track. Zoom office hours have been great for that.
      My PhD supervisor was great at figuring out people’s communication style and would do a daily walk through to see what people were up to. He would whistle, snap his finger and generally make a lot of noise going down the hall, so people knew he was coming through and could collect their thoughts. He also knew who functioned better in different settings and adjusted his approach for them. I tended to just go talk to him in his office once or twice a week and just did social chit chat during the walk-through.

  4. Trout 'Waver*

    I’m sensing some serious negative energy from the way OP leads the letter with “same politics.”

    1. GuppyFish*

      Yeah, felt like there may be some subtext there that they may be discussing hot button issues at the office. This can really alienate people, especially since recent political issues have been very personal for folks. I’d be very curious what politics OP and Neal have in common and how publicly they have been making those opinions known.

    2. Michael Bolton (the cool one)*

      Looks like Tom Smykowski was finally able to get that Jump To Conclusions mat over to you.

      1. MissInTheNo*

        “Child rearing” hit a nerve with me. As a single non-parent and (almost) 40 year old woman in the south I find it hard to fit in anywhere, especially the predominantly male environment that I work in. Most of my coworkers are married with a spouse, in the suburbs, a few kids, and spend their time hunting, fishing, boy scouts, girls scouts, kids sports, and summer vacations to Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. I live alone in the city and spend my time absorbed in my hobbies (its hard for single people to fit here so I don’t have many friends). Also as an introvert I’d rather not once again subject myself to people trying to change me (“we gotta get you out more / out of your shell, etc”).

        1. MissInTheNo*

          And of course, the first thing they want to know when you walk in the office, is “WHAT DID YOU DO THIS WEEKEND??? WHERE ARE YOU GOING ON VACATION THIS SUMMER??”

          1. A*

            and the dreaded follow-up… “it must be so nice to have all that free time! I remember before I had kids how nice it was…”

            Ugh. Please, please show me where this ‘free time’ is. All of our time outside of work is equally important / we all have responsibilities and obligations, kids are just one of many factors that can come into play.

            (and I say this as someone who loves kiddos and often volunteers to help cover for colleagues with child care challenges, but I do NOT respond well to that being an expectation or playing the “who has it worse off?” game).

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Or they could both be parents but with wildly opposite views on childrearing. Which can veer into the shaming territory quickly enough. If I had a dollar for each time I had a fellow parent say “I can’t believe you aren’t letting your baby cry it out”, “It’s immoral to have your children in daycare”, “Why is he not in sports”, “He has a *computer* in his room???”, etc.

        3. Decima Dewey*

          I’m an extreme introvert, and I had an extroverted manager who was determined to “get you out of your shell”. Ended up greeting her with a performative “Good morning” and a conversation as brief as I could make it, just so that I could get on with my day. I also allowed her to believe she was getting me out of my shell.

    3. Massive Dynamic*

      I noticed that too… OP, please don’t make it a habit to talk politics in the office; even people who agree with you might not want to jump in because many different topics these days are high-stakes emotional things that a lot of us don’t want to discuss at work. And if Beth doesn’t align with your politics, all the worse for your friendly work relationship with her.

      1. Alexis Rosay*

        Yeah, even when people’s politics DO overall align, it feels like no dissent or difference is tolerated in political opinions today, and I’m guessing that’s true across the political spectrum. I know that even though I overwhelming agree with my colleagues in our political ideals, I tend to be more of a pragmatist while they’re more idealistic, and sometimes I’m afraid of them finding out that I differ with them on the details.

        1. Sparrow*

          And even if you do align (I work in a field that skews heavily in one direction), sometimes you just don’t want to talk politics! I limited the time I spent with my work lunch group for a lot of 2016 because it was coming up almost daily and even though I agreed with them, I was already maxed out on politics. If it was like five minutes and we moved on, fine, but if it was still going after 10, I’d usually decide it was a good day to take a lunch-time walk and excuse myself.

        2. consultinerd*

          I think plenty of people are perfectly willing to tolerate and respect differences of political opinion these days, but a side effect of political positions becoming more polarized and tangled in people’s identities over recent decades is that increasingly one person’s “reasonable difference of opinion” is another person’s “if you disagree you’re literally destroying the country.”

          Despite being someone who loves discussing politics and policy I’ve pulled back drastically in bringing up issues that don’t relate directly to work at the office.

    4. Myrin*

      Since this letter was first published in early 2017, I assumed this was mostly a reference to the 2016 presidential election in the US.

    5. Pikachu*

      Yep. “Similar views on life” should be irrelevant in the workplace, unless it is the shared mission of the organization. If you want to acknowledge things you have in common with an employee with whom you have good rapport and the first two are politics and child-rearing, two topics that are questionable at best, downright discriminatory at worst…

      Something tells me it is not an issue with the quiet employee.

    6. Jack Straw*

      Also the child rearing discussions, anything hey ind “Kyle has his gradation this month, learned to walk, etc.” can SUPER alienating—even for people with kids but *especially* for those without children.

      Does Beth have kids? If she doesn’t, it’s no wonder she doesn’t join in your child rearing talks with Neal.

      1. Anononon*

        While I have absolutely no issues with people talking about their kids, I do feel out of the conversation when they’re discussing kid issues, and I realize my only contribution would be “yeah, when I was 7, my parents used to have to do XYZ.”

        1. Tara*

          Oh my god, I hate those discussions. A coworker one on one speaking to me in detail about how they’re struggling to find a decent babysitter, and all I have to contribute is about how I babysat kids before or was babysat as a kid.

          Same with coworkers that go on and on about sports, I don’t care, stop having these conversations right next to me when I’m working.

          My manager actually once told me off for speaking to a female manager (who was HIS boss) about our dresses for our work’s party for ~20 mins as it “impacted how the rest of the team saw me”, when he about an hour before had spent, the entire hour, speaking about football to other male colleagues, ugh.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Actually, as a parent, I always welcomed such contributions. People without kids are more likely to remember clearly how they felt as a kid when their parents did or said whatever and it’s good hearing my kids’ point of view from an adult.
          Not that that means you must contribute to such conversations if you don’t want to, of course, nor that you should even have such conversations in the workplace.

    7. Momma Bear*

      Yes…there are some coworkers I don’t chit chat with because our views on certain topics are very different. Some people are comfortable with topics like religion and politics in an office and some are not. Could be that Beth has decided not to wade into that with OP and is steering clear because it’s frequent and she does not feel the same? I put an old manager on a personal information diet because they would nitpick my choices – everything from my commute path to child care decisions. We were Not Friends. I think OP here needs to focus only on work and not look for the same chit chatty behavior that they get with the other employee. In fact, maybe take a step back and think if the topics and discussions are alienating people, including Beth. Does that relationship cross professional boundaries between manager and employee?

    8. kittymommy*

      Ehh, I have pretty much an entirely different viewpoint on everything in life with my co-workers and I’m still able to carry on a basic level of conversation with them. It sounds like the LW and the colleague aren’t even able to do that.

      1. Dahlia*

        I mean, there’s a difference in how much time I want to spend talking to someone who thinks pineapple on pizza is bad versus someone who thinks people like me shouldn’t be allowed around children.

    9. MassMatt*

      I think “serious negative energy” is putting it awfully strongly, but it’s entirely possible Beth does not share the same views on politics and childrearing, etc and may feel that it’s OK to disagree with a coworker but not a boss. Politics is especially polarizing, if you are in the “stars” party it can be a bond to talk with other stars, but the employee in the “stripes” party is likely to feel alienated. And while I’m out of the whole child-rearing loop, I have certainly witnessed some serious arguments over it also.

      1. KateM*

        Or the coworker knows to avoid sensitive topics with Beth, but wouldn’t tell his boss not to talk politics for obvious reasons.

      2. Pickled Limes*

        It’s also possible that when Beth and Neal are talking, they’re talking about the most recent episode of a show they both watch or a hobby or interest they share, while most of the conversations Beth observes between Neal and OP are about political or social issues that make her uncomfortable. I’m not adamantly against interacting with people whose political/social/religious views are different from mine, but if that’s the ONLY thing I ever observe them talking about with other people, I’m not going to feel excited about jumping into a conversation with them.

      3. Trout 'Waver*

        Its more the fact that we know OP cares that their coworkers have the same political views. In the first 3 lines of the letter. Having the same political beliefs shouldn’t matter at all at work. But it does to OP. And they let us know about it right up front.

    10. Mental Lentil*

      This is way off. Beth doesn’t say anything. How could OP know what her politics are if everything she’s said in two years could fit on a single piece of paper.

      This is really reaching.

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        I disagree. I know who in my office leans differently than me, and how far that lean is. I don’t discuss politics with them. At all. Ever. One of us is going to end up behaving unprofessionally, so it’s best to avoid that topic. Unless you’re a campaign manager, politics don’t belong at work.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          No, you do not know who leans in which direction nor how far.
          I never ever come out with my full whammy political opinions at work because my boss would promptly start looking for ways to fire me (my first week at my last job, a photo of me with a political leader was published in the magazine the boss ordered to look good on the coffee table for when we had visitors… I had to sneak it home and remove the offending page!).
          When we organised a union at work, I had to be very careful who I recruited, because anyone might be a spy for the boss. I was chosen as the representative because the boss had a crush on my pretty face, we figured that would protect me, so I at least could go public with my views. But people were very reticent about joining the union in case the boss found out.
          On the other end of the spectrum, fascists rarely admit to how they vote, even in anonymous polls (exception being in the US since 2016, they’ve been coming out of the woodwork).

