my new employee keeps complaining about missing her kids

A reader writes:

I have a staff member who I hired recently, and she’s been out of the workforce for five or so years while she was a stay-at-home parent. I have been conscious of the adjustment for her being back in an office, and overall she’s been quite enthusiastic about working again.

The problem is that she regularly complains about missing her children, and acts quite often as if work is a hardship or an imposition standing in her family’s way.

It feels to me very unprofessional, and especially seems odd to complain about the timing of tasks that are the point of her role. She is the key worker who processes payroll, and the entire office depends on payroll being processed on a fixed and regular timetable in order to get paid. So complaining about how you didn’t really want to come to work and then launching into a long story about your children and how your kids asked you not to come to work because you should be with them, every single time she has to do payroll doesn’t make any sense.

At school holidays, she’ll work the bare minimum and talk often and bitterly about how she’s not with them. She’s not the only one with small children but everyone else seems to enjoy their work or at least realize that work is a necessary part of life.

I’m her manager. Should I tell her that she is coming across very unprofessionally and this makes her look bad, or am I overreacting?

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.

{ 279 comments… read them below }

  1. Dapper Dev*

    I wonder if the manager could determine if this employee is better suited in a part time role. Maybe she wants to work, but doesn’t appreciate working full time. Could be worth it to determine if there’s any capacity for this kind of transition. If not, then the employee could reflect on what they want IMO

    1. Siege*

      It doesn’t matter if that’s the case. Companies don’t have to bend over backwards. If the employee comes up with that as a suggestion, great, explore it, but assuming this person does something other than running payroll every two weeks, it’s allowed to keep a full-time job full-time. The complaining needs to stop, regardless of any other accommodations. I guarantee this woman’s coworkers dislike her heartily; she can’t be allowed to keep spraying negativity into the workplace like a terrible sprinkler.

      1. What's in a name?*

        I think there is a lot of space between asking if someone wants to go part time (in the same role or a different one) and bending over backwards. That can be done at the same time as expressing the need for the complaining to stop.

        1. MK*

          If the company has many employees in the same role, some full- and some part-time, sure, asking if the employee wants to switch is best. But companies don’t typically pay full salaries for a job that can be done part-time, so I would assume that since they hired a full-time payroll clerk, they need one. So it’s not just “asking if someone wants to go part time”, it’s restructuring the role to be part-time or searching for another part-time role in the company. I don’t know that it is reasonable to ask the OP to extent this kind of effort on behalf of someone who has built no capital or good-will so far.

          1. Siege*

            And that’s why I said “bending over backward”. If someone is asking an employer to completely restructure a role, they need to make it compelling to the employer. This person is not in a position to request that, based on the information in the letter.

            1. LTL*

              Well I think that’s why Dapper Dev said “I wonder if the manager could determine”. Most likely case is that the employee can’t be transitioned into a part time position but it’s not bending over backwards to consider whether it’s a possibility.

              1. Rayray*

                Agree with what you said. There are roles where this wouldn’t be an over the top suggestion. I’ve worked places where people doing the same job worked full time or part time depending on the person.

      2. Underemployed Erin*

        In the US, there is not a lot of skilled part-time work. We either expect women to completely commit to work or not. This is not great. It throws a bunch of accomplished women completely out of the work force when they choose to have children. Then the same leadership that did this says some nonsense about how they support women. There is nothing magical about the 40-hour work week. In some cases, 32 or even 20 could be fine.

        Payroll is an essential and serious function that needs to be done on time. This lady cannot complain in a way that makes it seem like people getting paid on time is not serious. If she wants a less serious part-time job, she can freelance and set her own hours. She needs to either stop complaining about doing payroll or go do something else, but I am thinking that doing payroll probably pays better than some of the more flexible functions that allow for more of a family life.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yeah, I was hired in a part-time role, because the company wasn’t sure of having enough work to keep me busy full-time. The understanding was that I would later start working full-time once there was enough work.
          However the boss then gave my colleague a pay rise and not me, and he told me it was because I was only working part-time, and equal pay only applied if everyone worked the same hours.
          Every year he asked during my review whether I could go full-time.
          NB I was far more productive on all counts than my full-time colleagues who often stayed late (maybe people are always more productive when only expected to work 32 hours a week? research seems to point that way).
          Every year I said I would consider going full-time if I got a significant pay-rise (i.e. at least as much as my colleagues got), and that was the end of the conversation.

          So instead of getting his best employee to work more hours, the boss demotivated me to the point that I would only produce as much work per hour as my less-productive colleagues, then spent the rest of my day at the office discreetly doing my volunteer work.

          1. Allim*

            Have you considered you weren’t offered a pay rise because you werent as “discreet” as you thought about misrepresenting what you were doing at work….

            1. CoveredInBees*

              Have you considered that you’re reading the timeline on this backwards? A prolonged period of being denied pay raises or full time opportunities *led* to this. Not the other way around.

        2. SometimesALurker*

          And it would also throw a bunch of accomplished men out of the workforce when they chose to have children, if our society weren’t so messed up about gender and parenting. (I’m not saying that part is limited to the US, though.)

    2. MK*

      I don’t know that it is worth it to change the role (and I would assume the company wouldn’t be paying a full-time payroll clerk, if a part-timer could do the job) for a very new employee, probably not a superstar, who constantly complains and occasionally does the bare minimum.

      1. AwesomePossum*


        If she has additional responsibilities other than processing payroll, reducing her hours to part-time may necessitate the need to hire an additional employee to augment the reduced hours of the first which may not be a realistic solution.

        If she were a superstar who was quick and efficient, a reduction in hours may be more realistic but based on the letter the quality of her work isn’t…great.

      2. MCMonkeybean*

        Yeah, there is a woman at my company who was my boss’ boss when I started and after a maternity leave she decided she wanted to go part time. She was a long-time employee and was great at her job with a lot of good specific knowledge so they did do a lot to make it work. She kept a lot of the high-level work but was moved to a part-time individual contributor position where she didn’t have any direct reports. That was like 10 years ago and she’s still here doing great work!

        But I can’t imagine a company reworking a position like that for a brand-new employee. I just can’t imagine it would be worth it to them to do so unless she had some very niche knowledge/experience to bring to the table.

    3. BatManDan*

      There is nothing in the original letter to indicate whether the position is either part-time or full-time at present. I’m willing to bet that it’s already a part-time job, but that’s based on some subtleties that I may be misreading, so I won’t bet MUCH on that.

    4. Teapot supervisor*

      Yes and no. I think I’d caveat Alison’s answer by pointing out there might be a middle ground other than ‘be here or don’t be here’. A more flexible opening elsewhere in the company? An ability to go part-time? I’d also challenge any thinking along the lines of ‘these roles need to be done full-time 9-5 because that’s how it’s always been done’. For example, my firm used to be really against working from home because ‘people are just really unproductive that way’. We’ve been doing just fine during the pandemic – it was just nobody wanted to challenge the old way of doing things!

      That being said, as others have pointed out, I wouldn’t bend over backwards to make a job, say, 4 10s when it genuinely needs somebody 5 days a week, part-time or similar, especially given employee sounds not so stellar. And this also doesn’t excuse employees behaviour.

      1. MK*

        I am willing to bet someone did a lot of work to make wfh possible during the pandemic for your company. Likewise, it would probably take work to turn a full-time job to part-time, unless the workload is seriously miscalculated, as it would take some effort to find another opening.

        I really don’t understand why people think it’s the OP’s job to solve this person’s unhappiness; a good manager should try to solve work problems that are making employees unhappy, but when a person is unhappy with working at all? I would get doing this for someone who you value, or even someone who has come to you with the suggestion themselves. Not someone who only complains constantly.

        1. OhNo*

          I don’t think anyone is saying it’s the OP’s job? At least not in this thread at the moment. Dapper Dev just mentioned it as an option that might be worth looking into, which I think is fair to do if the OP has the time to do so.

          In general, though, there’s very much a trend in online spaces, and this blog in particular from what I’ve seen, to move towards a more human-to-human approach to work, rather than a purely business arrangement. Trying to make someone else happy with the skills and power at your disposal is a nice thing to do for another human, but the effort expended in making someone happy doesn’t always make sense from a purely business perspective. So I think sometimes it just depends on what lens you’re using to look at the problem!

        2. Teapot supervisor*

          I was, to a degree, involved in making sure my team could work from home during the pandemic. My short and snarky answer would be that we did it by being a bit more flexible in our thinking and not being tied to what our jobs *should* look like.

          But my longer and more considered answer is, even though we were in jobs which were already well-suited to homeworking, there were teething problems and there are still some things which we haven’t been able to replicate as well at home as we did in the office. The begrudging-ness in my post above was more on that we had managers who would tell employees they couldn’t even work one day from home because they had a doctor’s appointment or something similar and they’d rather have somebody take holiday and be 0% productive that day than be 90% productive from home “because this isn’t a work from home role”.

          I’m not suggesting every job can be done from home, or part-time or flexibly or whatever accommodation you want substitute just by sitting down and thinking a bit more creatively about how to make it more flexible. And I’m not suggesting OP should bend over backwards to force a job which must be done 9-5 or whatever the current arrangement is to squeeze into another template when it just doesn’t work. I’m also not saying that OP’s employee’s attitude is acceptable.

          What I AM saying is that if OP’s chat with employee leads to an answer of “Actually, this full-time/whatever arrangement of working isn’t working for me” and OP was quite keen on keeping them around, it would be a shame if the reason for not doing that was a “that’s just not how things are done around here” attitude.

          1. Librarian1*

            It just seems very unlikely that the OP would be keen on keeping this employee around. She sounds very unpleasant to be around and if I were a manager, I would not go out of my way to keep her.

        3. Crabby Patty*

          Agree with MK. If the employee has discovered she is misaligned with the terms she originally agreed to, fine, but then say so, offer a solution, and see if the company agrees or inquire if the job can be done according to a reduced number of hours.

          I’m not sure why the company must do the legwork to hold onto this person.

          1. Despachito*


            If I have a problem, own it and come up with a solution, I am acting as a mature adult.

            The whining is just so passive-aggressive. But perhaps she is so immersed in missing her children (and I can perfectly understand this) that she is not aware how it comes across. I think that she should be absolutely told that, and I like the suggestions made to either reconsider her role or stop complaining.

    5. Person from the Resume*

      Why would you assume that the role is suited for a part time employee?

      If there’s not enough work for her to work a 40 hour week, it would already be part time or much more likely assigned to some other role.

      It’s not the businesses duty to accommodate an employee who would is vocal about how she rather not be working.

      1. alienor*

        I wouldn’t be too sure. A lot of full-time jobs don’t really require 40 hours–pretty much every experiment with shorter workdays or fewer days per week has ended up with employees not only accomplishing just as much, but being happier and getting sick less often.

    6. Observer*

      I wonder if the manager could determine if this employee is better suited in a part time role.

      This is a payroll position. Which means that if they are paying her full time, then the job needs to be full time. It’s not simple to split a payroll position. In this particular context going part time is a major stretch. And it’s one I would not even suggest unless the employee had a track record of excellence and understanding the seriousness of the role. And this person clearly is not that.

  2. J.E.*

    I’m wondering if this person is back at work because she wants to be or if circumstances changed in her life and she has to come back to work. If she’s working because she has to and didn’t really choose to re enter the workforce, then I can kind of see how that could be the cause of her behavior. To me that seems to be the main factor in the issues that have come up.

