my employee argues when he’s wrong, I threw up on my interviewer’s floor, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. My new employee argues even when he’s wrong

I have a newly hired employee who is bright and creative. This role is a new one for him, and it requires him to interface with the same people regularly both internally and externally. He is my direct report.

One habit that is an issue for me is his arguing that he is right even when he is shown to be wrong or just refusing to entertain a different point of view.

Case in point, I raised the issue of how something was named could be misleading and suggested a change. He argued that this was the client’s lingo but when I pulled out documents that showed that the term the client used in their documents was the one I was suggesting, he argued that there were other documents for a very small subsidiary that used his term. The presentation was not going to the subsidiary but to the parent.

Second example, he argued his spreadsheet was perfect but I found input and formula errors. It was a complex worksheet so errors are likely to happen — that is why I was looking at it with fresh eyes. He argued I was wrong until I showed him the raw data compared to the worksheet. His excuse was that he had taken a cold tablet but otherwise it was perfect, except it wasn’t — I found more errors in my second review.

Others have commented on this habit and he has already alienated another senior person. And there is a client that he cannot work on for the same reason. He has been here less than three weeks. I admit this gets my back up so I am conscious of needing a script to address this calmly explaining why this (not malicious) habit could hinder his growth.

It should get your back up. It’s a serious problem — one that shouldn’t just hinder his growth, but one that probably needs to be a deal-breaker if he doesn’t fix it. Your message sounds a bit like you’re downplaying it (noting that it’s not malicious, etc.), but he’s doing this after only three weeks on the job (!) and is already unable to work with one client. Those are big deals which mean that you’re well into “this might not work out” territory, and I urge you to see this through that lens.

I’d say it this way: “When I give you feedback or correct your work, you’re often resistant to taking the feedback and argue with my corrections. I need you to be receptive to my feedback, not push back on it. The same thing is true when you’re getting input from others, like Jane or Fergus or clients. This is crucial for succeeding in your role and will prevent you from succeeding here if you don’t change it immediately. Can you do that?”

If you don’t see an immediate change, you don’t have the right person in the job. These are bad, bad signs.


2. I don’t want to go to an office slumber party

I work in a department of 21 and we have VPs, AVPs, and assistants, and we are mixed gender. One of the assistants sent a calendar invite to a slumber party at her house to all of the women in our department. She wants us to build relationships and she said we also get to act like teenagers but with alcohol.

I’m not comfortable with this but know if I decline, it’ll not necessarily be looked upon favorably. I’m an assistant and don’t relish having a sleepover with my VPs or even the head of our department.

Don’t want to kill the team building but this seems silly to me. What do I do?

You have a pre-existing conflict with the date, which is the best method to get out of all ridiculous invitations. If for some reason that won’t work, you say, “I’m not one for slumber parties, but I hope you all have fun.” Or you have child care commitments, dogs to walk, or other reasons why spending a night away from home isn’t easily arranged.

I would assume there are going to be plenty of other invitees who aren’t enthused about the event. Adult slumber parties aren’t exactly common, and to the extent that they happen, they’re usually between close friends, not colleagues. Your coworker is either a seven-year-old with an interest in alcohol or just out of touch with mainstream behavior.


3. I threw up on the floor during an interview

I recently had an interview with a company about a position that I was excited about. I was just getting over being sick when I scheduled the interview, so I pushed it back a couple days just to be safe. On the day of the interview, I still had an intermittent cough, but overall I felt fine.

Toward the end of the interview, which was going well, I ended up having a coughing fit, with a deep dry cough that would not go away. The interviewer got up and showed me to the watercooler and told me to take my time, being very nice about it. However, I ended up coughing so hard and so deep I threw up on the floor a little bit, right in front of the interviewer. I did not know what to do, so I said something to the extent of, “Well, that just happened,” apologized, and asked where they kept the cleaning supplies. He said not to worry about it, wished me good health, and promptly showed me to the door. Is there any chance of recovery here? Should I call them and apologize?

Oh no! This is so not your fault at all, but I can only imagine how horrified you were. For what it’s worth, only a jerk would hold this against you. People get sick, and they sometimes get sick at inopportune times.

I wouldn’t call to apologize, but in your post-interview thank-you, in addition to building on points covered in the interview, you could also say something like, “Thank you again for for your gracious response when I got ill — that was basically the last thing I’d ever want to happen in an interview.” (Personally, I would also add, “At least we now each have an interviewing horror story that can top anyone’s else,” but that may or may not fit your style.)


4. Employee always misses staff photo day

I’m a brand new manager (six months) in the unit I have worked in for five years, and each year we send out a team holiday photo to our colleagues around the country. For the last two years, a chronically absent employee has had to be Photoshopped into our photo. He has only worked in the unit for three years but is chronically absent. The other people in the unit prepare for the photo, we have a spouse come to the office and take the photos on location, and photo day is planned weeks in advance. This year, we are again stuck with an incomplete photo because this employee didn’t show up.

The employee historically does not attend any group functions, nor take part when he’s in the office. Retirement parties, group photos, office lunches, and the like always happen to coincide with a sickness and absence. His absenteeism is not a secret, and is an elephant in the room of our otherwise very cohesive team. It also has gone on continuously for years, even prior to joining this team. (He’s absent in total about four months of the year, but in a unionized environment, supported with sick notes, and all days taken without pay anyway because his vacation and sick leave credits exhausted each year, we cannot get rid of him. Why he is kept on is a whole other situation which we can’t do anything about.)

It’s frustrating when the entire team plans for this event only to have our efforts thwarted by yet another absence. Should we send out the photo without the absent employee in it? Should we attempt to cut and paste an old photo of him into the otherwise beautiful picture we currently have? Teammates have suggested I speak to him to see if he minds sending the photo without him in it. Despite his answer (I’m sure he wouldn’t mind at all), I worry about how this will look to our colleagues, particularly as it’s my first time managing. Then again, it’s just a photo! If you’re absent on picture day at school, then you’re not in the class photo … right?

Just send it out without him in it and don’t give it another thought. (Frankly, that sounds like it would be more representative of your team anyway, since he’s basically never there. Let the photo reflect reality! Plus, he’s made it pretty clear that he’s not into this stuff. So be it.)

The bigger issue is how someone missing four months of every year still has a job, union or no union, and whether anyone can manage effectively in an environment that takes core managerial authority away from managers (“we cannot get rid of him”).


5. Giving your interviewer a thank-you note on your way out of the interview

My question is about handing thank-you cards to people immediately after interviewing with them (literally after shaking hands before you leave the office). My husband was told this was done a few years ago where he’s currently interviewing, and they were impressed with the originality. I personally think it’s strange. Can I please have your thoughts?

Yes, it’s strange. It makes it look perfunctory and not genuine (since you were planning to do it before you came in and it had nothing to do with the content of the meeting). It also negates the point of a thank-you note, which isn’t really to say thanks but to build on the conversation and reiterate that you’re still interested.

From the interviewer’s perspective, the thank-you note doesn’t just signal manners; more importantly, it signals interest. Interviewers want to know that you went home, thought about what was talked about, digested it all, and concluded that you’re still enthusiastic about the position. That’s what getting a thank-you note conveys — as long as enough time has passed for that to be realistic.


{ 279 comments… read them below }

  1. Missy*

    #1) How is he “bright”? He just sounds obnoxious and rude. I don’t like using the word “bright” to describe people because usually they aren’t “bright”.

    1. The OTHER Other*

      Maybe he comes across as smart and verbal, but if so, you haven’t given any examples of how that helps his work. So far, he’s managed to alienate coworkers, a superior, and a client all in his first three weeks. What’s he going to do in another three weeks? And he says his work is perfect when it isn’t, including lying and using ridiculous excuses. He sounds immature. I’d start seriously looking for a replacement. How many more clients is he going to alienate, and reports is he going to screw up while claiming they are perfect.

      If I were your manager and this came to my attention, the kind of language you’ve used here about how this might “hinder his growth” and so on would make me seriously question your ability to manage.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        At the agency I used to work at, I sometimes had to proofread the work of a translator, who would incorporate any corrections then rubber stamp the translation to certify it was a faithful translation. He was the one with the rubber stamp, not me. He hated me proof reading his work and would do all he could to make it impossible, like sending the work in already stamped before I’d even seen it.
        One time he tried that tack, and I rang him to say that I would still proofread it, and if any corrections were necessary, he’d have to print it out and stamp it a second time, which was a waste of time and resources, so please don’t bother doing that until I had proofread it. He told me “But my translations are always perfect”. I gently pointed out that the word “not” had been missing from a crucial sentence in his previous translation… At which point he said, “right I’m not working for you ever again” and slammed the phone down.

        Last time I heard of the guy, he was still doing official translations, but he was charging the cheapest rate in Paris.

        1. Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

          OMG. We proofread every.single.translation that comes back because, well, they’re human! And most of the time it’s fine but that one time, just that one time…and it’s on me, as the proofreader, that it was missed if the document was issued with the mistranslation.

          That guy in Paris, man, he’s doing himself no favours.

          1. Jackalope*

            Yeah, as someone who has translated documents before, it’s really easy to miss a small nuance or be tired and use the wrong conjunction or whatever and then there’s a mistake that someone else could catch easily, but it’s hard for you to catch because you are the one who made it. And I remember one time reading a book that had been translated from a language I was fluent in to English, and seeing a couple of places in the book where they mistranslated something. It wasn’t a bit deal – they translated expressions word for word instead of the meaning of the expression – but I caught it. And Paris seems like a particularly bad place to pull stunts like this; it’s got so many people from other cultures that they will almost certainly have other translators to call on that can take correction.

        2. pancakes*

          I have encountered that mindset in a fellow law reviewer editor. She was so incensed that I’d been assigned her work to edit that she attempted to sabotage mine. Luckily I had it backed up elsewhere, but she had to be locked out of my files by password. She contacted me through LinkedIn years later as if we’d been friends! She admitted at the time to me, our editor in chief, and managing editor that the reason she’d lashed out was that she thought an editor categorically does not need editing. Bizarre, wild insecurity.

        3. Anonym*

          Assuming anything you produce is perfect is a very slippery slope. I’ve worked with translation firms on legal documentation, and you’d better bet those get proofread given the liability they could create with a single missed nuance, much less a missed “not.” Yikes.

      2. Artemesia*

        Alienate a client the first week with something there is no excuse for? He should have been let go then.

      3. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I’m pretty suspicious of anyone who claims their work is perfect, ever, let alone three weeks into a job. There’s a task I’ve been doing for nearly 20 years and last week I caught myself in MULTIPLE mistakes. Humans aren’t perfect, which means most of the stuff we do isn’t perfect, so the people who claim is is feel pretty red flagish to me.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Same. I am deeply distrustful of people who think they’ve never made a mistake. I’ve been doing my job for years and still make mistakes, and I nearly always have someone proofread things I do that are going to be broadly circulated because it’s hard for anyone to catch their own typos. Mistakes are almost always about how you react/correct moreso than making the error in the first place.

          Someone telling me their work is always perfect is going to be someone who can’t take feedback well. The lengths OP#1 has gone through in their examples to make Mr. “Perfect” see his errors is exhausting and unnecessary. The juice is not worth the squeeze on that one.

      4. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        LW1: You ARE documenting every instance of this “bright, creative” employee’s egregious behavior, aren’t you? Because you’re going to want that documentation in his file when you finally get fed up enough to (A) put him on a PIN or (B) decide to fire him before he antagonizes any more senior staff members in your company or clients (who then refuse to work with him.) Frankly, I’d advise Option B: this employee hasn’t even been there a month and already he’s causing serious trouble for your company!