      2. Trout 'Waver*

        We know that OP cares that their employees have the same political beliefs as them. That alone would keep me from voicing my own, even if they were the same.

    11. JSPA*

      Yup. Or even child-rearing, depending on the philosophy. These are not neutral topics.

      Consider the possibility that Beth disagrees.

      In that case, Beth already knows that if she were to chat with the boss, she’d out herself as being in opposition on one or both of the two things the boss seems passionate about.

      Those being, furthermore, two things that Ned (who is both co-worker and competition for advancement) shares with the boss. I’d sit on my mouth pretty hard in that circumstance, as well. Sure, Beth could try launching other topics, and have a good conversation with the OP/boss. But that level of comfort could well invite broaching, by OP, of Beth’s “dread topic.” Safer to be more distant.

      For that matter, it’s possible that Beth is not merely in disagreement but in shock and discomfort over some topic, and can’t trust herself to deal with it gracefully.

      As an example, I loved being a “free range” kid! But talking about the benefits of free range parenting in front of a person whose sibling or child died after being hit by a car while crossing the street is…really awkward and bad, even when that person isn’t in your chain of command.

      Alison’s got the professional development aspect covered.

      As to making the personal situation less potentially fraught, I’d probably shift the topics of discourse with Neal. New hobby? birds noticed on the way in? Something a bit more work-adjacent, in that you’re at work? Try them, and see if Beth relaxes over time, when she’s not faced with the imminent spectre of, “The Topic that must never come up between us.”

      It’s also not beyond the pale to very, very occasionally ask someone, after they’ve been laughing with Beth, “I heard such happy laughter, did I miss a good story?”. (You of course have to accept, “I don’t remember” or “you had to be there.” And never make it sound like, “I bet you were laughing at me, and I demand to find out.”) But all of that is secondary to having the essential management conversations, of course; and it should go without saying that those should be pleasant but 100% professional–not a bit of politics on the side, or a child rearing metaphor or reference dropped in passing.

    12. BuildMeUp*

      I don’t think this is the reason Beth isn’t friendly with the OP. If that were the case, Beth would be similarly distant with her coworker Neal, which OP says is not the case.

      1. JSPA*

        Its easier to refuse a topic / change the topic with a coworker. It also possibly depends on who’s bringing up the problem topics, vs playing along. And Neal may have set up a different set of topics with Beth, before Beth became aware of the OP+Neal topics.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        It’s the power differential. I’d be alarmed if my boss had political views that clashed with mine, because they could use that against me. A peer cannot.

    13. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      YESSSS!!!! And she’s right next door or in Beth’s and Neal’s shared office when she’s having her chats on politics with Neal, so Beth can hear them. Here’s a personal story this reminded me of. I had a boss, that I liked and respected so much, I followed him from my previous job to my current one. (His friend and colleague poached me, and the only question I asked him about the job before saying yes was “Will I be working for (Boss)?”) But I’d never sat close to him until about a year into my current job, when after yet another office move, I ended up in a cube right outside his office. He had his door open and would have several people come in and sit in his office and talk politics with them all day, and I swear it was like having Fox News on all day (which my own views, that I keep to myself at work, are the opposite of.) It was 2016 and he went on like that all year. By the end of the year, my opinion of him had done a complete 180 and I started avoiding him, while previously we used to be friends. I tried to like the man like I used to, but I couldn’t. He was not my manager anymore at that point, and does not work at the company anymore, so that did not create any difficulties work-wise. But my personal rapport with him was destroyed, even though he only said something about politics to me directly one time at a happy hour. So this may absolutely be where Beth is coming from. Political chats with one subordinate in full hearing of the other do not belong at work.

  5. Goldenrod*

    I have the opposite problem – my boss won’t talk to me! Even when we have a 1:1 meeting, I can always tell she’s DYING to end the call. I think she has severe social anxiety.

    1. pretzelgirl*

      My boss is the same. He’s really, really private about his personal life and sticks to mostly work related conversations. It took me awhile to get used to, but its just how he is. He’s actually a great boss, and I love working for him. I came from place where my boss would stop and chat with me about all kinds of things everyday. Honestly sometimes its kinda nice, lol!

  6. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    I was Beth! I didn’t talk to my manager because I was convinced she hated me for exactly the reasons OP gives – not even trying to reach out to her employee and letting things sit! Also, I believed the other employee in our department was my trainer and I only went to him for help.

    What works: meetings with both employees together about work progress.

    Also, OP should definitely let Beth know exactly what she should be ready to share in any 1 on 1 meetings and not just tell her “hey we will start meeting next week” because that would make me think I was going to be fired.

    1. Krabby*

      Agreed, this seems like the easiest fix. Just say something like, “While you’re doing great work, I’ve noticed that I don’t get much insight into your day-to-day. I’m going to put a recurring meeting in our calendars where we can go over process changes, work updates, roadblocks you’re hitting, etc.. I’d also like to make sure I’m keeping you in the loop about bigger operational changes.”

    2. Jack Straw*

      +1 for sharing what the 1:1 will be in advance. My boss doesn’t do that and often, I’ll come with topics but she’s decided the time will be spent on other things. Then I’ll come without ideas and she acts like I should have an agenda. It’s incredibly frustrating.

      1. TiffIf*

        Ugh that is incredibly frustrating.

        My one on ones with my manager always include asking if I have anything I need help with, how my junior colleagues that I meet with more often and work closer with are doing (he has less often checkpoints with them). If there’s a specific thing he wants to discuss with me and we go over time and I don’t get to bring up something I need to, he generally askes me to schedule a separate meeting OR hold onto it for the next week (and he makes a note to himself as a reminder for the next week).

    3. NinaBee*

      I used to work in a team of maybe 10 where there was a definite clique with the head of the team (who sat with us). The people not in the clique felt they were ignored or missed out on getting the better tasks that would go to the in-clique people, and stopped interacting. The cliquey people would always deny there was one lol. Sometimes people don’t see it if they’re in it.

  7. Clorinda*

    Your employee does not work to give you warm fuzzies. Separate what you need as part of the work process–a weekly meeting to go over current goals and progress? A regular written update? What?–and ask for that, then follow through and make sure you get it; you don’t need her to pop in to your office and bond of child-rearing philosophy or whatever.

    1. twocents*

      Idk, that seems a bit unkind. LW says Beth has said less than a page worth of things in two years (so maybe 500 words altogether?) and avoids saying even “good night!”

      That’s hardly LW complaining that Beth doesn’t ruminate over philosophy with her.

      1. Momma Bear*

        But is this malicious? I don’t go find my boss to say hello or good night. I don’t always say anything to the people on my floor when I leave, either. If the boss is saying good night and Beth ignores that, that is one thing. But don’t make greetings a checkbox, IMO.

        1. turquoisecow*

          I will say good night to the person I’m sitting next to and a few others in the area. But if my boss isn’t right there I don’t say good night to them. This is partly because I’m concerned that I will go just to say good night they’ll drag me into a longer conversation about “how did x go today, any problems?” or “oh, remind me we need to talk about Y tomorrow,” or some other topic when I really just want to leave now.

          This is a thing that has actually happened to me! Not with every boss but once you realize it’s a possibility you don’t want to risk it. And also what if boss is in a meeting or working on something and doesn’t want to be interrupted? Now I’ve walked over to them only to have to awkwardly turn around – or they see me and ask what they can help with – oh, just saying good night.

          If I sit right next to boss and walk past them on the way out then sure it’s odd to not say goodbye, especially if she says goodbye to others. But it sounds like Beth doesn’t do that with anyone so I don’t think OP should take that personally.

        2. Lacey*

          Yeah, I’m definitely an Irish Goodbye sort. If other people make a point of saying goodbye, I’ll certainly say it, but otherwise I’ll just sort of fade out.

        3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Right? I’ve only ever said hello and goodbye to the people I walked past, and only when they did not look busy.

          We had a coworker in my first job who’d make a round throughout the office to poke his head into everyone’s office and cubicle and say hello and goodbye. That added to his reputation of being weird.

          I admit that I haven’t had a direct manager that was physically in the same state with me, in six years, so I can’t remember what personal face-to-face daily interactions with a boss should be like.

      2. BuildMeUp*

        Yeah, I agree. And it sounds like part of the reason OP is concerned is that they are worried that issues that would naturally come up in conversation with their other direct report might not be raised by Beth because she just doesn’t talk to OP.