    1. Sara without an H*

      That’s possible but not really relevant. While it’s tempting to get down in the weeds with employee motivation, what’s important here is the behavior. If flexible scheduling would help, or switching to part-time status, well, both of those are legitimate options a manager can offer. But the constant complaining solves nothing and the manager in this letter was doing her no favors by letting it go on.

      1. Quickbeam*

        I’ve been a nurse for many decades. I had on multiple occasions worked with nurses who resented working, complained about how unfair it was that they couldn’t be stay at home mothers, etc. The economics of our area are such that nurses often make more than their spouse.

        I have a lot of compassion for that position, however it makes for a miserable work place to listen to someone complain over and over again about how awful it is to work outside the home. I hope OP realizes what a toll it takes on the other workers.

        1. Cat Tree*

          I mean, wouldn’t everybody prefer to not work if they didn’t have to? It’s not just parents (usually mothers) who feel this way. But we all have bills to pay so we do our jobs.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I work in hypereducated, Type A area, and there are a ton of people I could see working if they didn’t have to (and, frankly, a not insignificant number of people who likely have enough inherited or earned/invested wealth to not have to work). Even the SAHPs tend to make a career of volunteering – PTA/PTO, sports coaches, office work, charitable work, etc.

          2. Boof*

            yeaaaah I like my job but if I was only doing things at my leisure and when I wanted to, I’d probably work about 1/5 of what I do (60hrs a week at least I try to stop there these days).

          3. Drago Cucina*

            My husband and I were discussing my future retirement-retirement date (I’ve technically retired once). We realized that I would probably end up volunteering more hours than I work. That in many ways it’s better for work-life balance if I’m working a paying job. I don’t over extend myself.

          4. tangerineRose*

            “I mean, wouldn’t everybody prefer to not work if they didn’t have to?”

            Yep, pretty much.

            1. tangerineRose*

              I mean, I mostly like my job, but there are lots of other things I’d like to do.

            2. laser99*

              I live in an very affluent area and I have never understood what those people do all day. I would go out of my mind with boredom.

          5. Branch*

            There are many people who have been fortunate to find work that is suited to them and aligns with their interests.

            1. Branch*

              Oops, I hit “submit” before I could complete my thought.

              “I mean, wouldn’t everybody prefer to not work if they didn’t have to?” — this is like the statement “Wouldn’t everyone prefer to work from home if they could?”

              I’m someone who enjoys WFH but I understand that there are plenty of folks who prefer working NOT-from-home. The same applies to working at all. Sure, for many people a job is only a tolerable way to make a living. But there are also lots of people who would continue to work even if they didn’t have to for financial (or health insurance) reasons.

    2. AwesomePossum*

      But that isn’t a factor. Even if her re-entry to the workforce was due to circumstance, not choice, it doesn’t change the fact that she’s currently employed.

      Not saying that everyone needs to show up to work with a smile all the time, but if someone is relying on the income from their job maybe don’t constantly crap on the thing that’s paying your bills.

      1. turtleturtleturtle*

        And it may be worth noting that it’s only paying your bills *if payroll gets processed on schedule.*

    3. somanyquestions*

      A huge number of people don’t really want to be at work. No one needs to hear about it.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        A huge number of people don’t really want to be at work. No one needs to hear about it.

        Right. The job pays because the employee would rather be doing something else and the employer needs it done.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          Yeah it’s like…if you’re complaining at work because work is doing something terrible and you’re speaking out for meaningful change, great speak up. If you’re whining about being at work in general because work is work and you have to go to there, this is not a thing that needs to be said outloud.

      2. Artemesia*

        Which is why it is called ‘work’ and not ‘vacation’ — I think a lot of managers (and a lot of parents) don’t seem to understand that talk is behavior and can be managed. Attitude and feelings when internal are outside our reach, BUT negative talk, grousing, whining and other things that make the workplace (or home) unpleasant are behavior that can be required to be changed and for which the individual can be fired if they don’t.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          Attitude and feelings and other internal stuff SHOULD be out of our reach. They’re not a manager’s business. Behavior — including speech at the office — is.

      3. The Original K.*

        I daresay it’s the majority of those of us who work because we have to trade our labor for money in order to live, which is most of us. I would rather do so many other things aside from work, but I’m not independently wealthy so I have to work. If there came a time when I didn’t have to work, I would almost certainly stop working. This is not a novel opinion!

      4. Teapot Supervisor*


        The occasional grouch on a particularly bad day? Fine, everybody’s human. But going on and on about it? Not so fine.

        Reminds me of when I worked with a freelancer who had picked up a shift on mother’s day and then spent ALL OF IT complaining she wasn’t with her children. By hour three, I had to stop myself from snapping “If you didn’t want to work today, why did you pick this shift up?!?” (partly because I suspect the answer would have been “Because I need to eat and pay the bills” but still)

    4. Simply the best*

      Aren’t most people at work due to life circumstances (like… needing money to pay for food and shelter)? I know I am, and I manage to get through my day without complaining constantly.

      1. Annika Hansen*

        Yeah, I really want to be a stay-at-home dog parent with a live-in masseuse. My life circumstances don’t make that a possibility so I work. And I mostly don’t complain :)

      2. Dust Bunny*

        My cats are seriously displeased that I’m not WFH any more. The older ones literally runs crying to the door when I get home. But all three of us need to eat and they’re not very employable so I’ve gotta work.

          1. starsaphire*

            You can totally get great measurable optics here:

            * Caught 3 of 5 mice found under refrigerator
            * Increased napping time from 15 to 16.5 hours daily
            * Relocated 37 ballpoint pens under bed

        1. Nanani*

          You deserve every lecture for being out for literal HOURS per day without your CATS. How do you get anything done without them? Of course they are displeased :((((

          (typed under strict tabby supurvision)

      3. nonbinary writer*

        For real, I’m only at work because SOMEONE decided to birth me without my consent and now I have to feed and clothe and shelter this horrible flesh prison.

        1. Might Be Spam*

          I remember hearing about a guy suing his parents for causing him to be born. I think it was in India. Antinatalism even has it’s own website.

          1. Artemesia*

            In the play Endgame by Samuel Becket, two elderly parents are in garbage cans at the side of the stage and in the version I saw their grouchy whiny middle aged son is in a wheel chair grousing and whining. At one point he says something like ‘why was I born, why did you have me?’ And the father pauses and then says ‘well, we didn’t know it was going to be YOU.’

            I may or may not have filed that line away for the right moment in parenthood.

            1. Becca*

              I am now almost sorry I chose not to have children and will never have the opportunity to use this line.

      4. Robin Ellacott*

        Our office complainer left recently. Numerous efforts to correct her behaviour fell on deaf ears, so there had been escalating interventions that just made her feel more victimized. I think her manager probably did a small dance when she resigned instead of needing to be fired.

        She was weirdly furious we never tried to talk her out of leaving (which of course we don’t do even when we want to keep someone and they are NOT clearly miserable at work!). The whole tone of the department changed without her, and I hope she is happier – I know we are.

        If OP can get through to this staff member that complaining without purpose is corrosive and damaging, it will help everyone, including her.

    5. Cake or Death?*

      “If she’s working because she has to and didn’t really choose to re enter the workforce, then I can kind of see how that could be the cause of her behavior”

      I understand what you’re saying here, but honestly its a very narrow way to view it, because unless the other employees are independently wealthy, they are literally all working “because the have to”. Having to work to pay bills is almost a universal experience outside of people that are born into extreme wealth.
      And quite frankly, this might need to be pointed out to her. “well, I only came back to work because we needed the money” should be answered with a hand wave towards the entire office while saying, “you are describing the situation of every one of your coworkers. And your situation of having to be away from your children while at work is not at all unique either; there are many parents that work here that have to leave their kids as well. Do you notice all your coworkers complaining about this all day, every day?”

      1. J.E.*

        I know what you’re saying. I was thinking maybe the complainer had been married and a stay at home and perhaps got divorced or the spouse lost their job and she now needed to go back to work. It’s not excusing the behavior. I’d have a talk with her and say look, if there are no other options for you and have to work then you need to come to terms with your circumstances and not take it out on everyone else and slow down processes causing problems for the other employees.

    6. Observer*

      . If she’s working because she has to and didn’t really choose to re enter the workforce, then I can kind of see how that could be the cause of her behavior.

      If the question was “Is this person terrible” them what you say would be relevant. But the question is not about whether Employee is a terrible person. The question is whether the behavior is OK and if it’s within the OP’s purview to tell her to dial it down. And the answer is the same regardless of the reason for the behavior.

    7. Sweet Christmas*

      I’ve often heard new parents say that they couldn’t really predict how they’d feel going back: some of them really wanted to return to work only to discover that they missed being at-home parents too much. As I was reading this, I kind of wondered if the subject of the letter was going through this, trying to process the shock of not missing work as much as she thought she had.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Thing is, she can do that in her head, no need to make everyone else miserable about it.

      2. Emily*

        I don’t think this is as inherent a fact as you think it is.
        I’ve cleaned up plenty of animal poop, vomit and other bodily fluids in my previous job (like pretty much every sort of animal bodily fluid there is). Other than some animals that gave particularly impressive performances it never bothered me. Lancing abscesses is about the one part of the job I miss.
        I’d 100% choose mucking out some llamas over doing the payroll my mum does at the moment. Covid and furlough have made it horrible.

    8. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      yeah, well I would rather have been a SAHM for my kids but it wasn’t feasible given that my partner’s income was not stable. That’s kind of how life works: very few of us would do paid work if we didn’t have to. This woman is just all too vocal about it, and doesn’t seem to realise that others might also rather be at home treading on lego.

    9. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      yeah, well I would rather have been a SAHM for my kids but it wasn’t feasible given that my partner’s income was not stable. That’s kind of how life works: very few of us would do paid work if we didn’t have to. This woman is just all too vocal about it, and doesn’t seem to realise that others might also rather be at home treading on lego.

    10. MassMatt*

      I can see how this would definitely make a difference but the end result is that someone who complains constantly about having to work and acts as though their duties are tearing them away from their children is a pain to be around. Even if this were not affecting the quality of her work (which I doubt), Acting like you don’t want to be at work is a sure fire way to get canned.

      I would definitely give her a strong ultimatum—it really seems like you don’t want to be here. If that’s the case, let’s work on a plan to get a replacement trained for you and transition you out (as in, out of the company). If this is NOT the case, you need to dramatically improve your attitude or we will let you go.

      Someone acting this way makes it that much harder for people to re-enter the workforce after having kids.

  3. Sara without an H*

    Um, yes, it’s time to start managing. This employee is sabotaging herself and alienating her coworkers, even if nobody’s said anything yet.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      And this advice would work for any complaining employee. Mommy subjects can be touchy, but the problem would be the same if someone was complaining about having to go to bed on time and not partying all night, missing their spouse while at work, or constantly complaining that they would rather be fishing/shopping/sleeping.
      It would definitely grate on me if my co-worker was referring to work like a prison, and I would circumvent them whenever possible.

      1. Nea*

        Yes, it doesn’t matter what route they’re taking when the ultimate destination is to complain about the workplace. I used to be annoyed by a coworker who had an obsession about retirement that annoyed me.

      2. TWW*

        This advice would work for anyone who engages in a lot of non-work-related chatter. The best managers I’ve worked under do a good job of keeping off-topic conversation to a minimum.