        1. Anonymous Bosch*

          Yeah, I’d be tempted to put him on a PIN or jab him with one.

          Seriously, I’d only want to work with someone on this type of issue if they were a long time, valued employee who had hit a rough patch.

    2. Koalafied*

      In my experience, when a woman is called “bright” it means she’s smart and competent but unfortunately also a woman. When a man is called “bright” it means they believe he has a lot of potential but his actual work quality is terrible (usually due to an attitude problem of some kind).

      1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

        Omg, this EXACTLY. I loathe hearing a woman described as “bright” because of this undertone that is completely deniable if called out.

        1. Popinki*

          A fellow Dragon Age fan :D

          Part of the reason why I like those games is you find women in positions of authority all the time, and it’s never questioned or qualified.

      2. Florp*

        Nailed it. Also cringe whenever I hear someone go out of their way to call POC bright because it usually means the speaker is evincing “pleasant” surprise that POC can be smart and competent.

          1. Anonymous Bosch*

            This has become a real problem. What word can you use if you are writing a referral letter for a young lawyer who is a POC and you want to be sure the law firm knows that he or she is articulate? “Well spoken” is even worse, in my opinion, In fact, I think that term was used to describe articulate Black people back when the word “Negro” was a term of respect.

            I looked up synonyms for “articulate” and none of them conveyed the same message.

            We have to get past this somehow.

            1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

              Joking but not joking:
              *Talented orator
              *Excellent speaker

              Or, for more effect, just give examples that show/demonstarte lawyer’s skills (though maybe law has a specific form letter you have to stick to for recommendations?), E.g.,

              “In the case Emmy argued on our behalf in Meerkats v. Kumquats, her argument was so eloquent that the opposing counsel needed a minute to gather himself before stating their closing arguments. I was inspired by her talent and poise.”

      3. Smithy*

        While I agree on the gendered context, I also hear it a lot in a generational context where someone is talking about a more junior colleague who does 75-90% of the job very well.

        Now, how the remaining 10-25% is talked about by a manager I think really impacts the overall tone of how that word is meant. It may reflect a situation like the OP’s letter where the work overall is very good, but when there are issues the staff member is difficult to manage or coach. Or, it can reflect a situation where a manager just believes that staff member needs more opportunities to do X task, and X task only occurs once a year – so a case of “when you have 3-4 years more of experience”. Where it’s not only about about performing daily tasks very well, but having that longer lifecycle view and experience to a job.

        I do think because the word bright can very often be used a bit as a euphemism, all of those initial reactions are very valid. The thought that a more junior colleague needs “more time” is often expressed very vaguely and certainly is a qualitative assessment. And for many young professionals they will often see men or white colleagues somehow manage to “mature” faster professionally when they’re still hearing “more time”.

    3. anonymous73*

      I think it goes along with one thing Alison pointed out about them mentioning his behavior isn’t malicious – OP felt they had to throw a compliment in there too so he doesn’t seem all that bad. But someone like him, who refuses to admit mistakes and argues until he’s blue in the face even after having been proven wrong IS all that bad. And this isn’t behavior to brush under the rug.

      1. onebitcpu*

        This makes me think of all the rejected candidates who call/email telling the interviewer how they missed out on the best possible candidate for the job.
        For whatever reason, he *can’t* be wrong.

        1. Artemesia*

          And this runs deep; it is not easily fixed. If he had alienated a client because he made a mistake on their project — well – he is new and that can happen. BUT he alienated a client by being belligerent and annoying; those are not easily changed qualities. They run deep in the personality. He should be gone while it is easy to let him go.

    4. Cat Tree*

      I’m reading a lot into a few paragraphs, but I’m speculating that this guy was a big fish in a small pond during school and is having a hard time adjusting to the new environment. He’s bright in the sense that he got good grades. But now he takes any feedback and even just normal *collaboration* as an outright insult. He’s a know-it-all that no longer knows it all, and he just doubles down because he doesn’t have the insight to learn and adjust. Why yes, this comment is based on several people I have worked with.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I’m flashing back to all my college classmates who were The Smartest Kids In School until they got to a college where so was everyone else and really struggled with being average for the first time in their lives.

        1. TardyTardis*

          Oh, yes, been there, done that. Fortunately a freshman course in zoology taught me that struggling for a C does not mean the end of the world and taught me better study habits.

    5. LinuxSystemsGuy*

      I wouldn’t be surprised if he were *very* bright, and very charismatic. So much so that throughout school he was always the smartest or among the smartest in the class. He’s gotten very used to being right, or being able to convince people that he is right, so he’s lost the ability to be wrong gracefully. It wouldn’t surprise me me if part of his identity is tied up in being the “smart kid that’s always right”. Now he’s in the real world, where often experience, domain knowledge, and judgement trump having memorized all the manuals and text books, and he’s floundering a bit.

      He’s young enough that he’s either going to learn that sometimes being smart isn’t the end-all-be-all of success, or he’s not. If he learns the lesson, he’ll eventually be very good at what he does, if he doesn’t he’s going to be one of those bitter jerks mired in mediocrity sure he’s *supposed* to be in charge but never able to get there. I definitely see a lot of myself 25 years ago in this guy.

    6. quill*

      Confidence and haste make a lot of people appear more competent than they actually are… especially fresh out of college.

      It’s also possible that he appeared to grasp things quickly in training but he NEVER proofreads his own work, which is common enough in people who skated through school.

    7. Lucy Skywalker*

      A person can be intelligent n the IQ sense and still be obnoxious and rude. Such people are quite common in certain fields.

  2. EPLawyer*

    #3 — well you can tell this was pre-Rona. I feel bad for you OP. I would not hold it against you that you threw up a tad. It happens. Although, NOWDAYS, I would be a little concerned you came in with a cough. New way of doing things, make it clear first you aren’t feeling well but its not Covid.

    #4 – Your employee has made it clear he does not want to do group stuff. Stop trying to make him. I bet if you let him know it was okay if he didn’t participate in this stuff, and didn’t punish him by dumping all the work on him while the rest of you went off and did whatever, he would start showing up more. The fact that his absenteeism coincides with ALL groups activities should be a clue that something more is going. Also, you are spending waaaay too much worrying about a photo. I guarantee whoever gets the holiday cards barely glances at who is in the photo before they are displayed for the holiday then trashed. NO ONE will notice one person is not there.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, I agree. Stop pressuring the poor employee to be photographed, he obviously doesn’t want to. Besides, like Alison said, as often as he’s absent, his absence from the photo does reflect reality.

      Some people, my mom included, really detest being photographed. Often she manages to avoid being photographed by volunteering to photograph everyone else.

      I doubt it’s the case here, but sometimes people don’t want to be photographed because they’re being stalked in their private life. Some people who are in a witness protection program also don’t want to be photographed.

      I do think it’s odd that this person can’t be managed out. Not for refusing to participate in team activities, but for being absent so frequently. Even if the absences are unpaid, I find it amazing that someone can be absent for 4 months out of the year, and always when there are team building events. I suppose it could be conceivable that someone has ADA accommodation for an anxiety disorder that allows them to be absent from any activity at work that isn’t directly work related, but even if this is the case, the direct supervisor of the employee needs to know about it.

      1. Ellen Ripley*

        Honestly an ADA issue was the first thing that came to my mind. I imagine someone with strong social anxiety may be allowed to stay home from work on days when social events are planned without repercussions.

        LW#4 didn’t specify that the absences affected the employee’s work performance, apart from not being able to get the *perfect* group photo. I hope that, if they employee was still accomplishing all the required work and doing it well, that LW left them alone.

        1. anonymous73*

          OP did say he was absent for 4 months per year – that’s a lot of time. I don’t know many people who can only work 2/3 of the year and get all of their work done. OP is focusing on the employee not participating in any group functions, but it sounds like there may be more problems here.

          1. Nanani*

            Since LW said the absences are covered by doctor’s notes, I strognly suspect the employee has a health issue being accommodated, and the details just aren’t any of LW’s business.

            LW implies the absences from photos and group functions are fake but what if the guy is actually really sick, which is a thing humans are sometimes? Preventing someone with a chronic illness from being fired over it is a thing a good union can do.

            1. The OTHER Other*

              I agree there might well be a health issue behind it, I disagree somewhat that it’s not the LW’s business, IMO a manager should be in the loop about that sort of thing. Otherwise, how can the manager know what to say if an upper manager asks about this employee’s attendance? If the manager is accountable for the employee, then the manager needs to know the details.

            2. anonymous73*

              I don’t disagree about the possibility of a health issue. I was just addressing the comment above stating that OP doesn’t address his work product in the letter. Even with a legitimate health issue, most companies aren’t going to allow an employee to consistently miss 1/3 of a year’s worth of time and allow them to continue in their same role. I understand accommodations should be made for health related issues, but sometimes it’s not feasible if someone is unable to work full time.

          2. quill*

            Yeah, I wonder if he’d be more productive if he 1) was allowed to opt out of group stuff without having to be out of office 2) knew that the boss was keeping an eye on his output.

            Or if he could work from home, because it does seem like a lot of his absences are medical, and if he has a condition that worsens with anxiety and has anxiety about the office’s frequent gatherings, he could just be stuck in an anxiety loop.

      2. Liz*

        This was my theory as well. The OP states that the employee has sick notes supporting all absences so I assume everything is legit? As someone with a chronic illness, I often bristle at the idea that anyone who experiences regular sickness has to be “managed out”.

        I’m fortunate enough to work for an employer who is extremely accommodating. I’ve seen a couple of our managers go on long term sick for 2 months or so, and it’s tough but we are well staffed enough to get by until they return. I myself am contracted part time as I probably couldn’t handle full time work, but I understand in America healthcare is usually only offered to full time employees? Are there ways around this? How are these situations usually handled? I would imagine there are ways and means. Couldn’t OP sit down with HR and discuss any accomodations that could be offered to this employee to help with their attendance issues?

        1. Gatomon*

          If they employee can work full time except when they are out sick, they usually receive all the normal benefits. FMLA is supposed to provide protection and continuation of health insurance, though it exhausts at 12 weeks/year and is only for employees who work at least 1250 hours in a year. (There’s a bit more to it, but those are the main points.) After the 12 weeks are up, the employer doesn’t have to protect that person’s job any longer. I’ve personally seen people out for up to 6 months who’s positions were protected, but it really varies by employer. Some see FMLA as the max that they have to do, some see it as a minimum. Unionized/government jobs tend to be better about this and sometimes have sick leave donation schemes so the person can have some income while out. There could be states with laws that go further, but this is what the federal law provides.

          Someone like this person who is ill this often is in a tight spot. It’s hard to find or keep a job that would accommodate this much absence in America, so I understand why the employer may have chosen to keep them. Our system really forces a person into two paths: maintain full time work as best you can, use FMLA if you can to keep your income and health insurance or, don’t work and attempt to get Medicaid. Third option is to have a SO who can support you and has solid health insurance, but that’s more luck than choice.

      3. GlowCloud*

        I think it’s gross to force anyone to participate in stuff like group Christmas cards that are not directly related to their work responsibilities, especially for the reasons like WitPro as you stated.
        4 months per year is a LOT of absence, but when I read that they’re “supported with sick notes”, I immediately stopped seeing the employee as the problem. This manager should know what’s going on with this employee’s health situation & be trying to understand what accommodations he needs, and how they can manage around the necessary medical absences BEFORE assuming that he’s just not bothered about coming in to work.