        1. Chas*

          Yeah. OP mentions that Beth emails them (“She emails me even though I work next door”), so it’s not like Beth isn’t communicating at all. She might just be someone like me who generally prefers to have work-related conversations by email so she can refer back to them later, especially if it’s a specific question with a short answer, or I just want someone to look at something I made. It’s not worth me getting up and going into my boss’ office to ask when chances are I’d end up distracting him from his writing or something.

          However I also understand that there’s sometimes things that are important for me to be aware of, but can’t really be explained quickly by email (Here’s our general strategy for the next few months, and where you specifically fit into it) or sometimes I’ll have a small query that’s not worth emailling over, so I just mention it at the next 1:1 meeting I have with him, because it gives us both a time to bring up that sorts of things.

          But if OP wants those face-to-face meetings, they need to schedule it with Beth, instead of expecting Beth to come in and make small talk with them on the off-chance that something work-related will come up out of it.

          1. overit*

            I tend to use email more than conversations because in a previous job, I had a boss who would conveniently “forget” information she did not want to hear/know/act on. And then, when as it does when you choose inaction and ignorance, bad things happen, I would get thrown under the bus for not telling her.

            To this day, I email almost everything rather than have a verbal conversation. And truth is… that habit has saved my butt more than once in other jobs. So for me this acquired habit is simply good defensive practice.

          2. TardyTardis*

            Of course she emails. It only takes a couple of times for a boss to get upset about an employee doing something she was told to, and the boss to deny she told her, to want *everything* in email. It was amazing how much better my boss’s memory got when I started dealing with her that way.

            But a boss isn’t going to mention that part in a letter to here.

    2. Caroline Bowman*

      Very true. Whatever the cause or underlying reason, meeting her where she ”is” is most likely to lead to a productive, respectful relationship, and who could want more?

      By implementing monthly or fortnightly short catch ups with both of your reports, with bullet point agendas and a ”raise any concerns” for them to bring you at the end and sticking to it, if ever a warmer relationship is to develop, this will be how it happens. It will be the ”hey how are you doing, that’s a great jacket” offhand comments that inevitably arise as time goes on that are most likely to gradually allow the employee to open up very slightly. It will also give a sense of whether she’s literally just very shy and quiet or if she dislikes you or is scared of you.

      At the very least, you will get some face time in a structured, non-scary context for her and can gradually see where that goes.

      1. TardyTardis*

        I was happier when my boss left me alone. I heard too many promises that were meaningless from up above, and at some point decided to just do my work till I could retire.

  8. Don*

    I wouldn’t personally go with the “hey I’m open to chatting with you” route because it seems really easy for that to come across as “you have to play at being my bud or it’s gonna count against you.” This person may have some social anxiety that they’re never gonna be able to get past with someone who is in charge of their livelihood. And honestly if you’re at the point where you’re finding it hard not to take it personally that you don’t get the same goodnight you do from their peer I’d be pretty doubtful you’d be able to extend that offer without it feeling like it’s an obligation.

    1. cereal killer*

      Yes. Also is Beth fairly young? I will add, as someone who has always been a introvert / socially awkward / anxious individual, I was probably Beth early in my career too. It was always super awkward for me to talk to my manager because as you say, they are in charge of my livelihood. Also I really didn’t know HOW to talk to them, aside from general small talk (which I avoid as an introvert), I didn’t want to come across as incapable to my manager or like I’m messing things up, etc. It would probably help if LW helped coach Beth on what kinds of things she wants open communication on what is “normal” for that role in terms of challenges. That would helped me, relieving some anxiety that I’m not going to reveal myself to be a fraud. In my 30s now I’ve either overcome these hangups or just learned through trial and error how to manage them and can be pretty vocal with managers about my needs, but it was a learning process.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        This is true, plus when you’re fresh-ish out of college you may not have much or any experience relating as peers to people older than you. So if there’s an age gap it’s likely that has to do with it as well.

    2. Project Problem Solver*

      Alison’s comments are usually spot on for me, but that last part almost made my skin crawl. I would absolutely take that as a requirement to be more social in order to advance or be recognized. I don’t know if any other way to put it, though.

      The only thing I can think of is to ask if she’s satisfied with the amount of contact you do have now. She might not be! She might be struggling to figure out how to manage bringing it up. But she might actually be just fine with it. In my early career, when I was production staff, all I wanted to do was complete my work well and be done with it. I still have little patience for small talk, but I’ve learned to have a couple of topics on hand because I know that my manager is going to want to spend 5-10 minutes at the beginning of each 1:1 chatting.

  9. Charley*

    Don’t take it personally! I’m a socially awkward introvert, and while I occasionally chat to coworkers, I wouldn’t make small talk with a manager for fear of saying the wrong thing. Totally understand the later lunch to eat alone as well! The alone time at lunch is helpful to recharge from the exhaustion of being constantly around people the remaining 7-8 hours of every work day.

    1. Jennifer*

      Yes, eating lunch alone is not weird and I will die on this hill.

      A lot of people also like to keep a separation between boss and personal life. Sure, I’ll chat about my weekend but I don’t want boss know I slept until noon and then watched decorating shows and ate left-over Chinese food. Weekend was good, relaxing and short – that’s all she needs to know.

      I also email people instead of talking to them unless it’s urgent. Email leaves a paper trail; they can get back to you when they have time and you aren’t interrupting.

      If her work is fine and you are happy with her job performance just leave it. She’s not there to be friends with you.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Yes, eating lunch alone is not weird and I will die on this hill.

        Yep, I hated the “sad desk lunch” trend when it came out a few years ago. What’s so sad about wanting to eat your lunch in peace? Why “sad desk lunch” and not “sad breakroom”, “sad fast food”, or “sad overpriced restaurant” lunch?

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Wasn’t supposed to all be in italics. I need coffee. That I will drink alone at my desk!

  10. The Dread Pirate Buttercup*

    LW, I recommend you look up “Maria Bamford Vennette” and listen. At least you’ll know you’re not alone, and you may laugh until you cry.

  11. CatCat*

    When she and I went over her last employee evaluation, I suggested that we add a goal of her updating me once a month on her work so that I’d be in the loop, but that has not happened and I haven’t pushed the issue.

    I’m wondering if this was even necessary? I’m confused if the suggestion was made because the OP wants to increase interaction or because there is a business need. I especially wonder since the OP has no concerns about the quality of the employee’s work.

    I only sporadically update my bosses on the status of my work because there hasn’t been a business need for it. Half of what I do is logged into a system so if the boss sees something is languishing (rare), he will ask about it. The other half just doesn’t call for a monthly update. Maybe 2-4 times per year update.

    I had one boss at a past job announce we would have having bi-weekly 1:1 meeting. (This came shortly after she attended a management training so I’m guessing this is where the idea came from.) She didn’t really explain what these meetings were for. She scheduled one with me and I showed up and she asked what I wanted to talk about. I was confused and said she had scheduled the meeting, what did she want to talk about? She then said that this was “your time to talk about what you want.” I had nothing I wanted to talk about with her. It was so awkward. It was also the last 1:1 we ever had.

    I am relaying this so OP really ensures there is a business need for meeting before scheduling it. And definitely communicate what that business need is.

    1. Elliott*

      I think this is a good point. If there is a business need for more work-related communications or 1:1 meetings, I think it’s important for the OP to take the lead and explain this. Beth might have no idea what type of updates she should be providing.

    2. Caroline Bowman*

      100% true. For a meeting, be it monthly or daily, to be helpful in any respect, there must be an agenda, even a fairly simple one, of what the point is. Two or three bullet points is all you need, then at the end, ”any concerns?” is much easier to slide in without making it weird.

    3. Budgie Buddy*

      I also noticed this part. OP made a suggestion, employee ignored it, and OP didn’t push back. If I were the employee in that situation I would also assume the meetings were optional.

      1. Momma Bear*

        If OP wants this, OP needs to arrange it or otherwise directly tell Beth that this needs to be started, please please pick a time/date and put it on the calendar. Also, updating on work means what, specifically? Might be easier to have it come top down at first with an agenda so Beth knows what OP is looking for.

    4. Artemesia*

      I agree and would give her a 3 step guide or similar to prepare. You want to know what she is doing, what problems or obstructions there are to her getting her work done, and what she is working on and when it will be done — or something like that. Having training wheels is very helpful for someone nervous about interacting with the boss.

    5. Jennifer*

      I think that your job may be an outlier. Others may feel differently. But I can’t imagine going more than a month without checking in with my boss about how my work is going. 2-4 times a year may be normal in your field but I don’t think it’s standard.

      I do think the OP needs to give her some guidelines on what is expected from her in these monthly updates.

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        Before COVID, I met with my manager 1 time a year. The pandemic has made some things in my industry challenging, so we touch base more frequently now. But it’s about one specific thing, not my work flow as a whole.

    6. Sparrow*

      Yeah, I never have 1:1s with my current boss, because it’s just not a good use of time. At my last job, we had them biweekly and they were super helpful because a lot of our work interconnected. My boss and I would both come in with a list of things we wanted to discuss and always had a lot to cover. My first boss at that same job did NOT do the same kind of work as me and frankly couldn’t have been useful to me even if she wanted to be, but she insisted on having the meetings anyway. 9 times out of 10, we ended up talking about Hamilton because it was our only mutual interest, ha.