        Regardless of what you’re discussing, if it’s not required for the job, there’s a good chance at least some of your coworkers don’t want to hear about it.

        “While you’re here, we need you to be focused on work and not giving colleagues the impression that you’d rather be [doing whatever you’re talking about].”

        1. Lacey*

          How unpleasant that would be! I’m not particularly chatty myself, but everywhere I’ve worked people have talked to their coworkers about non-work topics to be friendly.

          It’s not like when I’m telling my friends about my weekend I’m trying to indicate that I’d rather be doing yard work instead of hanging out with them. Why would that be what’s happening when I talk to my coworkers about my weekend?

          There’s a pretty big difference between non-work chatter and complaining.

        2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          So there’s nuance here that I’m not sure you’re capturing. The issue isn’t so much about the amount of non-work-related chatter but instead using it, consciously or not, to deflect from work requests.

          Lots of people are capable of talking about their outside lives at work quite a bit but it doesn’t come across as though they’re disengaged from their work. One of the differences between these people and the LW is timing; another is being actually responsive to the work at hand.

          Again, there’s part of me that’s really confused about the underlying assumptions here. Is this partially about not recognizing that some people are capable of multitasking?

      3. Joielle*

        Yeah, it’s the same as the person who’s always “joking” about how they’re counting down the hours until Friday. Like yeah, weekends are nice, but most people get through the workweek without constantly pining to be somewhere else. At least not out loud.

      4. rachel in nyc*

        Oooh, my former coworker- who asked once how I didn’t drink so much when we went out after work- comes to mind. I loved her but I definitely looked confused when I told her that I only allow myself so many drinks.

        I am expected to be- ya know- not hungover at work most days.

      5. A*

        Especially when they are handling payroll. Like… I’m sorry that having to cut a paycheck to compensate me for my work is…. and inconvenience? And ruining your kid’s childhood? I’d have a hard time not feeling guilty, or guilty for NOT feeling guilty.

  4. MsClaw*

    “quite often as if work is a hardship or an imposition standing in her family’s way.”

    Work is both a hardship that stands in my family’s way but also how I finance everything my family does.
    I would much rather be with my family than my coworkers. However, that’s the trade! I get paid to be here and perform tasks. And yeah, I keep my gob shut about how much I’d rather be with the kiddo. Just like I wouldn’t want to hear someone constantly moan about how they’d rather be snorkeling or off-roading or sleeping.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      One problem here is that from what OP says, the employee’s complaining comes across as if she thinks she’s unique in some way – that her job is a particularly big imposition on her family. When in reality, lots of people have things they’d rather do than be at the office. It’s weirdly self-centered.

      1. MsClaw*

        Right. It’s not that other people don’t have families (or pets or hobbies etc), they just have better manners.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        My kids asked me to stay home today because I should be with them!

        Yeah, whatever.

        1. Rachel C*

          One of my children discovered around age 7 that home-schooling was a thing some parents did and spent about a year campaigning for me to give up my job and homeschool instead. It was not going to happen as I am the higher-earning parent and I have never wanted to homeschool, but: 7 years old & stubborn. I occasionally mentioned it in passing to fellow colleagues when the campaigning got especially creative, but was careful to keep the tone light and entertaining and not “I resent being here and not homeschooling”.

          (I did eventually manage to find a place at a school which was a better fit and get Homeschool Campaigner transferred there. And the campaigning has now stopped.)

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I bet you came across as “funny story about what kiddo did” vrs “grumpy complaining about the fact I’m at work” that OP’s employee is doing. The tone and presentation are key to the difference.

            1. Observer*

              Exactly this.

              Telling *a* story about “Kid wants me to stay” home is one thing. Telling LOTS of stories or COMPLAINING that the kid is RIGHT and you should really be home with them is a whole different kettle of fish.

      3. No Name Today*

        This. I think a conversation with OP is going to be an eye opener for employee. She is going to realize, either “oh, other people have kids” or “other people feel this way, they just don’t talk about it all the time.”
        Or a combination of both.
        At this point it’s a tic like automatic “I’m sorry” or “I’m dumb” or “you didn’t…(the people who skim emails EVERY TIME)
        When you speak to her, give her a chance to become aware of this in action before she makes a decision. Honestly, guide to into becoming aware of how she’s presenting herself and to think about why.

        1. rabid squirrel*

          It’s possible that the employee has been out of the workforce for 5 years, and she has forgotten professional norms. I think a kind but firm conversation with her about expectations of behavior at work is the first step. She might just have to be given clear instructions, just like people new to the workforce in general.

          1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            Yeah. I also wonder if her previous work experiences didn’t have the same expectations around professional norms. Because let’s be real here, there are some environments that ask a lot less of employees in terms of soft skills, so the idea that what she’s doing can be perceived as an issue might be a lot to take in.

            Worst case scenario is that she’s the type to clap back with “well it’s not a big deal” or “you’re too sensitive” if it’s brought to her attention.

          2. Guacamole Bob*

            It’s also the case for many people (not all! especially those with non-child caregiving responsibilities) that the rhythms of life when working as an adult without children at home are quite different than those of a working parent of young kids. If the last time she was employed was pre-kids, she may be going through a really big adjustment because the work experience she’s coming back to isn’t quite the same as the one she left. That part is understandable!

            But this constant stream of negativity and martyrdom isn’t helping anyone, and it seems like it’s gone on plenty long enough. It’s past time for a conversation with her about it.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          It’s possible she’ll be like someone I know who, faced with a very similar conversation, said “I’m not complaining about my job! I’m just saying oh, I have to go do the TPS reports now! That’s not complaining!” (Spoiler alert: They were complaining.)

        3. TM*

          I think a lot of people really don’t realize that their behavior has an impact on others. And not to generalize, that might be particularly true for people who for the last few years have been spending the bulk of their time with the tiny humans they spawned. Hopefully just making her aware will either make her stop or make her face her own misery and decide to do something about it.

          1. Observer*

            I think a lot of people really don’t realize that their behavior has an impact on others. And not to generalize, that might be particularly true for people who for the last few years have been spending the bulk of their time with the tiny humans they spawned

            I’d say that the reverse is true. Because kids tend to be VERY reactive to the mood of their care-takers. So any adult who has been spend a lot of time taking care of young children should be very aware of the effect that their behavior can have on others.

            1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

              What you’re describing is the ideal of a certain milieu that believes that child development is valid concept. Sometimes you’re dealing with people who:

              (1) See childrens’ reactivity to adult behaviour as being “too sensitive” or irrational because said children don’t understand the adult world,
              (2) Don’t see themselves as being accountable for behaving in certain ways around children because they have the last say as the adult in the room,
              (3) Assume that other adults ought to be able to, well, gloss over their behaviour and not be impacted by it because they’re adults,
              (4) Wouldn’t take well to another adult suggesting that their behaviour has any effect on anyone because, again, “too sensitive”

              This is a bad combination, and I don’t really know how you get through to someone like this.

            2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              I expect this mother cares a whole lot more about how her kids feel than how her colleagues feel!

      4. uncivil servant*

        Other people will find it offputting because it can come off as “well, you career women don’t miss your kids, but when you’re a devoted mother like me…” Now, she (probably) doesn’t mean it like that! But it’s a fraught topic and she’s not the only one with conflicting feelings about not being with her kids.

        1. NY LAWYER*

          Also as someone without kids but with other things in my life and a job I don’t love but do because I need to support myself it comes off as a little out of touch to assume that its only parents who have other things they want to be doing or that they are the only only ones with legitimate outside of work things.

        2. Artemesia*

          I think she does probably mean it like that. She feels unique. SHE unlike you would be with HER kids if only she could. And she hasn’t learned that important skill most of us master at some point under parental nagging ‘do you see anyone else behaving like this?’

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Yep. I had someone say this to me – their grandstanding about what an imposition work was on their children’s wellbeing was entirely different because they were a special supermom, and all the rest of us were terrible child-abandoners who preferred work to our own children (not that I recall her taking a poll).

            In my experience, the complainers (not just about kids) do really think that the imposition upon them is far greater than anyone else – or that anyone else could possibly understand – and expecting them to consider other people’s existence, much less feelings, was just further proof that you were discriminating against them in some way.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              I know I remember feeling that way when I had to go back to work, but I hope I didn’t moan like this woman!

      5. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        This hits the nail on the head. It’s particularly alienating because it potentially sends the message that you believe that you’re more deserving of flexibility than your peers who are likely in similar situations.

        1. Sabina*

          I had a coworker who had a similar apparent sense of entitlement about commuting in bad weather, i.e. she should be allowed to come in late or leave hours early if there was even a hint of snow. Like everyone else should just suck it up if they had to chain up and creep home, she should be home having hot chocolate in front of the fireplace.

          1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

            I thought that until I started getting older, and the realization that the replacement body parts would NOT react well to falling on ice slowed me down in bad weather – or made me cave completely and use a personal day (back in medieval times before WFH was a thing). And most of the other weather cowards I knew had the same, or similar, issues.

            1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

              Having a parent who is a weather coward, it’s like…the apparent sense of entitlement is happening not because they’re wrong for being concerned about falling on ice, but because the way they’re expressing it implies that there’s little responsibility on their part to mitigate it.

              That’s just it – you leave earlier and slow down, or find another mode of transportation, or take a personal day. Or advocate for WFH where it’s feasible, but all of those things aren’t about placing the focus on something other than finding a workaround for the underlying issue.

  5. Hei Hei, the Chicken from Moana*

    And for any job newbies here – just don’t complain at work. It’s not worth it. I’m not saying be toxically positive, but just try to avoid true COMPLAINING as much as you can. It almost always will come back to bite you in the ass.

    1. MsClaw*

      Yeah, if you talk all the time about how you wish you didn’t have to be there, you risk someone deciding that you … don’t have to be there.

      1. Siege*

        It’s one thing to talk about not wanting to do the X report or the Y project is eating your life, but very few people, if they had a choice, WANT to be at work. I want to be at work because I don’t want to marry a sugar daddy, so work funds the little things I like to do regularly, like eating.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      Yes! It’s so hard to navigate this when starting out. A manger makes an off hand remark about working late, and then you start complaining about working 10 min late because the manager complained, so it must be okay. Right? We all share in the suffering. Right?
      It took me years to figure out what was regular banter and what was troublesome office gossip. Learning office culture from sitcoms did me no favors.
      If something is worth complaining about, then it’s worth saving for a constructive discussion with your manager.

      1. Hei Hei, the Chicken from Moana*


        Just don’t do it! Call a friend/partner/family, don’t do it at the office!

      2. friendly viper*

        Yeah, I think there is a difference between complaining about the legitimate work problem (like frequently working late is actionable on the manager’s part) and venting. There is little value in venting at work, and at some point a manager might be forced to act on it in ways that you did not want.

        1. The Original K.*

          Right. “The system that we use for the TPS reports is slow and clunky, could we look into a new one?” is different than “I hate it here!”

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I think this is the key to complaining at work – make the complaint something actionable. A complaint that can never be fixed is just a vent (which has a purpose, just not in the office in 99% of the cases).