        That doesn’t mean the employee can’t/ shouldn’t be fired *ever*, but without any insight into what might be going on with him, or his overall conduct on the job, the whole letter just smacks of ableism to me.

        Like, does he call in sick, or just not show up and bring in a Dr’s note later? Has he had accommodations agreed from a conversation with the previous manager? Why does LW4 seem to be working off assumptions about the cause of the absenteeism?
        Seems like a conversation needs to be had with this employee, but it shouldn’t start with “I’m ready to fire you over this”.

        1. EPLawyer*

          YES. The person is voluntarily foregoing 1/3 of their yearly income to avoid group activities. SOMETHING is going on. A good manager would try to find out what it was rather than just complain the person is not adding to the cohesion of the team.

          Also now that I think of it, if missing all group activities adds up to 4 months out of the year, that is a LOT of group activities. When is the rest of the team getting any work done?

          1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

            It’s unclear that’s happening. Missing one out of every 3 days could mean missing most group activities due to coincidence. Or maybe the employee is *trying* to be thoughtful – like he is chronically ill and feels lousy all the time so he tries to be absent on days that seem like less work will be done (big office party means fewer people doing work while at work). I mean, wouldn’t people rag on this guy if he was absent so much but came every time there was a party??

      4. cubone*

        Every now and then someone on this site uses the term “managed out” likes it a normal, acceptable thing. I have only ever heard it as an extremely unethical, shady and where I’m from, illegal thing to do (constructive dismissal). Maybe I’m misunderstanding and others just mean “taking the steps to fire the person in accordance with the employers policy”, but the definition from everyone I’ve ever worked with is “making it impossible for the person to succeed/tolerate it until they quit”. Which is … wrong.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Managed out means, you work with them to try to improve but you also make it clear that if they DO NOT improve, they will be fired. You can even encourage them to look for other work if it looks like this is just not going to work out. You aren’t creating a situation that is so bad that they just up and quit. You are TRYING to save the situation while letting the other person know their job is on the line.

          1. cubone*

            Interesting, so I mean to me that’s just …..managing? I guess “managing out” to me always sounds like the decision has already been made, and you want the person out. Which I know a lot of the time you expect is likely and absolutely need to be prepared for it, but there’s always the chance things turn around, I guess. I’m really curious if this is a regional or cultural thing just because again, I have truly only ever heard it as a hush-hush, no-no term you should never admit to doing. But clearly that’s not the consistent definition!

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              I agree. I’ve never thought “managed out” means “we worked with them and tried to get them to improve.” In context, it generally means “we made them miserable in the ways managers can make your life miserable,” such as giving them the worst schedules/assignments.

          2. Sea Anemone*

            Managed out means, you work with them to try to improve but you also make it clear that if they DO NOT improve, they will be fired.

            “Working” with them to “improve,” when done in bad faith with the intention to fire them rather than actually help them improve (hence the scare quotes), is a form of managing out.

            If the intent is actually to improve them, then you aren’t managing them out. You are managing them in. Or, you know, managing them.

        2. Aquawoman*

          I guess I’m not sure what you mean by “making it impossible for them to succeed.” I don’t think work should be assigned without regard to ability and competency. If someone regularly fails to show up and so they don’t get assignments that require showing up, that’s not the manager “making it impossible for them to succeed.” If they’re moved to a role where they do less damage, that is an appropriate response to their shortcomings.

          1. Myrin*

            I belive cubone means something like constantly moving the goalposts or heaping more and more onto an already large pile of work to do, which is what I, too, always understood “managing someone out” to mean.

          2. cubone*

            I mean explicitly the concept of “constructive dismissal”, here’s the Wikipedia definition:
            “[CD] occurs when an employee resigns as a result of the employer creating a hostile work environment. Since the resignation was not truly voluntary, it is, in effect, a termination. For example, when an employer places extraordinary and unreasonable work demands on an employee to obtain their resignation, this can constitute a constructive dismissal.“

            I’m not in employment law, so a huge caveat, but yeah, if you changed the terms of someone’s employment contract (and they did not agree to those changes) so significantly they resigned, the idea is that you have effectively terminated them. This can matter for a bunch of reasons, and where I live, is considered a wrongful dismissal (if you can prove it of course!)

          3. Susan Ivanova*

            Well, you could create tasks for a PIP that are in the same area as the employee’s existing tasks, but so different that they have no relevant experience. Like telling a llama groomer to go work on lions. They’ve both got fur, right? Other people on the grooming team do it all the time. Should be no problem.

        3. Sea Anemone*

          Yep, the definition that you understand to be common is the one that I have also seen commonly used: make them miserable until they quit. Sometimes, this goes in parallel with the official process, like using a PIP to make a chemist into a radiation physicist and letting them go when they fail to complete the project that they were never qualified for in the first place (an actual example from a previous employer), and sometimes it means things like, only give them assignments well below their capability or don’t give them assignments at all, remove them from assignments with responsibility even though the stakeholders are giving positive feedback, etc. It’s not quite constructive dismissal bc there is an implication of legal wrongdoing there, such as violating FMLA requirements. It’s more like a bunch of bad faith moves upheld by plausible deniability.

        4. NotAnotherManager!*

          In my industry, “managing out” means that the employee is not a good fit for the job and, rather than outright firing them, the employer provides a timeframe for a last day and a lot of flexibility for the departing person to interview/find other jobs. Sometimes, it includes outplacement assistance or referral to a job that would play better to their strengths. Not everyone is going to make a principal/partner/shareholder, so managing out provides a softer landing for their departure.

          It sounds, though, like this is very industry-specific and not what’s done in other places. My experience is primarily with professional services (law firms, consulting, etc.) that have a big up-or-out culture.

    2. Jackalope*

      I don’t see any signs that the team is dumping all of the work on him while they’re off doing other stuff. Unlike some of the other letters we’ve had here, he’s not only invited but expected to be at the events, and even with him choosing not to go, most of the things the OP mentioned (group photos, office lunches, etc.) are things that at least at the offices I’ve been at don’t take much time.

    3. Beth*

      Re: #4: You’re right that OP should stop trying to pull this employee into group stuff. But I don’t see any reason to think that work is being dumped on him, or that he’s being punished for his lack of participation. On the contrary–he’s out for an average of 4 months a year, yet still has a job and is at no risk for losing it. That seems pretty cushy to me!

      1. EPLawyer*

        If everyone is off at group activities, who is covering the phones? Who is making sure that deadline is still met? The one person who stays behind. I’m reminded of the letter where the manager asked if her group was too cliquey because they drove out the star performer that was added to the team. The SP was left behind while they all went on the Friday beer run and was expected to do their work too.

        1. Colette*

          It’s clearly not this guy, because he doesn’t show up when there’s a group activity.

          There’s no indication that he’s being expected to cover for the rest of the group, or that he is doing so.

          1. Slinky*

            If you type “too exclusive” into search, it should come up. I’ll follow up with a link. It’s a wild ride.

        2. WellRed*

          Maybe they don’t have to cover phones, etc. please stop talking about things that aren’t in the letter.

          1. EPLawyer*

            So for 4 months out of the year they just — do no work? I don’t think so. The workload isn’t discussed AT ALL in the letter, you are right. Apparently the person’s absences only cause trouble around mandatory fun. Hmmmmmm.

            1. Colette*

              There’s no indication that they’re not working for 4 months a year. He misses 4 months a year, including every time there’s a group event. There might be 3 group events a year, taking a total of an hour of work time.

              1. Sea Anemone*

                So for 4 months out of the year they just — do no work?
                There’s no indication that they’re not working for 4 months a year.

                He’s absent in total about four months of the year

                To answer both you and EPLawyer, he is absent for about 4 mo/year, which we can logically conclude means he does no work for ~4 mo/yr.

                How does it fly? We don’t have that information, but others have suggested FMLA.

        3. Burger Bob*

          But he’s clearly not “the one person who stays behind.” He’s just not at work that day. He’s not staying at the office while everyone does the group photo. He’s not at the office at all.

      2. Catharine*

        I’m not sure that being so unwell you are signed off by a doctor for several months during the year, would be my idea of ‘cushy’.

      3. Clisby*

        He’s not getting paid for a lot of that time – the OP says he’s exhausted his vacation and sick days.

      4. Banana Pancakes*

        Yeah, I have disabilities that put my school and work attendance on par with OP in the years I was able to work and “cushy” it was not. It was demoralizing, alienating, expensive, and stressful.

    4. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

      #3 It’s true that people feel differently about these things today. Where I live, the official instruction has been that even if you have a negative corona test, you still shouldn’t go anywhere if you have symptoms. At some point it was changed, so that now it’s OK to go to work etc. when your symptoms are clearly getting better if the test is negative. I think this is a good change because as probably everyone knows, sometimes that cough can go on for AGES and it would be unreasonable to quarantine for months because of that. Also the instruction to stay home and get tested “in the case of slightest symptoms” is frankly impossible to follow, as the list of potential covid symptoms is so long and includes so common things that I think every honest person experiences them at least weekly…

      1. ceiswyn*

        Exactly. A coughing fit that results in vomiting is a common result of whooping cough, for example – and by the time that characteristic cough actually develops, the infectious phase is over. And who can isolate for three months of a non-infectious cough?

        (Other diseases are available. But I actually had whooping cough once, way back pre-‘rona, and three months of regularly coughing my airways shut while people looked at me disapprovingly and asked if I should really be out was bad enough then. I really feel for anyone with a non-infectious cough now!)

        1. Artemesia*

          whooping cough is curable with antibiotics, so you only isolate until you have had a sufficient course. my boss at the last job developed whooping cough and had to stay home a few days and of course warned all of us that we had been exposed; because he had been inoculated years ago his case was mild and he was shocked at the diagnosis. It is super contagious and adults need to get their shots updated every decade or so and always if there is going to be a new baby in the family.

          1. ceiswyn*

            Whooping cough can only be cured with antibiotics if it’s diagnosed early. By the time the characteristic cough actually develops, it’s usually too late.

        2. Random Bystander*

          On those non-infectious coughs … yeah, that’s the way my asthma will normally manifest, and that’s not contagious (though other things that are can make things worse for me). Sometimes, when the “state flower” (ragweed) is in bloom, I sound really awful, but I am completely non-contagious. Fortunately, most everyone who knows me IRL knows that I’ve had these issues for *years*.

          1. PT*

            I had a doctor who required you to be sick for TWELVE WEEKS with a virus before you “qualified” for antibiotics.

            Needless to say (pre-COVID) there was no way in hell I was getting 12 weeks off work for a virus where I was otherwise well enough and able to go about my daily business. The doctor wouldn’t sign me off (you’re not too sick to go to work! I go to work sicker than you all the time!), my work wouldn’t have allowed me that much time off for “just a cold” and there wasn’t anyone who could cover for me easily. So I just went to work for two or three months, letting the bacteria multiply and multiply until I had a high fever and demonstrably green mucous to show the doctor to claim my Zpak.

            1. Artemesia*

              Antibiotics don’t work for viruses so they should never be prescribed without evidence of an antibiotic sensitive bacterial infection.

      2. Huttj*

        I’ve been bemused this last year as I’ve been getting treated for a fungal lung infection (at this point seems completely gone, just getting verified and medical follow-through).

        Have I had cough? Yes. Shortness of breath? Yes. Abdominal pain? Oh yes. Multiple covid tests, all negative, just to make sure I hadn’t picked that up on top of stuff.