      So yes, they can be very helpful depending on what you’re wanting to get out of them and how often you have them, and it sounds like they could actually be helpful during the upcoming transitions. But if they aren’t, or if they aren’t after that project is over, don’t insist on having them frequently. Having her occasionally report in is fine, but don’t do it more frequently than need or for longer than needed.

    7. turquoisecow*

      Your 1:1 meetings sound like the ones I had with a former boss. I reported to Boss A, who thought 1:1s were important and started scheduling them regularly. It seemed kind of pointless since we sat right next to each other and worked closely and if I had issues I just asked them in the moment, but he was very big into management and going to business school at the time. Then he was promoted.

      Boss B reported to Boss A and Boss A insisted that he have 1:1s with everyone on the team. So Boss B dutifully scheduled meetings which were just us awkwardly joking about other team members. Eventually he started postponing them because he was swamped with other work (that he could have delegated but that’s another story) and then he’d say (in front of everyone) “oh, Jane, do you have anything you need to talk about this week? I’m kind of swamped with this project…” and then of course Jane felt obligated to say “no,” and that week’s meeting was cancelled. They were a waste of time.

      Now I have a boss who doesn’t speak to me for months and if I need something I have to seek him out and I feel like occasional 1:1s would be nice just to be on the same page, especially since we’re remote.

    8. Lacey*

      Yup. My boss never needs updates from me. He has access to our project management system and occasionally checks over what I’ve been doing and lets me know if it’s good or he needs me to change how I’m handling anything. He does periodic check-ins with our department, and we can bring stuff up if we need to, but it’s pretty rare and with the type of work we do it just isn’t necessary.

    9. JSPA*

      Managers are a resource for career development, references, going to bat for you if positions are being cut, finding money for courses and development. Also a window into the workings of the company, and the future path of the department.

      If you picture yourself doing the exact same job, in isolation, for as long as you wish, and then landing some other job, without needing references beyond metrics–basically functioning as an outside contractor who just happens to be inside the corporate pay structure–then maybe you have no reason to meet with your boss. But for most people, that’s going to be a missed opportunity. Heck, even if all you want is to be left alone to do your job, and not be “developed” into some other role, that’s something to say to your boss, as it absolutely does not go without saying.

    10. Rupert*

      I’m a bit confused as to what outcome the LW wants here. There are two parts to communications between Manager and employee:
      (1) work-related communication, e.g., where are we up to with Phase 2 of Project Z; and,
      (2) casual non-worked related conversation, e.g., weekend plans. For what it’s worth, politics (and often child-rearing) are NOT office-friendly casual conversation topics.

      Everything appears to be going smoothly work-wise, so it seems like the real issue is (2). However, I’d make an exception to this if LW believes that more work-related communication is needed going forward, e.g., to identify any project roadblocks early. In which case, the onus is on LW to schedule a weekly / monthly meeting and to follow through. I just hope that LW doesn’t consciously (or unconsciously) rate Beth lower because of (2), as she should be evaluated purely on work performance metrics.

    11. Kscinerd*

      THANK YOU! My family (mom in particular) are very disturbed by how little 1:1 contact I have with my boss. I work in academic science and primarily support our post doctoral scholars in their work. Since this is the stage of their career when they should be learning to run their own lab, I meet with them frequently about projects/goals/etc. I meet with our PI (my boss)… maybe once a quarter? For 15 minutes, tops. It works but it was definitely different to get used to.

    12. JM60*

      Additionally, not all status updates need to be in-person. In addition to 1:1 meetings, everyone on my team sends weekly status updates to their manager at the start of the week. Since this employee already communicates via email when needed, doing more frequent status updates via email, and less frequent updates in-person, might work well.

  12. Sled Dog Mama*

    I love that the “You May Also Like” on this post is 1) my coworker is giving us the silent treatment
    2) my boss is giving us the silent treatment and 3) my coworker threw a sandwich (which I had forgotten was so funny)

    1. bubbleon*

      I just had a good giggle over the sandwich kerfuffle too. There were 2 updates in the comments from the sandwich accomplice, but I’m so curious to know what came of it.

    2. Somebody*

      I somehow missed the sandwich post, but that’s one of the funniest letters I’ve read. I need an update!

  13. Linda*

    It’s me. I’m the employee in this situation. Mainly just because my boss is an over-sharer and will tell people things about my personal life that I don’t want them to know! Boss told my subordinates my relationship status, when I had Covid, when my cousin passed away…it just wasn’t stuff that I didn’t care to share (re: covid, I was WFH so really no reason to share since 1. I didn’t quit working + 2. had no physical contact with employees)

    I keep my chatting to work-related stuff and that’s about it. I do always say goodnight though, especially if I’m working late and want that to be noticed haha. I like my boss – boss is a mentor to me and really great to work for. But I don’t want my personal life to be shared at work as common knowledge so I stay silent. I did ask the boss to cool it on sharing MY personal details but in the end it’s just better to keep my personal life separate.

    And as said best by Clorinda above: “Your employee does not work to give you warm fuzzies”

  14. Jack Straw*

    I haven’t read Alison’s response yet, but my immediate reaction is this is a YOU problem not a Beth problem. Although OP does mention they might not know if Beth was having troubles at work, the majority of the letter is about the OP not feeling comfortable and not “connecting” instead of Beth’s work.

    It also has a hint of sexism, as we typically want women to be more social and as a result can have differing expectations of them.

    1. Pikachu*

      It sounds to me like OP is putting the onus of communicating on the employee. If you are worried your direct report isn’t going to tell you about work problems, that is a management failure. If you have been struggling to communicate with an employee for two years and you still don’t know why, that is a management failure. If regular updates are that important, the manager needs to establish that as a job duty, not a performance evaluation goal invented in hopes of getting your employee to talk to you.

      I also don’t get the concern about new software. Why should significant organizational changes be communicated to Neal and Beth any differently? They need to know what they need to know as a core part of their job. Personal rapport shouldn’t affect this at all.

      1. Jennifer*

        There should be no difference in how the changes in software are communicated. Write out an email and send it to both of them. Have a meeting with both of them. Why is this even an (imaginary) issue?? Tell them to ask (or email) you with questions. Done.

      2. ThatOnePlease*

        This. It’s time for OP to take charge and implement processes that will ensure they are communicating regularly with Beth on work issues. The lack of chitchat and the different lunch hour are irrelevant; if Beth wants some down time during the workday and isn’t chummy with the boss, that’s her prerogative and OP should respect it. But OP can’t abdicate responsibility for managing Beth just because she’s standoffish.

  15. Akcipitrokulo*

    Have regular 1-1 meetings with all of your employees. A check-in, chat about how they are, updates on anything going on in company… relaxed, with coffee, have some time.

    And if you’re having those every couple of weeks, and employee is talking to you in them, then let the rest go. She likes to decompress alone at lunchtime. You can help by making sure she gets to.

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      This would bother me more. Stick to business talk only and don’t make it a social hour. Coffee would make me feel like this meeting needed to include more than necessary work-talk.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I get that everyone is different, but I think that using 5/10 minutes of a 1-1 meeting to discuss non-work issues like tv shows/movies, books, what you did over the weekend etc… is not out of bounds. If the boss expects to spend 30/40 minutes of social time that is excessive. I am a fairly introverted and private person, but being able to be slightly social with coworkers and boss helps get work done.

        It does not seem like OP wants the employee to be their new BFF or spend hours socializing each day, but trying to have a slightly better employee/boss relationship is not a bad thing.

        1. Unkempt Flatware*

          But that cannot happen if the other participant is not willing which it seems she is not. My boss always did this to me before I moved on. I could tell she wanted to connect for her own self-validating reasons and I get the same feeling from the OP. When boss would go on and on about her life without my asking or encouraging, I felt like my time was disrespected. I’m here to work and that’s it. My need to remove all personal discussion from work is really not up for debate. Making it seem like it is by one’s boss destroys trust and comfort. I really, truly, do not need to socialize with anyone at work. Hi, Bye, Thanks, I’m Sorry and Good for you are good enough. I am a robot to do work only. I cannot make anyone feel better about that.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            You are right that the boss can’t force a better relationship with the employee, but I think right now OP can’t destroy trust and comfort because it does not exist at least from OP’s side, and I don’t think it exists from the employees side. I think OP and the employee might have completely opposing needs/wants. It also seems like OP/coworker are not even at “Hi, Bye, Thanks, I’m Sorry and Good for you” stage, and OP just wants to get to that level.

            Maybe in the field OP’s works in interaction is not needed, but most time even if you are just somewhere to work being friendly/social with other can help get the job done faster/easier for you. I am 100% more likely to go out of my way/above and beyond to help a coworker/boss that I like vs someone that I barely know that does not talk to me.

            I think most people want to connect with others at least partly for their own self-validating reasons/ for their own benefit.

            But being able to manage up and adapt to your different bosses personality type is a skill that can benefit most employees. Luckily for me I learned that the hard way early on in high school.

