employee forgets half of what I ask him to do, coworker swore at me in a reply-all, and more

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. My employee forgets half of what I ask him to do

I have an employee who’s a direct report (my first) with a couple of quirks, but none that causes more issues than this: he just doesn’t listen. I’ll list off five or six things he needs to do, change on a project, etc., and he’ll come back an hour later with three of the things done and ask if it’s good to go. I’ll remind him of the other items on the list, and he’ll usually respond, “Oh right” and goes back and completes the list. This happens almost every day.

Is it something that’s a real issue or am I just being too hard on him? It frustrates me that he wastes time by not completing all the items in one go and thus interrupts workflow more often. He’s on the younger side and this is his first professional job; I genuinely can’t tell if he’s being lazy or is just that forgetful. Even when I tell him to write things down, it makes no difference. I’m tempted to sit him down and explain that when he doesn’t take the time to be thorough and make sure his work is done before presenting, that it comes off as apathy towards this job and like he’s rushing just to get done with it. Is this something that warrants a conversation? Is this just the universe teaching me a lesson in patience?

Yes, you need to talk to him! Whenever you have concerns or frustrations with an employee that the employee doesn’t know about, you are falling down on your job as their manager.

In this case, you should start by naming the pattern — “I am finding that when we discuss your projects and I give you a list of, say, five items to complete, you’ll often only complete two or three of them. I need you to make sure you’re writing down every action item that’s assigned to you when we talk, and that you’re checking your work against that list before you submit it.”

In addition, try having him repeat back to you his takeaways before you both leave the conversation. For example, at the end of a conversation where you’ve assigned him work, you could say, “I think that’s everything. To make sure we’re on the same page, can you run through your understanding of next steps from here?” It’s surprising how often doing that will reveal things the person missed or areas where something was miscommunicated, and it’s a good way for you to make sure you were as clear as you thought (sometimes you won’t have been!) and for you both to make sure he’s not missing anything.

Note that with all of this, the focus is on the specific things you need him to do differently. It’s not about interpreting his behavior (such as with your thought that he’s being lazy or apathetic). As much as you can, stay away from telling yourself that kind of story about an employee. Focus on the behaviors that are actually happening and what you need to see instead; it will make your job a lot easier and less frustrating, and it’ll make you a better manager to work for.

2. My coworker swore at me in a reply-all

I work in healthcare. We have a roster email each day, detailing staff assignments, who called out, etc. Our manager is terrible at updating it. Often the “line staff” will send a reply-all email to update if staff have left early, etc. I did this very thing last week and another coworker with my same job title replied all with, “fucking idiot.”

I went to my manager, my manger’s supervisor, and HR. This culminated with me being called into a surprise immediate meeting with the offending coworker, my manager, and my manger’s supervisor. The offending coworker said she sent the email as a mistake. She didn’t apologize, just described that she was running late and had “personal things going on” and mistakenly sent the email. The head supervisor then asked if I had anything to add and if no, to “wipe the slate clean” and get on with our Wednesday.

This colleague is often unprofessional, hostile and rude (all of which I described to HR). Was this handled appropriately in your opinion? Is this the standard of behavior in workplaces now and I just need to expect it and deal with it?

No, it’s not standard behavior at work. But you wouldn’t necessarily know about it if they also had a more serious conversation with your coworker, which they certainly should have! It’s pretty common not to handle discipline in front of other employees, and for all we know, they could have had a very serious conversation with her where they made clear how out of line her message was and that it couldn’t happen again, and then called you in for the end of that meeting to try to get you both to move forward.

The bigger issue is the pattern — that she’s often unprofessional, hostile and rude. If you’ve brought that to your management’s attention and nothing changes, the problem is much more with them than it is your coworker.

3. My partner is uncomfortable taking a plus-one to a public event

My partner works in a field where members of their team are regularly invited to various events. Sometimes they’re closed events where the team has what are essentially press passes to gain special access, other times they are public events where anyone could buy a ticket and attend (think red carpets, comic-con, sporting events, expos, etc.).

There’s a big event coming up in our city, and my partner just got wind that they may get a ticket through work. This will be the first time this industry has held an event here and it’s being pitched as the first of its kind. I’m by no means the biggest fan or target audience of the industry, but the topic has always been a huge hobby for my family and I am excited about it! It feels like a historic event that I want to experience.

When my partner has gone to events with work before, they’ve typically either been in assigned seating together, or in a restricted area that the general public can’t purchase access to, and team members don’t bring plus-one’s or partners. This event, however, is general admission so I could theoretically buy a ticket and attend just like anyone. Would that be weird or inappropriate in any way? I’m really torn and don’t want to make my partner uncomfortable. They’re a step above junior level, being invited by directors, and I understand they may need to be “in work mode” here and there to thank a client or network, but ultimately these events are known for being loud and rowdy (beer! music! etc.!) and nobody will be discussing serious business. I really want to go!

I can tell my partner is a bit uncomfortable being seen as inviting a plus-one to a work outing, but is that how it would be seen? Can I buy my own ticket and go? If I do, should my partner mention it to their team? Can I hang out with them, or do I need to make myself scarce? None of my friends are interested in this industry, and tickets aren’t cheap, so my options are to hang out alone or with my partner and their team. I admit I’m feeling a bit jealous because my partner has only gotten into this hobby because of my family’s and my interest so my judgement may be clouded. What do you think?

Let your partner make the decision; they’re in a better position than you or I am to assess it. In a lot of cases, it would be totally fine for a partner to show up for an event like this. But if the norm in their office is that partners don’t attend, I don’t blame your partner for feeling awkward about it, especially as a more junior person who’s trying to impress their directors. And if it’s a work event for them, I’d want to prioritize their comfort in a professional situation.

That said, would they be comfortable with you attending completely separately — buying tickets separately, sitting separately, and each pretending the other isn’t there? If you’ve been pushing the idea of going together, I think you should defer to your partner’s judgment on whether or not that’s a good idea. But if you can just happen to be at the same event, while not attending together, it sounds like it should be fine.

4. Levering another offer when you’re negotiating

Can I leverage a second job offer to negotiate the first? I really want to work for one company, but I really need the additional salary that the other is offering. It’s a $10k difference. Even just an extra $5k/year would help me out.

It can be done! You need to be careful to sound like you’d prefer their offer but are grappling with the money. For example: “I’m really interested in this job and would love to accept. I have an offer for a position that pays $X but I’d prefer to work for you. Is there any way you could match that or come close?”

{ 344 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    There’s a lot of discussion below suggesting LW #1 write things down for the employee, but their comment here explains that it happens even when things are written down for him.

  2. Zzz*

    “and I understand they may need to be “in work mode” here and there to thank a client or network”

    They’ll be on the clock, as well as representing their employer to the public. They’ll have to be in work mode all the time.

    Work mode doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, chat, take a break, or occasionally relax a little – but it’s still working.

    I wonder if you’ve got the same expectations of the event. Maybe it’s an option for you not to go this year – or to go independently and do your own thing – and re-evaluate for next year, when your partner has a better idea of what’s expected of them at the event and how much time others are using for personal enjoyment.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      I think the best option for this OP is going to be buying a public ticket and not interacting with their partner at all, assuming that the event is big enough to allow it.

      I coordinate a big annual conference and would not want my husband there during the actual event. That’s nothing to do with him – it’s just that I need to focus 100% on delivering the event and I can’t do that if someone from my personal life is there.

      1. Jackalope*

        Yeah, I really think this is a reasonable option. I can see that it might not work to have the OP hanging out with her partner, but if it’s a large public event then there’s no reason she can’t be a part of the public. I find it hard to imagine that anyone else from his job who is at the event will even notice her in the midst of a large and rowdy crowd.

        OP, I know you mentioned that you have no friends that are into this, but could one of your family members come? I don’t know if they’re in the same area, but if so that might be a good compromise – you and said family member hanging out in a different part of the park/stadium/theater/whatever.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

          Or if there is a forum or similar, someone else is probably in the same boat (going alone but wish they had someone to hang with) so it may be worth a post on there to try and find a conference “buddy”.

      2. bamcheeks*

        LW’s partner is attending, not coordinating, though! I mean, they’ll probably still be in work mode but there’s a big difference between “I’ve got a headset on and I’m thinking about ninety million different things” and “I’m here to enjoy the game, bold with colleagues and maybe do a little schmoozing with clients” and it sounds much more like the latter.

        It’s fair enough for LW’s partner to say they don’t want to have their partner there, but that’s a situation where a lot of people would be comfortable bringing a +1, whereas I don’t think anyone wants their family around when they’re actually trying to deliver an event.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Unfortunately, it sounds like bringing a +1 just isn’t part of the partner’s work culture. Work bought tickets for LW’s partner, not for both of them, and it sounds like no one else is bringing a partner/friend to this event (or others).

      3. Bagpuss*

        Yes, I think this is the way to go.

        If Partner is comfortable doing so, they *could* say to their manager “My partner is into [hobby] and is planning to attend [event] Obviously I will be working and partner will be attending as a normal ticket holder, I wanted to as whether that’s something that needs to be recorded anywhere and also whether there would be any issue with my meeting up with my partner and eating together / visiting other stalls / attending presentation with them during any breaks may have, or whether it would be better for me to stay ‘backstage’ during breaks?”

        That way, they can be clear about what’s OK and if that means no contact then you can both plan accordingly, plus, they are framing it in a way that makes clear they are not asking for anything and that they know and are fine with the possibility that the answer is ‘no contact’)
        It should also ensure that there’s no risk of anything like the boss seeing you meeting them at the end of the day and going home together, and making assumptions!

      4. duinath*

        yeah, you gotta a)tell your partner you’re doing this beforehand, b)do not attempt contact at all, even covertly, and c)travel separately to and from the event. leave them be like you would at a normal work day, basically.

      5. Jade*

        The best option would be for OP to respect that their partner is uncomfortable and to drop the idea altogether.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          If I were in the OP’s shoes and had to completely miss an event/experience I WANT to attend because of my partner’s awkwardness, I’d be pretty disappointed. Especially considering it’s a public event not hosted by the partner’s company. As long as they agree to boundaries beforehand, the mature thing for the partner to do would be to agree to attend separately.

          1. LW 3*

            Thanks for your take! This is exactly what we’ll be doing, I’m excited for the event!

          2. Weirdo in the workplace*

            I’m going to agree here. As a neurodivergent person (not saying op’s partner is one) I would be so uncomfortable to be in their partners shoes. I am a different person at work. And I would struggle immensely knowing my partner could possibly see me in work mode. Can’t properly explain over text but the idea that I had to maintain work mode while someone who know me in home mode might see me… would cause immense discomfort. To the point where I may be unable to function normally. I get OP’s desires and that being under could help. But I would err on no, don’t go.

    2. Allonge*

      To be honest I don’t quite get where the idea of a ‘plus one’ came up. If OP’s partner is working, they are working and that’s the end of it. No plus ones for that.

      If partner’s work team is invited to an event where they are just looking around and networking, but are not responsible for the event or a booth of their own, that would give a bit more leeway, so e.g. partner could potentially ask if for a particular session they could join OP (maybe closer to the end of the day?). But that too should be up to partner.

      But OP, you sound enthusiastic about this event, go and enjoy! It’s a bummer you cannot go with your partner, but you can compare notes after.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        The headline is very misleading. I thought, “Oh, partner wants to go to typical plus one bringing event like holiday party, baseball game, picnic alone.
        This is not that.
        This is a work team building event.
        Imagine the manager’s letter:
        My company got employees tickets to Awesome Event. It was employees only. Everyone was free to tour the booths, see their favorites overall but we went as a group to A and B panels.
        My employee’s spouse also attended. It was a public event, they are a fan. No problem.
        But employee spent the day with partner. They found seats near each other at our panels.
        This was not the spirit of the event. What do I tell my employee?

        1. Anonymous 75*

          yeah, it doesn’t even sound like there is a plus one being offered/available, much less to accept and use.

          if LW goes, they need to do it on their own and leave the partner alone. it’s pretty clear the partner does not want to have thos conversation with their bosses and the LW really shouldn’t place them in this position.

        2. LW 3*

          Letter writer 3 here! The event in question is actually a sporting event and definitely not a team building event by my partners employer. The tickets they get are definitely just a perk, not an obligation. Of course they’ll have to schmooze and thank the client who got them the tickets, but that’s as “on” as they’ll need to be. All in all I’ll definitely take Alison’s advice and will likely go largely by myself but will try to meet up after my partner has assessed the vibe with their team.

          1. ScruffyInternHerder*

            Knowing this, and mileage will vary by industry, going by yourself and trying to meet up with your partner later is the best bet.

            My industry, even in this scenario, you’re still more “on” than not, and bringing along a spouse would at best receive a raised eyebrow because its just not done. I’m not even going to argue that its because I’m a woman who’d be bringing her husband in a male dominated industry – the men don’t do it either and leave their wives home. The only exceptions are spouses who both work in the industry.

          2. Smithy*

            I think your approach is generically fine – but just also want to flag that as much as this can be a general advice thing, it can also be an individual preference thing.

            I know some people really like going to work social events with a plus one whenever possible. They like it so much, they’re comfortable taking a friend, their child (adult or minor), in addition to a romantic partner – just any social person in their life – it’s that the type of work they do and the events they get invited to – their work style preference is to take a plus one.

            And then the flip side are people who prefer keeping those separate. Even if a plus one is totally acceptable, encouraged – they find it personally easier to proceed without. OP, your partner may find it easier to focus on the work socializing without a partner there and it’s more about a personal preference than what is or is not ok.

          3. Qwerty*

            I’ve gotten to go to these type of “perks” and the norm is not to bring anyone.

            A problem I see is that your partner is going to have a hard time assessing the authentic vibe. If they say “my partner is here alone” then someone will likely say “of course partner should join us”. But you won’t know if they geniunely think that everybody should be bringing their partners or if they feel obligated to invite you over since you are by yourself.

            The closest I’ve come to someone having a partner was if that partner was with their own group of friends. There was brief fly-by to say hello (5min) then the partner went off with their friends.

            1. Smithy*

              Being mindful that this is a sporting area, I also think that it’s important to flag if this kind of perk is something like a VIP area or luxury box.

              Even if technically no work is being done and there is extra room or unused tickets, if it’s a desirable event to have higher quality access – like the Kentucky Derby or a play-off game – there could be weirdness around the perception of a plus one being available to one/some staff and not others.

              Now if this is a baseball game in June and the “luxury” box in question just means access to free hot dogs, beer and popcorn, this is less likely to be an issue. But again, I do think this is why there’s likely to be a strong ruling in favor of just joining your partner and there definitely being no big deal.

          4. MM*

            Your partners client got the tickets, but you think it will possibly be ok to meet up with your partner later on at the event?

            Bad idea.

          5. Nonym*

            I feel you but honestly, I don’t think it’s a good idea to plan to crash his work event, even after checking the vibe there, especially when your partner is fairly junior compared to the rest of the people attending and isn’t comfortable with it. You weren’t invited and if you insert yourself into the group – even if they are mostly fine with it -, it’s going to be a bit odd to have a team of coworkers with the directors and clients, and then the one younger dude who brought his girlfriend. They might think it’s cute but that might not be the image your partner is trying to project, for instance.

            Somewhat early in my career, I once accidentally brought my husband to a work social event when no one else did. No one said anything and it went fine but it definitely felt a bit awkward and I know it looked odd that I did that. In hindsight, I wouldn’t do it again (I asked beforehand but there was a misunderstanding: the person thought I was asking permission to bring my partner, rather than making a general enquiry about the event, and no one minded so they said yes). Note that the event was a 100% social, organized by a group of coworkers on our own dime, without bosses or clients. But there was the similar dynamic where I was a junior among more senior people.

            A very lacking analogy: if your partner didn’t want to be the only person showing up in a Halloween costume at a work Halloween event, you wouldn’t insist he does.

            Tl;Dr: attend solo and don’t join

            The only exception is if he realizes others also brought their partners (in particular the seniors).

          6. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            This us such a “neither fish nor fowl” situation. Agreed best to let your partner treat us a work thing, but I do see the ambiguity.
            Bummer it’s something you want to attend! Have fun, for real. You will have two different stories to compare. That’s a bonus.

    3. bamcheeks*

      They’ll be on the clock, as well as representing their employer to the public. They’ll have to be in work mode all the time.

      This seems awfully decisive, based on what LW says? I read it as more like a perk– the company gets tickets to these events, gives a few to clients and a few to senior staff, yes everyone’s on good behaviour and there’s a bit of networking, but they’re still there to enjoy the event. I’ve read it again and I’m still reading it as mainly there to relax and enjoy, not “on the clock” time.

      1. ferrina*

        It’s possible that the partner has a strong delineation between Work Mode and Home Mode. If I was working an event (even just networking an event) and someone from my personal life showed up, it would feel really uncomfortable. My work needs to come first, but I feel awkward de-prioritizing people that I’m close to. Even if the person were incredibly chill, it just adds a whole different level of mental focus that is exhausting for me and would really cut into my enjoyment.

        I have no idea if that’s the case here, but it is a possibility to consider

      2. Meredith*

        You’re exactly right, it’s a fully optional time relax and enjoy time for their team, the tickets are a perk not an obligation. They won’t be on the clock, or representing their employer to anyone, much less the general public! I’m not sure where some commenters are getting that idea!
        All in all I’ll definitely take Alison’s advice and attend alone since that’s what my partner prefers, and give them a chance to assess the vibe of the team before trying to meet up with them at all.