        2. Sleeping Late Every Day*

          Some venting can be useful, like when it releases enough pressure to keep a person from doing a dramatic point-of-no-return action. I vented at work, and people were sympathetic because I had one of the few high-pressure jobs in an otherwise laid-back environment, plus my boss was pretty universally thought to be Commander Disgusting Scumbucket and avoided by anyone who didn’t work for him. And there were a few other Horribles in management, whose staff would curl up on the floor in other peoples’ offices to hide and just have a little fetal time.
          Hint to higher-ups: just because someone has great job skills, don’t promote them to manager level unless you know they also have reasonable good people skills, mkay?

      3. Smithy*

        I do think that this is a kind of issues where managers really struggle because it’s far more a calibration issue than a “100% wrong and inappropriate under every context”.

        There’s loads of “uch Mondays” complaining chitchat that is perceived as professional and normal. However, the exact nature and style of what is professional and what isn’t will not only vary based on sector or employer, but within one workplace can vary based on team or even individual colleague.

        I had one job where most of my team was in the US on the east coast, and we definitely had semi-regular early meetings to accommodate those abroad – but it infrequent enough where it was considered acceptably irritating and was often part of colleague complaining camaraderie. However, as the west coast team grew and would regularly start work at 6am if not earlier – identifying who that kind of complaining was appropriate for and when became more delicate.

        Given that so many people are good enough at figuring out the balance, someone who’s really wide of the mark – I get why it ends up being challenging to manage and demonstrate why what they’re doing is unprofessional and a peer isn’t.

    3. Alexis Rosay*

      I learned that hard way that too much complaining at work–even totally valid complaints–becomes its own toxicity.

    4. nonbinary writer*

      Yeah, I’ve definitely gotten myself into situations where I’ve sort of poisoned my own well regarding an entire job through constant “venting” that became unproductive very quickly. Bitterness is contagious.

    5. Autumnheart*

      I’ll say this much. Every job has its unpleasant moments or aspects, even if it’s otherwise a decently fulfilling job or even a great job. But I got to a point several years ago, where one of my colleagues would be really negative about any change in workload, tools or process. They’d say stuff like “OH GOD, this again” and “I’m sure this will be a mess, making more work for us” and that sort of thing. And I actually used to do the same thing—until I had to be on the listening end of it on a regular basis. You know what? It’s a drag to listen to. And it really kinda reflects badly on the person saying it. It makes one look inflexible and like they’re not sure they can keep up. It’s not a good look.

      So finally I thought to myself, “Do these changes ever actually suck as bad as anyone thinks? Am I ever unable to quickly catch on to the new process and keep rolling? Is this too much?” And the answer is always No. The changes are nbd, the new process is pretty simple and often an improvement, the work is not too much. (And if it genuinely was, management would listen and make adjustments.)

      And then there’s the part about how, if you’re always focusing on the sucky parts of work, you’re going to hate it more. I *LOVE* WFH and I’m going to be sad about going back to the office (although it’ll be a hybrid environment, so I’ll still get to WFH half the week). But I’m not going to go back and be like “CUBES SUCK! I hate getting up in the morning! Yoga pants are so much more comfortable!” because then I’ll be miserable! I’m focusing on seeing my friends again and enjoying the daily coffee/cafeteria run and that sort of thing. Unless one’s job is truly a dysfunctional or toxic place to be, then there are probably things like about the workplace, at least enough to make it doable.

      And if it’s not? Well….then you have some choices to make. At home. Where your coworkers can’t hear you.

    6. mf*

      Agree, although I do think it’s warranted in a situation where you be constructive and suggest a solution. “I hate TPS reports so much” is different than “I hate TPS reports so much. Can we eliminate this form and use the SPT report form instead?”

      1. Observer*

        Well, that’s not complaining. That’s bringing up a problem and suggesting a solution!

        Even if your solution is not going to fly for some reason, reasonable bosses and coworkers are not going to have a problem with that.

    7. Rosemary*

      Even the not-so-newbies sometimes need this reminder. As in, THIS not-so-newbie. I recently got a stern talking-to by my boss because I had gotten to a place where I was just being very negative and complaining a lot more than I should be at work. It was less a reflection of work/my job and more that I was just in a bad place…but it had a way of seeping into my work life. Basically my fuse was short in general…so things at work that normally would roll off my back became a Big Deal that I complained about.

    8. public defender*

      We have a winner. Unless the thing you’re complaining about is something your employer can affect and you’re creating some kind of collective action on the part of the employees. From a workplace tactical standpoint, there’s very little to gain from complaining within earshot of your boss. Now, in some circumstances you can complain, but it’s usually best given when your boss solicits the issue and you make sure you word your complaint nicely.

  6. Sunshine*

    I would like to add that she might need some support. Is there an eap to refer her to? Transitions are hard. I’d imagine that first year of not being able to be a dedicated parent would bring some raw guilt (as opposed the thick skinned guilt for those of us who dropped are small babies at daycare right away).
    It’s not the problem of the workplace or colleagues but there is likely room for growth.

    1. Hei Hei, the Chicken from Moana*

      I like the suggestion of EAP here. It’s hard to be a human in the workplace, much less a mom.

    2. No Name Today*

      I agree. She’s constantly in a negative headspace. She needs to get through that. Because spending 8 hours a day talking about how unhappy you are will soon not just switch off when your done.

    3. Regular Human Accountant*

      This is a compassionate suggestion. I started working full time when my youngest was four, and I cried every morning on my way to work for the first two weeks . . . until I realized she was having WAY more fun in preschool than she ever had with me! I didn’t complain or cry at work, but I can empathize with how hard the transition is ESPECIALLY during the summer months when you’re accustomed to going swimming or the park or having other fun summer activities with the kiddos, and now you’re stuck in a boring office.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I cried for about two weeks when I had to go back to work when my youngest was two. We had made the family decision that I would stay at home until he started kindergarten, and then my husband’s job re-organized and he ended up bringing home significantly less per month, which caused me to have to go to work about three years earlier than planned. I had deeply committed to our decision for me to stay home and was really looking forward to it. Most of my friends were also stay-at-home moms and we had mom groups and trips with the kid and a whole lifestyle that I loved and wanted to keep doing. It was a blow to have to give it up on very short notice. I found my equilibrium eventually, but there was a period of grief for the lifestyle I had lost. I didn’t complain about it at work, but I don’t know that it didn’t show somehow . . .

        1. MK*

          As someone with no children who mostly really enjoys being at work, I would have a lot of sympathy for a colleague who has a hard time leaving their kids to come back to work, but is making a good-faith effort to adjust. It’s not a problem if it shows that you struggle a bit, professionalism doesn’t mean being a robot. It’s the constant complaining and the apparent lack of effort which makes it an issue.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Agreed Mallory – someone who is struggling with the change that life threw them, but is not walking around spreading the “complainy-grumpies” I will work with and have sympathy for. I have no problems with sad that life changed, but not taking that out on everyone around me, and am fine being an ear for them if they need a few mins to decompress.

        3. Regular Human Accountant*

          Mallory, mine was an unexpected return to work as well, and I agree that made it worse. I hope, like me, your return to work ended up being a net-plus to your family’s life! Fifteen years later my life looks a lot different than I’d planned but I wouldn’t trade where we are for almost anything.

    4. hbc*

      I’d also say half the benefit of offering is to get her to realize how extreme her behavior is. If she’s actually struggling, fantastic, she gets some support. If she’s just being negative and kvetching, then this should pull her up short. It’s also a lot harder for her to justify the complaining as necessary and justified after she’s already said that she doesn’t need any help.

      1. Lana Kane*

        I agree. EAPs don’t usually get suggested for minor things. It can be a cue for her that it’s going too far.

  7. At home with work*

    OPs employee work is also suffering on school holidays at least. I think complaining about having to work at all is completely normal and there is a way to do it without oozing negativity. Sometimes complaints turn into the funniest conversations with coworkers. I wouldn’t want to work somewhere where I couldn’t say, “I don’t feel like cleaning the llama poop and I’d rather be at home with my family.” While still making sure that llama pen was immaculate.

    1. Simply the best*

      Once or twice sure. But if every time you had to do your job, you complained about it? No. That ish gets old pretty quick.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        It also gets into the “But I have kids!” mentality that implies those of us without somehow would be OK with doing ALL the work. I mean, there are lots of things I’d rather do than work, even if they don’t involve small humans.(FTR, most parents aren’t like this, but there are always a few… But yesterday someone in a meeting implied that because I’m not a mother, I have buckets of free time. So, my irritation is still fresh.)

        1. Lacey*

          Yes! I don’t mind helping out so parents can take care of things that sometimes pop up when you have kids – but I do mind if they act like it’s no big deal for me to do it because I don’t have kids.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Or if they think I should do it all the time because I don’t have kids.

            Your kid gets sent home from school, sick? Of course I’ll cover for you.

            You think I should always be the one to work holidays and stay late? Bwa ha ha ha no.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Yup – eminently grateful that current job allows me to take sick time to take care of my kids. Spouse’s job is the same. We alternate (though they take more sick days than I do just because more accrued sick leave at this point) who takes off sick for the kiddo.

      2. Shad*

        Likewise, it’s different when it’s one particularly obnoxious or bad part of the job (uugh cleaning restrooms, to use an example from my last retail job) than when it’s literally the entire job.

        1. Lacey*

          100%, especially if it’s a thing everyone hates doing – like the restrooms. In those cases I’d prefer people grumble a little than pretend it’s fantastic. I think it also has to be in a spirit of commiseration over the bad task, rather than trying to get out of it.

          1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            You hit the nail on the head here. There’s a subtle difference between commiseration and griping that comes across as a bit more self-involved. Complaining doesn’t always look like complaining when there’s a sense of community behind it.

    2. PT*

      But running payroll isn’t as awful as cleaning llama poop. I’ve had jobs where we had to clean literal poop and it is 100% OK to complain about cleaning about poop or vomit or other bodily fluids like that, at work, no matter the circumstances surrounding them because poop and vomit, etc., are disgusting even if you agreed to take a job where doing that was going to be part of your duties sometimes.

      Payroll is done from a temperature controlled office with a comfy chair. I’m sure the software is glitchy and people don’t submit their timecard approvals on time and there’s all sorts of frustrations that go with it. But it’s not the same as shoveling llama poop outside in August. It just isn’t.

    3. Susie Q*

      There is NO evidence that her work is sufferring. OP makes absolutely no comment on the quality of her work in the letter.

      1. At home with work*

        The letter writer wrote about her on school holidays doing the ‘bare minimum’. I think that’s a very clear statement about the quality of her work. Did you interpret it differently?

        1. Susie Q*

          What is the bare minimum? Doing her job? Is she meeting job requirements? Is she just not volunteering to stay late or something? I need more than bare minimum to assume she is failing at her job.

  8. Meep*

    I have a coworker who projects like no tomorrow and is very envious. I get a new cat? She goes on and on if she had any pets she would never want to come into the office. I purchase a house? She goes on and on about how she would never leave if she bought a house. On and on. The main problem is she is also a gossip so that projections mean that the person is clearly “distracted” and “not focusing on work”. Nope, just her hyper-focusing on not working.

    The best thing I could do was just stop talking to her about personal things. So any time she complains, change the subject.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I would be tempted to work decapitation into conversation and see if she’d claim she’d never come into the office if she were decapitated.

    1. Sandi*

      Yes! I realize that this is a pre-covid question so a different context, yet it is a bit funny (and stressful) in our new normal.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I went back to work when my kids were 4 years old and 15-month-old, after four years of combination part-time work/being out of work. The kids are now adults, but I still remember being beyond myself with excitement that I could sit!! in my own cube! all day! and no one would make me get up and run around at random times! and I even got paid for it! What was happening? was I in heaven? (To put a positive spin on it, Jane must be a lot better at parenting young children than I was :) and I was pretty damn good.)