        Fortunately what I had is considered not transferrable person to person, that was the second thing I checked (after ‘ok, we know what it is finally, what happens now?’).

      3. Chicanery*

        Between my pregnancy and allergies, I haven’t had a symptom-free day in over 4 months and likely won’t until at least June. Quarantining for that amount of time just isn’t feasible.

      4. Artemesia*

        This is why everyone should be issued home test kits like they do in Canada so when one has this ordinary symptoms they can do a quick check to see if it is likely COVID. In Paris they had – perhaps still do– tents on the corner where you could get a quick test — free to locals. They were all over Paris. We spent 6 weeks in the 17th and even out in the weeds, there were half a dozen tents within a walk from where we stayed.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          I’m a Canadian.
          We are NOT all being issued home test kits.
          Some workplaces can sign up for programs to get them, and they’ve very recently made them more available to the general public, but it’s a far cry from everyone having them.

          1. Artemesia*

            ahh — read it on twitter, should have known. Thanks for the clarification. Pretty much no one gets them in the US without paying through the nose for them and they are expensive and right now they are also not available. Thought Canada was doing better. But since so many people do have symptoms from other causes, having readily available home tests is pretty crucial.

        2. Lenora Rose*

          Specific workplaces allow for people to have home test its, but it isn’t universal, and for my workplace, it’s only to allow non-vaccinated people the option to work.

      5. Smithy*

        While I am sure there are exceptions, I do think that the plus side with COVID is that there’s also a far greater bandwidth for adjustments around “an abundance of caution”.

        So if you had an interview that you were going to reschedule for feeling ill, I think many employers would have increased comfort with switching to a video platform at least understand the request to postpone an in-person interview by 10+ days. And if it was an employer that did not have accommodations for that – you’d certainly learn something about that employer!

      6. quill*

        Work policy has been “you may come in with light symptoms if you have been confirmed to not have covid.”

        I’ve had two colds so far this year. I worked from home for both of them, but you bet my throat was sore long after my test came back negative. Can’t wait to see how many times I have to get tested during allergy season, AKA Quill’s nose runs a marathon season.

      7. Lynn Whitehat*

        We have to take a daily health survey to go in the office. Question 1 is “do you have any symptoms of Covid? Including [more distinctive symptoms], headache, tiredness, or confusion?” If you took it literally, you could call out sick forever because you’re tired and confused.

    5. Venus*

      “Also, you are spending waaaay too much worrying about a photo.”

      I was thinking the same, although the fact that OP’s predecessor pasted in that one employee makes me think that the predecessor cared a lot and OP is asking AAM to confirm that their way wasn’t the best and things can change.

  3. learnedthehardway*

    #1 – that level of resistance to constructive criticism is extreme. There are some people out there, though, who really cannot admit that they’re wrong – ever. The reasons for it don’t matter – whether it’s ego or pathological. Either way, it’s an impossible thing for a business to deal with. The best thing you can do in that situation is remove them before they cause major problems with your clients and staff.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      I used to internet-know a guy like that. I think he was probably pretty bright–solidly above average–and he was certainly educated. But the single most important fact about his world was that he was the smartest guy in the room–any room. Put him in a room of Nobel laureates and he will lecture them. The effect of this was that he was unemployable. I think he had a modest inheritance which was just enough to scrape by living like a starving artist. That is one thing when you are in your twenties, but I imagine it got pretty old. It was all about priorities. A paying job would require submitting to someone he regarded as his inferior.

      1. The OTHER Other*

        OMG I knew a guy like this. He was only somewhat of a know-it-all in a normal day-to-day nonprofessional context, but when it came to any work in his field OMG he was pompous. Because he was hard to work with, he never developed the experience necessary to go with the education. What someone might be willing to overlook in a smart kid new to the work force got less and less cute over the years. As time went on his skills got more and more out of date and his jobs slid further and further down the economic ladder. Last I knew he was working as an overnight security guard.

    2. Grey Coder*

      I know someone who got fired from an extremely-hard-to-fire position because he kept doubling down on needing to be not wrong. He’d done something slightly dodgy — think along the lines of claiming expenses which weren’t allowed, though that’s not what it was. If he’d said “oops, sorry, I didn’t check the policy/got my receipts mixed up” when it was first brought to his attention, it would have been fine. He ended up doing the equivalent of denying that he’d filled in the expense claim, basically alleging that someone else had done it and forged his signature, etc. It was wild.

      So yeah, if you have one of those, get rid of them ASAP.

    3. Frankie Bergstein*

      My husband and in-laws are ALL like this! It’s hilarious (except when it’s not). I shudder to think of what that means in a workplace though. They’re a doctor, engineer, homemaker, and project manager.

    4. Gingerbread Gnome*

      I worked with one of these. She was actually excellent at the technical part of the job but could be downright scary if she didn’t get her way. We were looking for a worker bee to help keep up with growth, she wanted the whole team to revise processes that had nothing to do with efficiency to “her way” during the training period. Think changing all green file folders to blue and all blue file folders to purple, and go back to update the previous 20 years’ worth. When we were drowning in unfiled paperwork that needed to be processed. It was the nasty verbal attacks, her belief the owner would prefer her system and fire the trainers, and her inability to get along with even our kindest teammates that saw her terminated during probation. We kept the struggling applicant with good soft skills…some extra training to get her up to speed was a small price to pay for a cohesive team.

  4. Stopgap*

    2 – “We also get to act like teenagers but with alcohol.” To each their own, but to me that sounds dreadful.

    1. allathian*

      You’re not alone. The idea of a slumber party with my coworkers sounds absolutely horrid. I know that there’s no way I could feel safe enough to sleep in that environment, and if I don’t get enough sleep, I turn into an ogre, and that’s not something I want to expose my coworkers to.

      1. Jackalope*

        I would also add that when I was an actual teenager I enjoyed sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag with my good friends. Nowadays I sleep much better in a real bed. Trying to sleep on the office floor (or a coworker’s floor) sounds unpleasant.

        1. UKDancer*

          Even as a teenager I hated sleepovers because I was never comfortable and I am enough of a sybarite that I prioritised a comfortable sleeping place over spending the night with my friends. Nowadays as a grumpy middle aged woman I would definitely not want to sleep over with my co-workers. I need a real bed, a hot shower and a strong coffee to be remotely approachable in the morning.

        2. allathian*

          Oh yes. I loved camping as a teen of normal weight. Now I’m afraid to sleep on the floor, regardless of the thickness of the mattress, because I normally need to pee at least once in the middle of the night, and I prefer rolling out of bed to trying to clamber out of it. I try to stay half asleep, and that would be impossible if I had to try and avoid hurting myself while getting out of bed.

          I’m a poor sleeper with other people in the same room. My husband and I switched to separate bedrooms when our son was a baby, because I’d wake up at the least sound, and my husband fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow again. We did this even when my husband was working and I was on maternity leave, because he seems to deal much better with a lack of sleep than I do. So if I can’t handle even my husband sleeping in the same room, I’m not going to try it with anyone else.

          1. quill*

            I’m not even out of my twenties and floors bother me now. I’m inclined to think that teens are just made of rubber.

          2. Lucy Skywalker*

            Ah, youth! If only I had the body and the energy that I had as a teenager! I think I aged an entire decade during the lockdown in 2020.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I can’t help but wonder if there is some movie or TV show out there (not porn) which showed this as a great bonding time where barriers came down, everyone laughed, and by the time the s’mores rolled out they were plotting a coup.

        1. Ariaflame*

          Well there’s a movie where one of the characters *thought* it would be.
          If you have not yet seen ‘Josie and the Pussycats’ I do recommend…

    2. PollyQ*

      I’m sorry we never got an update for this. I woulda bet money that one of the higher-ups shut it down HARD, but who knows?

    3. TiredEmployee*

      Yeah…with UK alcohol law being what it is my teenage years involved a lot of alcohol-fueled parties that often turned into sleepovers. My friend group were the “good kids” and there was still plenty of (accidentally) wrecking people’s furniture, the odd sex “scandal”, and my god so much crying. It’s definitely no longer my idea of a good time!

      1. bamcheeks*

        One of my favourite bits of the Harry Potter films is towards the end of the Yule Ball when there’s a girl inexplicably sobbing all over her friends in the background. Just a very sweetly authentic moment!

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        In the US with the alcohol laws being what they are, I associate teenage parties with alcohol as a common thing.

        Now I am picturing a sweet, very naive 22 year old assistant who is so excited to finally be legally able to drink, and proposed the only low-cost girl-bonding event she could think of, a slumber party.

        1. Lucy Skywalker*

          I remember thinking the same thing when I read the letter when it was published the first time: that she was fresh out of college and not completely transitioned to “work culture” yet, because the college and post-college years, for most people, involve a LOT of sleeping over at others’ homes. Heck, if you live in a dorm, it’s like one giant slumber party, only with alcohol.

    4. Amethystmoon*

      When I was an actual teenager, I wasn’t allowed alcohol, but I’m from the US. The only alcohol I got was communion wine and that wasn’t really something worth partying over. Though I was a foreign exchange student in Germany my senior year in high school. We were allowed to have beer there because it was legal. So that was the first time I tasted any beer.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Communion wine: I always say, if you want good communion wine, go Episcopalian. I am Lutheran. We select communion wine on the grounds of indestructibility.

        1. Jaid*

          LOL, become Jewish and have some decent Manaschewitz Concord Grape wine for evening Kiddush. Goes lovely with pound cake or cookies.

        2. J.B.*

          I wouldn’t call it good :) My grandmother and the other members of the altar guild used to cross state lines to get communion wine due to lower taxes. I just love that image!

          1. Artemesia*

            This is of course illegal; the AG’s office in our former state caught a guy crossing state lines to buy cases of champagne for his daughter’s wedding and they confiscated his very expensive car. There was regularly policing of the route since trying to beat the state out of liquor taxes was a fairly common thing.

        3. Insert Clever Name Here*

          I attended an Episcopal church in the DC area that served port for communion…bit of a shock when you’re a Methodist used to Welch’s! :)

          1. Lucy Skywalker*

            And I’m an ex-Catholic currently worshipping in a Congregational church, so it’s been the opposite for me: going from wine to nonalcoholic grape juice! There are so many differences between the denominations that most people aren’t aware of. And it’s not just the worship that’s different, even the culture is different. For instance, Catholic churches sometimes have spaghetti dinners or family-friendly Mardi Gras events, complete with clowns and other performers. At my new church, on the other hand, someone recently told me that they occasionally have an afternoon tea, and come wearing fancy hats. I laughed because it sounded like the most stereotypically Protestant thing ever!

      2. JohannaCabal*

        I’m in the US. I wasn’t in the “cool set” at my high school but I knew of slumber parties where alcohol was present, usually surreptitiously or worse, provided by lax parents (sigh).

        My slumber parties were powered by Surge lol.

        1. Anonym*

          Ours were preceded by a quest, usually unsuccessful, to get our little mitts on some Jolt (omg eXtRa CaFfEiNe jafaoifnqariehiurjja!!!). I don’t think I’ve thought about that in 20 years! Ha.

    5. OtterB*

      The thing that struck me about #2 was the genderedness. If it’s not okay to do a golf outing or some such that’s just for the men, why is this okay?

      1. Stopgap*

        It sounds like it’s an individual making plans, not the company, so it probably falls under “adults can associate with whoever they want in their free time”.

        1. bamcheeks*

          LW also says that it’s about “team building” and won’t be looked on favourably at the company if she doesn’t go. Which does make it sounds more like it’s a work-social rather than an “individual people getting together in their own time” thing.