      2. turquoisecow*

        It doesn’t have to be a social hour but not having any sort of remotely personal interaction with a boss seems cold to me. There’s a balance somewhere between, “so tell me your life story and all your personal problems while we have coffee or lunch together,” and “I don’t know if my boss/employee/coworker has a spouse or kids or anything about them and I don’t want to know, I’m a robot here to do work only.”

        1. UKDancer*

          Definitely. I don’t want to know all about my team’s inner secrets and life stories but I like to check they’re alright and know if there’s something going on with them. In my team I know that Lucy has 2 cats and that one of the cats has been to the vets with a recurrent stomach upset so she’s a bit stressed. I know Peter’s getting married next month and he’s walking around grinning his head off. None of this is critical to the work but it’s pleasanter if you have at least some rapport with people.

          I’m not deeply interested by Lucy’s cats or Peter’s wedding but they are so I ask about them simply because it seems like the right thing to do to recognise their interests.

          1. londonedit*

            Yes, exactly. That’s how it works in the team I’m part of – no, we’re not sharing huge amounts of personal information but I know the name of my boss’s partner, I know my colleague has family in Norfolk, we share broad weekend plans along the lines of ‘Not much planned, I’m going to attempt another loaf of bread and we’re meeting up with friends for a drink on Saturday night’. It’s nice to share snippets of information so we’re all aware of each other’s lives and potential stresses outside of work, just because you want to feel like you’re working with actual rounded human beings.

      3. Akcipitrokulo*

        Coffee & relaxed does not confluct with keeping it business if preferred. Checking in with how they are, as relates to work, doesn’t need to be overly formal.

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I have 1:1s with my higher-ups. They are freeform. If you want to keep it strictly to work, you do. If you want to ask them about their pets, you do that. They are typically short (15 minutes, longer if there are specific questions or issues to discuss).

    2. Momma Bear*

      When I worked in an open office, I would always take my lunch somewhere else, preferably in a corner of a café far away from my coworkers. I needed to get some headspace. Maybe Beth does, too. Unless this impacts her work, why does anyone care?

      And re: the training, just set up some team meetings on the subject and ensure that all the employees who need training get it. Nothing here says that Beth would run away from training for her job. She might not be effusive about it, but don’t expect her to be incompetent b/c she’s selectively social.

      1. Allonge*

        Ok, but if Beth will not talk to her manager at all, how is manager supposed to divine if/when she needs training?

        1. KateM*

          I don’t know how, but somehow the letter writer DOES know that there will be new software and that both Ned and Beth need training.

    3. Anonymous Hippo*

      Is this something that has to be scheduled with most companies? It is so often mentioned in answers and comments that I’m starting to get a complex because I don’t have them. Both companies I’ve worked for, we’ve never had specific 1 on 1 meetings that weren’t specifically performance reviews, but I talk with my manager nearly every day (sometimes more) and the same from my reports to me. The longest time I won’t talk to them would be over the weekend lol. I’m wondering if the 1 on 1s are need to be more formal? For example, we had some monthly reviews and a couple of departments were having issues with some of the results and them not liking our processes (accounting) and after the meeting my accountant just popped into my office and told me what was up, we decided how to handle it, and he went back to his work. During close, I put together a list of issues the accounting group had, and I’ll grab my boss once we finalize, and we’ll review them and what needs to happen to remove them in the future. Are 1 on 1s supposed to be in addition to this kind of back and forth, or does this not necessarily happen naturally in all workplaces.

  16. Jennifer*

    I think that it’s possible she doesn’t like you and you’ll never find out the reason why. It could be the color of the car your drive, or a opinion you hold that you expressed near her that she disagrees with, or your personality in general. I think we just need to normalize this. It’s very freeing. I know it can sting when people seem to be warm and friendly with everyone in the office but you, but you have to let it go.

    If I know I have said something that hurt someone, it’s on me to apologize. If I don’t know that I have offended someone, it’s on them to come to me about it.

    Now, the work aspect of it – if you have asked her for something and she is not doing it, you need to follow up with her about it so she understands what is being requested and how often it’s needed. Ask her to provide the monthly updates and if she still doesn’t do it, you might need to have another meeting with her.

  17. I'm just here for the cats*

    I’m betting that Beth may have been burned by bosses in the last so she doesn’t feel comfortable being so informal now

    1. SomebodyElse*

      The problem is, Beth isn’t even being formal :)

      This situation is so odd from all sides. The manager is worried about greetings and chit chat, but they have no idea what their employee is doing day to day… talk about missing the big point. And an employee acting like they are a spy trying not to blow their cover!

        1. Just Another Zebra*

          This is the point I keep coming back to in my head. 2 years of hands-off management. I said it in my own comment, but I’m very like Beth in many ways. Just let me do my work and leave me to it. If there’s a problem I can’t solve, I’ll come find you. The fact that OP let this go on for so long just lead Beth to assume this is how she manages, because she’s never said anything different.

  18. Language Lover*

    Separate the need for work communication from personal communication. Your employee might eat later than everyone else because it’s the only way to convert lunch to true down time. Quiet is golden.

    Also, don’t judge her on what she’s capable of communication wise with a co-worker and think she can be the same way with you. As you said, your relationship is different given the reporting structure. And as a serious introvert who hates small talk, some people are much better at drawing me out than others. Neal just might be one of those friendly extroverted people that others find it easy to talk to.

    To improve your communication, I know you set a goal for checking in. How do you want that done? If you want it in person, you should be the one to schedule the meetings. It might be a good idea to make them short to start out.

  19. llamaswithouthats*

    Speaking from personal experience, she could just be really shy and timid around authority figures! That’s why she is familiar with coworkers and not her boss. This is my issue and I’m trying to work on it. I’ve never been able to cozy up to people in upper management because I freeze up around them. It’s possible the employee really respects the OP.

    1. llamaswithouthats*

      I should also add that I’m neurodivergent and am not good at code switching. I don’t always know how to adapt communication styles with people I have different relationships with. It’s hard to explain. Basically, I want to put out there that just because someone is quiet around you isn’t always because they dislike you. Especially when there are power dynamics involved.

    2. mf*

      Agree with this. I was very shy and timid toward my bosses when I was in my late teens and earlier twenties. I didn’t really start to relax around authority figures at work until I was in my thirties. Some of us just take longer than others to learn how to navigate these kinds of social intricacies.

  20. Sleepless*

    As long as it’s not causing problems with the work flow, I wouldn’t worry about it. I love my coworkers, but I cannot stand eating lunch with them. Too much. I really have to have that time away from them. If I had an office mate and the boss was right next door, it would probably be ten times worse.

  21. SomebodyElse*

    I had an employee who was very shy. Didn’t bother me in the least.

    But I would make a point when I was in town to stop and work-chat with her f2f until she got a little more used to me. Eventually we had short pleasant non-work focused chats, but it was never anything I forced and we still had our 1:1s that focused on work. We had less frequent 1:1s, and that was her choice on the timing. I didn’t force more frequent ones, because I was confident that she would reach out to me if she needed something.

    The key was to separate work from personal (now getting back to why I’m replying to your comment) … There were things that I expected (attending client lunches, work meetings and participation, performing training, and 1:1s) but I wasn’t going to push the personal stuff.

    The not so surprising but often forgotten thing is that once the expectations were clear and personal boundaries were respected, everyone got more comfortable with each other and there was more organic communication.

  22. Just Another Zebra*

    I was/ am the Beth at my company, to the point that I had to read the letter a few times to double check it wasn’t actually about me. I work in a department with one other person who I am friendly with, and am casually friendly with my other coworkers. My office is in the back of the building, so I park near the back door and don’t greet/ say goodnight to anyone other than “Neal”. I like to eat my lunch alone because that is how I decompress. Usually I’m reading a book or messing around on my phone.

    So as a fellow Beth, OP, I’m guessing she doesn’t know what you even want in your updates. To me, if there was a problem with my work, my manager would tell me. If all is well, then there’s nothing to discuss. If a problem comes up, and I have a solution, I solve it and soldier on. When I need outside input, I’ll ask Neal before my manager, since he sits with me and probably has more details that I would otherwise have to explain to a manager. I’m paid to do a job; so I do it and move along. I would guess that your Beth works in a similar way, that you’re busy enough that you don’t need constant (even weekly) updates. I did my job and we’re happy with the results, what is there to discuss?

    I realize this isn’t the norm everywhere. But since you haven’t asked for anything different in the past, there’s no reason Beth feels she can’t continue on in this way. I certainly would.

  23. Bookworm*

    Agree with the 1:1 suggestion and also acknowledge that maybe it’s really not personal–this employee just really likes time to themselves and may feel pressure to interact with immediate co-workers that isn’t the same with you.

    I tend to be quiet (it’s hilarious to me how this letter and the previous one were posted on the same day) and it simply takes me time to warm up to people. I also try to acknowledge that maybe I just don’t gel with someone and may not make that extra effort, even if they’re someone like a boss. But ultimately, yes, that you will not have the same relationship or even the warmest relationships with your employees and that’s just how it is.