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I used to sometimes train new employees for a very basic PT data entry job with evening hours. Most people found it boring, but moms with young kids loved it! Quiet time! Sitting down! Talking to other adults!

        I liked training it, because I worked a late schedule & was strolling in when everyone else was getting ready for lunch. And there was no class on Friday, so I worked my 40 & got all or part of Friday off.

      2. Cat Tree*

        I’m on maternity leave right now, and I can’t wait to get back to work. We have a generous leave policy (for the US) so I get almost 5 months at full pay. I considered going back early (I can use some of the leave staggered throughout the first year) but I can’t move up my daycare spot.

        I love my child, but it is so overwhelming that every thought and plan revolves around her. Even if I go to the bathroom while she’s sleeping I have to think about her waking up. I know the first few weeks are the toughest and it won’t always be like this, but it will be wonderful when she’s in great daycare and I can walk to the cafeteria for lunch without toting her along or scheduling it around her feedings. And I’ll get to have actual conversations with adults on a regular basis!

        1. Here we go again*

          I frequently feel like I work harder on my days off taking care of my two year old, cleaning, cooking gardening and running errands than I do while I’m at work.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Yes. When I was heavily pregnant with No.2, the doctor suggested giving me sick leave because I was exhausted. I said there was no point, because it was my first child who was wearing me out, not the job.

            FTR she gave me the sick leave anyway, and I then realised that the commute had also been wearing me out (whereas I’d seen the commute as necessary buffer time between parenting and work, during which I could READ without being interrupted).

      3. Teapot supervisor*

        I love my kids dearly but I also love that my spreadsheets don’t scream at me.

      4. Anhaga*

        OMG, this sums it up for me! I love being at the office and having my kids at school or camp or whatever place they go that other adults deal with them and let me have some quiet time. It’s to the point that when we have a no-school day that isn’t also a no-work day, my husband and I very grudgingly work out which of us is likely to have their workload least effected by working from home as the Responsible Adult. We both like getting to talk to people who aren’t our kids. This past year has been awful that way.

    3. Lana Kane*

      Right? I go into the office once a week, and I don’t even need to stay all day. But I do. Because it’s quiet and I get some &^$%^ time to myself. (said half jokingly, half grumpily!)

  9. AwesomePossum*

    I wonder what OP means by “overall enthusiastic to be working again.” Because the employee’s actions show…the opposite?

    Maybe I’m a cynic but it almost seems like the employee is fishing for something — maybe a boss sympathetic enough to say “Lucinda and Percival didn’t want you to come to work today? Why don’t you finish X and then go home?”

    For all the recommendations that reducing the hours to part-time might solve the problem, it may not be an option if the employee needs full-time pay and benefits.

    1. pope suburban*

      I would also be concerned about how reducing her hours might look to other employees. I’m not saying that’s a reason not to do something like that if it makes business sense, just that I’d tread really lightly around the idea of cutting her back to part-time (In addition to the benefits/money concerns you mentioned). OP noted that other people in the office have kids and yet manage to be at work, behaving collaboratively, and I wouldn’t want to alienate those people by giving into an inveterate complainer. I’ve been in a few workplaces where people with kids get all the flexibility, and it can really hurt morale to feel like you’re good enough to pick up slack, but not good enough to flex an hour to take a pet to the vet or go to your annual physical or take care of home repairs. Consequently, I try to balance things like that as equitably as possible, because failing to do that tends to lose you good workers.

      1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        Lol, I read “inveterate” as “invertebrate” at first and realized it could still apply to the complainer.

    2. Tired*

      To be honest with you, the way I read that complete disconnect is that the LW may be overreacting and may be the only person in the office who hears these complaints or is affected by them.

      It could also be that the payroll processing is hampered by another issue that has nothing to do with the employee, but makes the process more difficult for the employee than it should be. (Which is exactly what happens at my office, every single week.) But that stress results in the employee needing to vent, and also feeling even worse about being away from her children.

  10. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Is any part of her job remote friendly? I wouldn’t just offer it, no strings attached, lest you reward the kvetching, but if she can rein it in for a month or two, could she work from home on some of those school holidays and a day or two per week?

    It might be like the one dessert per week that helps some folks not mind sticking to their diet (and yes, I acknowledge this is an imperfect metaphor; I just don’t have a better one at the moment).

    1. Me*

      I don’t know that I’d go there with this one. The expectation of working from home is that you will be focused on work not caring for your children. Pandemic was a different kettle of course, but many employers even specify in their telework agreements that you will arrange care for dependents so you are not responsible for them on the clock.

      Telework so she can hang out with her kids instead of mope in the office on holiday isn’t going to increase the amount of productivity.

      1. Wry*

        Right. Particularly since the OP mentioned the employee saying that her kids asked her not to come to work so she can be with them instead. I can imagine it might even be worse for the kids (and probably for Mom!) to have Mom working from home, in reach of them but unable to be present with them and respond to their needs the way she did when she was a SAHP. Going off to school or daycare might be scary for them at first, but I’m willing to bet that over the course of the day they’re engaging in enough activity to distract them from missing Mom, at least sometimes, which seems better than having Mom right there but not engaging with them.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I can see that scenario; if the employee gets the work done in the office to earn the day WfH and then doesn’t at home, LW has to have that talk with the employee to either shape up or stay in the office. If the deliverables still don’t get done, it would be time to let them move on to their life’s work.

          Just because it can fail, though, doesn’t mean it must fail, and there’s also the scenario where having the opportunity for a bit of the best of both worlds motivates the employee into prioritizing making it work. LW would know better than we will the employee’s openness to motivation and how much is “I miss the kids” and how much “missing the kids is my excuse not to work.”

      2. Cat Tree*

        I’m on maternity leave right now, and so many people keep asking me if I’ll be able to keep working remotely, so I won’t have to get childcare. There are times when parents make it work such as the pandemic or the occasional sick day. But my child isn’t an afterthought that I can just park on a shelf until I have breaks in my work. Trying to do two full times jobs at the same time just means I wouldn’t do well at either of them. My child needs and deserves full time dedicated care, preferably with learning built in as she gets older.

    2. AwesomePossum*

      Teleworking is not a replacement for childcare. It’s one thing if it’s an off day where your kid gets sick and needs to stay home from school or day care. But constantly caring for your children while you’re expected to be working…isn’t fair to other people whose children are in daycare or babysat. Circumstances were different in the pandemic when offices AND schools/daycares were closed.

      Remote work would also need to be considered for all employees. If there are other employees with children (hell, or even employees without), why should they be deprived of the opportunity for WFH days because they didn’t complain loudly enough? That’s enough to tank morale for employees

      1. Rosemary*

        Exactly. This behavior should not be rewarded. And frankly this person sounds like the LAST one who would be a good candidate for WFH with her kids there.

    3. somanyquestions*

      Do you really think she sounds like someone who can be trusted to work at home on school holidays, when she’s already reluctant to do her job? Isn’t her whole point that she wants to spend school holidays with her kids, and how can she do that while working?

      Also, I don’t know what it’s like where you live but my kids are out of school at least 4 days a month every month (sometimes more), a couple weeks at christmas, a week in the spring- it’s not like school days off are rare.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Do you really think she sounds like someone who can be trusted to work at home on school holidays, when she’s already reluctant to do her job?

        I wouldn’t let her go full-remote, certainly not in the foreseeable future. Payroll processing days sound like they’re time-sensitive enough and important enough to prevent her from going remote on those days at all (and even if the technology is there, that’s totally something I can understand queasiness about doing off-site where there are eyes the company can’t control). But what do the tasks between payroll days look like?

        Isn’t her whole point that she wants to spend school holidays with her kids, and how can she do that while working?

        She gets breaks and lunch by law; if the children are old enough that she’s not directly supervising them the entire time as a newborn or infant might need (I cannot tell their ages from the letter), she can work while they self-entertain or do homework. She would also get back her commute on those days to spend with the children.

        It might not be a perfect solution, or even a viable one, but I do think there’s enough there to explore the idea before dismissing it, dismissing her, and starting over with a new employee (who might even be quacking worse).

        1. Cake or Death?*

          This is a great way to make all the other employees that are also parents, that do their job everyday without constantly whining, resentful. Imagine, a new employee starts, spends everyday complaining about how horrible it is that they have to work instead of spend time with their kids, and management decides to coddle her and change the position and give her extended flexibility, without any history og good work to support that. I mean, should an employer pay someone for full time work when they only work part time, because that employee constantly complains about having to spend a full 8 hours working? The experience of having to work to pay your bills is universal. Parents having to not be with their kids all day because they have to work is extremely common. It seems absurd to me to look for ways to accommodate someone because they are not happy with something that almost everyone experiences. It’s like the “Karens” that freak out at stores/restaurants about something completely normal, like having to wait a few minutes to be seated, and the manager discounts or comps their food. It really irks all the other patrons, who ALSO don’t like to wait, but do so without complaining, because it’s just a part of life.
          This employee is being unprofessional. And unprofessional behavior should not be rewarded.

          1. Liz*

            Yes! And as someone who doesn’t have kids, I’d be pretty resentful as well, esp if MY job was one that had to be done in the office. I don’t think offering her the option to work remotely is the answer at all

            1. Cake or Death?*

              Agreed! And it also plays into the mindset that people without children don’t have anything important or valuable in their life, which really irks me (even though I am a parent myself).

            2. Autumnheart*

              I’m a little split. On the one hand, I’d like management as a class to stop looking at WFH as a reward that you only get when you’re a good employee (if even then). But at the same time, management should avoid setting a precedent where it’s like “Fine, Adalyn gets to WFH because she complained so much. But everyone else is expected to show up and be positive!” Don’t do that. WFH should not be tied to a reward/punishment sort of dynamic. It should be tied to the role and the technological capability to execute it.

              I’d consider it entirely fair if Complaining Worker, instead of complaining every day where everyone could hear, went privately to the manager after a decent probation period, and said something like “Hey, I’m really struggling with X, do you think we could adjust my schedule to accommodate Y?” Or even negotiated some WFH days during the interview process. That would be professional! Being a continually negative presence in the office is not the way to go about it.

          2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Imagine, a new employee starts, spends everyday complaining about how horrible it is that they have to work instead of spend time with their kids, and management decides to coddle her and change the position and give her extended flexibility, without any history og good work to support that.

            That is a different scenario; I did suggest tying it to 30-60 days of improved behavior, lest LW creates the situation you’re describing. If that’s not long enough, that’s a valid critique, but I specifically excluded the scenario that makes her the squeaky wheel that immediately gets the grease and prompts every wheel to start squeaking.

            It’s also not been my experience; for the most part, I’ve seen other employees be silo’d in their responsibilities and not in a position to notice whether the Payroll Processor is in the office every day or just most days. Among those who do notice, some wouldn’t want remote work at all, and those who want the same day per week do have the option to ask for it and have their position evaluated the same way.

            What you described sounds like a very petty, toxic place, and if one employee working from home puts it into being a cesspool, it’s on the verge already.

            I guess it depends on what your goal is. I look at it with the goal of salvaging her training and the work she is doing. If your goal is to bring her in line with the existing culture, punish her for her moping, or replace her, your advice is going to be different.