          In general, literally everything about this is a terrible idea. Like, it’s not, “a few people in a clique think this is a good idea, and a few people with more level heads / more perspective are suggesting caution”, it’s ‘surely only one single person could display this level of terrible, awful, completely-divorced-from-reality judgment, let’s hope they don’t have enough power to overrule everyone going, “are you fcking KIDDING.”‘

          1. MoreFriesPlz*

            It makes it sound more like OP is putting way too much faith to/weight in this assistants opinions and they’re both confused about office social norms to me. One assistant had a horrible idea and shared with the group. Just because she called it team bonding and OP thought not going would look bad, doesn’t mean that’s the reality.

      2. FashionablyEvil*

        I think this is really only a problem when we’re talking about a dominant group (men, white people, etc.) excluding a non-dominant group (women, folks of color, etc.) Also, the fact that it’s being organized by an assistant (who I assume is low on the organizational ladder) makes it low-level of concern to me.

        That said, I got an invite to an adult sleepover recently and I was contorting myself every which way to politely decline. The potential hostess—who I had only just met since she’s a friend of a friend!—was…not picking up on my complete and total lack of interest.

        1. Artemesia*

          I have finally realized that ‘it just isn’t my thing’ works for me when met with an obtuse inviter.

        2. Tom*

          Yeah…no. Sorry, but power is a contextual thing, different groups have different levels of power in different contexts, and you don’t get to make a blanket statement like that.

      3. Critical Roll*

        It’s not as exclusionary-from-powerful-in-group as men-only activities. But I wouldn’t say it’s “okay,” and I don’t think others are arguing that it is either. It’s still sexist, besides being an unreasonable expectation of mandatory fun, and a super inappropriate activity for a workplace.

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Adding to all reasons already cited, a coed coworker sleepover where “we’d act like teenagers, but with alcohol” sounds x100000000 times worse than the original idea (not that the original idea isn’t utterly awful to begin with).

    6. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yep, I’d be uncomfortable doing this even with a group of friends. (Waking up hungover on an air mattress just does not feel the same after a certain age.) With my coworkers, including upper management? That’s my idea of personal hell. But to Alison’s point, I can’t imagine OP’s other coworkers being excited about it, either. Hope there was an update saying that everyone had cited other commitments and bowed out.

  5. The OTHER Other*

    #4 It’s striking that your letter is all about attending photo shoots, parties etc. What business is your team in, exactly? You say nothing about his performance or work quality, and when you talk about his wider absenteeism, you immediately dismiss it with “we can’t do anything about that” and handwave it with “Union”.

    I appreciate you say you are a brand new manager, but I suggest you shift your priorities from photo shoots and parties and towards performing whatever the job duties are for your team. Focus on the steak, not the sizzle.

    There might be some kind of personal or medical issue you don’t know about behind the employee’s absenteeism. If you are his manager, you certainly should know if there are such issues—have you asked upper management? If there isn’t a good answer from them on that, then you have a dysfunctional workplace.

    1. Bilateralrope*

      It sounds like the union is blocking the letter writer from firing someone without first documenting a good reason.

      1. Asenath*

        That’s one of the main jobs of a union – to ensure that management has a valid (and documented) reason for firing employees. In this case, it’s also possible the person has protection in management, perhaps a powerful friend or relative in high places, or a documented disorder, perhaps related to extreme anxiety.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          The person in question here also has sick notes from a doctor, so maybe they’re good friends with their doctor, or, as you say, they may even be ill in some way!

      2. Observer*

        It sounds like the union is blocking the letter writer from firing someone without first documenting a good reason.

        So? Either there is a good reason, and the OP needs to document it – which may be a pain, but in most cases doable. Or there is not a good reason, and the OP should figure out how to deal with the situation.

        In neither case does it make sense to focus on the parties and photo shoots.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Yeah, I was struck by the absence of any discussion of the quality, or even the quantity, of work. I was half expecting an aside that he is a top performer, even with all those absences. I’m still not sure this isn’t the case, what with there being no mention of the rest of the team having to take up the slack.

    3. FashionablyEvil*

      I also thought the lack of curiosity/awareness of actual work performance was interesting. Focusing on superficial stuff like team photos suggests to me that there might be a culture problem/issues with wanting conformity and promoting exclusion.

    4. HotSauce*

      I couldn’t agree with you more. I have a team member who has social anxiety, I’ve never pushed them or anyone else to participate in parties or photos. These types of things aren’t integral to our work, so why would it bother me if it doesn’t bother them? Furthermore, I wouldn’t want to make someone feel uncomfortable just so I can have a team picture. Please focus on their work and less on their social interaction.

    5. Nanani*

      This many absences sound very likely to be caused by a real issue and the union is protecting a person with a chronic/intermittent condition from being fired by ableist jerks.
      LW implies it’s fake but I really really doubt it, it’s probably just none of their business.

      1. bookends*

        I was thinking the same thing. If he has legitimately missed four months out of the year, there’s a good chance he has FMLA for some sort of chronic condition, and that he has a union contract that protects workers with such conditions even beyond their 12 weeks. This letter feels like it’s missing a lot of context.

    6. Tirv*

      I know I would purposely miss ” photo days” if my work did something like that .It sounds like the op’s workplace would not take ” no” for an answer if the employee did show up. I hate having my photo taken in private situations and if it is to be published via work, it would be a hard ” hell no”. I’d also take issue with my face being photoshopped into the picture. OP leave this person alone.

  6. Kella*

    In OP #4, I was really struck by this quote: “It’s frustrating when the entire team plans for this event only to have our efforts thwarted by yet another absence.”

    If he’s absent from literally every single group event and every single photo shoot, then stop planning for him to be there and start planning for him to *not* be there! This is just a simple shift in expectations!

    1. Kella*

      I’m also extremely curious about whether OP’s fear of what other colleagues would think if the employee was left out of the photo was based in anything concrete or just a general anxiety about doing things “right.” If it was based on something concrete, that suggests some pretty dysfunctional work culture.

    2. GlowCloud*

      Excellent point! If a plan like that can be “thwarted” by the absence of one colleague, who you know has a high probability of being absent, you’re setting really unreasonable expectations and failing to see when things are “good enough”.

    3. OftenOblivious*

      Me too. We try to have group work photos sometimes, but we never expect everyone to be there. Whoever is there, is there and is in the photo. Some people are working on a hot work project, some people are photo adverse.

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yeah, this seems like such a non-issue. The guy knows when the photos are and does not appear to be asking for a reschedule/accommodation on picture day. Just take it without him! I cannot imagine caring about this in the least (nor going to the trouble of photoshopping him in).

  7. Meghan*

    Oh how I feel for #3! I passed out on my orientation day for a cashier position. I started feeling woozy in the loss prevention office and just sat on the floor. Got a weird look. Then we walked out and I started to LAY ON THE CONCRETE FLOOR. They brought me a stool to sit on during the LP manager’s speech and I ended up passing out and falling off the stool. The ambulance was called.

    On the upside (?) it is now the legendary tale of the person who passed out at orientation. (I came back to finish my orientation 3 days later and got to bring snacks and skip the tour of the building)

  8. DyneinWalking*

    #1: I went to read the comments to the original letter and realized the OP had posted an update in the comments!

    OP 2 here. Thanks for the insight. Even though Allison published my question quickly, things came to a head a day or two after I wrote in. (We are starting Week Five now.) For background, the individual is 35 and this is his fourth job out of school. As we started down the path again of me having to “prove” my facts and why I wanted something the way I did, I sat him down and explained that he was showing a pattern of behavior that was career crippling.

    He truly seemed shocked. No one had ever pointed the pattern out to him and he came to his own conclusion that that he was “creating conflict”. To the points raised above, he said no one has ever offered him coaching before and that he worked for a person who berated anyone publicly (love open floor plans) who made a mistake and then sent the person home for the day.

    He has promised to work on this but admits it will take time to adjust. I am willing to give him time, but also have let him know that the client facing role we had both anticipated is not going to happen until I can trust that he can handle these situations well.

    I feel like changing jobs is a Big Thing, so I don’t like to give up on people until they have been given feedback and a chance to adjust.

    1. Stitch*

      I have to say I think OP was being extremely naive here and I seriously doubt this worked out.

      I know you want to give someone chances but this guy was clearly disruptive in the workplace and couldn’t be trusted to work with clients! Keeping a bad employee like this in can absolutely ruin a team and destroy morale.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Certainly very optimistic. Nothing from the original letter looks like behavior that will be fixed by simply pointing it out, particularly for someone who has aged out of the “young and stupid” phase of life.

        1. bamcheeks*

          I don’t know, if it’s a learned behaviour which was encouraged (consciously or unconsciously) in a particular toxic environment, then it’s absolutely possible to unlearn it. It depends how committed the employee is to unlearning it, but “I’m going to try, but also I might backslide and I need you to keep coaching me” is a pretty honest and insightful assessment of the problem and sounds like a good level of commitment.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            This update does potentially put it within the family “Someone finally said ‘That thing you do? It worked in your last context, but in this one it is really hurting you’ and I realized I needed to change tout suite.” And then the person does change, because they just needed to either be alerted to the change in norms, or understand that something would now generate negative consequences they actually cared about.

            1. Galadriel's Garden*

              I worked with someone who came from an industry where getting heated and yelling at colleagues was not considered entirely inappropriate behavior, the same way it would in a traditional office context (and having worked in that industry, and had a parent also in that industry, I did know that to be pretty par for the course). However, he did not unlearn that behavior 5 years into our current industry – and really killed the morale of the team and caused a *lot* of interpersonal friction. I once had to end a team call that I was running shortly after our manager had departed the organization because said guy lost his temper and started yelling at me over Zoom, in front of our entire team, to the extent it had to go to our VP to address. It was a cycle where he would freak out, someone would address it with him, he would behave better, then gradually slide back into his “old ways.” Unfortunately we were severely understaffed on a highly-specialized team and couldn’t get clearance to add to our headcount, so everyone just…dealt with it until he finally left for a new position of his own accord (which yes, is extremely Not Good on the company). The relief I feel now without that dark cloud of “is today the day I get yelled at and hope I can avoid bursting into tears” every time I join a call is immense.

            2. bamcheeks*

              I think the other thing is that maladaptive behaviours may not be what you actually did, but the thought process that you adopted in that situation playing out differently in a new one. If you have a boss who is super critical and constantly finds small errors or makes things up to belittle you, then you might start running a mental track of “but that’s why I did this, and that’s why I made that decision, it’s not me that is wrong here, it’s him”. You might not verbalise it in the bad situation, but your brain has adapted to doing that as a way of protecting you from constant criticism.

              When you move into a healthier environment, you might lose the fear of speaking up, but keep the mental process of justification and argument–only now you’re encouraged to speak up, so instead you verbalise that whole process of self-justification. And you’ve got to first see the pattern to break it.

              1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                This is something I’ve seen happen a lot in non-work situations. When you’re in an abusive or traumatic situation, your brain will adapt by strengthening certain neural connections and neglecting others. This is useful when you’re in the situation, but once you get free, your brain is still functioning the same way it was before you left. It takes a lot of work and time and practice to get your brain used to being in a non-abusive environment, and not everybody is willing or able to do that work.

          2. Stitch*

            I don’t know, this guy was toxic enough he’d alienated coworkers and clients within 3 weeks. I just don’t think he was A) completely unaware that he was acting like a steamroller and b) that one conversation is going to make him change his ways.