  24. a sound engineer*

    It seems like OP is framing this as if the onus is on Beth to take initiative and put in the work to change things, when really it’s the other way around. If you want to start 1:1 meetings, for example, then schedule them and tell Beth what to prepare for them, instead of setting them “as a goal” to work toward and letting her decline.

    But, as other people have noted, is this about your personal feelings or is it actually hindering work? I can’t tell from the letter whether Beth is communicating only about work (which really shouldn’t be an issue), or not at all. If adding the meetings, etc is about hoping to get closer on a personal level, but there are no work issues, you should really leave it alone.

  25. Kelly*

    OP is your name Sarah? I kid, I kid. I was a “Beth” in a former job. OP, unless I’m missing something, you are taking a reactive role in all this.

    – Take a step back and assess your relationship with Neal. Are you favoring him in any way? Blatantly praising him while ignoring Beth?
    – Beth isn’t obligated to go to lunch with you. It’s her hour (or whatever) to do what she wants. At that job, I would go to the gym during lunch instead of joining my team for lunch. My Sarah didn’t say, but I think she had a problem with that. She was very controlling and liked that lunch time opportunity as a way for my other teammates to kiss up to her.
    – What’s wrong with email? It’s a good practice to have things in writing (for reference). Not everything needs a 30 minute discussion. My Sarah also told me she thought it was weird I would email rather than talking. That team never put things in writing. It was an efficient team.
    – If Beth isn’t communicate the way you want on things, tell her and give examples. Don’t make her guess. It’s up to you to set processes.
    – Beth (and Neal) aren’t your friends. You are their manager.

    My Sarah complained to me how I never communicated to her and in the same breath said, “you are very quiet so I leave you alone”. Yes, that makes no sense. OP, don’t be like Sarah.

  26. Lacey*

    I’ve been the person who takes a later lunch. It’s about being alone for lunch and it’s about having that gloriously quiet office while everyone else is at lunch.

    I’m also a person who would rather email than pop my head in your office. Unless it’s urgent, I think most things can be an email.

    And, I know some people think I’m super quiet and reserved, while other people would be surprised to hear that. I’m talkative enough with them. But that’s just about people clicking. You can’t be upset that your employee doesn’t click with you on a personal level.

    1. Daisy-dog*

      Same! When I was in an office, lunch was a great time to read or listen to podcasts.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      I like a later lunch just because the afternoon goes by so much more quickly. (And if I have a sufficient breakfast, I’m just not hungry at noon.)

      Also, if I have to run errands, there is less traffic later.

      There are all sorts of good reasons why people like a later lunch.

  27. Daisy-dog*

    I do not easily chat with others at work. I have 2 very distinct modes: Work Mode and Not Work Mode. The 2 do not overlap unless forced.

    I don’t say good-night to co-workers when I leave unless we are passing by. Do I actively dislike it? Not at all. It’s just not something that I think to do and I don’t like to dawdle when leaving work. If you want this to happen, you will need to make it happen on your own.

    I am okay with a tiny amount of small talk, but I am not great at it. I will not discuss politics at work in any form. I don’t have children and would not have much to add to a child-rearing discussion. I don’t follow sports (not even for my famously sporty alma mater). I like reading, watching TV, my dog, and lately that’s about it. Surely there is something that Beth is passionate about if you are looking to have a conversation. Does she have a pet? Does she have a hobby or a favorite genre?

  28. Formerly Ella Vader*

    I think it’s a good start that the OP is aware of how much of her concern is about her own feelings and preferences. And there’s nothing wrong with wishing to have friends and feel included at work! It’s just — OP shouldn’t be getting much of this need met through Neal and Beth. If the OP could build in some routine of daily conversation, eating lunch together, chatting with other managers and with peers in other departments, and could get out of the habit of socializing with Neal in ways that weren’t happening with Beth, maybe everyone would be better off except for possibly Neal. And there are ways to be diplomatic and vague with Neal but at the same time reassure him that it’s not his fault and it’s not Beth’s fault either.

    When I was Beth sometimes in the past, I really didn’t want my home life to be a conversation topic at the office. I was Not Out about some aspects of my life, and while I actually had opinions about, say, how to be a good step-parent, or about not going “home” for Christmas, I stayed out of all those conversations. And in lots of jobs, I’ve envied the co-workers who had easy connections with the boss talking about, hmm, lawn care services, similar vacation interests, preferred Anglican liturgy, scary movies – things I couldn’t jump into the conversation about. That doesn’t mean that a boss needs to never chat about any of these things (except that Anglican liturgy probably should be treated like politics), but that the boss should be like the host at a dinner party, not sticking in conversations that always leave the same person out.

    Playing detective about Beth’s reticence wouldn’t be appropriate, but if the OP tries running some thought experiments (how would this be landing if she was of a stigmatized religion / if she had food constraints she didn’t want you to know about or didn’t want to discuss / if she was just really shy / if she wasn’t able to vote because she wasn’t a citizen of your country, or if her religion opposed voting / if she was LGBTQ / if she had experienced pregnancy loss or loss of custody / if she was hearing-impaired or struggled with your accent or otherwise found email easier than voice with you) she might get a better appreciation of what inadvertent messages the OP might be sending by enjoying her common ground with Neal.

    Also, yes, don’t just take Neal out by himself on his birthday, whether or not you offer to take Beth out on hers. Take both of them out together. Maybe not about birthdays, just about “it’s Friday tomorrow and we met that deadline – don’t bring lunch, we’ll go to the all-restrictions-honoured buffet” or “lets pop downstairs together to the coffee kiosk that also has herbal tea”. Or put some treats in the conference room and invite them to help themselves on their own.

  29. Dust Bunny*

    I don’t think I talk to my supervisor all that much. I like her, but we’re both busy and I a) don’t have much to say and b) don’t want to interrupt her if I don’t have to. I think we pretty much align politically, too, but nobody talks politics and we don’t ask a lot of personal questions. It’s definitely not personal, it’s just . . . chatting is not really a thing in our department? We do once in awhile but for the most part everyone is doing their work and communication tends to be sparse.

    Our whole organization does monthly reports and our department does very short weekly meetings, so she does know what I’m working on.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Now that I think about it, I sometimes think I talk to her too much even though it’s very little.

      Everyone here eats lunch at different times.

  30. Student*

    I’ve been in Beth’s shoes before.

    Generally, when I do this with a manager, it’s because the manager has indicated they are perpetually overwhelmed. So I give them as much of their space and time back as I can possibly afford to do. Usually, in my field, that’s pretty much what the manager wants.

    In my field, “managers” are basically meaningless figureheads that exist for corporate legal liabilities reasons. They have no control over ~99% of the resources I need to do my work. They have no authority over (or, usually, interest in) the actual work tasks I do, nor do they have authority over nor a say in the stakeholders/clients that I do functionally work for. They rubber-stamp some paperwork for us for liability reasons, to spread the blame around if something goes badly. They aren’t directly in charge of hiring, raises, or promotions, though they can give a little bit more input into that than the average employee. They are, functionally, my peers with a certain amount of time funded each week to push some additional paperwork around.

    Question for the OP – do you manage this person’s actual work in a functional way? Or are you a figurehead-manager with no real authority or supervisory responsibility, like in my industry? The fact that you have never had an actual business need to talk to Beth makes me think your industry might be more like mine, and you might be more of a departmental business administrator/peer to her than an actual manager. You have a lot less leeway to try to compel a personal relationship with Beth if this is the case.

    If you do have significant supervisory and managerial responsibilities to Beth, and you’ve spoken this little with her, then you are the primary problem, and you are focusing on the wrong thing to fix. Instead of worrying about being a better buddy to her, take more of an interest in her role in your business: try to understand her business needs better, try to promote her good work better within your organization, solicit (and use, as appropriate) her input on how the business could improve, innovate, build up customers, etc. Give her information on what your department needs are, what you expect is coming in the future for the department, resources she isn’t availing herself of that you can help her access.

    You’ll find you will probably naturally become better buddies with her as you two work up a mutually-beneficial business arrangement.

  31. Clorinda*

    That’s on LW, though. “Our meeting is at 2:30 on Tuesday. I’d like to see updates on projects A and B, and I’d like to hear some suggestions about X,” so there’s an actual plan, not just awkward “How are you?”–“Fine” mumbling.

    1. Clorinda*

      Sorry this comment was in response to something else way up there about how the meetings fizzled and now it looks like I’m muttering to myself in some weird way!

  32. Kay*

    Oh my gosh, I sound like “Beth” and never realize that my boss can potentially be concerned about that. I mainly talk about work to my boss really because of the manager-to-employee relationship, not because I don’t like my boss or anything. I am also very introverted and don’t give much info about my personal life because I am a very private person and like to keep my work separate from my personal. My boss is also introverted and seems to be ok with it, but good to keep in mind when interacting with other managers.

  33. Shaniqua*

    “It’s not a big deal if Beth doesn’t chat with you or say good night before she leaves, and as a manager you can’t take those things personally.”