            1. Cake or Death?*

              It’s actually not a different scenario. The ONLY reason you’re giving to even consider changing her role or letting her WFH is because of her constantly complaining. And frankly, complaining about something that so many other people experience, that it would make people resentful if they decided to bend over backwards to accommodate her whining. And not to mention, she hasn’t even been there that long, and the entire time she’s been complaining. She has no history of good solid work or reliability or any other goodwill capital to use here; it’s one thing to give consideration when you know that the employee performs well and does their job completely. However, none of that is here. Also, when someone is working from home, they’re supposed to be WORKING. Her whole issue is that she doesn’t get to stay home with her kids (who also apparently go to school, since they have school breaks?)…WFH does not equal “hanging out with your kids” and it’s laughable to think that she would actually be *working* from home.

              “What you described sounds like a very petty, toxic place, and if one employee working from home puts it into being a cesspool, it’s on the verge already.” No, it doesn’t and no it’s not. If you don’t see how having management coddle a new employee, who hasn’t even proved themselves at their job, just because they spend all day every day complaining about a normal situation that so many of the other employees deal with without complaint, would get under other people’s skin, that’s pretty surprising. It’s not just about WFH, it’s not just about complaining, it’s not about it being a competition. It’s about being bothered by seeing someone being “rewarded” or getting special treatment because they throw a fit about it.
              It’s like buying the toy for the kid who throws himself down on the floor of a store because they want the toy. Because that situation is not at all like buying a toy for a kid who’s been well behaved, or helped with chores, etc. The problem isn’t buying the toy for the kid; the problem is buying the toy for the kid BECAUSE he’s throwing a fit abut it. The same goes for the letter; the issue isn’t working from home for one person would cause resentment. It’s giving someone WFH BECAUSE they are throwing a fit about having to leave their kids at home….like EVERY OTHER PARENT IN THE OFFICE, that would cause resentment. Just like any other bad behaved employee that gets catered to because they make a stink about it.

              1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                I’m convinced; my WfH suggestion would be a horrible, tragic mistake for your situation.

              2. MeowMixers*

                Wow, this is extreme. You don’t know anything about the LW’s employee other than she has complained. Like it’s okay if you disagree with it. Chomping at Sola and writing in all caps doesn’t make you more right.

            2. Dust Bunny*

              However, if they could let everyone else work from home so they wouldn’t have to hear her . . .

              (Just kidding. Mostly.)

              1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                That angle did occur to me… maybe that would have been persuasive. =)

        2. Black Horse Dancing*

          Instant resentment. Why should kvetcher get WFH? Whether someone has children on no. WFH is a huge perk and would rile up all the employees if newbie complaining Jane gets it. Either worker stops griping or worker leaves job should be the choices.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        “Do you really think she sounds like someone who can be trusted to work at home on school holidays, when she’s already reluctant to do her job? Isn’t her whole point that she wants to spend school holidays with her kids, and how can she do that while working?”

        Hell, right now I’m feeling all guilty that I have so much work I don’t even have time to play with my dog… I’m a freelancer so it’s OK, I can take time off when I feel like it, and just work later when others are around to take him to the park, but still. He just settled back down on his little mat, and looked all mournfully at me, and it felt horrible. Only I do intend to hand in good work, so I take a deep breath, have a quick rant on AAM and now I’m going to just knuckle down.

    4. A*

      Sounds to me like she would most likely be equally distressed by working from home while her kids are in daycare versus being in the office while they are in daycare. Only exception I can think of is if she was able to secure an in home babysitter and would be comforted by being under the same roof / seeing them on her breaks etc. but that’s a slippery slope. Based on what OP has said, I would be hesitant to trust that she wouldn’t use WFH as a replacement for childcare.

    5. Observer*

      I wouldn’t just offer it, no strings attached, lest you reward the kvetching, but if she can rein it in for a month or two, could she work from home on some of those school holidays and a day or two per week?

      I don’t care about “rewarding” her. I WOULD be concerned that she won’t do her work. She’s made it clear that she wants to spend her time with the kids, and if she’s home she will probably “work” rather than actually, you know, DO HER WORK.

  11. learnedthehardway*

    It sounds like the employee finds doing payroll stressful, if she’s complaining about missing her kids specifically when she has to do payroll. If this is the case, then perhaps she’s got a bit of imposter syndrome going on, and mentioning her kids is a way for her to either destress or as a way to express her level of stress. I’d look into why she is always mentioning her kids when stressed, rather than just assuming she doesn’t want to be there.

    If it turns out her thinking is that “I hate this part of the job and would prefer to be with my kids”, then Allison’s advice to confront the perception that she’s not committed to her role is the way to go.

    If it turns out that her thinking is “I don’t know if I’m doing a good job and I’m afraid I’m not, and I miss my kids and so feel badly about being in a role I’m not sure I’m succeeding at when I could be with them” – well, then some reassurance is called for.

    If the employee is mentioning missing her kids in general, though, she might be feeling guilty about being at work. There’s tremendous pressure on women to be and do everything on the work, family, and relationships fronts simultaneously, and it does generate a lot of guilt when one can’t do it all. There’s also the possible family and cultural pressures to either be home with the kids, be out working and bringing in income, being ready with meals on the table, etc. etc. Reminding the employee that she IS taking care of her children by providing for them financially may help.

    1. Anononon*

      This is a strangely specific read from the letter that I’m not getting at all. It also kinda borders on armchair diagnosing that really isn’t helpful to OP. If OP suspects any of that, or even in general, I think the most she can do is mention EAP services to the employee, if available. But otherwise, OP isn’t the employee’ therapist, and it wouldn’t be her place to delve that deeply.

    2. Simply the best*

      I think it’s a weird leap to go from “I miss my kids” to thinking that must mean “I’m not good enough at this part of my job.”

      1. fhqwhgads*

        I also got the impression from the letter that the reason the job exists is this part of the job? So if the payroll processing part is really the kicker, it sounds like she literally does not want the job she has.

    3. Millie*

      I think this is a very kind assessment here. It is hard to be a mother in this hellscape country. I think you’re the only one approaching this with empathy

      1. Observer*

        No. To the contrary – the one lacking in empathy is YOU.

        There are many of us who are mothers, and many others who know and love mothers. Why in heavens name is it “empathetic” to dismiss the experience of all other mothers – and to ignore the the negative effect this person must be having on the mothers in her company?

        I’ve had more than one coworker who left the office to become a full time SAHM. Not ONE of them pulled the kind of nonsense this woman is (was) pulling. As long as they could not afford to quit, they did their work without constantly letting everyone know how unfair this was, *their* kid wants them home, etc.

        Bottom line is that this woman is not acting in a way that is professional, compassionate or sensible.

      2. Temperance*

        No to all of this. Let’s not act like a middle class American mother whose kids are apparently already in school is living in a “hellscape”.

        I have empathy for Jane’s coworkers. I have sympathy for Jane, who is destroying her professional reputation with her whining.

    4. Colette*

      I disagree with much of this. Maybe she doesn’t think she can do it; maybe she’d rather be with her kids; maybe she’s dealign with family or cultural pressures – and none of that is the boss’s job to manage. The boss’s job is to be clear with her that she needs to stop talking about how much she misses her kids and the other negative statements she’s making. The rest of it is on her.

  12. Jennifer Juniper*

    Jane needs to remember there’s a pandemic going on, with millions of families facing homelessness, unemployment, crushing medical bills, and food insecurity. She needs to be grateful she’s (presumably) not dealing with that.

    1. Anononon*

      One – this is an older letter, as Alison specifically said, so it could have been pre pandemic and two – still not helpful in any way.

      1. HannahS*

        Yeah, it’s really not ok for a manager to tell someone to be grateful that they have a job as a way of shutting down complaints.

    2. Ace in the Hole*

      This is a terrible way to frame it.

      Jane needs to be polite. She needs to act professionally. She needs to be kind to her coworkers by not making the work environment overly negative. Jane does NOT need to be grateful she has a job.

      Furthermore, we don’t know what Jane is or isn’t dealing with. She could have crushing medical bills, sick relatives, food insecurity, or financial stress. She could have a million other things going on. We don’t know, and it’s presumptuous to make such assumptions.

      And finally, I don’t think it’s appropriate to say someone should be grateful they’re not homeless and hungry…. I think it’s an outrage that anyone IS in such horrible circumstances when there are plenty of resources to take care of everyone. It’s great to be thankful you don’t experience hardship, but I don’t think we should be telling people to be grateful for having their bare minimum survival needs met. That’s like telling a kid to be grateful their parents don’t beat them… it SHOULD be something people can take for granted.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*


        I’m not a fan of the suffering Olympics, and it is a damn good point that “he could have crushing medical bills, sick relatives, food insecurity, or financial stress”, or who knows what else. And I am very much not a fan of toxic positivity and forced gratitude in the workplace.

    3. nonbinary writer*

      I’d wager a bet that no one in the history of history has been comforted by “suck it up, other people have it worse.”

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Keep in mind that the people who use phrases like “suck it up, other people have it worse” likely don’t believe in comfort as a concept or have any sort of working definition for it.

      2. SoloKid*

        I DO personally find it comforting in a “count my blessings” kind of way. Not so much toxic positivity but more “ruminating/dumping on others isn’t gonna change this” mindset. But telling that to others is definitely not going to get good results!

    4. Esmeralda*

      Meh. Can we not do this? Just because Jane has a job and others do not, doesn’t mean Jane can’t be sad or angry or pissed off about the things in her life that are challenging for her. No need for Misery Contests.

      The problem is the constant negativity and not getting work done sufficiently/ quickly.

    5. Simply the best*

      If you’re going to go down that route, the op should also just shut up and be grateful that she has a job. And so should everybody else who writes in with problems. How dare they come here and complain about their bosses asking for livers or work places where no one can make jokes when there are people out there without jobs? Alison should just go ahead and shut down this blog right now.

  13. J.B.*

    I’ve been on the receiving end of grumbling from HR/payroll, and I can say that it’s not very motivating.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      Agree! I need my payroll processed on time, without errors. I don’t want the payroll team to be negative & complaining — they need to be approachable in case there are questions! Complaining about having to do payroll just kinda seems selfish…. If you slack off, you affect the entire rest of the company.

  14. Jessica Fletcher*

    Initially I assumed this employee had just come back to work, as in the past few months. But the mention of “during the school holidays” makes it sound like she’s been back in the workforce for quite a while! I’m surprised her coworkers have let her continue to get away with this.

    1. Tired*

      It may be that it is only the manager that actually hears the employee’s complaints.

    2. Susie Q*

      Not necessarily, she could have come back in September which is only a couple months from Thanksgiving and winter holidays.

  15. 100%thatlizzofan*

    I just want to say that the script provided is great! I can even see adapting to situations when you have a grouser, someone who complains about this and that, repeatedly to the point they are the team’s wet blanket. By saying you are giving the team the impression that… and stating the impact on the work, this one is a winner!

  16. Sunrise Ruby*

    My mother was also a payroll clerk for more than 30 years, first for a small printing company, and then for a city government. She re-entered the full-time workforce in the early 1970s, when my sister and I were preschoolers, not by choice, but because my father left her.

    Had my parents not divorced, I think she would have transitioned to part-time work when my sister and I were in school full days, then to full-time work when we were able to take care of ourselves after school and during the summers. That would have been ideal, but it didn’t happen that way for her.