            1. Jaybee*

              This is one of the reasons that the word ‘toxic’ has become such an issue.

              I know it’s difficult to accept, but there’s really no such thing as a ‘toxic person’. A person can be bad for you. A person can be bad for an entire team in a work context. But that’s not some immutable quality of badness. Everyone is capable of change, and as difficult as it is to accept, someone who you think of as ‘that asshole’ and kicked out of your life may now be a wonderful and meaningful part of other people’s lives.

              That doesn’t mean you need to keep people around waiting for them to change, or that you should feel bad for firing someone or otherwise removing them from you if that’s what needs to happen. It doesn’t mean you need to ‘forgive’ people or make an effort to look on them kindly. But it’s not a good look, as an adult, to be so invested in the idea of ‘toxic people’ that you cast a real human in the role of a villain and refuse to accept the notion that they could change their behavior.

              1. Jackalope*

                I had someone as a boss once who was one of my best bosses ever. Kind, compassionate, good clear directions and helpful corrections to keep you on course, etc, etc. A few times we were chatting about life and he mentioned a previous job where he was a supervisor. He shared some of the things that he did there and I was shocked. I said something along the lines of, “Wait, you said WHAT??” And he responded, “Yeah, I was a real jerk back then.” The guy he is now, I would 100% recommend for supervisory positions. They guy he was back then, I would 100% fire.

              2. Stitch*

                I mean I worked with a guy like this and “toxic” was how I would describe his affect on the workplace. It was like the place was suddenly poisoned. Every interaction with him was exhausting. It was a weight off everyone’s shoulders when he was gone.

                I also do not think it’s a coincidence OP is a woman and he’s acting this way.

                1. Sea Anemone*

                  Notice the difference between “this guy is toxic” and “‘toxic’ is how I would describe his affect on the workplace”? It’s not just nitpicking language. It’s a real shift in thinking about somebody to change from “that person is toxic” to “that person is bad for an entire team in a work context.” Like Jaybee says, it doesn’t mean you have to be agent of that person’s change, but ascribing a quality to a person as though it is fundamental to who they are is a black and white way of seeing the world that doesn’t line up with how actual humans work.

              3. pancakes*

                I don’t like frequency with which the word is overused and nearly always think another choice would be more apt, but the possibility of change and the likelihood of it are two very different things, and most people aren’t going to know enough about their coworkers’ personal lives and history to assess that. It’s fair for people to think that someone who is an obnoxious (or worse) coworker in their mid-30s is likely to stay that way.

          3. Wintermute*

            This was my thought, a short, sharp shock of reality might do wonders. It’s hard to know if he is just this way by nature or if this is a toxic maladaption to a bad boss he had before.

            1. pancakes*

              He hasn’t had just a single job, though – he’s on his fourth. At best he is not good at tailoring his behavior to his surroundings.

              1. Sea Anemone*

                We don’t know anything about 2/3 of those previous jobs. We know how his behavior fit into one of those three previous jobs, and we know how it fits into the current job. We know nothing about the other two, including which of them that environment where he was berated publicly was. Was that his first job? His second? his most recent? We don’t know, and we don’t know enough to say that “at best he is not good at tailoring his behavior.”

                1. pancakes*

                  I think it’s reasonable to say we know enough from his behavior in his current job to say that. He alienated a lot of people in just a few weeks, including a client and people senior to him. It would be intrusive to pry into his past, and even if he wanted to be forthcoming about it, there are limitations to the reliability of self-reporting. He may very well not have a firm grasp on how entrenched his behavior is and/or what sort of work he’ll need to do (and is capable of doing) to move on from it.

        2. Venus*

          There are some people with bad habits who are able to change, but I think they need to show quick improvement and something that isn’t superficial. If the employee starts to be in conflict then the manager and other employees should be able to say “I think what you want to say is ‘Good point! I will think about this and fix it / learn more / talk to Bill and then get back to you when I’m done.'”

          If the employee responds badly to this type of direction then I think it becomes impossible to work with them effectively.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            If that sounds reasonable to you, just fire the employee; the employee-supervisor relationship is beyond salvaging. You don’t solve anything by sanctioning unidirectional disrespect.

    2. Chicanery*

      Thank you! Reading the letter, I saw some parallels with people who come from environments where it isn’t safe to be wrong, and wondered whether that kind of fear could be at play here.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I saw some parallels with people who come from environments where it isn’t safe to be wrong

        Likewise. It is heartening that OP was invested enough in the employee-supervisor relationship to not just discard the employee immediately out of hand.

      2. anonymous73*

        In what environments is it unsafe to be wrong? I can see environments being unsafe is someone is constantly making mistakes, but I’m struggling to think of any examples of it being unsafe to be wrong.

        1. EPLawyer*

          He said you were berated in front of everyone and sent home for the day. It might not be physically unsafe but it is no safe to be wrong. You were punished for being human.

        2. Anononon*

          Are you by chance thinking of the meaning of safety as physical safety? The comment means safety as in job security safety and/or whether one is likely to get screamed at/punished/etc. There are workplaces where people feel it’s necessary to hide any errors because otherwise they’ll be berated up to possibly being fired.

          (I greatly appreciate my current boss because if I go to him with a mistake (which fortunately rarely happens), his response is always geared towards “how do we fix this?” and never scolding.)

        3. Shiba Dad*

          Example 1: many moons ago I worked as a typesetter for a company that printed business stationary, envelopes, etc. They would occasionally send “test jobs” through. IIRC there were supposed to be two fonts used but I only used one. Everyone else, including our proofreader, missed this as well. I was the only one punished and got an unpaid day off.

          Example 2: worked for a guy that was often bananapants. Years before I worked for him, he was going to “charge” employees for their mistakes. Let’s say Employee A installed something incorrectly. They would get billed for Employee B’s time to diagnose and fix the error. Apparently a senior level employee convinced him that was a bad idea and he dropped it.

          When I was there the biggest thing was to not make a definitive statement when answering a question he asked without double-checking first. If you said “I think we made a red teapot for them, but let me double check” you were okay, as long as you followed up. I you said ” We definitely made them a red teapot” but the teapot was actually blue, you lost credibility forever.

        4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Typically environments where the boss tends to shout at anyone who makes a mistake, to the point that everyone is walking on eggshells. Where the boss reigns by terror, and where meetings are simply that time of week when you get to hear the list of every Very Important Thing you failed to do in a timely manner, like turning the thermostat down as you leave (knowing that it will then be freezing cold for a good couple of hours the next morning… which the boss doesn’t care about because he mostly only rolls in at about 11, but you can’t bet on it so you turn it down just in case he turns up before you), or putting a file back in the “pending” box instead of keeping it on your desk (knowing that your mind works on a “out of sight out of mind” basis so if it’s on your desk you’re more likely to remember to chase the client up if they don’t answer your email by tomorrow noon) or starting every email with “Dear Mr Client” even though they’re only asking what your phone number is, in an exchange that is more like a chat than an exchange of emails because you’re each writing back immediately…

          Consider yourself lucky you’ve never not felt safe working in an office!

        5. Observer*

          Well, the OP’s employee described one such environment. His prior boss first publicly humiliated a person then essentially docked them a days pay. That’s pretty severe.

        6. Smithy*

          “Unsafe to be wrong” can play out in a number of different ways, but I’m in nonprofit fundraising and used to work on a team where every opportunity you pursued that did not lead to funding essentially resulted in getting in trouble/being yelled at/etc.

          In reality if your success rate is 100%, then you are either going about things incredibly conservatively…..or doing things bizarrely to ensure you never get a ‘no’. At best, it was so ridiculous that even as a junior colleague you knew it couldn’t be best practice. But in practice, it was hard to not have some of those lessons penetrate. And it also did not teach what the proper way of measuring success or what were proper risks to take in terms of investments of time.

          So even when you know intellectually “this can not be right”, it’s not the same as learning what the are the right ways of doing things.

        7. The New Wanderer*

          The term “psychological safety” covers this territory well. A psychologically unsafe place to work means people are afraid to point out problems, admit to errors, raise suggestions, or ever do anything to draw attention to themselves, regardless of whether that attention would be objectively positive or negative. A culture of fear and punishment definitely makes it unsafe to be wrong.

          There’s a lot of research in this area and several good books with case studies of various companies who have failed or nearly failed because their leadership refused to hear anything negative and therefore never heard anything until a major disaster (e.g. failed product launch, massive recall, fatal accidents) occurred.

        8. quill*

          Not immediate physical safety, but when a typo has your boss threatening your job and they change their mind halfway through you doing a task and expect you to have discovered their change of heart telepathically… you get used to fighting for your job / financial security.

        9. Librarian of SHIELD*

          My limbic system doesn’t know the difference between being afraid because my boss is yelling at me and being afraid because I’m being chased by a wild animal. It just knows I’m afraid and responds accordingly. For a lot of people, being yelled at physically feels the same as being in a life threatening situation, because that’s how the brain and body respond to fear. An environment where the boss yells and publicly humiliates people for making mistakes may not actually be physically unsafe, but it will still take a toll on the body because that’s what prolonged fear does.

      3. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        A variation of this theme is that I’ve noticed this kind of tendency in people coming from academia. It’s as much a not-safe-to-be-wrong situation as it is one where defending your work just looks different than in other industries.

        When I see 35 and fourth job (especially with the sorts of behaviours that get people fired), that sometimes lines up with the career trajectory of someone coming from an alt-ac situation. As in, maybe only a handful of years of work experience after leaving a doctoral program and/or a bunch of academic-related jobs where these types of issues would play out differently.

    3. Shiba Dad*

      It seems to me that this type of an environment might make you more likely to double and triple check your work, not hand in something full of errors. I can also see that if toxic old boss was wrongly accusing people of making mistakes this employee could be in defensive mode at all times.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Actually, you’re more likely to slip up because of your nerves (unless you have nerves of steel). If the toxic boss is also a micro-manager, you can spend way too long checking every last tiny detail and your productivity will plummet too. Although of course bosses that reign by terror are far more focussed on whether you jump to attention and say “yessir” than how much you produce.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          My experience also includes that right gets defined differently in-house than it does in the world at large. In bad cases, the effect is tantamount to passive gasslighting (i.e. you start questioning and doubting your own sanity and observations).

        2. Jackalope*

          I also had a job once with a supervisor who micromanaged and because it was a job in an area I didn’t have previous experience in, I made “mistakes” all the time with no clue they were wrong. For example, there was a report we had to write up regularly that she wanted a very specific format for, but every time I did it I would make a different “mistake”. She wanted it to have a part of it be centered, another section left-aligned, have five different section headers corresponding to the five things she wanted us to discuss…. Finally after a couple of months of being mad at me about things, where every time she corrected me on something I fixed it and didn’t do that thing again, she realized that I just didn’t know how to do things to her specific standards and sat down and gave me a template. After that my form was always correct. But this was my first post-college job and I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and no one bothered to show me or train me.

      2. DireRaven*

        I used to work in a similar type of environment. All it did was make me afraid to turn over my work because no matter how many times I double and triple checked it, I’d always miss something. And that does not count the times that not only did I NOT fix the actual error, but I changed something right to be wrong after being handed back the thing with only “this is wrong. fix it.” Which, of course, led to a complete breakdown, which was a good thing because it resulted in being diagnosed with some neurological disorders – allowing for accommodations to be put into place with my next job. (My reputation at the old job was too trashed by that time, so I wasn’t going to fight for my job. I might have won the battle, but sooner or later, someone would find an excuse to force me out.)