    This was such a relief to read as someone who is more introverted. In my last workplace my coworkers would frequently ask for dating and life advice from my manager. She would even play with their hair while talking. Compared to them my work-only convos seemed so cold and I worried that would be an issue for my work performance.

    She also got insulted one morning when an employee didn’t hear her say good morning because he had headphones in… I SAID good morning! Ugh young people.

  34. Just @ me next time*

    Introverted and anxious person here! My anxiety responds very differently based on both situation and relationship. That means sometimes I appear friendly and outgoing, sometimes I am almost completely withdrawn. It’s not personal.

    Things I generally feel good about: Chatting back when my talkative coworkers chat to me first in an open plan office, joining coworkers for lunch or a walk if they invite me, giving a presentation on something I feel passionate and confident about, sharing my opinion when called upon in a meeting, participating in a friendly group chat over instant messenger, replying to emails people have sent me, answering the phone when someone calls me, writing an email informing people of something, discussing my work with my boss in a 1-1 setting (in-person or by phone).

    Things I don’t really like but tolerate for the sake of getting stuff done: Saying something urgent out loud to coworkers who are working quietly in an open plan office (e.g. “Is anyone else having a problem logging in to their email?”), writing an email asking for something, smiling and nodding when someone makes eye contact as we pass in the hallway, saying something in a meeting when I haven’t been called on, sending a work-related instant message when I need something urgent.

    Things that are absolute NOPES that I will avoid at all costs: Knocking on someone’s office door or poking my head into their office, inviting a coworker to eat lunch or go for a walk, sending an unprovoked social instant message to a coworker, making a phone call.

    I have some colleagues that I really like and think are super cool and would love to be friendly with, but my anxiety brain says “There is a quantitative measure of how much one person likes another, and if you like a person more than they like you, you are bad and shameful and deserve to be punished.” And then sometimes I need something from someone, and my anxiety brain says “Needing help to do your job means you are stupid and a failure and should be ashamed.”

    LW, the best things you can do are:
    1) Stop taking this personally. Seriously, it’s almost certainly not about you.
    2) Ask Beth how she prefers to check in about work-related progress and issues and make sure that channel is available to her.

  35. Me*

    Just adding on – if you are scheduling a 1:1 with Beth, you best be doing that with Neal and your other reports as well. You cannot use it to “punish” her for not talking to you more.

    And honestly since it’s such a concern to you that she’s not your buddy, you may want to review your interactions with those on your team who are. You’re their manager not their friend. I had a manager that would go to lunch with one employee but never include me or anyone else. Honestly it was fine because he was an awful person, but the blatant favoritism as a manager is not ok. Even if he did it because he knew I would never go – the fact remains that he never ASKED while asking the other employee.

    1. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

      I am a little flabbergasted about the presumption that a 1:1 meeting is a punishment that has to be given to both employees. The bottom line is that OP doesn’t feel like she and Beth are communicating well with each other, so why not have a structured scheduled time to …. communicate about work? Neal, with his pop-ins and casual “oh hey did I mentions”, is doing a better job at communicating his work stuff to his manager, so he doesn’t need a structured time. (Honestly Neal would drive me crazy as a manager, but the letter isn’t about Neal!) Beth needs to be told what OP needs from her in terms of communication – weekly reports, biweekly updates, 10 minute in person check-ins – as well as work deliverables. It is not unreasonable to expect your staff to talk to you about how work is going on a regular basis!

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes definitely. Regular 1:1 meetings are not a punishment. When I take up a new job I always agree with my staff how often we’re going to check in with each other. That way we’re clear what the expectation is. Given my boss holds me accountable for the work of my team, I need to know what my team is doing, any problems and issues and whether I need to step in.

        Also as a person I like to know they’re alright on a personal level. I don’t need them to confide the inmost secrets of their hearts to me, but I do want to check they’re not abjectly miserable and if so whether I can do anything to help.

  36. AnonaLlama*

    I have been OP. It was early in my management career and I had another team added to my existing team and the work on the new team was “new” to me. I had a really hard time trying to learn the work the new team did without making the employees feel like I was looking over their shoulders/micromanaging, etc. Overtime we got it all sorted but in the beginning I made some big mistakes, some of which I think I see OP making like blurring the lines between work and non-work chatter, defaulting to Neal because you find it easier to talk to him, retreating further from Beth because don’t know how to handle the situation, etc.

    What others are saying is great advice, OP. Think about information you’re looking for and then be very, overly clear about asking for that information specifically and why. “Beth – I don’t really know anything about how you groom the Swiss Llamas, I’ve only ever worked with the British herd. Next time you do one, I’d like to join you so I can learn”. Or “oh hey Beth- someone asked me for an update on the Llama conference prep the other day and I told them I was sure you had it under control since you’ve done it on your own the past 3 years but I’d like to hear about the plans this year.” Bonus points if you can find things buried in there that can help her “oh, I was able to get you a resource to help with the llama herding during the conference.” The more you build trust that you will not use this information against her the more she will open up about work things. Then on the non-work things, make like Elsa and let it go…..

  37. DH*

    LW described Beth as introverted. It could be that Beth also has a form of social anxiety that manifests in discomfort around people who are in a position of authority over her

  38. Cordelia*

    I don’t understand, OP, why you are worried about communicating about the new software? You say Beth is excellent at her job and that you have no concerns, that she communicates with you via email and will speak to you about work matters such as invoices – is there any reason to suspect she would ignore your communications about the software, and somehow not engage in the training? She doesn’t want to eat lunch with you, and avoids the bonding conversations you and Neal have about politics and childrearing – she’s your employee, not your friend, and you’ll need to get over being hurt and taking it personally when she doesn’t want to make social chitchat with you.

  39. pcake*

    An introvert who does a good job at their work. I don’t see the problem. So she doesn’t hang out and chat. Isn’t her work quality the important thing here. It’s not a social club.

    Btw, luckily for me I’ve worked from home since the 1990s, but I used to avoid eating my lunch with others for a couple reasons. First, I used my lunch to decompress and second, people turn my food allergies into something they always feel the need to comment on over and over and over.

  40. squirmet*

    Oh boy, it’s me. I think I’ve done every thing described of Beth in this letter. My boss could have written this. And I’ve been at my job with the same boss for over 4 years.

    I agree that it probably comes down to being introverted, mostly. Anxiety and power dynamics probably have a part in it, too, though. Reasoning for my behavior often includes…
    – I generally don’t feel the need to physically speak to people more than I have to (bonus points for being a text- and IM-acclimated Millenial. Slack FTW.)
    – I don’t want to get too casual with someone I want to impress. If anyone considers me obnoxious I Will Die.
    – I don’t want to interrupt you in the middle of your work. Seriously, if anyone considers me obnoxious I Will Die. (This especially causes friction if I’m expected to initiate check-ins. Please, just find me when you’re free.)
    – I often prefer email so that I have your answer in writing to refer back to later and don’t have to ask again.
    – And yes, my lunch break is the only time of the day that I can be free of the expectation to interact with people. It’s very liberating, and it’s how I regroup for the rest of the day.

    So, yeah. It’s not really personal, it’s just who I am. And as long as I’m meeting expectations with my work, I’m happiest if I’m allowed to continue being myself.

  41. RB*

    I really liked Alison’s last paragraph. Because it’s entirely possible Beth feels slighted by the closer relationship the boss has with Neal, and doesn’t realize it is mainly her (Beth’s) own doing.

  42. RagingADHD*

    Please, please separate your personal feelings of “hurt” from your management of Beth’s work. Being your buddy is not part of her job description.

    If you aren’t getting necessary work updates, then certainly you need to follow up on that and make sure they happen. But it sounds like your hurt feelings are interfering with your management.

    The casual chitchat and the work updates are entirely different things. If you don’t lump them together in your own mind, it will be easier to see them separately when dealing with Beth.

  43. Sleepless Not in Seattle*

    I’m glad the OP is asking about this, and hope that it’s a reflection of their own self-awareness rather than a moment of surprise about the situation.

    A recent boss “poisoned the well,” so to speak. Seemed bothered by minor requests, would take forever to answer inquiries (mostly in the negative), wouldn’t entertain alternate opinions or proposals or pushback—was just altogether difficult. My survival strategy when we did meet was to find areas of humorous small talk, and grit my teeth through the work discussions. There reached a point where I simply stopped asking about anything more than what was absolutely necessary. Boss finally started to seek more input (possibly pressured from higher levels to do so) but there was very little worth saying by then because any trust was all gone.

    It sounds like this is not that, but might be worth some introspection.

  44. Lexie*

    The sending an email instead of just popping into the office next door could be for documentation purposes. I had a supervisor that would forget what they told you or deny telling you something so commenting via email meant there was a record of what was said.

  45. OhBehave*

    You are the boss. It was up to you to start that check in with Beth (knowing what you did about her reticence). For all we know, she may have had horrible bosses and learned to keep her head down. When you do implement regular check-ins, please do so with all of your reports. The last thing you need is to focus on her only. If you do, it will only make her withdraw more.