    4. LW 3*

      Letter writer 3 here! I promise that they are not attending this event “in work mode.” The tickets they get are definitely just a perk, not an obligation, and nobody is being paid or required to attend. Of course they’ll have to schmooze and thank the client who got them the tickets, but that’s as “on” as they’ll need to be.
      Additionally, like I wrote in the letter, this is the first time this event is being held here and there’s no telling if or when it will return, so waiting for next year also isn’t really an option.
      All in all I’ll definitely take Alison’s advice and will likely go largely by myself but may try to meet up after my partner has assessed the vibe with their team.

      1. Zelda*

        “Not needing to perform work duties” doesn’t mean “not in work mode,” though. If it were me, I would still be conscious of presenting my “work self” throughout the entire event, not just while directly interacting with colleagues/clients. You never know who’s going to walk around the corner, and I don’t switch back and forth easily. Client somewhere in building = me being “on.”

        Sounds like you have a good plan. Enjoy!

        1. Totally Minnie*

          That’s a good point. Work Me and Family Me are two different people. When I’m at an event with work people, even when we’re not working, I’m still going to be acting like Work Me. Having someone from my personal life there is going to make that line a little fuzzier and harder to maintain.

      2. Saberise*

        You are always in work mode when you attend something through work. Even if you aren’t working per say. You are still expected to look and act in a certain way. You keep saying you will try to meet up with your partner. That is backwards in a way. It really needs to be I’m attending. Period. If you partner decides 100% on their own to meet up with you that if fine but you shouldn’t even be brining it up as a possibility. But it sounds like you are going with the expectation still that they will meet up with you. You need to be fine with them not doing it and not putting any pressure on them to.

      3. Princess Sparklepony*

        LW3 – even thought this is a perk – do not plan to visit with your partner at the event. It sounds like the company doesn’t do plus ones and if you show up (no matter what anyone’s vibe is) it is going to reflect negatively on your partner.

        But go and have fun and meet your partner at the exit when it’s over. But do not try to crash their group. It will not make your partner’s work life easier. If they had wanted plus ones, they would have provided tickets.

    5. OhNoYouDidn't*

      Can OP’s partner ask coworkers if any of them are bring a plus 1, or if any of them have friends/family who’ll be attending of the own accord? The answers he receives may provide the answers they are looking for.

    6. LW 3*

      “They’ll be on the clock, as well as representing their employer to the public. They’ll have to be in work mode all the time.” They actually won’t be though! I’m not sure what’s given folks this idea. It really is a case of “client offered us some tickets to this fun thing, who wants to go?”

      I just want to clarify that it’s totally a for-fun activity, not even team building for them! I see where my partner is coming from though, I plan to attend alone and will let my partner assess the vibe from their team before considering if it’s cool to meet up with them or not.

      1. Smithy*

        I think what’s causing people to push back is because the client gave those tickets to those at the workplace to use as a group, and not to staff members to use on their own with their family/friends. As such, for many commenters, I think this puts the event into “work happy hour” vibes.

        After work happy hours aren’t usually called team building activities, often because they’re not made mandatory and are informal. But that is often a key part of why there’s still a perceived value and on occasion they will still be paid for in-part or in-full by a supervisor or department.

        This isn’t to say you can’t go, and it might not be appropriate to meet up – just to say this may be why you’re getting so much push back.

        1. doreen*

          My husband has fairly often been the person either giving or receiving the tickets – and there are differences between tickets being given to use as a group or tickets to use on your own, and the biggest one is number. If an individual is given two tickets to a baseball game , it’s meant for that person to bring a guest. If a company is given ten tickets in a luxury box, it’s probably for the workplace to use as a group (although there are exceptions, such as when there are only five employees )

            1. Elitist Semicolon*

              (Also if a company is given 10 tickets and someone takes one and then ditches the group to hang out with their partner, then there’s a legit reason for people who didn’t get to go to be ticked about it.)

      2. Rachel*

        I think you would have more fun at this event if you just called it now and agreed to attend the event separately.

        Leaving it as “maybe we will get together” puts a whole decision making obligation for him at his work event, and waiting for him to give you the all clear puts expectations on you.

        I think you would both enjoy this more if you didn’t leave anything open ended on the day of.

      3. Dona Florinda*

        I realize I’m the odd one here, but when I was in a similar position (I used to get free tickets for concerts and such from my job), bringing a plus one was pretty much the norm, even if they had to pay for their own tickets. But that’s very industry specific and even culture since I’m not in the US, so YMMV.

        But in the end, your partner will be the one surrounded by coworkers/ clients/ bosses and it makes sense that they’d rather keep their personal life separated. If they think you shouldn’t attend together, follow their lead! It doens’t mean you shouldn’t go at all, and maybe after getting a feeling for how things go he may even suggest you join them later, who knows.

        1. yala*

          Yeah, like. Maybe it’s because I grew up around lawyers, but I thought a plus one to a social event was pretty much the norm. I was even my Dad’s plus one a few times.

        2. Waiting on the bus*

          I had a similar perk at a previous job and taking plus ones was completely normal. One time, I got tickets for all of my roommates as we had some left over. Completely normal in that company and no one was in any sort of work mode.

        3. Nightbringer*

          I’m in the US and definitely not understanding some of the responses. Especially the absolutes. My work frequently gets tickets from clients. Work and clients encourage you to take a ticket for a plus one. I’m very big on separating work from home but these perks are completely different. It’s fun, schmoozy, even with the client there (they usually aren’t). My partner has gone to several of the art events w/me. I’m in nonprofit that works w/children.

          1. doreen*

            The way you say “take a ticket” , I’m wondering if people are talking about two different scenarios. Some places I’ve worked had access to free or low-cost tickets for different events – but it wasn’t “Client So and So gave us 20 tickets to the baseball game” . It was more like “Baseball Team has 100 tickets for XYZ organization” – which then distributes them as they please or sometimes there is a website where those affiliated with XYZ can claim tickets. I can’t even imagine what would happen if a company was given 20 tickets and ten people attended , each with a plus one while other employees couldn’t get one ticket.

            1. Nightbringer*

              It’s been both. It is kinda surprising since we are a decently sized company. When tickets are really limited, they announce the date and time they will start being available, first come first serve. For both, work has always encouraged a plus one. I get the impression bc it is a perk, they don’t want someone being uncomfortable. The art events have always had small amount of tickets but no one ever wants to go! Several times it was just me and my plus one. My favorite one was Star Wars opening night movie tickets where they encouraged bring someone and dress up. They really wanted fans to grab the available tickets and it was a blast.

              1. Elitist Semicolon*

                I’m not sure I understand how the possibility of someone being uncomfortable because they’re at an event alone with colleagues outweighs the possibility of another employee being upset they couldn’t get a ticket at all.

          2. LW 3*

            Thank you for clarifying that sometimes people really do get tickets to events for fun! This comment thread in particular seems to think I’m trying to invite myself to a business summit or something, the event is more along the lines of “music festival” (read: loud and alcohol-fueled, no room for proper work). It’s really helpful to hear how other people/companies/industries handle these things because my company doesn’t have these kinds of perks.
            I’ll be buying my own ticket and attending alone, and if my partner assesses that it’s ok for me to meet them partway through, I will!

        4. Nonym*

          > bringing a plus one was pretty much the norm

          That makes a world of difference though.

          It’s pretty clear that OP’s partner believe that this is NOT the norm at their company. It sounds like OP would be the only “+1” present.

          My husband and I have had events where +1 were welcome and we’ve attended these as a couple. We have also had events where there were only employees and we’ve attended these solo. One time, when I was still fairly junior, we accidentally went together to what was clearly meant to be a employee-only event. We only realized it once we got there and saw that no one else had brought their partner; at which point it was too late to back out. No one commented and it went fine but I wouldn’t recommend it.

      4. Flossie Bobbsey*

        Respectfully, LW3 comes off as a bit new to the workforce in their repeated insistence that this is purely fun, not team building, and not work mode. My spouse frequently gets tickets to public events (concerts, sporting events) from his work network, and he always brings his “work self” to these events regardless of how much of a perk they are. If he’s invited with a guest, great, but if he’s not, there’s no way I would be buying my own ticket and pressuring him to meet up at any point, much less telling him he has to take the temperature of the group and play it by ear to meet me later, putting ongoing expectations on him throughout the event from the jump. Of course these events involve team building/bonding, networking, work-socializing (as distinct from personal-socializing), etc., and of course he can’t be “using” a client-purchased ticket as a backdoor to a date or personal time. That is the whole purpose of perks like this.

        1. LW 3*

          This whole thread of comments has jumped to a lot of conclusions! I know my partner and I trust their assessment of the scenario better than strangers on the internet (respectfully). As I said in my letter- their need to be in “work mode” will be minimal, it’s a for-fun event, they’ll need to thank a client or two in between beers. Assuming I’m incorrect about information that I’ve provided for context is not helpful, and is leading a lot of people to jump to negative conclusions about me and my professionalism.

          I wrote in looking to understand if there are any general standards or unwritten rules about public events as perks from work, and it seems that it really depends! So I’ll be taking Alison’s advice and attending on my own (with my own ticket that I’ll purchase myself), and if my partner decides during the event that it’s cool for me to stop by I will!

      5. Elitist Semicolon*

        What’s giving folks the idea that your partner will be in work mode is the large number of past letters that brought up issues about behavior at non-work events with coworkers. Often (not always) the advice Alison gives is a variant of “if you’re around work people, you still have to be careful.”

  3. John Smith*

    #1, I was going to say to give your report half the number of tasks but that would be churlish. I’d start by judging the tasks he does complete. If they’re to a good standard, chances are it’s not laziness or deliberate inattentiveness that the remaining tasks arent done. I’d also look for patterns, such as whether it’s the same tasks that don’t get done (possibly avoidance or dislike of those tasks) or if it’s always the last 3 or 4 tasks, whatever they may be. Have you tried scheduling aids, such as alarm reminders, tick box lists? They may help (though my manager has these and forgets to use them).

    I have a colleague who exhibits similar behaviour and we’re certain he’s neurodivergent (not because of the forgetfulness, but for many other reasons). However, the behaviour seems to be very selective which makes us feel he’s trying it on. Either way, our manager thinks it’s nothing to do with him and our team of X number of people is effectively a team of X-1.

    1. avv*

      honestly, as much as i appreciate how thoughtful people are here, this is a workplace, paying adults to do work. OP is not his teacher. Certainly, ask him if theres anything that would help– make it clear that you are willing to accommodate alternate methods, such as email instead of verbal, if he needs them. direct him to resources, even, and see if he can find something that works for him. But i agree with allison– primarily, focus of what YOU need, from him: to finish the tasks you assign him.

      actually– is there a significant difference between “a written list of items” and “a tick box list”, in terms of how this would work? sincere question- a written list works for me and i cross things off, but maybe ticky boxes do help some people. idk

      1. Melissa*

        This was my reaction too. I like Alison’s advice to be really clear, ask him to repeat back, etc. But beyond that, when you’re getting into trying to evaluate a pattern in what types of tasks he misses— it’s taking up way too much of your time. He is an adult and he needs to find a way to do his job. You need to let him know this is a problem! But it is his responsibility to find ways to solve it.

      2. Aelfwynn*

        +1 Agree with everything here. I’m all for being supportive of employees and reasonably accommodating them to help them do their job better, but ultimately they need to be responsible for their own work. Managers need to be able to communicate expectations, but they can’t spend more energy on trying to solve the problem than the employee does.

      3. OP1*

        As OP1, I appreciate this response because it basically sums up where I’m at: how much of the “heavy lifting” do I need to do for him? And I should’ve been more clear in the original because I see the obvious answer popping up: this happens when he receives both verbal AND written instruction. I wish it was as simple as writing it down for him but it makes no difference. We’ll receive emails from clients with instructions (Think: hello yes we are the client, please put the llama in a purple hat and green scarf.” Fake example obviously) When he presents the work and the llama only has the hat, I ask about the scarf, and he’ll just look confused. I guess I’m just asking that he review the guidelines before assuming it’s done? It seems like he’s just relying on me to be on top of it but that wastes time. We’re in a creative industry with lots of client edits, I often find myself asking “did you fully read the email before finishing this?”

        1. Loredena*

          Oof. I was assuming he just couldn’t remember more than say three verbal lust items, but if it happens with written that’s a different problem! You can’t really do the lift with him – I think as Alison says you need to layout the pattern and the need. My only suggestion would be that he needs to confirm in writing what the ask is and that all items are complete. That might stop him skimming the directions, or going entirely off memory. It’s a hassle to have to receive the emails but they’d mostly serve as reinforcement for him and tracking for you if a PIP is in his future.

          1. Itsa Me, Mario*

            Same here! My initial reaction here was that 5-6 specific asks given verbally in one conversation (especially in an informal conversation vs. a meeting with an agenda) is a lot, and maybe to either break it down or share it in a more formal way.

            I work in a field and for a specific company that is known for being fast paced, very intense, and a somewhat cutthroat working environment, and if I had a manager assigning me 5+ work tasks in the space of a single conversation, verbally, without repeating themselves or corralling “key takeaways”, and then becoming upset when I missed something they said, that would be extremely frustrating as an employee. I’m not a diner waitress. And even they get notepads!

            But if this is happening with tasks shared in writing, that’s a different thing. My thought is needs to work on their attention to detail, however, not “laziness”. Or possibly they don’t know what some of these asks mean or how to do them effectively.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          In that case, you’ve got to treat it as a serious performance issue (which it is). Start by naming the problem like I described in the post and what you need him to do differently and ask what support he needs to make that happen. But if it continues happening after you’ve explicitly laid that out and if he’s not able to suggest reasonable supports that would help, you’ll need to assess whether he’s right for the job or not.

        3. EPLawyer*

          Have you SAID to him Please review the guidelines to ensure everything is done before handing it in to me?

          This might be a case of be very clear what you need him to do. Just change W, X, Y, Z might not be enough. He might need to HEAR, change W, X, Y,Z and double check you have made all the changes before submitting it to me again.

          He is new to the workforce. He might not realize that checking the guidelines IS his responsibility, not just doing the work. He might thing that as a manager its your job to review the guideines and tell him what to correct each time, he submits.

          1. cabbagepants*

            Yes, I know it can be really annoying to have a report like this, but especially coming from a school environment, you really might have to lay it out for him.

            I had success by explicitly communicating that in a professional job, time is always of the essence and I have many demands on my time. He needs to see proofing his work as mandatory.

        4. Ginger Baker*

          I really think (especially with this additional clarification) a direct conversation addressing this pattern is important to have. “I’ve noticed that you frequently miss revisions in a list that needed to be done – both when we have a meeting about it and in emails, including where the client asks for multiple changes. I need you to make sure you do ALL the revisions before you give something to me to review – that means you should go back to your notes or the client email and read through carefully, including printing out and crossing things off physically if that is helpful to you, and check the list against your work product to make sure you captured everything. You should not rely on me to be the one having to catch these errors; my role is to review for [client preference, final gloss, whatever] not to proofread your work for you. This is a big deal and I need you to commit to being careful not to miss items on the list of revisions going forward.” (And if there ends up being a second conversation on this – i.e. not enough improvement – I would really start leaning into “is this job a good fit for you” territory – but hopefully a VERY clear and direct “no, this is a big deal, you need to fix this” conversation will do the trick!)

        5. Bagpuss*

          In that case, I think you need to sit down with him and point out the pattern, and suggest thing he needs to do to improve
          e.g – “When you have done the task, and before you bring it back to me, you need to review the original instructions (be more explicit of need be, for instance, ‘this includes looking at the note you made when I spoke to you and also checking thorough the message from the client, so see what they requested, and checking [anything else like your house style. general requirements]”

          And perhaps put that in writing following the meeting with him so he has it to refer to .

          I think you need to be very clear with him – for instance, explicitly saying that this is a pattern, that you have already suggested that he write things down so he doesn’t forget half of the tasks but you are specifically instructing him to do that, and to check his list when he thinks that he has finished, to make sure he has covered everything.

          Also – do you make him go back and finish the job? Or do you end up doing it / parts of it because it’s quicker and you’re under pressure?

        6. Totally Minnie*

          OP, if you want to suggest some potential strategies he could try, there’s one that’s worked well for me.

          When I get/type up my list of tasks for a new project, I immediately highlight them in yellow. Then, as I finish each item, I remove the highlight. That way, there’s a bright yellow section of my email/spreadsheet making it obvious to me that while I finished this part, I’m still not completely done.

          I don’t know if my system would work for your employee, but it could be something to try.

          1. Molly*

            I use highlighting as well, but the thing that makes the most difference for me is to take time every day to look through my “to do” list and be sure I’m doing the most important/ time sensitive things first. For years, I thought I should get through my work as fast as possible and not take time to check my task list. it look me way too long to learn – and believe – that it is very much worth taking the time to see what’s in the list and prioritize what I spend my time on.

            I’m in an unusually busy time at work these days, and I’m proud that I’ve mostly been able to slow myself down and get things done properly and think things through so nothing in the process is left out or forgotten until the last minute. this is especially helpful now because the project manager seems to be in a bit of a panic most of the time. I have to resist hard so I don’t get caught up in his anxiety.