    I know it was wrenching in those early years for my mom to have to leave us with a neighbor for daycare, but she took her responsibilities as a parent and head of household very seriously, and she took her responsibilities as an employee just as seriously in order to keep the jobs that kept a roof over our heads and food on the table. I know for a fact that her supervisors and co-workers admired her work ethic. If my mom were a co-worker or supervisor of the employee that the letter writer described, she would have absolutely ZERO patience with the complaints.

  17. Artemesia*

    you can’t work from home and supervise young kids; you just can’t. COVID required allowing things that are not very efficient or professional because ‘public health disaster.’ But you particularly don’t want a woman obsessing about not getting to be with her kids to be ‘working’ from home. Most businesses I know with regular WFH policies require day care for the kids as a condition of WFH (or a nanny or full time SAH parent).

    Allowing part time work if it works for the office is reasonable especially if you are flexible for others who might want it but not WFH for someone whining about being with their kids. When my daughter was young I went to 75% time for a while and my own daughter has negotiated reduced hours during COVID which now that the kids are in day care and school again has morphed to her taking a day a week off — she is in a particularly family friendly organization where the CEO is also a mother who has taken some reduced hours.

    Suggesting EAP might wake her up to how inappropriate she is being: she needs to change how she behaves in the office; she may need to go part time if feasible or even decide this is not the right time to come back to work.

  18. BigBodyBill*

    My apologies if this has been mentioned already. I haven’t had time to read through all the comments.

    I don’t know if this is possible or not, but after you have your initial conversation with her, could you look into allowing her to WFH? Payroll can be done remotely in many cases, and she would 1) be with her kids, 2) would stop the complaining (hopefully) and 3) would stop causing moral issues with the rest of the employees. Of course, this might bring up other employees wanting to do the same, and that is ok! You can look at that option too! Good luck!

    1. Dust Bunny*

      It’s been addressed above:
      1) Don’t reward her with WFH. Other employees would almost certainly rather be with their kids, too, but they’re not whining about it.
      2) WFH is not a substitute for childcare. Is this someone who seems like she can be trusted to actually work and not spend the time with the kids?
      3) The solution to her whining causing morale problems is for her to stop whining, not for her to be coddled. She needs to be managed, not kid-gloved.

      1. A*

        Agreed, except:

        1) Don’t reward her with WFH. Other employees would almost certainly rather *have the flexibility that offers* too, but they’re not whining about it.

        No kids here, but I absolutely expect to have my time and work/life balance taken into equal consideration as parents. We all have obligations and responsibilities in our lives :)

        (I know your comment wasn’t saying otherwise, just making a general point here)

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Employee in this situation agreed to the schedule when she took the job and hasn’t earned consideration otherwise.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      If you’re working from home, you need to be working and not spending time with your kids. It’s not a substitute.

      COVID proved that employee’s work suffers when trying to provide childcare or manage kids schools while also working.

      This employee had shown her priorities to be her family over work. Do not trust her to work from home until she changes her attitude.

    3. Observer*

      , could you look into allowing her to WFH?

      No. Someone who wants to be with their kids needs to NOT be around their kids when they need to do something like payroll, which is both time sensitive and extremely sensitive to small errors. I do NOT want my payroll done by someone who also having a conversation with their kid about almost anything.

      As for the hit to morale – doing this would be the worst thing you could do for morale.

  19. Lizard Librarian*

    I wonder if an appropriate solution here is to direct this employee to any EAP or free counseling that are offered through the employer. If this is a new parent, I wonder if PPD could be at play. Or, with all of the changes happening due to COVID, this employee may just need more support overall. Either way, I hope they can work out a solution.

    1. Cake or Death?*

      Well, she has “kids” and they have school breaks, so I assume she isn’t a new parent.

  20. ElleKay*

    Yes, exactly what Alison says: This isn’t about how she feels (she can feel however she does!) but about her actions.

    I might add something like “These are the hours and expectations of this role. Are those hours you’re going to be able to commit to upholding; if not, this looks like it’s not a fit for you and we can talk about moving you out of this role.”

  21. Jean*

    You can be compassionate and understanding of her emotional difficulty, while still being direct that she needs to stop complaining about how much she doesn’t want to be at work. “I know it’s hard being away from your kids, but your frequent negative talk is having some bad effects on morale. We all have other parts of our lives that work is keeping us away from, so please try to be mindful of that going forward. Here is some information about our EAP, it can really help to have someone you can talk to about this stuff outside of the office.” Every time she complains again, have a brief one on one and follow up about the EAP. If she’s getting pulled into a meeting every time, it will help her realize that it’s unacceptable.

  22. Cake or Death?*

    Agreed! And it also plays into the mindset that people without children don’t have anything important or valuable in their life, which really irks me (even though I am a parent myself).

    1. Lizard Librarian*

      The complaining should be addressed, I was thinking this could be something to add to that conversation.

      I don’t mean to imply other people who have kids aren’t important–my apologies that it sounded that way. And I do think the complaining is overall an issue.

      I did gloss over the fact that the kids are in school. I’m always the type to wonder if someone who’s complaining has something else going on. Sometimes it’s true, sometimes people are just unhappy. The fact that she’s complaining about her kids specifically made me wonder if she’s suffering from depression or anxiety rooted in that topic.

  23. LKW*

    I think it was said upstream that it’s possible that she hasn’t had to work until recently and this change is difficult for her. Nonetheless, pretty much everyone who works is working because they have to. I don’t know many people who work full time because they want to.

    That said – when I’m in similar circumstances I fully admit to being my snarky self and fully agreeing but from my own perspective “Yes, having to work takes so much time out of my tv binge watching. I could be watching all seven billion seasons of Supernatural but nooooooo I have to be here. At work. Where I have to work and do things. Ew. Doing things.”

    Alison’s scripts are probably better.

  24. staceyizme*

    I think that when people complain, you should take them at their word. Her performance is suffering during school holidays? She’s frequently taking the role of loving parent and placing it as an adversarial opposite to loyal/ productive employee? Okay. What does she want? Maybe it’s time to shop around for other options to process payroll and perform other functions of her role. You can express empathy for the new way that her life is organized (largely around work) while simultaneously expecting her to own her choice to work there and deliver on the requirements of her role. (To be clear, it’s not that she’s complaining. It’s the performance issue during holidays and the verbal content of “oh, I have to be here… but wish I was with my kids”. If you let her know that you’re dead serious about helping her get out of the role if she prefers, she might wake up enough to decide that a) yes, thank you, she would like to leave the role or b) no, actually, while staying home in an ideal world would be preferable, a paycheck is also one of her needs/ she can cut back on cutting corners during school holidays and daily expressions of “I don’t want to be here”.

    1. Cake or Death?*

      “To be clear, it’s not that she’s complaining.”

      I think it IS an issue that she’s complaining. No one should be complaining that much at work, about anything. But especially, they shouldn’t be complaining about how they’d rather be somewhere else other than work, no matter *where* they’d rather be. It’s unprofessional, and frankly, quite rude, to be complaining about having to work, WHILE she’s at work AND on the clock/being paid.

  25. Cake or Death?*

    If I was this woman’s coworker, I probably would have snapped at her eventually. There is something that really irks me about people complaining about things like they are the only ones that are experiencing it that drives me nuts. Like people who complain about being hot in the middle of a summer heatwave. Or people who complain about having to wait in line at a store. Or about having to actually, you know, WORK to pay bills. Or even now during the pandemic, people complaining about not being to go everywhere.
    And I don’t mean comments like, “wow, its so hot!”, “dang, this is a long line!” “mna, i wish i was rich and didn’t have to work!” or “its frustrating being cooped up at home for so long”. I mean complaints like, “OMG, I am SOOOOO hot! Like, you have no idea how hot I am. The heat is just too much for me. Why does it have to be so hot out? I can’t even do anything outside without sweating. I can’t believe Jane planned an outdoor BBQ; doesn’t she know that I don’t like being hot?”, “OMG, why is this line so long? Don’t they know I have some place to be? I don’t have time for this! I have places to be! UGH I HATE WAITING”, “Ugh…I can’t believe that i have to have a full time job just to support myself! There is so much better things I’d rather be doing with my time! Can’t believe i have to waste so much of my life at work, just to pay bills. It’s the WORST!”, or “I can’t believe we’re in lockdown! I want to go shopping! I have home improvement projects I want to start! Ugh, this is totally disrupting my life!”
    Like it just gets on my last nerve when people act like they’re the only one suffering from common problems. Like, we ALL get hot in a summer heatwave; we all don’t like waiting in long lines; we all hate that we have to work to live; and we all hated being locked down and having our lives put on hold due to Covid. We are all in the same boat, ad having some people just MOAN about normal things, as if they are just SO unique and affected MORE than anyone else, just comes across as completely self-absorbed and oblivious to other people around you. The self-centeredness of being completely clueless that you’re not the only one “suffering” is i think what is the real irritation to me. It’s like a different version of not being able to read a room.

  26. Nanani*

    Of course it seems unprofessional. It IS unprofessional.
    Few people are at work as a first choice – most of us are there to pay the bills. She’s not uniquely special in this regard.
    She really really needs to drop the Woe Is Me attitude at the workplace. Comes across as though nobody else in the history of the world has ever missed their kids as much as her. Like, COME ON.

    1. Tofu pie*

      Lol. If her kids were missing I would be pretty worried if it *wasn’t* all consuming.

    2. TheOfficeIsNotTheDevil*

      “Judy, please be quiet about your missing kids. We get it. You can’t find them. Finishing processing payroll and then we can help you figure out where they went” :)

  27. Sasha Blause*

    Someone needs to find that tweet about LARPing your worksona for 40 hours a week, print it, and leave it on her desk.

  28. Twill*

    As someone who has been both stay at home mom and working in office mom, mostly the latter – I can say yes I missed my kids, and yes there was a lot of times I wished I could be home. MOST of the time I wished I could be home, in comfy clothes. Not commuting. Hanging out at my house. Overall I would prefer to be home over work. But jeez – I needed my job. It wasn’t the company’s fault I had not won the lottery, or had a trust fund, or, as my grandmother used to say, ‘married well’. And overall I have been lucky to have decent management and awesome to tolerable co-workers. So I am not going to whine at work about having to be at work. Lots of people are at work because they have to be, not because they want to be. Listening to someone constantly piss and moan about having to do exactly what I am having to do would annoy the crap out of me. I would be hard pressed not to say ‘sit down and hush!” (my grandmother said that alot too)

  29. 1234*

    Ugh this is such a timely letter. We work with one lady who almost always brings up her kid as to why she’s busy/didn’t get to that email/is unavailable at XYZ date. She’s a contractor for us (and not at all expected to be available at all times!) but I really wish she would just use the phrase “prior commitments” instead of writing a paragraph about how crazy things are because of Kid Activity. “I’m not available the week of X because of prior commitments. But I can do the following week!” sounds so much better than “That week I need to take little Amy to summer camp which is 2 hours away and husband Bob is traveling to see clients in another state so he won’t be home! Things are crazy!”

    Lady also owns her own business and is a subject matter expert in something kid-related, say child psychology etc. but I don’t think that should give her a free pass either?

  30. Spicy Tuna*

    I think the issue more than anything here is the negative attitude. Many people don’t love their jobs and are only doing them to pay the bills or have health insurance, but unless a winning lottery ticket is in the cards, it just makes things worse to mope around and complain. I have definitely worked at companies where people have been let go for a poor attitude. It just brings everyone down and is not productive.