      3. Smithy*

        From my experience, the reality was more about being ready to fight all the time because that kind of environment often came with other flaws.

        Such as being assigned work with no deadline, so even if its a task you can do without fault – you don’t necessarily know if you need to drop everything and complete it in an hour? Give yourself the whole day to make sure its mistake free? Or just do it over the course of the next two weeks? When either answer has the potential to be right or wrong, your juggling a lot of things that might get you in trouble and needing to fight.

      4. quill*

        I worked at a place like that and was physically sick with stress so often (dizziness, etc.) that my work suffered, which meant my boss screamed at me more, which made me sicker…

        Trust me, triple checking does nothing when you’re under stress. You may as well stare at the ceiling for 30 minutes, because your edits are as likely to be second guessing what is right and making it wrong than they are to catch every error.

    4. Purple Cat*

      Thank you for this! I started to look for an update and got distracted.
      Who knows if it actually worked out for the employee in question, but it highlights Alison’s point that managers need to CLEARLY spell out issues employees are having and not just trusting they magically understand.

    5. EmmaPoet*

      I really hope this person did work things out, and even if they ended up moving on to another job, was able to do better in future.

  9. Amethystmoon*

    #5 Back when I was still interviewing, the day after the interview was when I wrote and put the thank you card in the mail box. I agree that it would have seemed weird to have one ready the day of. Thank you notes are partially meant to show your follow-up skills, after all.

  10. Rigamaroll*

    OP #5
    I’ve had someone do that and it was horribly awkward! It’s actually become one of my “can you believe an interviewee did this” stories.
    It wasn’t just a card, it was a full letter talking about how we had a great conversation about the role that made them even more interested in it (!) and how they would be a perfect fit.
    What made it MORE interesting is that we didn’t actually get to discuss the role at all – they completely dominated the conversation with all the bad things about their current role (which wasn’t even in our industry) and how if they didn’t get this one they’d stop evening pursuing opportunities in our industry.

    Thankfully it was a 30 min, in person, screening interview (pre-Rona) so it was a short conversation. Needless to say- they were taken out of the running before the end of the day.

    1. ecnaseener*

      So they pre-wrote a letter about a conversation they hadn’t had yet?? LOL was it a fortune-telling job?

      1. Rigamaroll*

        Yes! It was so awkward because what they ended up talking about was completely unrelated – not even transferable skills.
        Think, they made and delivered teapots; and gave extremely detailed information about how to make teapot lids and how terrible customers were. The position they were interviewing for was reading about raising pigeons.

    2. Smithy*


      I will say, I have a touch of sympathy for LW5 only because of the year (2013). That was the one year I worked with a job placement nonprofit after I moved back to the US after working abroad for a few years. The nonprofit was in the Midwest city where my parents lived, and I was looking for jobs both there and on the east coast. My friend had just used them a few months prior and had gotten hired pretty quickly.

      My plan was basically to do everything they said for a while and see how that worked. However, the one issue of “hnmm, I’m not sure” was around thank you notes. They were at the point of pushing for both emails and physical notes, and for those east coast interviews the idea seemed super odd. Flip side was that I knew the Midwest city was more conservative and had heard from my friend how much her interviewers had liked them.

      Ultimately, the nonprofit’s services were amazing, from starting the program to getting my desired offer was about two months? But the advice around what to do with physical/email thank you notes was the part that made the least sense.

  11. Stitch*

    I just can’t believe LW1 has someone who has alienated multiple people after only 3 weeks, including a client(!) And they haven’t been fired already.

  12. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP3: be kind to yourself. Bodies are really unpredictable things prone to throwing errors at the worst times.

    (Had a partial seizure during an interview once. For those without epilepsy a partial seizure doesn’t have the full body lockup/not breathing/peeing on yourself symptoms of a full one but part of your brain just checks out. In mine it means there’s a full 2 hours of that day I cannot remember. For all I know I went full word salad)

      1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

        Did he actually know that he was being photoshopped in? Personally I would always assume that if I wasn’t there when the photo was taken then of course I wouldn’t be in the published photo, it wouldn’t even occur to me that they would go to all that effort to add me in!

  13. I should really pick a name*

    LW #4 seems to be focusing on company photos when that seems to be the least of the issues.
    I feel like there is zero impact from someone failing to appear in a company photo.

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      Right? Also, depending on how big the group is someone’s invariably going to be out sick, on a business trip, on vacation, etc. Sure, it’s nice to have everyone, but let’s be realistic here.

    2. cubone*

      I was struck a little by “should we cut and paste an old photo of him into the otherwise beautiful photo we have?”, like the photo is a masterpiece and photoshop would completely destroy its integrity. There’s so much… disappointment in this letter, just over one person not having their picture taken. I want to know how this photo is used/received, because it reads a bit like it is the Most Important Thing this business does and I would basically guarantee most of the mailed photos get tossed in the trash, like every other holiday card… sorry :/

      1. Imaginary Friend*

        I just keep remembering that Brady Bunch episode with the family photo of all the kids, and then Jan (a) rides her bike into the photo and (b) gets glasses and … well, wackiness ensued. Because it was a sit-com.

  14. Falling Diphthong*

    Dear _______,

    Thank you so much for the lovely ________. Alex and I shall cherish it always. Etc.

    Hugs! ___________

    This was from a letter to Miss Manners 1.0, about a bridal shower. As the bride opened gifts a bridesmaid filled in the first two lines, and then the bride signed her way through the stack, and as each person left they were handed a thank you note. Which Miss M admitted was the first time she had heard of a thank you note arriving too fast, but this was way too fast. It’s handing people an impersonal sales receipt, and so is the example here.

    That someone thought it original is in there with the idea that somewhere a manager is thrilled at the gumption shown by someone interviewing while dressed as a banana–for every bad idea out there, someone is insisting that this is the way you get jobs. (See prior columns about terrible advice from your parents.)

    1. Jay*

      My kid is a senior in college and I am determined not to be That Parent. The first piece of advice I gave her was “You should read Ask A Manager.” I sent her the link to the I Was Fired Because Someone Got Sick From Stealing My Spicy Food story to get her hooked.

      1. Run mad; don't faint*

        I sent my oldest lots of links from here when they first started looking for a job. I didn’t want to be That Parent either!

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Literally my favorite AAM story – crazy but a very positive resolution (though not without significant angst on the LW’s part).

  15. JohannaCabal*

    #2 Reminds me of a Babysitters Club book where the elementary school holds a mass slumber party in the gym because the students hit a fundraising goal. The babysitters had to help out and it sounded like a nightmare.

    I’m not a fan of team-building exercises for the sake of team-building but a slumber party with my co-workers sounds awful (and I like my co-workers).

    1. lilsheba*

      I absolutely hate team building exercises, and this one sounds awful. I’m way past the age of sleeping at other people’s houses just because, and I have a cpap I have to sleep with besides and I don’t want to advertise that. Plus I really need to sleep in my own room with my own environment. And who thinks this is a good idea during a pandemic?!? What is wrong with people?

        1. lilsheba*

          Oh well that’s good, I didn’t realize it was that old. But still. The whole thing is a dumb middle school aged idea.

  16. anonymous73*

    #1 – is the employee an only child? I was that way…as a child. But then I matured and realized that arguing with people when I was wrong was pointless and only made me look like a bully. Seriously though, Alison brings up a good point. His intentions are irrelevant. It’s been 3 weeks and he’s already alienating co-workers and clients. You don’t brush off that type of behavior. I wonder how long he lasted?
    #2 – this sounds like a nightmare. I don’t want to have sleepovers with my closest friends, much less a bunch of co-workers. I love my friends, but then I want to go home and sleep in my own bed.
    #4 – OP you’re focused on the wrong issue. Some people just don’t want to participate in group activities. As long as he’s getting his work load completed that’s all that should matter. And the fact that he’s absent for 1/3 of the year may mean he has an actual medical issue. So stop worrying about his absence from your forced fun activities and be a little more compassionate about the potential reasons behind it.

    1. Artemesia*

      I have a great nephew who was trained to be a performing seal from toddlerhood — spewing facts, spelling hard words, doing math problems etc. Now in middle school he is that guy; he constantly begs to show how smart he is ‘give me a math problem, I can do it in my head.’ And constantly corrects others on trivial facts. He is smart and it is sad that he has been so encouraged to be a doink. Someday he will be this guy in #3.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      Please don’t foster the tired old cliche that only children are spoiled brats. It’s as hurtful and untrue as all tired old cliches.

  17. Mrs. Avocado Cheeseburger*

    My daughter is neuro divergent and has the same trait of arguing about everything! She genuinely doesn’t know when she’s doing it. I can see that would be terribly frustrating as a manager, as I find it terribly frustrating and I’m her mom!

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      We’re not 100% sure mine’s on the spectrum yet (her brother is), but she displays rigidity and argues about minutia all the time and it impacts her relationship with her peers, constantly arguing with and nitpicking at everything they say. We got our kids “The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens” specifically for the chapter titled “Being Right or Being Included” and “Take a Breath and Watch the Hammer: Knowing How to Handle Criticism”.

    2. DireRaven*

      As a person who is neurodivergent (and self-aware – a horrible combination really, but I digress), sometimes my agenda of trying go through my thought process to figure out the point things started going sideways so that I may put extra checks and balances into place to mitigate the chances of a repeat performance the next time I am dealing with a similar situation is misinterpreted as arguing. All I want to know is where it broke down between what “you” had in mind and told me and my interpretation of what you told me, which I relied upon to act.

      You have to be direct to a degree that neurotypical people often consider rude. But without harping on the issue rewording it five different ways – that is just confusing and personally I stop listening and am like “Is X *ever* going to shut up so I can get Task done?” And if it isn’t clear, I start to overthink and have to be pulled out of the weeds.

  18. Cheesesteak in Paradise*


    Everyone seems to be focusing on social anxiety or anti-group activities as the cause of the employee missing parties and group photos. I mean, maybe? But it’s at least equally plausible the employee (who misses 1/3 work days) is seriously chronically ill and misses group photos/parties either by coincidence or because he wants to spend his limited spoons at work on more productive days. If I always felt lousy and only up to working a couple days a week, it would be *thoughtful* of me to have those days be when all my coworkers were working rather than attending a togetherness workshop or celebrating Mindy’s retirement.

    Of course, this new boss LW could solve this mystery by actually talking to the employee. Is he “I hate being photographed” guy or is he “I feel terrible all the time so I try to go into work when I can do the best I am capable of” guy?

    1. Purple Cat*

      I agree with this take. I have definitely taken days off on “event” days that would have been a waste of time anyway.
      And other times, I have purposely used a vacation day on a different day since event days were low commitment.

    2. Observer*

      Of course, this new boss LW could solve this mystery by actually talking to the employee. Is he “I hate being photographed” guy or is he “I feel terrible all the time so I try to go into work when I can do the best I am capable of” guy?

      Why should the OP even waste the time and energy? Unless this is a very unusual job, there is simply no work reason to have such a conversation.

      Ideally, the OP would have figured out how to deal with the absences appropriately. If the can’t / won’t, at least stop wasting everyone’s time on this nonsense. It just doesn’t matter.

      1. Sea Anemone*

        how do you conclude that there is no work reason to have an actual conversation to find out what’s going on with an absent employee? Conversations with direct reports to find out what is going on is part of basic managerial job duties. You can’t deal with any situation appropriately without knowing what’s going on.