          2. yala*

            My work is very detail-oriented, which was difficult for me for a long while. Reading words on a screen makes them very easy to skip, so I make a physical checklist of each aspect of the teapot I’m painting that needs to be done, and go over them line-by-line in small batches. It’s helped enormously. It means maybe I triple-check some things, but I’d rather do that than turn in incomplete teapots.

            1. CoinPurse*

              Yes! My colleagues made fun of me but I ran off a hard copy to do list every day at work. I could cross off/highlight as I worked. For me, it was not the same as a computer screen.

        7. Irish Teacher*

          Yeah, that makes a big difference, I think. I can imagine many reasons a person might not be able to remember a list of 5-6 items called out to them, including simply that that is a lot of information to remember, but it’s…harder to imagine reasons why somebody would be unable to complete a list that has been e-mailed to them.

        8. ferrina*

          I guess I’m just asking that he review the guidelines before assuming it’s done? It seems like he’s just relying on me to be on top of it

          A trick from a former teacher: When he comes back and says “I did it!” give him a long look and say “Did you do all the tasks? When I review this, am I going to find that one of the items on the checklist is missing? [Pause for them to awkwardly shift] How about you take one last look before you turn that in, just to double check?”

          This works best when 1) they already have a list (whether you wrote if for them or they wrote it and you confirmed it) and 2) you were crystal clear that they are responsible for ensuring that everything on that list is complete. Be very clear that it is not your job to ensure that every item is complete- that is their responsibility (akin to a student being responsible for bringing paper and pens for notetaking).
          This reminder is a gift. You should not need to remind them (basic expectations of the job is that they do the job without constant reminders). A good employee will quickly pick up on the pattern and adjust their behavior appropriately. If your employee tries to convince you it’s your job or refuses to double check their work or even says it’s not fair that you are holding them to basic standards, it’s time for either a PIP or an exit.

        9. Zarniwoop*

          “ I often find myself asking “did you fully read the email before finishing this?””
          And what does he say?

        10. Jaina Solo*

          That’s rough, OP1! Sorry it’s happening even with written-out lists/details. Creative projects can be especially nuanced and it’s so easy to lose details if you’re not vigilant.

          One thought that’s helped on creative (and non-creative) projects: take a beat to review the instructions from the client (each time they send an email) and add anything new to the running list of “this is what’s happening on project x.” I have an amazing memory, but I don’t like to leave all the various deets to it, so just adding to a running list (bonus points if it’s in your PM system) makes sure nothing does get missed…and helps any boss I’ve worked for know where things are at.

          If you’re already having them do that, great! If not, it really shouldn’t be your job to organize them but it may help you long-term, especially if you want to keep them on your team.

          No matter what you do, I hope it gets better!

        11. Boolie*

          I mean this as kindly as possible – it is interesting how you say “these tasks ARE written down for him” …while having omitted that important information completely from your letter yourself. It is good to step back and be absolutely sure you’re getting what you need to get out the first time before deflecting blame.

          1. DJ Cohen*

            He is an adult and therefore should take his own notes. I can’t imagine writing out notes things for my own reports that they are quite capable of writing themselves. Neither could they, because they’re…adults.

          2. Allonge*

            Whether or not the tasks are written down or the employee should make his own notes about his tasks is not nearly as big a difference as people here make them out to be.

          3. umami*

            I can’t see writing down tasks for one of my direct reports. I will tell them where I see gaps, and I expect them to write it down for themselves. When I’ve had this issue, I will remind the person to be sure to take notes while we are discussing the project, then do a quick recap before leaving so we are sure to be on the same page. The moment I notice something from the original list not done, I ask them to go back to their notes and make sure they have done everything on it. I also suggest they find a method that works for them on how they can ensure items don’t get missed, because while I can suggest, I don’t know what works best for others (especially if a list doesn’t seem to get it done!) But the bottom line is the project is their responsibility, and I can’t have them continue to rely on me to ensure everything is done the way it needs to be.

          4. mondaysamiright*

            I don’t see this as deflecting blame so much as providing clarification. I also get the irony I think you’re pointing out here, but it’s really common for letter writers to provide additional context in the comments after they get initial advice and realize they left something out that they should have provided.

          5. AnotherLadyGrey*

            This is a wild response. She is his manager – she is not “deflecting blame”! She is looking for support on how to help him. I find your comment unhelpful and not very kind to the LW.

        12. CheeryO*

          Honestly, it just sounds like poor attention to detail to me. I would just be very blunt in calling it out, every time. Hopefully he will improve over time and not need as much hand-holding, but I wouldn’t expect a drastic improvement overnight if he’s not naturally a details person.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Yeah, this might just not be the right job for him, and that’s okay! Getting fired sucks, but so does struggling for a long time and missing the chance to find a job one is actually good at.

        13. Aquamarine*

          I trained myself to do this long ago and I tell people new to my job, “After you’ve completed something, go back to the original request and make sure all the questions were answered and all the tasks were done.”

          It’s surprisingly easy to get so engrossed in aspects of a project that you forget all the details about what you initially set out to do.

        14. Lulu*

          This reminds me of students (and professionals) who forget to refer back to the original instructions when writing a paper/grant application/etc. It’s really a learned skill that you should have the instructions right next to you, and read through them multiple times throughout the project. There have been plenty of times I’ve gotten instructions for an assignment, gotten close to completing it, and then realized that I’d missed a step or a nuance in the instructions. This happens all the time in the classroom when students complete a project/paper, but kind of missed what the project/paper *is*.

          I was initially going to share that one of my early bosses did exactly what Alison suggested, and at the end of each meeting would ask me to repeat back what we’d identified as action steps. It’s helped me since then, because I’ve realized that it’s very easy to miss a step when you’re having an ongoing conversation and coming up with those steps as you go. I now know to go over those steps in my head/verbally at the end of a meeting, to make sure I’ve gotten them identified and ready-to-go.

          However, with your added information, I think you may need to talk to him about keeping those instructions handy, referring back to them, and only turning things in once he’s done that. It may require some reaffirming: “Before I look at this, did you return to the client email and make sure all steps have been completed?” “I saw that not all steps have been completed. Please go back to the list of steps we completed, and finish the task.” Doing it this way, rather than jumping to the step he missed “you missed the scarf”, will help him build the habit. I think you should do this in addition to a big-picture conversation about his performance, where you name what is wrong and what you’d like to see going forward.

        15. Quinalla*

          Yes, I’ve had to have this conversation with numerous new employees as we are similar set up. I usually give them the feedback that this is a serious issue that while we all occasionally will forget something (this is why we have reviews!), when there is a pattern of not doing half of what was asked, that person is not doing a good enough final review of their own before bringing it to me for review. Usually that conversation will solve it as the person will figure out on their own how to do that, but I will offer advice on how I do it if they want or offer a peer who is more experienced to give advice.

          And sometimes a person isn’t cut out for that kind of job for whatever reason. I’ve seen that too and it sucks, but they will either leave on their own or get fired, but they definitely get the feedback and a chance to improve first.

        16. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

          I’m wondering if he feels rushed to complete items and so is missing information. Or maybe he has had a past experience where tasks had to be done ASAP and so his his default for work tasks is to just get the job done and not slow down.

          For example, I worked someplace where we were held to extreme measures and we would be docked points in our weekly evaluations if we didn’t meet certain standards like call time, number of calls taken, hold time, etc. Because of this we all were extremely rushed on our calls, especially if there were a lot of other calls waiting in queue. When I changed jobs, even though I was in a completely different job, it took me a while to learn to slow down. That I don’t need to do 3 things at once to get projects done at the end of the day.

          OP I have a few suggestions for you. Look at the tasks and see if you are giving him a reasonable time to complete them, for him. It sounds like he may be newer, becuase you say this is his first professional job. He may not have the experience to complete the task in a faster manner than someone who has been in the field for 5 years. Make sure you are not inadvertently putting pressure on him to complete the tasks fast.
          Talk with your employee. Explain that you’ve noticed a pattern in his behavior and ask if he has any insight. Do not be confrontational or anything negative. Just explain that you want him to be successful and would like to help him. Also, as others have said, look at the things that he forgets to do. Is it similar tasks? Maybe he needs more training or something in that area. Or maybe something else is going on that makes it difficult for him to complete tasks. Is there someone else who may be giving him wrong directions, etc.

        17. Llama Outfits Sound Awesome*

          I had a direct report who did this. He had a diagnosis of ADHD which made everything a bit more complicated. We tried lists, we tried a notebook, we tried a whiteboard above his desk – the best we got was a list of tasks on the whiteboard so that I could see it too, and steps for each task in his notebook. He was truly exhausting to manage (not his fault!) and ended up quitting because the job and his skills/ disability were such a bad fit.

          1. Dog momma*

            Lets not assume he is neurodivergent, has ADHD or whatever. He needs to be more responsible for getting his work done timely. whether its thru A check list or crossing off each task once completed. Give him a timeline, then review once more. He’ll either get it done or not. Manager is too invested in how to help him more. He needs to figure this out. Probably not the right fit, but it could be a pattern of, ” if I continue to mess up and ask for more and more help, maybe manager will give the work to someone else”. This happened to me, and I wasn’t A team lead or a manager. After a short time, I put a stop to it.

      4. Artemesia*

        Maybe create a tick box form — insist he write down the tasks and repeat them back — and if he continues to fail to get it done, really time to fire him.

        And during the introduction of this process if he ever comes back without the list all ticked off just send him back to the list — don’t discuss, explain, engage

      5. A person*

        Weirdly enough, if I write something in my notebook with the intent of crossing it off… I usually forget about it. But if I print out my tasks for the day/week/month (I usually don’t do it for longer than a week – my long term list is in a different spreadsheet) in a sort of spreadsheet format and check them off (honestly I don’t even have to check them off as I go… it’s weird I know… I just remove them from the list at the end of the week), for some reason it solidifies it in my mind and gives me a quick page reference to glance at that I update frequently (like weekly) so it’s organized but I don’t just have an endless list of things that are overwhelming. When I print it every week I also leave open lines at the bottom to add things that come up throughout the week so I don’t have to spend time updating the spreadsheet or waste paper if stuff gets added.

        Now… I maintain these lists myself and would never expect my manager to do anything other than to assign the tasks and then I follow my little neurotic process of writing it on a sticky and or scrap paper or at the bottom of that week’s list (if it goes in a book it’s dead to me – notes for thinking go in the book… tasks go on scrap paper, stickies, and the bottom of the weekly list) and transferring it to my spreadsheet to keep track of it (since I usually think weekly-I usually have target days that I’m going to work on things and I make a little timeline chart to keep the things prioritized but this could be done daily using hours instead of days for task scheduling). I’ve been at it for a while and have learned over the years what works for me, but some nudging on trying different methods or media for notes might help.

        I use similar task lists with my direct reports who are all pretty new to the working world. Most of my direct reports over the years have done well with the timeline spreadsheet approach with lines for adding tasks. I’m sure there are exceptions but it’s worked well for me. Currently I have a team of 4 so the task list is one sheet for all of them. With this group it usually works to let them divvy up tasks amongst themselves but I’ve had groups (I use a lot of temps in my industry so I have to learn what works with my current group pretty quickly) where I had to name names to make sure one person wasn’t doing all or none.

        It’s always challenging to balance expecting people to listen and be adults that paid to do a job with realizing that everyone is different and small changes on your part as a manager may help a lot. There are limits though and I’ve had to fire people that just couldn’t seem to get it even after several attempts from me to find a way that worked for them. The whole process of managing gets easier with time and practice! Good luck!

    2. Expiring Cat Memes*

      I was also going to say something about looking for the patterns in the work he’s not completing. Is the list of 5-6 items all similar types of work that require similar amounts of skill, effort, knowledge, etc and he’s genuinely just forgetting? Or do they vary and is there a theme?

      When I’ve had with this issue with entry level employees, it hasn’t always been poor attention to detail. Sometimes it was because there wasn’t a straightforward answer to what exactly needed to be done, and they didn’t know how to work through that independently or how to ask for help. Too hard, so they’d avoid it and hope it would magically resolve itself. Or, another thing was that they didn’t agree with the task for whatever reason and decided not to do it instead of pushing back or presenting an alternate solution. Those things are lack of experience, not personality.

      If OP’s approach so far has only been to remind him to keep completing the items, could they try asking him instead why he hasn’t done them? Even if it does come down to attention to detail, allowing him to name that problem on his own can be much more effective than repeatedly naming it for him.

      1. yvve*

        ooh, asking why for each task is a good plan. its probably very helpful to know if youre looking at something like “i just forgot that was on the list” or if theres a specific reason he skipped some of them

      2. ecnaseener*

        Definitely agree about asking why each task wasn’t done. It’s one of those things where you’d think pointing out the incomplete task would get the message across that it’s not okay to leave tasks incomplete, but it doesn’t always.

        Particularly for someone in his first professional job…if he’s coming straight out of school, he’s used to getting assignments graded and that being the end of it. “You didn’t complete all parts of the assignment” in his mind –> “you get a C, now onto the next assignment” and he needs to internalize that at work it’s –> “uh hello I need the rest of this done, why are you telling me it’s done when it’s not??”

        1. Ama*

          Yes, I had a similar issue with a report who was in her first real office job out of college — every single project it was like she was turning it in to be graded and expected me to point out all her errors (and similar to as you describe above, it was like her attitude when I’d send back a whole bunch of corrections was “well I got 80% of it right, that’s a B, so I did good”).

          We finally had to talk about how in the working world assignments came with the expectation that she would check her own work for errors first and while I didn’t expect her to be perfect, with the rate of errors she had I could tell that round of double-checking wasn’t happening (for example, we produced a lot of documents with names of academics and she would forget to check people’s degree credentials or institution names).

      3. Sharon*

        This! I definitely find people skipping steps and ignoring comments when the steps are complex or they aren’t sure how to proceed. Either consciously or subconsciously they just kind hope it goes away so they don’t have to deal with it. So they might reformat a table because they can do it easily without involving anybody else, but fail to find out if the specifications changed last month, because they aren’t sure who to contact or exactly what information they are supposed to get. It might help to ask the person what they are going to do next to address each item so you can help them if they don’t know.

    3. AlsoADHD*

      I don’t really understand a job where someone would list the tasks verbally for you each morning randomly like this. Maybe an admin assistant? But even that, mostly it would be repeating job tasks unless they were more personal assistant in nature (doesn’t sound like it). I would be overwhelmed and frustrated by a job where I just had 6 random things to do each day. Isn’t there some kind of structure at this workplace?

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I understood there are two situations. 1) she will assign him something and he forgets and 2) the work he creates will have multiple corrections and he does half.

        1. AlsoADHD*

          That makes a little more sense, but I read it as tasks. I could see it being corrections and with a new employee that being listed out. In this day and age, I’m used to corrections going into the PM software for productivity (and verbal corrections could be confusing, depending on the work—since OP hasn’t managed before, it could be that the corrections are confusing maybe, especially in this role?). I suppose it depends on the type of work, but the mention of projects and no formal checklist tracking just confused me.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            Plenty of places don’t use software to track everything (especially not “small” things), & we don’t know what the employee’s role is exactly.

            I say go with a checklist, talk about priorities, & ask why some tasks aren’t being completed. Also, if the employee is just getting stuck & stopping, make sure they know where to find resources to help them. And don’t just say they can ask questions, be truly available and welcoming to questions, while using the answers to guide them on how to figure things out on their own.

      2. J!*

        There’s nothing in the letter that says that they’re getting only verbal assignments and that it’s happening at the start of each day. I have a biweekly check in with my manager where we talk through stuff that’s on my plate, and we BOTH often walk away from that discussion with a list of action items. I would assume it’s something like that – a meeting or discussion of a topic that then requires follow up tasks, not that they’re coming in the morning every day and getting a verbal list of to dos.

        Alison’s suggestion of going over a list of next steps/action items and writing them down at the end of the conversation has been extremely helpful for me as a final step in all sorts of different meetings, not just one on ones with my manager. (I then add a little sticky flag on that page of my notebook so I can immediately see what pages have unfinished business, otherwise it’s out of sight out of mind as soon as I close it.)

      3. ecnaseener*

        I don’t think the situation is “6 random things to do each day” — LW gave the example of listing several things the employee needs to change on a project, no mention of that being a day’s task list.

      4. Gyne*

        I pictured it as either something like a project not being done to spec originally (okay, I see you have brought me a model airplane, but the wings are not attached- go put on the wings and apply the decals. and then an hour later employee comes back with the wings on but no decals.) or, something like teaching rounds in the hospital:

        The team (interns, residents, attendings) goes to each patient’s room. the intern presents the patient, attending reviews the case, and assigns whatever follow up tasks need to get done that day. (follow up the pathology report, call case management to start working on placement, oh also we need another x-ray so order that) it would be so, so far outside the cultural norms for the attending to write down those things for the intern, but in medicine we have a strong culture of checkboxes. the intern is expected to listen, ask whatever clarifying questions they have in the moment, and then do the things requested. the senior resident is also taking notes because they’ll be around helping the interns when unexpected things come up. it’s also a different setup in that the end result of the training process is for the intern to be the attending in a few years, so they will be the one generating (and then completing) the tasks. Every patient encounter I have results in a list of things for me to do (document, order labs, send prescriptions, whatever) and I don’t ask my patients to write it all down for me! Nor is there anyone “above” me to give me a list with checkboxes ready for ticking.

      5. Happy meal with extra happy*

        That’s very disingenuous based on what’s actually written in the letter.