  46. Small houseplant*

    I had a boss who seemed intensely uncomfortable with personal questions (kids, holiday plans, that kind of thing) in work chat. Once I realized that I tried to stealthily pass that information on to new coworkers. He was a great teacher and super knowledgeable so I tried to ask him questions about work things. I realize that’s the flip of this situation, but that might help some people.

  47. judyjudyjudy*

    You didn’t say much about what Beth is like as an employee — you just seemed a bit put out that she doesn’t appear interested in being your pal. Your chief concern should be that Beth behaves professionally; her desire to eat lunch alone or send emails rather than pop in to your office or skip wishing you goodnight is not your business, since none of these things impact the quality of her work. You are taking things too personally — maybe Beth dislikes you, or maybe she’s shy but does like you, or maybe she is neutral about you, but honestly why does that matter if Beth is doing her job? You told her you wanted to set monthly 1:1 meetings, and when they didn’t materialize, you just….let it go? You’re not managing Beth here. Start there.

  48. Anonymous Hippo*

    I’m like this employee. Not about work stuff, I’m big on 100% keeping my boss in the loop regarding work, but I don’t chat, don’t do greetings first, never think to initiate chit chat sitting in a conference room waiting for a meeting to start. Now, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, but was getting upset in subsequent performance reviews because my performance is stellar, but I wasn’t getting promoted and it had been much longer than they had originally led me to believe. My boss kept hemming and hawing about how they just needed to see “more.” Then finally one year, she was no longer my manager, and I had my review with the grandboss. I asked the same question, and she came back with a concrete answer. You have to be seen to do a good job, and have a good relationship with people in other departments. Doing excellent work is important, but others have to feel comfortable enough to come to you, or its not that much use. She, being an excellent manager, immediately took steps to get me involved in visible projects across with the management of other teams. It was freaking terrifying,
    as I have extreme social anxiety, one of the first was being the coordinator for the safety team, which was basically all the senior management and me, and I had to manage all their appointments and calendars and make sure they were all available for the meetings, then I had to also take charge of the meetings to make sure we covered all items on the agenda and not let them wander off topic. But making these changes, making myself visible and heard, learning how to speak up and take charge, even with people who massively outrank you, have been of immeasurable benefit to me in my career.

    I say all this to say, I would take this tack with the employee. Yes, we should be able to sit in our bubble and just pound out good work, and to some extent you can, but “in general” people like a little more from those they are interacting with. If you can take that next step it can be very impactful to your future career. Obviously if there is something you need to require for her to be doing a great job (keeping you in the loop on work related matters) that’s different, but I’d tend to offer this as a personal/career growth opportunity. She may choose not to accept it, and that’s ok. But sometimes we introverts don’t realize that sometimes the world really is designed by the extroverts, and we have to learn to play the game to get ahead.

  49. Aggressive Passive*

    How about OP start by saying hello?

    “I suggested that we add a goal of her updating me once a month on her work so that I’d be in the loop, but that has not happened and I haven’t pushed the issue.”

    It sounds a lot like OP isn’t being direct and “suggesting adding a goal of her updating you once a month” is sooooooooo indirect and passive. OP left it up to Beth, and Beth said no. But OP is the manager, so OP needs to not “suggest”, and make it a goal.

  50. Overit*

    OP — I would ask you 2 questions:
    1. Why is it so important that your employee have personal conversations and a social relationship with you?
    2. Is there anything in YOUR behavior/attitude that might be off-putting to Beth?

    Story time: I am a social person, quite extroverted. But I had a boss who complained that I did not talk to her “enough” on non-work matters, that I did not eat lunch with her, that I did not say “Good morning/night” every single day, that I was “too reserved” when she asked me general work questions like, “How do you enjoy working here?”

    The reason for my behavior was due to HERS. I have never been a quiet and reserved employee until working for this boss. Here’s why I changed my behavior: On my first day, it became obvious that she had her Favorites — based on their reflection of her own life — and since I do not fit into that reflection, I was immediately excluded from almost all non-work conversations. When I had casual non-work conversations, she would immediately come into our area and interrupt, either acting put out or demanding to be included. She would criticize my food, e.g. “I don’t drink soda and neither should you! Tsk tsk.” She would come into our open office area and have long and loud personal conversations with the Favorites, making the favoritism not only obvious but detrimental to getting my own work done (and since I was not a Favorite, she pressured me for much higher output than them).

    So while it is likely that Beth may be shy or anxious or have social anxiety, it might be worth asking yourself those 2 questions above. Because if someone as extroverted as me can be accused of being too quiet and reserved, it might be more than Beth’s internal wiring.

  51. CoveredInBees*

    While I can’t tell from the letter one way or another, you might have different communication styles. I worked for a small company and reported directly to the CEO. I often found our meetings difficult because of our different communication styles. I’m more of a think alone and write things out type person and she’s very think-aloud style. She’d want me to do the think aloud stuff too and I would try but it is already difficult and my role was narrowly focused, while hers was broader, so she would want to deal with things in an order that might have made sense to her but not to my work. We often missed my giving relevant updates because of this. I really liked her as a person, but often left the meetings drained and frustrated.

    Things got a lot better when I was able to email her a weekly update on progress I was making. This meant fewer meetings (woohoo!) and when we did meet, it could be more freewheeling.

  52. Orange You Glad*

    I’m a shy introvert and I’ve definitely been a Beth at times. It’s ok if you never form a close personal bond with Beth but if you want to keep trying I would recommend socializing in a group setting that involves Neal. Are you able to hold team lunches – actually taking Beth and Neal off-site where the three of you can relax away from work? Things like that have helped me take down some of my barriers when it comes to getting to know the people I work with. I would add that if you do plan an event like that, leave some time for Beth to still take a break alone as it’s likely that she needs that time to recharge for the rest of the day.

    Also, her reaction to you may not have anything to do with you. She may have past experiences with bad bosses or there is something about your personality that is triggering a bad memory of another person.

    I would focus on your professional relationship. If you need work updates from her, then make those happen. If you don’t need those updates and her work is otherwise good, then I would let it go.

  53. Minerva*

    What does Beth want from her career? Is there anything she’d like to learn, or add to her responsibilities, or take away from them? Are her working conditions to her liking? What would keep her in this job, and what would drive her away? What’s her biggest pain point her her duties? What’s her favourite task that she’d specialize in if she could? What’s she better/worse at than Neal?

    You’re her manager, you need to build a relationship with her where these are the things about her you know. Set up 1-1s, maybe even offer to buy her lunch somewhere of her choice, and make sure to open up these conversations. Stay away from anything that too personal, maybe after you have a better working relationship she’ll be more comfortable bringing more chit-chat in, maybe not. If she needs to work on her communication skills and relationship building, look at it, and present it to her, in context of what it does for her, not just you.

    If you want to manage people, you need to work on your own skills at building relationships with people who are not like you, and look into developing people. As a manager, ideally you are key to her getting training, promotions, and considerations for other positions in the company. Look at building the relationship as you explicitly offering her these things, and consider building a better relationship with your report as a development task for _you_, not her.

  54. Selena*

    I’m a quiet person and i really wish OP was my manager: someone who looks at the quality of my work first and doesn’t want to fire me for disliking office parties.
    Having said that: OP having no idea if the employee is in trouble is a serious issue which requires better communication.
    OP needs to enforce regular feedback, either formally (weekly or monthly email) or informally (weekly or monthly lunch-date).

    Going from my own experiences: part of the issue might be that the employee is chronically insecure. When OP questions her about work she might worry about looking bad because she is a perfectionist who thinks she spends to much time on ‘stuff that would be easy if i was smarter’

    I wonder if employee is really on better footing with the other team-member or it’s more that OP saw them talking like once.
    If the contact between these 2 is much better than the contact with OP than it’s valid to feel jealous, for lack of a better word. Especially if it’s just the 3 of them all day.

    1. Naturally Guarded*

      I disagree that better contact between peers who share an office than between the manage and employee who don’t is reason for the manager to feel jealous. Your employee does not owe you conversations about politics, child rearing, or even television shows or weekend plans. It would be far more natural for me to have relaxed conversations with my office mate than my boss for a lot of the reasons already mentioned. OP has no issues with Beth’s work, so it seems in the time OP has managed Beth, Beth hasn’t given any reason to think that would change. Yes, schedule those one-on-ones so you can ask work-related questions and receive work-related answers. And be thankful you have a good employee who minds her own business and gets her job done. Discussing one’s personal life or views should not be part of the job description.

  55. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    I can be a Beth. Definitely for the Lunch thing. I like my coworkers but generally have zero interest in what they talk about at lunch.

    It’s not an employee’s job to be charming with their boss. Pleasant and non-avoidant would be preferable, of course. But engaging in small talk, not so much.

    If the concern is that OP needs some work status updates, then a way to communicate them through email might be just fine. If OP needs their team to come together to chat about how the new changes will happen, then a clear agenda and set schedule should happen to accomplish that. Possibly some gentle encouragement and consistent controlled interactions will help draw out Beth a bit more, possibly not.

    Or maybe OP needs to swing by once a day, ask a work related question, and demonstrate that there’s opportunity to chat if there’s interest, and step away if there isn’t.

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