        1. Observer*

          I didn’t say that there is no reason to have ANY conversation with the employee. I said that there is no work reason to have a conversation with employee about A PHOTO SHOOT. (If you look at what I quoted, the suggestion is specifically to find out why he’s missing photo shoots. And a perfectly acceptable answer to that is “none of your business”.)

          Sure, the OP should absolutely talk to the employee about his illness and how to best manage the fallout. But leave the photo shoots out of the conversation.

  19. Hiring Mgr*

    “The bigger issue is how someone missing four months of every year still has a job, union or no union, and whether anyone can manage effectively in an environment that takes core managerial authority away from managers ”

    Agree with AAM’s point here, and also if this has been going on for years, didn’t anyone in HR or mgmnt ever say anything to to LW about it? If the employee has an arrangement that he can work from home or whatever, it’s odd that the lw doesn’t know about it?

  20. oh no*

    “The bigger issue is how someone missing four months of every year still has a job, union or no union, and whether anyone can manage effectively in an environment that takes core managerial authority away from managers (“we cannot get rid of him”).”

    I am rarely critical of the advice given here, but with the caveat that we don’t know the situation (but the mention of qualified sick leave and doctor’s notes), this smacks of a hint of ableism and it’s disappointing to see. “We cannot get rid of him” may mean he’s in a protected class, and protected for a reason. If this poster’s biggest complaint about him missing work is they keep having to photoshop him into a holiday photo, that’s no indication that he isn’t otherwise doing his job and doing it well. Absenteeism may mean there is a performance issue, but that’s not automatically a given.

    1. Observer*

      We cannot get rid of him” may mean he’s in a protected class, and protected for a reason.

      At least in the US, the protection extends to REASONABLE accommodations, and it’s rare that this much absence is reasonable. Of course, if it IS reasonable, and there is actually a good reason for it, the OP should find out and then work around it.

      But fundamentally, Allison’s advice is sound. The fact that he misses group photos is a NON-issue. His absences ARE a legitimate issue, and the OP needs to be given the tools to manage that appropriately, whether it’s more information, or something else.

    2. Anononon*

      In the US, everyone is in a protected class! Multiple, in fact! It’s equally illegal to fire someone/not hire someone for being white as it is for being black.

    3. blakey*

      Yes, as someone who’s dealt with a pretty major health crisis in the not too distant past – that has ended with years of unemployment and now a change in career – I was extremely grossed out by the response to that.

    4. Lilac*

      As a disabled person I’m so glad I wasn’t alone in feeling disappointed in that. Especially since we have no idea what OP’s work is or what arrangements exist to support the coworker.

  21. MissDisplaced*

    It’s so funny that in #4 the focus is so totally on the wrong thing. A person misses at least 4 months of sick time every year, but the LW seems more concerned about a group photo and some office socializing? Weird priorities.

    Would the 4 months out sick be an issue if the person was a social butterfly of the office: a potluck prince, party organizer pro, or a cake baking wonder?

      1. Observer*

        Firstly, I don’t buy is. More often than not it’s not “cannot” but “takes a lot of documentation and work.”

        More importantly, it simply doesn’t justify hassling the guy about something that is so utterly irrelevant. Not being part of group shoots is not a big deal. And if the OP is not being delusional, and having this guy missing from the photos is REALLY going to make the division look bad, then the place has some MAJOR problems. And it would certainly justify the Union for pushing back VERY, VERY hard on any attempt to fire someone because in those kids of environments apparently reasonable sounding causes for firing are pretexts for punishing someone for things like not showing up for a photo shoot.

        1. Colette*

          I’m sure it’s possible to do something about it, but it might come with legal issues (e.g. it’s protected medical leave) or political issues (her boss doesn’t want to, so she’d be defying him and he wouldn’t sign off on it).

          And I think it’s good that she’s thinking about how it looks to leave someone out – that’s the kind of thing that makes people unhappy. I don’t think the clients will care, but the employee had his peers might.

          1. Observer*

            And I think it’s good that she’s thinking about how it looks to leave someone out – that’s the kind of thing that makes people unhappy. I don’t think the clients will care, but the employee had his peers might.

            The OP doesn’t provide the slightest indication that they are worried about the employee would feel left out. Furthermore, it’s a really big stretch to think that anyone would see it that way. The employee knows when all of these photo shoots are scheduled and is out on those days, even though he knows about the schedule – and he did not schedule the absence. So HE knows perfectly well that he’s not being excluded. His coworkers are also perfectly well aware that he’s absent A LOT. And that he knows when the pictures are scheduled. So, there is no reason that they should think that he’s being excluded.

            If a coworker DID express concern that the coworker is being excluded, the OP can easily explain that the employee knew about the photo shoot but then took an unscheduled day off. If that doesn’t work, the place has problems that are not going to be solved by harassing the employee about this.

            1. Colette*

              Again, details matter. I think the OP is fine to just leave him out of the picture if he’s not there, but that answer might change if he’s off every Friday for a medical appointment and that’s when they always schedule the photo shoots, for example.

  22. cubone*

    Putting aside the larger question of the employees absences, someone missing a photo twice doesn’t even seem like “thwarting” or intentionally avoiding the office on those days … it could just be a coincidence. Weird luck, you know? I missed Halloween 4/5 years at my job because of my personal vacation, illness, travel for weddings and nobody accused me of “thwarting” the annual Halloween Costume Contest.

  23. AcadLibrarian*

    For #4, the first thing that always comes to mind for this is if the person has been in an abusive relationship or in a stalking situation. I had a coworker years ago that requested her name not be on the website for this reason. For this reason, I never object if an employee requests something like that or just doesn’t show up for the picture. None of my business why they don’t want to be in a photo.
    (And seriously, your clients open the envelope, look at the card, and toss it in the trash).

  24. Bluebelle*

    A thank you note should reference something from the interview. For the interview I had last week I sent a thank you email and in the email I wrote “Further to our discussion about X, I have attached an example of the XYZ I wrote to introduce [thing] to the executive leadership team.”

  25. Kate, short for Bob*

    #2 I was just reading replies and thinking “no way would I ever do this” and because there has to be an exception Jean and Jorts came to mind.

    If Jean and Jorts are the coworkers, I’m in ;-)

              1. quill*

                Are they sure he’s absent on party days? Maybe he’s trapped in a closet waiting for Jean to let him out.

      1. Kit*

        Like Jean, I aspire to one day happen across a buttered himbo.

        Unlike Jean, my only coworker is my spouse, and our supervisor-cat is more interested in having the butter for herself, please and thank you; if she could get HR to issue directives about the availability of butter for cats, she would be quite pleased. (There’s no HR at our house, merely one of innumerable problems she has with her work environment.)

  26. El l*

    LW1…Yeah, a hard truth about power at work is:

    Back your ideas.
    Disagree* with your boss.
    But if you’re going to fight with your boss – really fight – you have to be right.

    * You should disagree with your boss, at least sometimes. If you always agree, you’re not thinking. It’s how far you take this disagreement that counts.

  27. Sharpieees*

    A work slumber party lol. Oh… I would rather spend an evening literally searching for a needle in a haystack.

  28. quill*

    I feel so much sympathy for the throwing up in front of interviewer LW. I know I’ve randomly thrown up from post nasal drip from allergies before, just never in public…

  29. wayward*

    #2 Try asking if you can bring a large, out-of-control dog who only bites people sometimes to the slumber party.

  30. No Pics at Work*

    LW 4 really makes me feel frustrated. The guy doesn’t want to be in photos, leave him alone! Unless being in a pic is a major part of the job duties, there’s no reason to keep pressuring/expecting someone you work with to be in pics or attend social events at work. It’s a job, we’re not family or even friends.

    They were like that at my old job. Kept pressuring me to be in team pics (didn’t go to any clients, just for us) and attend social events both during work hours and after work. I do not want my picture taken for personal reasons and I’m busy. I don’t have time to participate in social events and they wouldn’t take my reason of having to be home for my kids. No one respected my “no” and kept going on and on until I had to be a bit rude. They even threw a little bday party for me after my parents just died! I told them I didn’t want anything and they didn’t listen. I was so angry and just walked out of the room. Just leave the poor man alone!! Address his other work related issues but stop wanting him to do pictures and social events.

    Why in the world do managers/employers think all the staff want this? Your employees are there to work, not to fill your social needs and take cutesy group pics.

    (Yes, this did strike a nerve and it shows in my response)

  31. VanLH*

    I would love to hear an update to LW1. I don’t think there was one, but is it possible that I missed it?

  32. Olivia Oil*

    LW 5: Unfortunately, there is a terrible but popular career advice site called the Daily Muse where I remember seeing an article suggesting handing the thank you note to the interviewer because it shows initiative!! and enthusiasm!! They generally gave gimmicky advice from what I remember.

    I tend to be forgiving of awkward behavior from young job candidates or intern candidates because of how mainstream bad career advice is. I can also see a college career center giving this type of advice.

  33. Susan Ivanova*

    #1 We had a new coworker who argued with the house style on his first code review. Think insisting on single-spaces after periods in a place that still requires double-space. It literally was that trivial. It had no effect on the code, and we all did know that the style he chose was more common, but we had years worth of code using the odd style and keeping things consistent makes it more readable, which reduces errors. He went back and forth on this for two whole weeks on what should’ve been a simple one-day fix.

    This was a sign we should’ve paid more attention to.

  34. Evvie*

    I wonder how clear the boss is being in the first one (with initial instructions, I mean). I had an issue arise similar to the first one, and I told them “this is what the content guide I have access to says.” They told me “that’s not the current one.” “Can I have that?” “Well, the one we have is actually for a different company and we want you to use it.” “Can I have that?” “No. I’ll just summarize it.”

    Shockingly, when I made the changes to the “correct” way, the client complained about it not matching their request. Then I got screamed at (literally) for not following instructions…which I did, both times, but with hesitation the second time because of the confusion.

    This behavior continued with every project. In fact, one instructed “absolutely include these words and never include these ones.” I did that. I was then told “I told you to never include these words and absolutely include those ones!” In the opposite order. I even had a screenshot of the instructions just in case she changed them after the fact. Instead, I was accused of faking the screenshot. Even though the instructions were still up. (Sending screenshots for clarification is common at my job as it’s faster than trying to get into the same place at the same time. It’s not considered passive-aggressive or anything.)

    I was never argumentative. I was just beyond confused (and extremely tired of her being nice when the boss was there then switching to screaming the moment the boss left), and she considered asking questions being argumentative. I was ultimately accused of malicious noncompliance, but thankfully she wasn’t the only supervisor and the rest were confused by that statement. Her *boss* even told her “stop giving her bad instructions and maybe you’ll get good work.”

    Gotta look at both “what am I doing?” and “what are they doing?” before deciding next steps every time.

  35. Lucy Skywalker*

    I remember when #2 was first published. It was right around the time I first started following this blog. I even remember telling some of my coworkers about it, and all of us were just flabbergasted that someone would think this was an appropriate thing to do. We figured that the person who did this was either socially awkward, or fresh out of college and not yet used to the norms of office culture.
    Slumber parties are a big deal when you are 10-14 years old. It’s one of the first times that you stay overnight without your parents in a place that isn’t your home. It’s the first step towards independence. But when you’re an adult, it just seems silly.

  36. FightToTheFinsh*

    I’m really sad to see the unconscious bias against non-parents in the comments on LW#2. Many people are saying that it’s impossible for someone to be a good employee and work ‘only’ 8 months out of the year. Would you say the same thing to someone on parental leave? My company provides 6 weeks paid on up of 5 weeks vacation.
    Surely, that doesn’t mean everyone who takes parental leave is a bad employee, right?

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