      6. Totally Minnie*

        At my job, projects generally get assigned one at a time. So I’ve finished my last project, and now I hop on a call with my supervisor who tells me what he needs me to work on next and what all the steps are. The projects all tend to be part of a common framework, but in each case we may be analyzing to look for something slightly different, so the steps and the focus change from time to time. So it’s not six random things, it’s 3-4 standard things with a couple of things that are different for this specific analysis.

    4. NothingIsLittle*

      As a person who sometimes has severe memory problems, emailing a list would be a huge help! I try to remember to email my take-aways after in-person meetings so that I both have a record to check myself against and a failsafe if I missed something, but sometimes I forget to do that too. A lot of the memory aids really don’t help and its just having that list to check my work against.

      I have a coworker who is a veteran with a TBI and requires frequent reminders to get work done as a result of the injury to his working memory. His work arounds are different from mine and what and how he forgets is also different.

      Something to note is that I often forget the same task or type of task just because of the way my memory is wired, not because I don’t want to do it. “Forgetting” a task because he doesn’t want to do it requires firmer consequences, genuinely forgetting a task requires determining a work-around (if the work is otherwise good).

      That said, my memory problem runs on the very severe side! This won’t apply to everyone with memory issues.

    5. Angelinha*

      Sure, but inattentiveness doesn’t have to be deliberate to be a problem. The behavior needs to change either way. It’s on the manager to clearly lay out the problem and the consequences (which it sounds like they haven’t done) but then after that it’s on the employee to make the changes.

      1. Pugetkayak*

        Yes, we had a problem employee who did this despite discussions, training, suggestions. At some point, it was costing the company money to have managers doing this type of things and constantly having to check work. This person just COULD NOT do it. They really lacked a basic level of skill functioning and in the position they needed to greatly expand to creating things on their own. They had to be managed out.

    6. learnedthehardway*

      There’s an easy fix for this, and all the employee needs to do is to keep a “to do” list. The manager should point out the problem, and make it a performance expectation for the employee to take notes and keep a “to do” list. Review after a few weeks to check if the work is being done.

      Personally, things fly right out of my head if I don’t have a list – I have very bad short term memory, am thinking about half a million things, etc. So, for every project, I create a list of things that need doing. In fact, I create the list and list exactly who is responsible for what. Then I send it out to everyone on the project. Keeps me (and everyone else) clear on what their responsibilities are.

      1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        I use a work journal but apparently I also need to index it or something because I forget the undone things from prior days ..

        1. Nargal*

          I make a to do list each day, moving those items that aren’t done to the next day’s list. Sometimes I re-read the previous few days to see if I missed anything. I also use a specific steno pad for my lists, not a regular notebook, so they don’t get lost in meeting notes, etc.

        2. Allonge*

          This is easier with the master task list being in my Outlook – I take notes on paper and in my phone when there is no option to take my laptop but those notes are transferred to my task list as soon as humanly possible. Same with my boss coming into my office and just asking me to do something – either it gets done immediately or it goes on the task list. But of course this only works because I am sitting at a computer most of the day.

  4. Bit o' Brit*

    For #1 – Why can the LW not give the instructions in written form, instead of or as well as verbally? Clearly giving them verbally is not working, and asking the employee to write it down is not working. Having something to point them to when the task isn’t fully done would also save time re-explaining as you can just direct them to the original email.

    I can’t listen and write at the same time, or speak and write at the same time, they all use the “speech-processing” track in my brain and it can only handle one thing at a time. I also have a poor memory, so when I get given a lot of verbal information I’m not going to retain everything. I physically can’t. The best I can do is write down as much as I can during the “filler” conversation and hope it’s enough to bring back the rest. Or ask the person making the request to put it in an email. Being asked to repeat it back would make my mind go blank in panic, though it can work when I initiate it (“just so I’ve got this right, you want X, Y, and Z”).

    1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      I agree! I think being asked to remember 5-6 verbal changes is a lot and many people would struggle with that. Some people aren’t auditory learners. Switch the changes meetings to Slack or have LW write them down or make it email or something.

      1. JSPA*

        Or at least pause after each item so that it can be written down in real time; make sure the employee feels empowered to say “hold on, let me get this down”; and be explicit that while they can send you questions if they have questions, that you do not want to get the document back until all of the points have been addressed.

        Sometimes stuff comes back half done because somebody feels that the changes in response to one point have negated or rendered irrelevant one of the other points.

        If there’s a rule that no point can simply be dropped, that may help:

        “point 5: expanded discussion of definition of planet: no longer relevant because we took out the reference to pluto, right?”

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Task the last: email me the list, text or IM it to me, or enter it in the ticketing system & send me that…

        Manager to check that everything she remembers saying is in the list.

    2. Coverage Associate*

      This. As a manager, I can’t remember 3 tasks I am assigning without writing them down. Often, I make my list, call my direct report to explain the product I need or the why behind the work, and then send him the list.

      Usually my list has details that it’s easier to handle in writing and would be a waste of time to have him look up, like a phone number or address. Like, “I need you to call this witness and tell her that the deposition has been rescheduled. I have the phone number right here, so I will email you.” Even if the phone number is in the file…somewhere.

      1. Mike On Bike*

        Yes! “This meeting could have been an email”. Especially if it’s a list of specific tasks. Please, give me the list in writing.

    3. jimmi*

      i would absolutely not be able to recall 5 or 6 things given to me verbally. that said, if it was pointed out to me more than once that id missed something, i would start trying different things on my own. either writing it down or asking my boss to write it down

      1. Shakti*

        Yes this, that’s a lot of tasks at once even if they’re simple like get coffee, print this etc , I’d really email those tasks as well as give them verbally. It’s simply a lot at once especially if there’s any kind of detail included in each task. I certainly would have what I wanted someone to do written in an email so there was documentation from me on what I expected them to do as well

      2. Green great dragon*

        I noted LW said asking him to write things down hadn’t worked, and I’d really like to know why. Is he not writing them down, or writing them down and still not doing them? Different solutions required for each. As a manager, I don’t expect to have to follow up a conversation with a written summary, but would be very willing to summarise at the end or prompt him to write or check back or whatever’s needed.

        I can’t write and listen well either, so in 1-1 meetings I just ask people to wait a moment while I finish writing down one topic before they start the next, and no-one’s ever complained.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          This surprised me. When I started at my now job, I was missing corrections and comments. I was young and not confident, but I worked up the nerve to ask if I could highlight the hardcopy I was given with comments. (it makes sense in my industry. I’m not the content owner. I’m the content producer)
          Nobody else needed to do this. I did. Crushed that year and never looked back.
          If my boss hadn’t told me early on, that I needed to find a way to do better, I wouldn’t be at the “please see Not Tom” in my boss’ out of office now.

        2. Nargal*

          Yes, I can’t write and listen well at the same time so I always ask for time, or just say “just a second, just making a note/adding to my list” and no one has ever had a problem. I have to do it right then or I will forget. I have issues processing speech and my working memory isn’t great, and this is what works for me. I’m confused as to why writing things down in the moment doesn’t work. But reading OP’s responses, it’s also that the things written down aren’t completed so there are more issues than just writing things down.

          1. Nargal*

            I’ll add I write action items down by hand, both at my desk and in meetings. This is where always taking a notepad and pen to a meeting is super important for me. I remember lots of debate about this in a recent comments section- having a physical item I for taking notes is critical for me. If it’s not written down, I will forget it.

    4. Wintermute*

      This is a pretty good idea if it’s practical. You have plenty of documentation of what you said, the employee has something to refer to in case they forget, there’s no room for ambiguity and it’s pretty reasonable to treat it more seriously if you’ve written it down– at that point it’s not forgetfulness it’s insubordination.

      Of course that isn’t always practical to do, in my job it’s practical because I’m at my PC all day working, in fact it would take more effort to talk to me than send an e-mail or Teams message usually. But other jobs don’t work that way, and you need to be able to say to someone in the moment “Jane, I need you to take care of that over there, this, the other thing and those two over there”.

      If doing it verbally is a must, then it might be a good idea to be explicit, “Jane, write this down: we need X, Y, Z, W and V” and give them time to write down each item. Pausing both to give them time to write things down AND to indicate “I expect you to be writing right now”.

    5. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Yeah, if I ever have to give someone a list of things of any kind (to a direct report or anyone else) I follow it up with a Teams message or email like “just to recap, these are the things I mentioned that need to be changed on Project P”.

      I know Alison said not to characterise it as him being lazy or whatever, but I do think OP needs to establish whether it is a “can’t do” or “doesn’t want to do” situation. The “doesn’t want to” case is generally easier to solve!

    6. nnn*

      There are many jobs that don’t lend themselves to writing or email—think child care as just one example. OP’s might or might not be practical for the manager to provide written lists when info and instructions have to be provided on the fly.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        I mean, I work in a school where we have kids on our hands most of the day and we still email key tasks to each other, because we understand you can’t just chat several instructions at someone and have people remember everything you said. I have been in longer hours childcare provisions, where there was no respite or chance to get to a computer, and you still can’t magic up advanced memories just because you need them. We used an in room whiteboard to make lists, or accepted that we might need to repeat ourselves.

      2. Bit o' Brit*

        Given the question mentioned “changes to a project” I felt it was a safe assumption that there would be some capacity for documentation.

      3. HonorBox*

        Perhaps, but when lists provided verbally aren’t working, then having employee write them down isn’t working something else may need to be done. It seems like a lot of time spent in a meeting in the morning and then later on in a “correction” situation that could instead be invested in other things.

    7. Irish Teacher.*

      That was what I was going to say too. There are many reasons people might struggle to take in and remember 5 or 6 items in one go. My immediate thought was nervousness or being very careful about the first couple of tasks so he’s thinking “right so I need to…and I mustn’t..” about how to do the first task and misses what is said next.

      E-mailing the list or giving it to him in written form seems like a fairly easy adaptation.

      1. PhyllisB*

        Yes to written instructions. I can’t even remember six items on a grocery list unless it’s written. When my husband gives me a list, if it’s more than two items he writes it down. And because he knows I’m just as likely to leave the list on the kitchen table, he also texts it to me. So my vote is either hand him a written list or email, whichever is more efficient. You can still have a discussion if needed but have it written down!!

    8. Library Penguin*

      I was coming into the comments to find this suggestion! I can’t remember multi-step instructions to literally save my life, but if I’ve got them written down I can breeze through them no problem. It might be worth LW#1 either emailing their instructions to confirm, or explicitly asking the staff member to write them down. If nothing else, it will help rule out what the problem could be!

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. I’m lucky in that all my tasks are assigned in writing, so I don’t have to worry about this. I have no idea how I used to take notes as a student, but I did. That said, given the choice I’d far rather read a 1,000 page textbook than attend a series of lectures. I only attended the lectures for the Q&As at the end. Those were useful, but most of the time I could’ve spent more productively either reading or writing reports, etc.

      2. BlueSwimmer*

        Yes! If the job isn’t about memorizing things, why not write out a daily checklist on a shared document? Make a template where he (or anyone in the role) can note that the task is finished, or add a question or issue that cropped up, or let you know that it is taking more time than anticipated. Keep adding each new day’s tasks at the top to keep track of things. It also provides a great living document of the job duties, and a place where you as the manager can even include more details about how to complete things if needed.

        Signed, I had to do this with my first direct report, who had trouble remembering verbal instructions

    9. I should really pick a name*

      I think the starting point is simply asking the employee why the other things weren’t done, and how to avoid it in the future.

      Leaping to solutions without knowing what the actual problem in could just be wasted time and effort.
      A solution that comes from the employee is more likely to be a successful one.

    10. GreenShoes*

      Probably because it’s quicker and easier for the manager to give verbal feedback. Imagine you are going through a draft of a project with somebody. As you notice things you say “oh, you need to move this section to 4.b instead of keeping in 3.a. I noticed a few typos and it looks like the formatting went wonky when you inserted that table. When you fix that make sure that you add the source below it.

      Now imagine giving having to stop and jot down all of those things, then type it up in an email and sending it to the employee.

      Before anyone says … it’s a document, the manager can do it by themselves and use comments or edits. The same holds true for steps to solving a problem, working on a project, planning an activity, whatever.

      At a certain point in a professional career the employee has to be able to capture instructions or tasks. They can and should ask for more time if they need it to write things down, or other similar accommodations. But the answer can’t be “make my manager do the work”.

    11. Retail Dalliance*

      That was absolutely my first thought. I’m a high school teacher who teaches AP (college-level) courses, and although being a student is far different in significant ways than being an employee, I have found that my students perform best with clear written instructions and expectations that are laid out in advance. In a work place it’s not reasonable for the boss to spend a significant amount of time being ultra-specific in directions…it’s the kind of thing that should be explained once (or perhaps written once) and then referred to ever-after. But if you’re routinely assigning 5+ items for completion, a quick email serves three wonderful purposes: (a) outlines in writing what the tasks are, therefore no need to have hyper-specific recall for long term memory; (b) time-stamps when it’s been sent; (c) helps keep everyone accountable to the tasks at hand, because they were laid out clearly and specifically. Perhaps 5 minutes at the beginning of the day writing the email for this employee would be time well spent. It’s also far easier to review an employee’s performance with a paper(electronic) trail.

    12. A person*

      Totally agree! I make the lists of tasks in writing and hand them or email them to my reports. I don’t give them verbally and have them write them down. I wouldn’t even be able to remember what to assign to them if I hadn’t already written it down myself…

      I do have my own manager though, that only wants to give tasks verbally right now and it’s been a struggle for me… I have to be so diligent about writing stuff down that he tells me because he is adamantly opposed to sending emails or teams chats or texts or making shared task lists or anything else other than verbal… and most of his reports are struggling with it because we are all written communication people.

  5. yvve*

    OP1: when you said it didnt make a difference that you asked him to write it down, what exactly occured? did you list the items verbally, then also tell him to write it down and do the tasks? or did you give him time during the conversation to write everything you were saying down, and he still didnt complete the list?

    if you confirmed that he had all 5 or 6 items written down, and he still didnt do them, thats probably a much bigger issue than just not being great at verbal recall.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah if they are writing them down, it would be interesting to ask what happened to their to do list. As a nuerodivergent person I have really struggled in the past with bosses who are as verbal as the OP. My personal preference is to get emails and use the inbox as a to do list, because it can’t be lost. Over the years I’ve developed strategies that don’t involve writing on my hand (also can’t be lost), such as using really brightly coloured or easy to spot notebooks, large brick weighted planners I take everywhere with me because I’ve ensured they’re useful in every situation, or using online notes. I still wouldn’t be crazy about getting a significant number of tasks verbally though, because I’ve had no chance to really listen to what they’re saying because I’m writing, and often my notes reflect that.

      1. rayray*

        I also struggle with verbal instruction sometimes. One thing my team and I use when working on things together, for example, we have documents we draft that we need someone to review. We use the Outlook Tasks, you can attach any necessary documentation and then write in any instructions. You then assign it to whoever, and it comes in to their inbox. They mark Accept to accept the task and then when they’re done, they can leave any notes for you and hit Complete and it comes back to you. I feel like this feature is so under utilized, but I really like it.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Yes, I was wondering about that part.

      I’m also wondering how the list is given— if it’s, “do A, do B, do C and D” or more like, “so we’ve got to sort out the interstellar passes for Judith, Wakeen and Stanley, I’ll do Stanley’s because it’s complicated, but if you could send me his most recent itinerary that’s be helpful, you need to look up Judith’s one from this time last year and copy that over, Wakeen usually does his own but please email him to remind him, hmm what else”. Turning a discussion into a series of actions is a skill, so depending on how specifically you name the specific tasks or actions you want, you might feel like you’ve given him 5 or 6 actions but the subjective experience is very different!

      If you have given him time to make a written list and reviewed the actions at the end of the conversation to make sure it matches your expectations, I wonder how clear you’ve been with him about not coming back until he’s finished and that it’s disruptive to you. There are after all plenty of jobs where “check in with me when you’re halfway through a list of six things” would be a perfectly reasonable expectation to make sure you’re on the right track.

      Good luck!

      1. kiki*

        Yeah, it’s really easy as a speaker to not realize some action items may not be clear/are getting lost if you’re speaking more conversationally. If he’s not catching all the action items, it makes sense that it doesn’t help that he’s writing things down.

        I might ask him at the end of the conversation to repeat back all the action items. That will make it clearer if the disconnect is happening in the conversation or after. This is something I’ve started doing after conversations or meetings of my own accord and I’ve found it really helpful. Even if I’m not forgetting something, sometimes it makes the person I’m talking to realize they actually had a different action item or want me to do something slightly differently

  6. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP2 (profane language in reply all) – I don’t think she swore “at” you (as the headline seems to suggest, but not clear whether OP thinks so) in that I don’t think she was calling OP an “idiot” in relation to what OP wrote. No, I think it was a comment on the behaviour (leaving early or whatever) being described in the email. If that resulted in more work for the team or a last minute change of plan I can understand (not excuse but certainly understand) a momentary “outburst” like this. I note that they work in health care where people are known to be stretched. I wonder if bosses and HR dug into that at all when they reprimanded her.

    1. Zzz*

      So they called/described the person who was leaving early (as) a fucking idiot? How is that better? It’d just be not directed at LW.

      1. Bagpuss*

        I read that it was – that OP mailed to say they were leaving and so the response was about them. Plus in the meeting the other person doesn’t seem to have disputed that OP was the target, their response seemed to be to explain why they were angry/frustrated.