  31. Crabby Patty*

    Reminds me of when a cashier who is ringing me up complains about the number of customers that keep coming in.


  32. HS Teacher*

    Some people’s entire identity is about being a parent. You ask how they’re doing, and they tell you how their kids are. To each his/her own, but I think it’s sad (and unprofessional in this context). What are these people going to do when their child goes off to college or off on their own? I’m glad my parents had friends, hobbies, and interests outside of my life. As a kid, I would find the type of mom in this scenario to be exhausting.

    If I were the manager, I’d try to do some coaching but, eventually, you just have to cut those ties.

    1. mf*

      Agree. I actually had a mom like that, and it *was* exhausting. As I got older (pre-teen and teen years), it felt like she was constantly pushing for my attention, even when I wanted to be establishing my independence and spending more time with friends. It also created a lot of pressure to succeed: she invested all this time and energy in me, so if I didn’t live up to expectations, then I was a reflection of her failure. Not a healthy dynamic.

  33. Tofu pie*

    As a manager I generally try to work with people’s shortcomings whether that’s giving training or accepting this is their limitation and try to find solutions around it. However, this kind of negativity would go in the nope pile and I would lean heavily towards firing them; unless they have a major personality change in the immediate weeks or a brain transplant.

    I don’t expect anyone to ooze happiness at work. But my past experience says this level of negativity is embedded so deeply that it’s unrealistic to change to a reasonable degree of professionalism. Not only that, but it tends to spread pretty quickly and affect team morale. I would still give feedback as Alison suggested for the sake of fairness, but my presumption would be that they’re not going to change and I would be needing to replace them soon.

  34. GraceRN*

    There are quite a few comments saying maybe the employee can WFH instead. But that solution makes no sense:

    1. Allison’s suggestion for counseling the employee is the reasonable first step. Many people aren’t aware of how their behavior comes across. Maybe in the employee’s mind, they just wanted to vent, so what’s the big deal? But they didn’t realize it spreads negativity in the workplace. So taking the step to have a frank discussion with the employee, letting them know how their behavior affects others, asking them to change their behavior, counseling them to reflect more broadly about their work-life situation, is the reasonable path to take. Managing employees to effect behavior change is often hard, and managers need to have tools for that. But changing up the job due to complaints about having to work is certainly not the right solution.

    2. As a manager, I think it’s super important to be as consistent in my management decisions as possible. Typically, in order for me to consider making big changes to a job specifically for someone, there needs to be (a). some extenuating circumstance that can’t otherwise be solved, and (b). a strong business need to retain this employee. I’m not seeing either one of these in the letter. Instead, my staff need to see that I won’t be so easily swayed by one person’s unprofessional, correctable behavior. They need to trust that if they ever come to me with a need, I would consider their requests as consistently and fairly as I can. Changing the job requirements due to one person’s excessive venting is neither consistent or fair.

  35. Raida*

    it’s not an overreaction to bring it up with her, I’d even go so far as
    “Jane, you need to make the right decisions for your family, and I fully support you in that. If you feel this job is putting too much strain on your family just let me know and I’ll advertise the role, maybe we transition you into part-time while the next person is training up to get you back with your kids even faster.”
    Just to be very clear it is HER decision to take the role, come to work, and leave her kids.
    SHE can decide to go back to them fulltime.

    But then also – really clarify that payroll is going. to. be. done. on. Fridays. If she wants to change her role, she needs to have a meeting with me and SAY it. No more complaining, if this is a hint I’m not getting it. If she doesn’t want to change her role, I want complaints to me directly about issues she’s facing, and not half an hour straight of just complaining out loud. It isn’t professional, it isn’t considerate of others, and nobody is going to swoop in and do payroll for her so… Do the job or don’t, but the job does not involve guilting others with your kids.
    aaaaaaaaaand here’s the EAP contact number if you need help Jane.

  36. agnes*

    This sounds like somebody I worked with who drove us all nuts complaining and moping around about having to return to work after several years of being at home. Someone finally spoke to her about it (because the boss would not). She was genuinely oblivious to how much she was complaining and how much it was bothering the rest of us.

    Please address this behavior and do it soon. It’s bad for the other employees, but it is also bad for her–she will get a reputation as a whiner and it will impede her ability to work collaboratively with her colleagues.

  37. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    Nothing is more joyous than coming to work everyday and listening to someone who, “Hates it here,” “I used to be a ____ in my previous life,” “I don’t get why I have to reorganize the teapots, anybody can do that,” the list goes on. I wasnot above telling someone who groused to me about these sort of situations, “Why are you here then.” I wasn’t their manager, but I was their completely fed up, sick of your negativity, please shut up about how bad earning money is, coworker. OPs employee sounds like she misses her kids, sure. She’s been out of the workforce enough years to be dare I say somewhat inept at protocol or etiquette in the workplace. She may be completely out of touch with how it sounds or feels. I’d be willing to bet that one, “Should you think about whether this is right for you now?” conversation will stop it. And, if it does, her coworkers will be forever in OPs debt because trust me, work will suck for more than just this person if it continues. And if she decides it’s not right for her and her kids need more time with her and vice versa, that’s not exactly a loss either.

  38. singlemaltgirl*

    for me, in reading the OP’s letter, i appreciate they’ve given a stay at home parent who’s been out of the workforce for 5 years, a chance to get back into employment. this is a difficult thing for many women in particular to do once they’ve taken more time than a straightforward maternity leave. women really get disproportionately screwed with caregiving in their families (as we’ve seen in this blog and specifically during the pandemic).

    so my empathetic side is saying ‘let your employee know her attitude sucks, what she needs to do to improve’, and put her on a performance plan if necessary. she may not realize how she’s coming across. my hr hat keeps telling me – hire slow and fire fast – get rid of the problem employee now cuz attitude is one of those things that is difficult to turn around and for someone who’s not got at least something going for her – super productive, super competent, super something (that’s valuable to your org) – i’m inclined to cut my losses.

    of course, i say this while being mindful that i always think firing is a last resort kind of thing and i’ve almost never fired fast. sigh.

    1. Tired*

      I hear you, but I doubt a performance plan is really necessary for an employee who sounds both enthusiastic and competent, but who sometimes says that she feels guilty for not being able to spend time with her children because capitalism means we all have to go out and work in order to earn money to survive.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        I don’t really like PIPs in this scenario either, and I wouldn’t consider one until talking to the employee about how they’re showing up and giving them a chance to adjust their behaviour. When someone really doesn’t seem to want or be able to take responsibility for how they may come across – especially when it impacts morale this way – then it becomes a serious performance issue. No one’s expecting her to not be human – she’s just expected to be self-aware and professional.

        1. Tired*

          The thing is, LW doesn’t specify as to if they are the only one who hears, or is impacted by, the employee’s complaints. All LW says is that they think the new employee is being “unprofessional” for complaining, but also says the employee is “enthusiastic”. There is no mention of errors being made by the employee, or of any other employees being impacted by the employee’s complaints, either from hearing those complaints or from payroll not being processed on time. So I’m not really sure what the problem is, other than LW being over hearing the employee’s complaints.

      2. Observer*

        I agree that it’s too soon to talk about firing or even a PIP. But it’s also not useful to minimize what’s going on. Because that will keep the OP from actually dealing with a real problem.

        To be clear, this is not a case of someone “who sometimes says that she feels guilty for not being able to spend time with her children“. It’s far more disruptive as the OP says that “ she regularly complains about missing her children, and acts quite often as if work is a hardship or an imposition

        1. Tired*

          Observer, the LW also states that the new employee is “enthusiastic”, and the only problem on the face of it appears to be that the employee complains sometimes. There is no mention of errors being made, or of any other employees being impacted by the complaints, either from hearing those complaints or from payroll not being processed on time.

  39. Tired*

    “[My new employee] acts quite often as if work is a hardship or an imposition standing in her family’s way.”

    I am sure she is grateful for the job, but we live in a capitalist society, which results in humans having to sell their labour for the money which they and their household need in order to buy the things which allow them to survive. To put it simply, it looks like she works to live, and does not live to work. This is a sensible way in which to see your work and job.

    She is also back in the workforce for the first time in a few years, after having been at home with her children, during a global pandemic, too, which has been traumatic for everyone, including young children. She also may not even realise how much she is actually complaining, or how those complaints are either impacting those around her, or being processed by those around her.

    However, LW also states that the employee is “enthusiastic” to be back at work, which makes me wonder if LW is the only one who actually hears the complaints, and/or is the only one who is actually bothered by them?

    In short, I understand the LW’s frustration. But if the employee is doing her job, and her complaints aren’t actually bothering anyone else, LW probably needs to just ignore it. If it is having an impact on others beyond LW, LW just needs to have a private, quiet conversation with the employee and suss out what is going on. It could be something incredibly innocuous.

    For example, one of my direct reports does have a tendency to want to have a whinge sometimes, but she is just venting, and once she’s had her five-minute whinge, that has let the pressure off and she’s fine. She doesn’t want anyone to do anything about it, nor does she want to negatively impact anyone. But she also knows that if she wants to vent, she should vent to either me, or to two of our other team members, and not to one of our team who tends to get very stressed when he hears about other people’s issues or problems (as he is a “fixer” by nature). It took a grand total of three minutes to work this out in one quiet, private conversation I had with her. Easy fix.

    1. Tired*

      And the other thing I would also add is to make sure that the employee doesn’t need some extra training or support regarding her job. Or is there an issue that is outside her control that hampers her ability to process the payroll as easily and quickly as she should be able to? (This happens literally almost every week at my office, and it puts our lovely payroll manager in an understandably frustrated mood, as it is a constant, stupid error that one of the business’ owners is responsible for.)

    2. Observer*

      To put it simply, it looks like she works to live, and does not live to work.

      Nope. Lots of people work to live without complaining about the need to work, how it’s not fair to their kids, etc.

      during a global pandemic, too,

      Nope, again. This is an old letter (Alison notes that it’s from the archives).

      and her complaints aren’t actually bothering anyone else,

      The thing is that this is almost certainly not the case. Read the comments to see how often this is a problem. (Look at the comments from the original letter for more of the same.)

      1. Tired*

        Nope. Lots of people work to live without complaining about the need to work, how it’s not fair to their kids, etc.

        I’m yet to work with any of these people, but okay. (As in, everyone has complaints sometimes.)

        The thing is that this is almost certainly not the case. Read the comments to see how often this is a problem. (Look at the comments from the original letter for more of the same.)

        Unless we actually know for sure that this is the case in this particular instance, it would be wise not to assume. As a manager, I have had basically this exact employee before, and she was excellent at her job, she just needed to vent sometimes about one particular issue. I really was the only person she vented to about that issue. It was not an imposition.

  40. CLK*

    I work in payroll and, depending on the size of the company, the work is more than sufficient for full time and then some. There’s a lot more to it than adding up hours and multiplying by wage. Especially for larger companies. We have no part time employees in our department because of the workload. To be honest, we have a similar employee. She doesn’t complain about coming in to work, but rather about the work itself. The constant negativity is a drain on the moral in the office and no one wants to work closely with her. One position that is a mirror of hers has high turnover, in part due to her attitude. We can’t keep anyone in it because they don’t want to work with her. This behavior needs to be addressed before they have a similar situation on their hands as we do.

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