        1. Totally Minnie*

          Right. The response in the meeting was essentially “yes, I did mean to call you that, but I didn’t mean for you to see it,” which I still find pretty troubling. Id be giving this person a wide berth from now on.

      2. Bea*

        It’s not better but it’s certainly different. OP is not the one who should be offended. Someone else is.

    2. JustRN with COVID burnout*

      If the message wasn’t directed at OP, though, I would think the coworker would have clarified that in the meeting by saying something like “my comment was expressing my frustration with (tonight’s high patient ratio due to understaffing or whatever) and was not directed at you.” I’m kind of flabbergasted that the coworker didn’t apologize, though. Whether the message was directed at OP or not, it was inappropriate, and I would think an apology would have gone without saying.

      I will say that right now the staffing situation in healthcare is dire. I’m a RN/BSN with years of experience, and I left the field entirely last year due to COVID stressors. I probably won’t even bother to renew my license in the next renewal cycle, because I can’t see myself ever practicing nursing again. And I’m far from the only one. Hospitals in my area are now offering $10-$15,000 signing bonuses for staff even on wards such as mother/baby and PACU, which pre-COVID were nearly impossible to get into without years of seniority because they are considered to be plum assignments. So I wouldn’t be surprised to hear employers are more likely to overlook behaviors like those exhibited by the OP’s coworker, because replacing a qualified nurse (or any other qualified staff member) is so difficult.

      1. PSU RN*

        Just coming here to second JustRN…inpatient healthcare is in pretty bad shape right now and bad employees are still an FTE on the staffing grid just the same as good employees. No one cares unless you do something egregious- like assault another employee for example. I have loved reading this column for years, but sometimes I think it would be astonishing to the general working public if healthcare employees told their stories of workplace shenanigans.

      2. DataGirl*

        Healthcare industry employee here, also came to say this. A nurse could get away with just about anything right now and not be let go, due to the severe staffing shortage. Assuming this person is in nursing, it’s not a surprise that they are not being disciplined more.

      3. DJ Hymnotic*

        I work in healthcare and will co-sign a lot of this. A recent expansion of service at my employer had to be delayed by a few months simply because there is such a labor shortage in healthcare right now, and that’s with signing bonuses for new hires and referral bonuses for current staff who recruit someone new.

        As to the coworker’s unapologetic stance around their actions–something I’ve learned the hard (and very painful) way is that a person who always has an excuse or justification at the ready for their bad behavior is a person who is almost always creating a toxic work environment in additional ways, and while management is preventing one scheduling hole by keeping the toxic co-worker around, they may be contributing to future staffing shortages if other employees decide to leave for greener, less dysfunctional pastures. Because again, it is very much a worker’s market in healthcare right now.

      4. Burger Bob*

        Same thing in pharmacy. A bunch of people quit during covid. Then it was terrible because we were understaffed, so a bunch more people quit. Now what’s left is those of us who can’t quit and the poor new grads coming in (of which there are much fewer than there once were). Giant sign-on bonuses being offered everywhere. It’s rough. Covid burned me out about as bad as you. There were times when I told my husband I didn’t want to work in healthcare at all anymore, and I didn’t even want to step foot in any kind of healthcare office. I’m only now sort of recovering from that. Healthcare is dicey these days.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      Mmm nah, there’s no way to say “fucking idiot” about someone and then make out you weren’t swearing at them! It really doesn’t matter whether it was because of what OP wrote, their actions, or whether it was about their hairstyle or the weather that day. Whatever the reason, they were very rudely insulted and that’s not okay. Even if the colleague was mortified and full of abject apologies (which they were not), they can’t wave this off as being in a high stress environment. So is the OP, and they deserve to work without abuse. Let’s just take the OP’s word that the colleague is often hostile, because they know and we don’t.

    4. Cordelia*

      The phrase “fucking idiot” is directed at someone, whether it is OP or the person who left early, so it is swearing “at” someone. This is entirely different to saying, for example “fucking hell” at the situation – being left short-staffed, whatever. Still totally inappropriate, but something I (as an overstretched healthcare worker myself) might say to myself if receiving this email, and vaguely possibly might email to a coworker friend bemoaning our situation and accidentally hit Reply All. Calling someone a “fucking idiot” is different. It is still a big deal, and not something we should be normalising because we are all stressed and overstretched – that will just make our working environments even worse

    5. Blue*

      I don’t think OP would have gone to her manager, her manager’s supervisor and HR if they thought it was a general comment.

    6. JSPA*

      It would be just as unacceptable regardless of the trigger, if it was intentional.

      My guess is that it slid by because there’s no way to definitively prove that it was intentional.

      Depending how coworker’s phone is set up, it is possible (and I know this from personal experience, after which I changed the settings on my new phone!) to:

      a) receive an email that magically prompts with a “reply?” button

      b) Somehow hit that reply button while phone is in your pocket

      c) somehow also hit the voice record option

      d) Is somehow also hit “send.”

      If your default is “reply all,” and you’re having a conflict with somebody else at the time…well.

      And then there’s the dozen times that i’ve tried to have multiple email drafts (or an email and text messaging) open at the same time, and said or typed the wrong thing in the wrong box.

      In my case luckily the email read something harmless and clearly irrelevant and typo-ridden (“dan cat get down offer table not yours”).

      But if coworker is often directly hostile at work, coworker may also be hostile out of work; the idea that coworker was intentionally saying that to somebody else in their life is not unreasonable.

      Do I think it’s actually likely that the coworker sent a butt email? Nah.

      But some combination of being aggressive, being careless and being under time pressure could absolutely lead to this, without it being intentionally pointed at the letter writer. Given that that’s the case, if the supervisors only know of this as a one time thing, they can’t respond the way that they would, if it had been done in person.

      IMO, OP should accept the apology with grace, knowing that if it happens again, the hypothesis of it being a one-time accident will no longer be in play. And the offender should of course have sent (and now be sending) a broadcast apology, with not the slightest hint of “sorry (not sorry).”

      1. My Useless 2 Cents*

        The problem is that was no apology. Just an acknowledgement that the email was sent and an excuse.

    7. I should really pick a name*

      Is that a meaningful difference?

      Someone emailing out “fucking idiot” is a problem. The LW has standing to bring that up with someone whether it was directed at them or not.

      Typing an email is a very conscious thing, it’s not the same as accidentally saying “fucking idiot” out loud when you just meant to think it.

    8. Fluffy Fish*

      She called OP a f-ing idot. It was directed at OP. They sat down with management and discussed it – the coworker not only offered nothing really by way or excuse they didn’t even apologize.

      And it doesn’t matter why – that changes absolutely nothing about the advice.

      There’s absolutely no reason or justification to do what OPs colleague did. No matter how stressed/awful/short-staffed they might be.

      Every grown adult on earth should not have to be told don’t curse at coworkers.

      1. Lexi Vipond*

        I mean, it might have been directed at OP, but I can’t see that in the letter – only that the coworker said it was sent by mistake while (or because) she had personal things going on, which I read as meaning that it was a reply meant for another message from someone in her personal life.

        That might only be the excuse, of course, but it kind of fits with the non-apology, if the coworker is still thinking of the husband/brother/whoever as the one called an idiot rather than OP.

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          If it wasn’t directed at OP then I would expect that the coworker would have stated that.

          If you’ve been dragged in front of HR and management, you’re going to be looking to save face. Its the easiest explanation in the world – I thought I was emailing someone in my personal life.

          1. JSPA*

            That’s what I read it as, the way the LW reported the defense: typing or unintentionally voice-to-texting the words (perhaps even over-writing the message they’d intended to send) and thus not noticing what they’d sent until called in to explain).

            Another reading would be, “I meant to forward it to someone else, and instead hit ‘reply all'”–which leaves it ambiguous who’s being called an f-ing idiot (that presumably depends on to whom, and context).

            Another reading would be, “I typed ‘f-ing idiot’ intentionally, but then hit send before finishing the thought, which would have been ‘F-ing idiot! Isn’t it like him to leave us short staffed. Thanks for letting us know.’ I was concurrently dealing with a personal crisis, and never got back to it.”

            There are enough semi-plausible options that, if they’re short-staffed and having trouble hiring, it doesn’t make sense to go directly to firing for this one thing.

            For that matter, if the LW had gotten the message from a generally nice coworker, they’d probably also be cutting the message more slack than they are with this PITA coworker.

      2. JustRN with COVID burnout*

        Did anyone say being stressed or short staffed was a justification for the coworker’s behavior?

  7. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP3 (to go or not to go as a plus-one): In most places it should be fine to go “separately” but if no one else is bringing a partner etc it is probably more of a “business” occasion (as far as things partner will talk about with the team) than you are expecting.

    Would you still go to this if you were going completely alone, partner was out of town so couldn’t go with you, or whatever? If so I think you still should — whether partner should give his team a heads up that you are planning to be there “independently” as it was your hobby rather than his in the first place — you never know, they may invite you to hang with them for some portion of it.

    It’s different from the letter where someone got access to a conference they shouldn’t be at as it was for exec level people, as this is open access. Your partner’s company doesn’t have “exclusive rights” on it.

    1. Grith*

      Yeah, I think this is a reasonable approach. If you’re arriving together, say hi to colleagues and then almost immediately excuse yourself and go do your own thing, if partner is there early to set up then find them to check in and greet colleagues when you arrive and again, almost immediately split off.

      And if that doesn’t sound fun, then you’re not going for the event, you’re going for the purpose of socialising with your partner and their colleagues. Which is something you’re being given pretty clear signals wouldn’t be appreciated.

    2. LW 3*

      Yep, this is exactly what I’m planning on doing! I’ll go alone and let my partner scope out what their team is planning before I consider if it’s appropriate to meet up with them.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I’m imagining you attending the event in a big hat and a fake mustache, then doing a quick change in the bathroom once you get the green light to join.

        All jokes aside, I think you’re being thoughtful and you shouldn’t have to miss the event :)

        1. LW 3*

          Ha! Yes, I will now be changing my plans to include a disguise that I’ll dramatically tear off if I’m asked to meet up with the team!

          Thank you for your thoughtful take and lighthearted encouragement, I think a lot of folks are reading this way more as me trying to push my way into a professional conference, when it’s really just “I wanted to go to Coachella too!” (The event is unfortunately, not Coachella, but much closer to that than a real business event.)

        2. Elitist Semicolon*

          Or whipping off the hat and stache with a flourish: “AHA! Tis, I, Partner of Employee!” and then waiting for the applause. :)

  8. Snoozing not schmoozing*

    Why can’t #1 give the employee the list in writing, via text, email, or whatever is easiest? Some people (like me!) process written communications much better than oral ones. And it gives the LW a written record of what was assigned, and when, if the work remains incomplete.

    1. Analyst*

      I mean…me writing down the list to send an employee would take me a lot longer than just telling them. It’s reasonable to expect to be able to give someone instructions and have stuff done. The employee should write down the instructions if needed.

      1. DocVonMitte*

        Just a friendly reminder that plenty of folks don’t process well verbally for a number of reasons.

        From an inclusivity best practice standpoint it’s best to always follow up significant spoken instructions with an email or dm with a written recap. It’ll take longer but often being an ally means doing extra work.

        1. Green great dragon*

          I think there are cases where that is required, and I would happily do it for an individual that needed that, but that would be a noticeable time sink to do as standard (especially if I also followed up all written conversations with a call for those who don’t process well verbally). It’s really not clear what the problem is with LW’s report, and if it is a verbal processing issue I’d rather give people the tools to solve it themselves if possible, like getting them to check their list with me before ending the meeting. Other people, like clients, will also want to be able to ask them for things and get those things without having to write to them afterwards.

          And before you all jump on me as a terrible inflexible manager, note that I have just said I would happily do it for an individual if that was the only thing that worked well for them, it’s just not my first response.

          1. Green great dragon*

            *I meant follow up with a call for those who struggle processing written things, obviously. Bah.

      2. HonorBox*

        I’d agree that it is reasonable to expect that. However, the letter writer was asking what could be done? A conversation for sure, but it might lead to an email being sent. It sounds like an awful lot of time is being invested in instructions and corrections so perhaps another few minutes on the front end would be worth the investment to save the investment of time and the frustration on the back end.

      3. Bea*

        How would it take longer? Maybe I’m atypical, but I type at about the same speed as I speak and writing an email means I don’t have to go find the person and they’re less likely to forget items on the list.

        1. Green great dragon*

          If the conversation is just ‘do a, b and c’, sure. But more typical for me is a conversation that the items flow out of;
          – Did you feed the tardigrades this morning?
          – Yes but Sarah isn’t eating
          – Oh no! Please check her cage temperature’s between -200 and 50 and the gamma ray shielding’s intact.
          So I’d need to take notes which I don’t need for my own purposes , and send it to them, rather than him taking notes in the first place with the level of detail he prefers.

          And really, it’s a skill people are expected to have, and if they need extra steps (like a pause to write down or a double check before moving on) it’s better than they have the tools and can use them with others than expecting me and later clients to write notes for them.

      4. Ellis Bell*

        Forgive me if I’m being dense here, but why would it take longer? I can see one or two things being said verbally in the moment someone thinks of it, because of the conversation, but a whole bunch of actions? It isn’t unreasonable to think OP can just send those out before even seeing the employee.

      5. umami*

        I agree. If I am meeting with someone, I am not in front of my computer, and if I am reviewing their work, then the onus is on them to take the notes based on my feedback. I have had a direct report who struggled with taking complete notes and not include all of the feedback, so I then began making sure that he repeated back what he had in his notes so we could be on the same page. It’s a bit beyond the pale to as the manager to be taking notes on behalf of the direct report, and I don’t really advocate just making the corrections because that turns you into a copy editor when what you need is for the skills to be improved. If the employee is struggling because they aren’t writing it down, that should be the starting place because that is the bare minimum expectation from a meeting where changes to a project are being discussed.

      6. A person*

        I would say for a singular task like “hey can you go right now and run this sample” verbal is fine and it would indeed take longer to write it first. But if you’re giving a task list for the day or longer, I’d disagree that verbal is faster because if you’re allowing for your report to make proper notes (not everyone can listen and write at the same time) it will probably take just as long and if you’re not, then, well, they’re likely to miss stuff when they go back to try to recall and make their own list.

        As someone who recently got a manager that refuses to communicate in writing and is struggling with it right now, I can confidently say that just rattling off a list of tasks is not as efficient as it sounds.

    2. Allonge*

      And some other people are bad at written communications, both writing and reading. (They are much less likely to be commenting here.) It usually takes much longer to write something than to say it.

      Some environments are not like an office where everyone is attached to their computer all the time.

      And at least for now, OP does not know if this would solve the issue.

    3. Retired Accountant*

      Why can’t LW 1 just do the things instead so the employee doesn’t have to bestir himself?

      I’m also a person who processes things better by reading them than listening, but that doesn’t mean I’d expect my boss to start writing everything out for me.

      1. SaltedCaramel*

        Exactly. If he’s continuously forgetting tasks he should’ve just written them down? Or asked to get them in an email. Especially given that he has repeatedly missed tasks. Why should his boss hold his hand that much? Might as well do his work for him.

      2. Nargal*

        Right!?! I am ND & also need a written list, but it’s on me to make the list and ask for time to add things to it. It’s also up to me to restate what the action items are and make sure we’re on the same page. Coaching the employee to do this would be a better use of time than writing lists for them.

      3. Ellis Bell*

        Well it’s just an idea. No one is saying the OP HAS to write longer action lists out for their employee, but it’s such a common way of communicating a to-do list, that I honestly found it odd OP hadn’t mentioned trying it/why they hadn’t already. Lots of people find it clearer and faster if they make something out in writing for others first; you know there is no misremembering of what was required. If it doesn’t work for OP, or OP’s industry then yeah, the coaching should focus on what’s going wrong with the employee’s to do list.

        1. Nargal*

          I guess my experience has been different, because I don’t usually get to do lists from my bosses but am expected to make them myself. Mainly because projects and tasks come in through the day so boss will just mention a thing to do, not create a list at the beginning of the day, but most teams I’ve been on have been pretty self-directed.

      4. A person*

        I wouldn’t expect my boss to do that but if a manager is going to insist on only verbal communication then they’ll need to give their report time to actually write stuff down properly. Not everyone (and I would argue not most people because science says we don’t multitask really) can be writing the first task down while manager is now rattling off the second or third task. They aren’t listening while they’re writing!

        In my workplace we use a wide range of different ways to track and communicate tasks to people. Email, spreadsheets, teams, whiteboards, meetings, quick calls, and even passing in the hallway conversations. Managers that chose one style and think it will work for every situation and every person and refuse to budge when it doesn’t work probably shouldn’t be managing.

    4. AlsoADHD*

      From a project management perspective, written tasks and feedback are good documentation anyway. (I’m not a PM but I do some PM as a lead in my function.) It is not only more inclusive to keep clear procedures, feedback, and direction documented as follow up but also better for productivity, reviewing and improving process, and creating common vision.

    5. Anonymous 75*

      on the other hand why doesn’t the direct report write them down for themselves when their boss is giving them the tasks?

      1. Happy meal with extra happy*

        Yeah, this. Like, I get the manager has written so we’re giving the manager advice, not the employee, but I do find it extremely odd that the employee doesn’t appear to have taken steps so that they’re able to do more than 50% of their job…

      2. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

        Yes! This is also like ‘job 101’ in my experience, or at least ‘office job 101’. I’m surprised by the number of comments that focus solely on the manager writing all tasks and sending them, and not helping the employee understand that part of their role is receiving and processing instructions in a way that works for their brain – particularly because these are 3-5 items/hour tasks, and not ‘add this to a project plan/Trello’ level tasks, which I would definitely treat differently.

  9. Matt*

    LW #1 I had the same issue in my first job. I’m also dyslexic with a lower working memory so a six task verbal list… you’ve got no hope! The solution my boss came up with was getting me a note book and suggesting I write everything down. Seems basic but this was my first job so it wasn’t. No one had told me how to do this.

    Then, having got a notebook, it’s just a case of coaching them through writing it down. You might have to repeat the list as they copy it down – or go slowly. Then just get them to repeat it back afterwards. Some of us don’t have elephant brains!

    In terms of management, I don’t think a verbal list of 6 things is going to get done with no note taking for most people.

    The other option is just using a project management tool like Monday.com or Asana or Trello. Probably better practice anyway and if they get ahead they can work on to
    Prows actions. Allows for a bit more independence this way too.

    1. Elena*

      I have not only got a notebook, I committed to never even setting it down: I have a 3-inch moleskin that comes out of my pocket, write stuff down, back in my pocket. No solution works for everyone: I do still sometimes forget to check the notebook. But it’s fully solved my issue of remembering that I was supposed to do SOMETHING… but can’t recall what it was, and oh no… where did I put the list??

      1. GreenShoes*

        I think this is the key. It’s one of the first things I tell new to the workforce people. Doesn’t matter what the job is, office, warehouse, field. Always have a notebook and pen with you, you never know when someone will give you something to do or give you good information that will help later.

      2. Avocado Toast*

        I did this in college after being diagnosed with ADHD. It was instrumental in getting my life on track! Those 3 in moleskins are great.

    2. Rachel*

      I think this is swinging pretty hard in the opposite direction.

      It is hardly expecting “elephant brain” to ask direct reports to complete tasks or write them down if they have trouble remembering.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        The advice Matt gave was literally to write things down so I’m not sure how you came up with an opposite reading.

    3. EPLawyer*

      I’m one of those who if it isn’t written down it doesn’t happen people. I use Google Keep instead of a notebook because I can search for things. Also its accessible without having to keep track of a notebook.

      But the LW says the guy writes things down and it still happens. Now maybe he only hears the first 3 things and forgets to write down the other 3. But it is happening. So something else is going on no matter what.

  10. Shirty*

    OP1, have you tried providing the list of tasks you want your direct report to complete in writing? In order of priority? This is usually the easiest fix.

  11. Kella*

    OP1 Your letter immediately reminded me of my friend describing her mother’s struggles with giving instructions to her brother, who had pretty severe ADHD. She would say to him, “Okay, I need you to go get into your PJ’s, wash your face, and brush your teeth before bed,” and five minutes later he would return with his tooth bruth in hand, triumphant as if he had fully completed the tasks when he had done none of them.

    Diagnosis is not important here and we’re not supposed to armchair diagnose anyway, but the point is, some people don’t retain information when verbally given a list. Heck, human brains on average do not retain more than seven pieces of information in their short-term memory at once, so if there are six on the list, I’m not surprised he’s not retaining all of them.

    I agree with others about trying variations of the physical list again (waiting for him to write it down, or giving him a check list). If he has a tendency to lose physical lists, a digital list could also be helpful. There are task management apps or apps dedicated to creating checklists where the task disappears off the list once you’ve checked it off. This helps prevent missing any unchecked items in the sea of tasks.

  12. UKgreen*

    It sounds like at the very least LW needs to send the direct report an email with the tasks listed.

    Or could you use techology?? Microsoft To Do, for example, has literal checkboxes…

      1. Pugetkayak*

        Exactly, especially once it is brought up as an issue. You need to train and help, but you can’t direct every aspect of the way this person functions. At some point, you have to learn how you learn and make accommodations for yourself..

  13. Blue*

    #2: “I’ll list off five or six things he needs to do, change on a project, etc., and he’ll come back an hour later with three of the things done and ask if it’s good to go.”

    This strikes me as a little strange, because I’m forgetful too – if you verbally gave me a list of many things to do, I’d probably forget a couple without writing it down. But I also wouldn’t constantly forget that half the list existed in the first place, which is what the “asks if it’s good to go” reads like. I’d be checking back in with the boss/coworker “Hey, I did A, B, and C, what was the last one again?” instead of “Here’s my part of the project” or whatever.

    But regardless of the specifics, I think the suggestion of having him write the tasks down/OP giving it to him in written form, whichever makes sense for the situation, is a good one.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      I’ve seen this behavior in students; as someone alluded to above: it’s basically asking “is this good enough to be done with (ie, “turn in”) even if all action items aren’t completed.”

      I’ve given major corrections to students on papers they’ve written, and I’ve been surprised when:
      a) not all comments were addressed (okay, fair enough, it’s your grade)
      b) NONE of the comments were addressed (essentially turned in the same thing)

      In the case of a), the thinking is “good enough for me, I’m satisfied with whatever happens next.” For b), the student was lazy and didn’t care about turning in work (this was a pattern).

      You’ll do the employee a solid by telling him, “when I give you X number of things to do/fix, I expect ALL of them to be done before you return the work to me. This is non-negotiable, or you should have a further question about the/reasonable rationale why you haven’t completed the task.”

      1. Jezebella*

        I think you’ve hit on something here. Plenty of students are happy with a C. They turn in work that’s just enough to get by, and it’s worked throughout their schooling. The terms change at work – you have to do all the things and half-assing the assignment is not an option.

      2. CheeryO*

        Excellent comment, and I totally agree based on my experience with some of my younger employees (and thinking back to when I was an intern… I shudder remembering the work I turned in because I felt like I put effort in and therefore it had to be good enough).

        It’s a mindset shift for some new grads to understand that 1) they’re doing work on behalf of a larger organization, and that someone else will have to pick up the slack if they don’t do the job correctly – the annoying thing doesn’t just magically go away, 2) seemingly minor details are important if your boss/the client/the regulations say that they are, and 3) a B+ isn’t good enough if the work product doesn’t meet the objectives.

  14. Cognitive Science Teacher*

    To add to the others suggesting a written list (from either end). Working memory (the short-term bit) is generally found to have 5 +/- 2 (v rough values) “slots” – if he’s trying to hold that list, even as far as his desk he could just be losing the last few to other inputs.

    Either you or him making a quick list then and there might be all that’s needed to solve the problem – making lists is not a skill everyone has and is one you can teach.

    1. Bagpuss*

      Excpt it sounds as though so far, it hasn’t/ I do womder,though, whethr he did actually start writing the list down when OP suggested it or whether he treated it as a suggestion knot an instruction.

      Either way, I think she needs to speak to him again, name the pattern, and tell him as an instruction that he needs to write down the task as a list when she gives it to him (and ask then if there is anything he isn’t clear about) and then to check that list against what he has done before coming back to her.

      That might mean stopping to check he has had time to write it down, when she is speaking to him,

      I also agree with the comments suggesting OP look for patterns to see whether there are particular tasks or types of task which he remembers and forgets, and if necessary speak to him about that pattern as well so he can work on what reminders etc he needs to set for himself for the types of task he tends to forget and also so she can talk to him whether there is anything about those tasks that might be an issue for him – is it something he dislikes or is less confident about, and then she can look at whether any additional training ( or indeed and clear explanation that he needs to do them even if they re uninteresting!) is appropriate

    2. Daisy Daisy*

      He’s a grown adult who should be showing that he takes this issue seriously and realizes it’s his responsibility to find the solution that works for him. Regardless of how many memory slots he has, he’s not some inert object for whom OP has to find a system that results in him doing his job. It doesn’t sound like he even gets that these repeated corrections should be alarming to his sense of whether he’s doing well or not.

  15. Plan for a no*

    Of course you can try to lever the other offer, but you should have a plan for what you will do if they say no.

    Would you still take the job?

    1. Kevin Sours*

      In many ways that’s the key question. Because if you aren’t taking the offer at the salary listed there really isn’t much reason to not be aggressive about it. Worse case they get annoyed an pull an offer you weren’t going to accept anyway.

  16. eisa*

    #3 : Go, but keep your distance from your partner unless he figures out during the event it’s no big deal if you join him and his colleagues for some time. (maybe other people will have family members around, too, who knows?)

    1. LW 3*

      This is exactly what I’m thinking I’ll do! Let them assess the situation before deciding if I should meet them, and I want to go anyway, so I will!

  17. Helvetica*

    LW#3 – I don’t fully understand if you have talked about this with your partner or you assume they would be uncomfortable by your presence because of the conflicting work arrangement. But please talk to them first. If you really want to attend because of your interest in the topic, present it as such – you would purchase a separate ticket to see the thing, not because you just want to tag along as +1, and that you would not interfere in his work conversations. If he doesn’t want to introduce you to his colleagues to not create the false impressions you mention, then so be it.

    1. Somehow_I_Manage*

      That really was the missing link in the letter. It’s more relationship advice, rather than what’s strictly professional or unprofessional. You guys are a team! And, because it’s their livelihood, this is an instance where your partner should be the quarterback.

      1. LW 3*

        Re-reading my letter I can totally see that’s missing info! We have talked about it, and it’s not a matter of partner wanting to keep work and home 100% separate, or partner being specifically uncomfortable with me being around their team for any reason. We actually all talked about how cool this event will be at their holiday party when I met the whole team and they didn’t know if they had tickets!
        I was mostly wondering what is standard in these situations, and I’m quickly learning that there is no standard! I’ll plan to attend alone (my partner is well aware and fine with this!) and let them sort out the team dynamic before considering if it makes sense to meet them at any point.

        1. Velociraptor Attack*

          You said in the letter that you can tell your partner is uncomfortable with the idea of being seen as bringing a plus one and if that’s because you’ve already discussed it, I would honestly say that you need to stop planning on (as you’ve said elsewhere) ‘letting them figure out vibes before you decide if you join them later in the event’.

          If they have indicated they are uncomfortable, respect that. Plan to attend alone the whole time and if your partner texts you and says to come join them, cool. It still seems like you’re expecting you’ll likely join them, which might be putting pressure on them.

          1. LW 3*

            No need to read into the semantics or relationship dynamics here, I promise we’re communicating and respecting each other’s feelings.

            We both just wanted a sense of what is normal in situations like this, and we’re quickly seeing that there is no standard! We’ll do what works for us and have gotten some great advice from Alison and the comments.

  18. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #1: “Even when I tell him to write things down, it makes no difference.”

    N.B. As it is his first professional job, it is probably good training for him to write the notes himself and revise them with you rather than you write everything. Note-taking is an important skill to acquire.
    However, with someone more experienced or when there is time pressure, then it’s more efficient for you to EM the list in advance and let him ask questions.

    Before he goes away, tell him to read back to you what he has written and ask if he has questions. You may be talking faster than he can write, or his notes may be insufficiently comprehensive when he refers to them later.
    Once you both agree on the list, get him to EM it back to you. Tell him he must do all the items and to come back to you if he needs more info or help.

    If he still doesn’t do all the work, then go through each missing/incomplete item and ask why.
    He may have hit roadblocks you don’t realise are there, or he may need training in some skills, or simply to be firmly told he can’t skip work he doesn’t like.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I wonder if this means OP tells him to write things down and he doesn’t and forgets, or if he does write things down and he forgets.

  19. Chaos Jane*

    Re #1 I manage a bunch of people and I feel that part of my job is setting them up for success.
    That can include knowing how they best learn and retain information.
    I have staff who work best when I give them written instructions, I have some who prefer more visual options (a video, photos), and I have none who prefer a long verbal list.

    As someone who has a really hard time with verbal lists and instructions (I’m team “write it down”), and who does not want to micromanage, keeping these different styles in mind ensures that my staff are performing well without me having to sit on them.

    This doesn’t have to be a hard problem to solve.

    1. Late, Not Lazy*

      this! and also, if employee doesn’t yet realize their learning style, having a little guidance from manager could be really helpful.

      and even when you do know about yourself, it can be hard to set things up to always be that. my boss is always rattling long long lists in a range of topics, and only after almost a year here has she gotten used to the fact that I need to write everything down and therefore might need to pause between her giving me items.

  20. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #3 “Can I hang out with them, or do I need to make myself scarce?
    …. my options are to hang out alone or with my partner and their team.”

    I recommend that you don’t go as his +1 and don’t even talk him or his coworkers.
    He knows best what would be embarassing/inappropriate and he is too junior to have the capital to divert from standard expected behaviour.

    So, if you want to go, stay completely alone.
    He probably wants to network – alone – before and after the event, since higher-ups are attending.
    Also, you may have to travel independently, if he is expected to go with coworkers.

  21. I should really pick a name*

    For #4, if they haven’t done so already, I’d suggest just asking for the higher amount first without bringing the other offer into it. They might just say yes.

    If they’re resistant, then bring it up as an example that it’s a reasonable request.

  22. Allonge*

    OP1 – if you are as busy as me at work, you may wonder, like I did, how anyone has time for some of the suggestions here (provide everything in writing, teach your report to take notes, double-check every item etc.). It’s not that these are bad ideas, they are good ones! But they sound like they take up a lot of time that you may not have and/or may not be applicable in your workplace.

    So, while absolutely try (together with your employee of course) to find a more suitable way to communicate these tasks, I would also suggest putting a deadline on this project, i.e. you will work with him for 3 months (or whatever is reasonable) to figure out a new system, and after that you could conclude that this is just not working out.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      I would try to make time to train him or organise training if need be.
      However, my time was not unlimited.

      Also he’d have to learn how to do things our way, rather than I and each manager he has in the future changing their most convenient means of communication (unless he has a specified disability and has an official accommodation)

      1. Be Gneiss*

        Is it really *that* unmanageable to try to accommodate the communication methods people prefer, just because they prefer them? I’ve worked with people who prefer a call, or who prefer brain dump in a meeting, or who want an email, or a text, or whatever. It seems wild to me that a person would take the stance that the way that is most convenient for them to communicate is the only way that tasks will be disseminated, unless you have a documented disability.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Look, I get it, I’m someone who works better with email communication because then I have it in writing. But I also recognize that my boss has higher priorities, so if she gives me a task verbally I make sure to write it down and then confirm I’m understanding correctly. I’m not sure why you think it’s on the manager to change their methods of communication?

          1. HonorBox*

            In this case, it seems like this is a regular pattern where a problem exists. If your boss knows you prefer email and can generally send you a message that way, the now and again verbal task isn’t probably as problematic as it would be for you if your boss just did verbal downloads on you all the time. The issue in the letter is that the steps that have been taken so far haven’t led to improvement. One of the ways to improve the situation is to change up how the communication is occurring. The manager isn’t getting what they need from the employee and is spending time later in the day/week correcting things. That’s a big problem and the manager is losing time, compounded daily.

          2. Jealous of the Water*

            I agree with you, Jennifer Strange. I’m surprised by the number of people who think the manager needs to change his/her/their style of communicating. I know my boss functions best by being able to give me verbal notes/instructions as they occur to him throughout the day (I’m a paralegal), whether over the phone or in person, and I have adapted to be ready to scribble down notes at any time during the day regardless of if it is conducive to my work flow. I assume that my primary goal is to support him in his job, and I don’t think he would be as successful if he had to change his communication style on my behalf. I suspect sometimes managers and their direct reports just aren’t good fits for each other.

            1. GreenShoes*

              I’m with you on this. And I wonder if it’s the divide between I/Cs and Managers in the comments.

              It is a big deal to not be able to give verbal instructions to employees. If it’s something complicated that involves multiple handoffs then I generally will document while talking it out. But if I have 5 employees that I have to transcribe conversations to, that’s going to be a large impact. So from where I sit, yes, if it’s something that is onerous to the manager they should adapt as they can and/or provide resources as needed. But I expect employees to put in the bulk of the effort.

              At the end of the day, the manager isn’t the one who will be most affected if the employee doesn’t complete their tasks, it’s going to be the employee on a PIP or let go.

              1. HonorBox*

                Except that the manager IS affected if the employee isn’t delivering. They’re having to spend time to provide more feedback, offer correction, etc. Because it will impact them if the work isn’t done correctly, which it isn’t. And if the employee is put on a PIP or let go, there’s the additional work of hiring and additional work on their desk in the interim.

                I have managed multiple people at the same time and each had a different way of taking on information. While it wasn’t “on me” to have five different conversations or transcribe everything for everyone, I did know that one employee needed all of the details in order to proceed. Another needed very basic info and would fill in details. I don’t think it is expecting too much for the LW to change their communication a bit … after talking to their employee and figuring out what is necessary … because things are clearly not working the way they want them to.

                1. GreenShoes*

                  Which is why I said that if it’s not onerous the manager should adapt, but it’s up to the employee to do the bulk of adjustment.

                  *I realize I missed the “not” in my first post.

            2. Pugetkayak*

              I just can’t imagine continuing to struggle and not reaching out for help (even if its from a non managing colleague) on other ways to organize so I would not keep messing up. I have no issue adjusting my style to help employees communicate, but it’s really their responsibility to communicate that or find another way. It’s the constant messing up but not doing anything about it that gets me. That is not a great employee.

        2. Daisy Daisy*

          He hasn’t even asked for a specific solution to his problem. He’s just continuing to make the same mistake over and over.

        3. Elsajeni*

          I think it’s certainly a kindness to try to communicate in the way that works best for the person you’re communicating with, but… presumably the manager is communicating the way they do because that is their preference, right? There are humans with preferences on both ends of this communication; it makes sense for them to try to work out something that works for both of them, but it’s also not unreasonable to say “look, I will modify my style if it’s necessary, but if it’s a matter of my preference versus your preference, I’m going with what works for me.”

    2. Garp*

      I agree with this. It may be the situation where OP has limited time in the morning to delegate tasks, or a number of employees to get set up. I don’t think it’s necessarily reasonable for them to spend time writing out lists each day. It may be appropriate sometimes, but not always.

      I think it’s important this employee builds up this skill. Depending on their role, they may have clients who like to drop verbal requests on them, and would not expect to have to write up every conversation they have with a representative. Also, not every manager is going to take the time to write up someone else’s to-do list every morning.

      In terms of advice, I’d have a chat with them. Try and identify patterns. Name the problem and ask them what you can to to help. Empower them to ask questions and to take a breath before they decide if they have any questions before you close the conversation. Reassure them that they can ask questions as they go. What is not acceptable is saying work is done when it’s not.

    3. A person*

      I don’t know… to me verbal is one of the most inefficient ways to give someone a task list because it always seems to require revisiting later. How is manager keeping track of stuff? I already have a list for myself of stuff I need my reports to do (which they also get) because I also would never remember all of my own stuff and their stuff if I didn’t write it down.

      1. TasksComeFromConvo*

        I see a ton of people saying just write down the list and send it, but I haven’t seen anyone address that the list seems to be coming from the conversation the boss and employee is having. while discussing topic A manager comes up with 3 things for employee to do based on the convo. while discussing topic B they come up with those 4 to do items, etc. that’s much more likely than a verbal do 1-7.

  23. Anon for This*

    For LW1: My son is autistic. One of the known issues with autism is difficulty in following multi-step directions. No idea if this applies to your employee, but since learning this about my son I have discovered that it is actually pretty common in the general population – more than three steps and a lot of people will have difficulty remembering them all.

    How I have handled this – I make sure the person I am giving instructions to brings a notebook and pen, that they down write each item an at the end read them back to me. This ensures they have the whole list. I note here that there is a bias against being a “list-maker”. It was that way when I was young, and my kids (mid-20s) have complained when I have suggested making lists, so you may get pushback. But making lists is the way to ensure things get done!

    1. Temperance*

      I don’t think there’s a bias against making a list! Admittedly, your process would be off-putting to me because I would feel condescended to, but I would have brought my own notepad and pen and asked questions about specific steps if I didn’t know them.

      1. Anon for This*

        You are one of my people! I would not have to talk to you about this. I am often surprised at the number of people who don’t carry a notepad and pen when they know they will be getting instructions. RE: the bias – this is against making lists, vice having lists. I have been told by people that they don’t want to be &#$% List-makers.

    2. Landsing*

      But are you requiring this? Because this would annoy me to no-end. I do not write anything down because I remember it, and I am also in my 40s and know how I learn best, so I would not welcome someone requiring me to write things down (of course if I kept forgetting and messing up, sure.) I manage a large team and this is how I function. I have given up “pretending” to take notes in meetings. I absolutely would not welcome this kind of interference from a manager.

  24. Rachel*

    1: definitely try to carve out the time to write down instructions.

    That said, people are acting like it’s an insane expectation to remember 5 things. Or that intensive coaching on note taking is normal between manager and employee.

    Listening to your boss, taking notes, and following through are incredibly basic expectations for employees.

  25. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    #1: You can’t solve this problem for him. “You’re consistently only doing half of what I ask you to do. That’s not acceptable. What needs to happen to correct that?” You can set up all the systems you want, but what matters is what will do the trick for HIM. Plus this way it doesn’t put any onus on why he’s not doing it right, because frankly who cares why he’s not doing it right. The why – lazy, apathetic, neurodivergent, whatever – doesn’t matter. For your purposes, it just needs to be addressed in a manner that resolves the problem, whether that’s accommodations, finding a new system, or just pulling up his socks and doing the thing. But he has to identify what will do the trick, not you.

    I’m neurospicy and my boss and I have very different organizational systems – if she told me I had to do things her way, I’d be toast. But she tells me what she ultimately needs from me, and it’s part of my job to figure out how to make sure that happens, which includes not only doing the thing right, but also making sure that the thing stays on my radar to be done.

    1. Late, Not Lazy*

      ooh yes this, i agree. I also think it can be reasonable for the manager to offer a few ideas of ways to solve the problem as examples, especially with more junior staff who may be so new to the workflow of the job that they might not realize they need to do something differently or have any clue what that different thing might be.

  26. Student*

    OP #1: You need to talk to him about the overall pattern and ask him to come up with a system that captures the changes better.

    I doubt this is happening in your account because the turnaround is happening within a day, but I’ve seen this often enough to ask about it. Is there any chance that you’re contributing to the confusion, or misremembering parts of the conversation yourself?

    I ask because I’ve definitely had bosses who, on a second review, add new changes to their requests or reverse changes they made earlier, but act like the new change was part of the original request. I don’t generally point that out to the boss when it happens, unless it’s causing significant delays or friction, because I’ve never had a boss who appreciated it when someone pointed out they were being inconsistent or forgetful. I just play along if they want to pretend that I’m to blame.

    1. OP1*

      OP1 here, I really considered this as a possibility. When he first started, most of his direction was coming from me so I thought maybe I wasn’t being clear? But as he’s gotten into our workflow, he now works on client projects where they outline exactly what needs to happen in an email (change this item’s color, make that item smaller) and it makes no difference. He still only does about half, and when I ask about the others (because I’m on the same email chain) he pulls up the email, reads it in front of me, says “Oh yeah” and THEN does it. I guess I just wish he’d put in the effort to 1. Read the whole email the first time and 2. Check over his work before passing it off. It’s a waste of time for me to constantly be saying “the client asked for his change and you didn’t make it, and I’m confused as to why because you have the same information I have.” I think it stems from him wanting to be fast and finished quickly because we do work in a fast paced industry, but I’d rather stuff be done right than done fast.

      1. Nargal*

        Can you get him to re-read the email and check off each item before sending it to you to review? Even printing off the list & checking it off by hand might help him with this. And also directly reiterate your last point- it’s better to make sure you’ve got everything they asked for before sending it to them, rather than a faster but unfinished item because that causes more work for people besides himself.

      2. GreenShoes*

        What’s the saying “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast” Maybe introduce him to that concept and point out that rework almost adds time to the task that can be avoided if done correctly and thoroughly upfront.

        This sounds like a much bigger issue than what you described in your OP, because it’s happening with clients as well as you. It’s also happening when he has a list of full instructions. That is an entirely different conversation than ‘you forget stuff when I tell you’. The conversation needs to be you aren’t completing the work when you have the full list of requirements. You need to slow down and meet all the requirements the first time.

        1. Green great dragon*

          Yeh, that sounds like a problem, and also that he doesn’t see it as a problem (“Oh yeah”?!) He need to be told very firmly this is an actual problem and leaving it half undone is not acceptable. I’ve got a certain amount of sympathy with him if he’s new to the workforce, he may just not understand what good enough is if he’s used to a school environment. I’ve had to explain to people before the purpose of work is not to be a place where they give me something which I will look at and correct from my total knowledge of every detail of the topic, giving them feedback to help them develop. It is a place where they will do the work, with as little input from me as can be managed.

      3. Felicity Lemon*

        I have managed people like this too, and I also get frustrated with having to review things with obvious errors, so I thank you for bringing this up! I think your last few sentences here sum up nicely the message to him, something like:
        “When work comes in I need you to 1. Read the whole email and note everything that needs to be done and 2. Check over your work before passing it off to me. Maybe you’re trying to do things quickly, but I’d rather stuff be done right than done fast.” Great framing.

      4. Ellis Bell*

        Yes this sounds like he’s not building in editing time before considering something “done”. I think this is a common thing for people when they’re new in roles.

      5. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

        I wonder if one approach he could take is to list the changes he has made, in the email in which he sends you the updated file (or however he alerts you)? And you could ask him to reconcile his list of changes with the email that is sent?

        I’m also thinking about suggesting he prints the email, or opens it on a tablet, or something like that, where he can easily cross off the changes as they’re made. Or, mixing these ideas together, in the email to you, he strikes-out the text of the email as each change is made?

      6. Cary*

        Hmmm…that makes me think maybe Fit Farmer’s comment applies: “when I think “list” I think 1-2 words per line-item, which someone could then check-off to ensure the edits are complete. You (and many others) can easily extract this 2-3 word line-item list from the body of the email almost without thinking. Perhaps he cannot. I wonder if something to try could be to assign him to make his OWN 2-3 word line-item list” etc.

  27. NeedRain47*

    LW#1: have your employee write it down. Or, send him the list of things in an email and ask him to come back to you when all items are done. Ideally this is something he would have thought to do himself but it’s okay to spell it out for him. If he’s still not doing all the things, then you have a problem, but this should be solvable with a pencil and paper.

    (It boggles my mind that people don’t write things down and expect them to be remembered.)

  28. Delta Delta*

    #3 – I’m really curious about what kind of event this is. I go to a lot of events, and I’m thinking that depending on the kind of event, it may or may not make sense to go along with your partner. If it’s a seated sporting event, like a baseball game, it would be obvious that you’re there, and that seems to be what the question is about. If it’s a long day sporting event, like going to the races, you can float around and partner can join you periodically, although there may be reserved seating for the people from work. If it’s something like comic-con where it’s a lot of people all together, you could sort of mesh in with your partner and probably nobody would notice unless the work group had a special session/lunch just for them.

    All this said, I’m also a big proponent of living life, so if you want to go to the thing, go to the thing. Get a ticket and have a good time! (I once went to a thing and randomly got invited to a party, so I went to that and met some new people and now I am in a side business with one of the people I met there)

    1. LW 3*

      You hit the nail on the head, it’s a sporting event along the lines of “going to the races.” I hesitated to put that in the original letter because sports are typically seated and this is definitely not, even folks who pay for special access to certain areas will mingle around to experience the full event.
      All in all I’ll definitely take Alison’s advice and will likely go largely by myself but will try to meet up after my partner has assessed the vibe with their team.

    2. Armchair Analyst*

      I’m just saying
      NASCAR had a race coming up in Chicago

      no, not like at a stadium in Chicago. IN CHICAGO! I don’t even love Nascar (I like it ok?) and that would be amazing to see!

      1. LW 3*

        Shh you’ll blow my anonymous cover!
        That’s exactly what it is, my fam is big fans of F1 and other kinds of racing, and I’m definitely not NASCAR’s target audience, which is why I’m a touch hesitant to go alone. As a young woman, NASCAR fans aren’t the most pleasant to be around alone unfortunately, but I’m going to figure it out and go one way or another!

        1. Avery*

          Ah yes, you’re the one (1) person going to the event, I’m sure ;)
          I hope it goes well for you, one way or another! If I were interested I might offer to buddy up as a fellow AAM-reading Chicagolander, but sadly NASCAR’s never been my thing, though I can understand the attraction.

        2. Delta Delta*

          This sounds like an amazing amount of fun! I’m going to the Montreal Grand Prix in a couple weeks and I’m very excited.

  29. Dr. Rebecca*

    #2, if she wasn’t normally like this, I’d say let it go, but…ugh.

    Because anyone can have a slip of the c/p/send. I once put “ugh, they really like to hear themselves talk,” into an active google doc/updating meeting agenda. It was about a friend’s ex-husband and his new partner, not about anyone in the meeting, but I scrubbed the document history and went back and forth between versions for a full ten minutes after immediately catching my mistake,* hoping no one saw, and making sure no one could find the deleted inclusion.

    But because she *is* normally like that… Yeah, let’s hope she got a talking to.

    *If you make the change, then delete it, you can also accept the deletion and it all disappears from the doc history. No one said anything, and I’ve been polite, calm, upbeat, and professional ever since, so…

  30. Bea*

    OP #1 should start sending emails instead of having face to face conversations. Things are less likely to be forgotten if they’re written down.

  31. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

    LW 1: I’m struggling with something similar with one of my reports, except it’s a written list in the first place! In fact, sometimes it’s a single item that comes back only half done. I’ve named the pattern (about 6 times), we’ve tried checklists, we’ve tried master lists of lists of things to check, he’s tried different solutions he’s proposed himself (like reading the lists out loud, the pointing and calling method), and I’m still seeing the behavior.

    Part of the problem is that I’ll ask him to do something, he’ll bring it to me partially done, I’ll review it and point out that he still needs to do items B, D, and F, and he’ll either say, “Yep, done!” and I’ll have to re-review (this is happening asynchronously in Slack) and report that they’re not actually done, or he’ll go off and “do” them and come back with B and F done but not D. I’m thus forced to review things three times instead of once, which is not only time-consuming but involves context-switching away from my own work. I’ve told him that it’s not just the fact that I have to point out things that aren’t done, it’s that when I point them out, he’ll say they’re done and they won’t be. People miss things, I get that, but when I point out that you missed something, that’s your cue to get it right before you bring it back for re-review.

    I’m trying to get better about anticipating things he might have missed and asking him to confirm *before* I review, but…I’m kind of at my wit’s end. This is a field in which attention to detail is important, and I’ve explained that and pointed out that the more senior he gets, the more important the projects he’ll be assigned to, and the bigger the impact of small mistakes.

    Another report (who has ADHD) says they think he has ADHD, but since he hasn’t said so, I don’t think *I* can say so.

    (The interesting thing is that other report has excellent attention to detail, what they struggle with most is focus.)

    LW 4: I’ve done it! Looking at the language I used, and condensing slightly, I wrote:

    “I have an offer from a company that’s also a good fit and allows remote work, and the offer’s for $XXX base, options worth $XXX, and unlimited PTO. I don’t necessarily need a matching offer, I understand Company is a smaller company, but is there anything about the Company offer that’s flexible? Base, sign-on bonus, equity, something?

    Help me choose Company! I still think it’s a great fit and I want [reference to inside joke that the HR rep had made during the offer process].”

    I ended up with a matching base salary (20% more!), plus a sign-on bonus to compensate for the disparity in equity.

    1. Kate*

      Can I second that? <—- both your other report’s suggestion and your own sense that you can’t suggest it

      I used to be this employee. It drove my bosses insane. I really was trying my best, and hitting out of the park when it worked, which probably saved me.

      I knew I had both ADHD and anxiety, but neither were medicated, since I figured I wasn’t as bad as other people I know, and committing to lifelong medication seemed like a bit much considering “it could be worse”

      Well, for other reasons, I tried it, and I cannot overstate how much the difference BLEW MY MIND. I wound up gushing to my coworker repeatedly “holy sh@#, is this how other people feel EVERY DAY??”

      Suddenly, I could keep track of my to-do list. Suddenly my to-do list wasn’t an insurmountable task full of invisible pitfalls that launched me into a quiet anxiety spiral. Suddenly I could actually get an entire list done. Suddenly asking my boss for clarification on something was a no-brainer and not an admission that once again I couldn’t keep track of things.

    2. yvve*

      uhhgg, are you managing my coworker?

      here’s the list of things i need.
      ( silence)
      so, did you do them?
      “Yea, they’re done”
      … no they’re not. still need b, c and d
      can you get me those, please?
      “ok. youre good”
      … you just did B and C. and you missed part of c

      1. Cary*

        Sounds to me like the silences might be not knowing how to respond, such as if they are just realizing they misunderstood or even, *still* don’t understand and aren’t sure how to ask for clarification.

    3. OP1*

      OP1 here, and that sounds exactly like us! I was just saying in another comment that it doesn’t matter, written or verbal, it’s never all getting done. Even requests from clients only get half-filled. We’re in a creative industry and I just can’t understand why when a client asks you to change something from green to purple, you just don’t do it. Some of the comments have asked if the tasks are drawn out and confusing which I’d understand, but that’s really all they are: change this to red, make that smaller, etc. It’s the fact that he seems totally unwilling to go over the job himself one more time before shipping it off to me. I’m just not sure how much hand-holding I’m supposed to do here.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Not a manager, so take my advice with a grain of salt.

        I think it is worth one or two more conversations with your employee where you are explicit that his responsibilities are to
        (1) make all of the changes you/client(s) ask for and
        (2) check his work before he brings it to you.

        Questions I would ask him during this conversation include: does he understand what you are asking of him? Does he have ideas for how he can better track the changes he is supposed to make and the changes he has finished making? If he doesn’t have ideas, I would offer one or two.

      2. Two Dog Night*

        Have you had a very direct conversation with him, where you’ve said, “There’s a pattern of you not completing it work before you send it to me, and if you can’t fix it, your job is in danger”? Because if he can’t do this I’d say this job isn’t a good fit for him. Maybe put him on a formal PIP, if that’s something your company does?

        I agree with other commenters that asking him why he left some steps out might help diagnose the problem, but he’s the one who’s going to have to figure out how to fix it.

        Good luck!

      3. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

        I once asked mine to do something as simple as delete the following blank lines from a text file: lines 8, 10, 12, 14, 18, and 20. Then I said, “Wait, no, keep line 14 and delete line 16.” I also gave him a rationale for why those lines (I’m not a fan of “obey arbitrary commands you don’t understand from authority figures”). The file came back with 3 lines deleted. I said, “Now you want to delete lines 12, 16, and 18. Six total.” He sent the same thing to me for review again. I said, “Yep, you deleted 3 of the 6 I listed, then I listed the 3 more that still need to be deleted.” On the third try, he got it.

        This was all taking place in Slack, where he could have easily referred to the list of lines. And 5 out of 6 I would have understood, or if he had missed my last-minute switch from 14 to 16, but, to me at least, the difference between deleting 3 lines out of a list of 6 is significant! (And any reasonable text editor in our field will display line numbers, so I’m not asking him to count.)

        One question: I’ve seen people on social media say that techniques used by people with ADHD or autism or what-have-you can be useful even if you don’t have that condition. Could I say that to my report, that I’ve seen people say that they find some ADHD techniques useful even if they don’t have ADHD, and he might want to check out websites where people talk about what helps ADHD, and see if any of those organization tips help him with attention to detail, even if he doesn’t have ADHD? That way, I haven’t “accused” him of having anything, just pointed him to a potentially useful pool of resources for addressing a work-related behavior. If he reads those sites and decides that ADHD is actually a good fit for him, then he can do what he wants with that information on his own time. And if not, none of my business.

        If it makes a difference, our boss is very out about his ADHD, as is the other report I mentioned, and various people on our team are very out about dyslexia, executive function disorder, speech processing disorder, etc. and the ways in which that affects our work. I’ve described myself as “non-neurotypical” in some indefinable way that doesn’t fit any boxes that I know of, and asked people to be aware that I struggle with regulating my tone of voice. It’s a very neurodiverse team, even if not diverse in all other ways.

        1. NothingIsLittle*

          IANAL but I wouldn’t recommend it. You can recommend the techniques to him, but my understanding is that naming ADHD at all could put you in hot water, even as a way to contextualize the recommendations. Also, I’m super open about my ADHD, but some people are very quiet about their neurodivergence (even in open, accepting communities) and would feel cornered by framing the recommendations in that way.

          Leave hinting that he might have ADHD to his family and close friends.

        2. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

          “Could I say that to my report, that I’ve seen people say that they find some ADHD techniques useful even if they don’t have ADHD, and he might want to check out websites where people talk about what helps ADHD, and see if any of those organization tips help him with attention to detail, even if he doesn’t have ADHD?”

          Yes. I think this is a fine thing to do.
          In combination with naming the problem patter, the changes you need to see, and the consequences.

      4. NothingIsLittle*

        Thank you for commenting with clarification! I commented above about my own memory problems related to neurodivergence, but this actually sounds a lot closer to my coworker with a TBI. Lists don’t do anything for him, so naming what exactly I need for a task to be considered complete when I check in on said task can remind him to check that it’s actually done himself.

        It might be worth trying to respond to his first handoff to you by responding, “Please confirm that you did [copy-paste of client requests].” Unfortunately, it sounds like that still wouldn’t resolve how it breaks your workflow to need to do so. One of my main job requirements is graphic design, and it is very much not normal for this to be a consistent problem you just have to deal with. You might need to treat it as a serious performance issue that he’s marking projects as complete that haven’t been; he may fundamentally not be a good fit for the roll.

      5. Bang Pow*

        “It’s the fact that he seems totally unwilling to go over the job himself one more time”

        That’s not a fact. That’s an interpretation.
        What I’m hearing from all your comments is that he can do the work, but he’s not skilled at the meta-work (my term, I’m sure there’s a technical term for it). What I mean by that is that he is not skilled at pulling all the changes he needs to make from a conversation or email and that he does not have the skill of reviewing a set of instructions to make sure he hit all of them. Those are skills just as much as knowing how to use a design program to change font color or size is a skill! Those skills might be really basic and obvious to you, but math is really basic and obvious to me, and yet, I once taught elementary school math to adults. What is basic and obvious to one person is complex and non-intuitive to another.
        I think if you want to get anywhere with him, you should change the story you are telling yourself about him. Stop saying he is stubborn or lazy or unwilling to do things. Start saying he needs skill development in how to complete a multiple step project. Then work with him on that. You might want to assign him a mentor rather than do it yourself. I mean this kindly, but the labels you are giving him (lazy, forgetful, unwilling) are going to interfere with your ability to effectively coach him. Find someone else, and don’t use any labels when you describe the mentoring he needs.

      6. Quill*

        This is actually very different from the edits I was expecting (My document editing experience is that every time you send it back with a fix somebody changes their mind… So I end up having to edit it six times because someone wants to state that “the professional ALPACA groomers” will do a specific thing because they don’t want people to think that we will do anything about Llamas or other camelids, (even if our job titles are professional camelid groomers… ) and then somebody else changing it back to the previous wording to match something on a completely different source. That’s the sort of document editing that is never actually done when it’s returned to the reviewers because being 90% right every time is having one mistake out of ten on each document, NOT sending 9 perfect documents with ten corrections and one with one out of ten details missing (which would be 99% right first time…)

        In this case the edits seem to be completely sourced and spelled out already, so there’s no potential confusion about which conflicting documents to reference, etc. I think this person is prioritizing getting things back to you done fast instead of done right. And if he’s going to stay he’s going to have to understand why he’s doing that and change it.

    4. coffee*

      That sounds very frustrating, and also like it might be time to put him on a PIP with the understanding that he’ll be fired if he doesn’t improve.

  32. MsSolo (UK)*

    I’m struggling a bit with 3 because I’m not completely clear what LW has already discussed with their spouse. It seems like the only way LW could attend is by buying a ticket, not as an official plus one, so it’s not that it would be weird for spouse to be the only one with a plus one, but that they’re feeling weird about having LW attend at all. LW is trying to solve the justification spouse has given for this feeling, but I think there needs to be a wider conversation around whether spouse is happy with LW attending in any capacity, and whether LW is happy not attending (because there’s also a vibe of “it should be meeee” here, which is a perfectly reasonable feeling to have, but doesn’t outweigh spouse’s discomfort either).

    1. kiki*

      I think, depending on the size of the event, it probably would be fine for LW to attend and as long as she doesn’t expect to hang out with her partner for very much of the event at all– maybe a quick hello or 30 minutes together. In fact, depending on the event, I’d expect that a fair number of LW’s partner’s coworkers will have people they know attending the event.

      I think it sounds like LW really wants their partner to reach out to their boss and get the okay for LW to attend and fully hang out with coworkers. LW’s partner seems uncomfortable with that– they know their workplace best, so it probably would be a bit out there to ask. I understand why LW reached out the the advice column, to get a general sense of how acceptable it is generally, but what really matters is what LW’s partner is comfortable with.

    2. LW 3*

      This is a really thoughtful take, thank you!
      We have discussed, and my partner is totally fine with me buying a ticket and attending solo and they will see what’s what with their team before considering if it’s cool for me to meet up.
      I am definitely feeling like “it should be meeeeee!” which is why I was hoping to get some outside perspective!

      1. Sharon*

        I think it might help you to frame this as two separate issues that aren’t really related to each other: (1) do you want to go to this event that is open to the public? and (2) it is OK to hang out with Partner during their work thing?

  33. HonorBox*

    RE Letter 1 – I’ve read people’s comments suggesting that the employee needs to just do better. Someone suggested sarcastically that perhaps the LW just needed to do the employee’s job. Someone else suggested that it isn’t necessary for the manager to change their method of communication to fit the employee’s preference.

    Are we actually serious here? In a perfect world, what the manager says is understood and all of the tasks completed. That’s not happening. Hence the letter asking what to do.

    I’ll agree that the employee needs to do better. They need to take responsibility and ownership in whatever the solution is. But clearly the steps that have been taken aren’t working. We also don’t know every detail to give perfect answers either. LW, are some of the things your employee is missing the same every time? Your solution might be different than if they’re just missing tasks 3 & 4 every time. No matter what, though, it sounds like there’s quite a bit of time invested in developing this list each day and then going back to review and correct. So while it might be more efficient, as some suggested, to have the verbal download each morning, perhaps in the long run, the LW needs to send an email, have the employee print it out and bring it with them to their meeting so notes can be made on it.

    LW, have a conversation with your employee. Really listen. Focus on what they’re telling you, and focus on what areas of the list are being left undone or underdone. You may also hear from them that your instructions are too fast, unclear, disorganized. You might get distracted when you’re having that meeting and the steps that are being missed are those that are “communicated” while you’re looking at your phone or your computer. We don’t know and I’m not accusing you of not being a good communicator. But just saying that to tell you that if you bring your employee feedback, you may get some feedback as well. And perhaps you do find that spending 10 minutes focused on sending an email prior to your conversation helps the instructions to flow better.

    Lots of possibilities for what the problem really is here. But the solution is a conversation and being open to changing your preferred method of communication to assist him in providing better work for you.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      According to the OP’s updates, neither verbal nor written notes are working.
      An issue is how much extra work is it reasonable for a busy manager to do for one report and for how long.
      The manager has only a certain time available to supervise him without neglecting her other tasks or working herself into the ground.

      In practice, most jobs would require the employee to get his act together and work within the standard system, or at least proactively request an accommodation.

      1. HonorBox*

        In reading the updates, I absolutely agree. Given that both written and verbal communications are failing, I think it is worth a conversation that points out the problem in a very direct way and asking if it is possible that the employee can accomplish what needs to be accomplished. Give him a chance but then make the hard decision if he can’t figure it out.

    2. NothingIsLittle*

      Having read some of the OP’s comments ( OP1* for anyone looking), the employee is working in a creative field and receiving edits from OP and the client, then not completing all of the edits even when provided to him in written form. As someone for whom a large part of my job is graphic design (and someone with sometimes severe memory problems), that is not a normal response when receiving edits, especially those as clear as the OP describes (eg. change the color of the hat from red to green, make the logo smaller).

      I don’t disagree that some of the snark seems unwarranted! But at least with the information available, it sounds like the employee just may be a bad fit and OP needs to have a serious conversation with him and ask him what he can do differently to not continue making these mistakes. It’s always best to give grace where you can, especially when neurodivergence might be playing a roll, but knowing this field, the pattern of behavior described really is unacceptable.

      1. HonorBox*

        Totally agree! Knowing the additional information, I’d change my advice to a large extent. It does sound like the employee is just not getting it. The mistakes are ones that shouldn’t be made and shouldn’t continue to be made. Definitely agree with having a serious conversation, but it is probably less about how his communication style can be accommodated and more about if/how he’ll be able to follow directions when they sound very clear.

  34. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP1: Alison’s advice to have him read back, and to check whether you’re communication has been clear or not, is important.

    When I was working part-time in college for a research office, my boss was notorious for writing out a numbered list of things he wanted me to do, then telling me “OK, so do #4, then #2, then the first part of #1, then #6, then the second part of #1, …”

  35. Lists are Good*

    I’m seeing a lot of comments to email the list for LW #1 and I think for a lot of jobs this just isn’t practical. For many of my juniors my list of six items will include things like might be simple on the face, but I may need to talk through them to make sure they understand what each item entails. It’s easy to email a list of 6 to-do’s is to an experienced member of staff who understands everything.
    I do think it’s important to have them write down the list when going through it, and recap it when you are done to help with this learning curve. I have had staff right out of college who could do that on their own and staff who needed a lot of help learning to check their work or manage time.

  36. Narise*

    OP1 I had an employee that didn’t do well with verbal directions away from his desk or mine. If I caught him leaving for a break and said Hey don’t forget x he did almost every time. But when I went to his desk or had him come to mine and said the same thing he’d remember. Maybe your employee needs a different approach. I agree it’s on him to remember or to write down what is needed but I have adjusted my approach for employees previously.

  37. Another Michael*

    OP#3 – Some food for thought: I often attend events for work (fundraising) and I think the thing a lot of people who don’t do this in their workplaces don’t always understand is that there can actually be quite a bit of work that needs to be done. While I might look like a guest to an outside observer (tuxedo, drink in hand, etc.) I am actually engaging in strategic communication, identifying donors and constituents I need to speak with, briefing senior leaders, and ushering VIPs around. It would be very distracting to have a partner around too. It doesn’t seem like your partner has the same type of job, per se, but the same type of objectives may be important for them at work events.

    And ultimately, if they’re uncomfortable with it, I think their workplace needs trump your personal interest in the event, so you should defer to them.

    1. LW 3*

      Thanks for your thoughtful take! This specific event is less “tuxedo, drink in hand” and more “denim cutoffs, someone shotgunning a bud light in the vicinity,” I think I could’ve been more clear in the letter about the nature of the event. Regardless, my partner has assured me that they’re not going to be in “work mode,” and we’ve decided that I’ll attend alone on my own ticket, and if they decide that it’s ok for me to meet up with their team partway through, I will!

  38. Jade*

    Please please please stay out of your partner’s work event! You were not invited and they feel uncomfortable. What else do you need? Don’t force yourself upon it.

    1. WellRed*

      Yes, a plus one is invited. the company doesn’t seem to have encouraged employees to bring a plus one. Furthermore, it doesn’t sound like the partner has extended an invitation either.

    2. LW 3*

      It’s definitely not “my partner’s work event” it’s “client gave partners company tickets to this really fun activity, who wants to go?”
      The plus-one language is a little misleading but again, this is a huge public event, 100,000+ attendees are expected, think big sporting event, but no assigned seats, attendees all mill around to see the whole thing. I plan to take Alison’s advice and attend alone and let my partner assess things with their team before deciding if it makes sense to meet up.

      1. Cmdrshprd*

        “It’s definitely not “my partner’s work event it’s “client gave partners company tickets to this really fun activity, who wants to go?””

        You keep saying this, but I am not sure if you realize that by it being a group from work it gets turned into a work event, even if it was not specifically created/planned as that.

        I am glad you realized you should go alone.

        1. One who has been there*

          LW3, I don’t think that’s exactly what Alison said, and you are setting yourself up to have a difficult day. Alison said to defer to your partner, who has already told you that their preference is not to interact with you during the event. You don’t like that answer, so they are holding the door open for a re-evaluation, but what are you going to do when that re-evaluation is, as it is likely to be, “The answer is still no”? Either you will press, which will create conflict between you and your partner, or you will be alone and unhappy.

          Since you know you don’t want to go alone, I would avoid the whole issue by treating someone else to a ticket and going together. Then your partner can still tell you that things are different from how they anticipated, without any pressure from feeling that you are unhappy being alone. As it stands, your partner is going to have to decide whether to please you and make his work situation worse, or keep things up on the work side knowing that you are upset and unhappy. You don’t need to create that dynamic. It will be expensive to buy that second ticket, but it will be worth it, believe me.

          1. coffee*

            Also, hanging out with his workmates will mean you need to be carefully making a good impression. I would find it nicer to go with a friend and just relax.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      If this is for LW #1, see the note A pinned at the top of the comments. This has been tried and doesn’t seem to have any effect.

  39. Ex-prof*

    LW1, I wonder if there’s something organic going on here. Covid seems to have zapped our wiring in a lot of ways. Sounds like you maybe did not know him before the world changed, so I guess there is no way to know if this is new.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I saw someone talking about this very thing yesterday about a coworker who had had COVID multiple times at this point, swore he was fine, but was routinely dropping tasks, not remembering things he was assigned, etc. in a way that he didn’t before getting sick. I don’t want to diagnose LW’s employee, but COVID brain fog is real, it’s affecting way more people than we care to admit, and workplaces probably need to think about how that’s impacting their staff in general.

  40. GooglyMooglies*

    Re: LW 1, I was on the other side of this, the person reporting and forgetting steps. For me, it wasn’t a matter of being lazy or apathetic (though I certainly would call myself those things when beating myself up about it mentally), it was my ADHD. Even medicated, I’ll miss or forget or mentally sort of “check off” items that I haven’t done. I hate myself for it. Writing lists to physically check off every step with a pen is the only thing that really helps, so Alison’s advice here is spot on. Naming the behavior, letting them know you notice it, letting them know what needs to change, and helping them with it… it’s frustrating for YOU to have that extra step, for sure, but when it started becoming obvious that my manager saw my slip-ups as me being lazy and apathetic, it was obvious she internalized it, wrote me off as unmanageable, and it destroyed any hope of a peaceful working relationship. When she wrote me off, she became patronizing and unkind, and it became clear to ME there was nothing I could do to get back in her good graces, so I DID stop caring. I’ve since left that job and I’m in a much better fit of a company and position, but yeah.

    1. BellyButton*

      Is writing the list and checking it off what you have done to help or have you done other things too? One of my friends with ADHD told me a list isn’t enough for her, because in her head she has thought about doing it, how she would do it, and when she will do it– and then it somehow morphs into “I have done this”

      I have suggested she write her to-do list and then transfer it to her calendar so she gets alerts. It is hard to do when your job isn’t just a list of tasks. I suggested the last hour of her day is verifying her work.
      4:05-4:15 – check report X (list out what is critical to check- signatures, dates, details, uploaded, etc)
      4:20-4:35 – Check in-box, have all emails been flagged, replied to, sorted

      What I have noticed about ADHD, is there is the confidence that “I will remember to do that” but in reality you won’t remember. Things have to be scheduled. The scheduling has to be part of the time you allow yourself as well as part of your routine. It is done daily without fail.

      1. ferrina*

        The thing with ADHD is that it is highly individual. Strategies that work for one person may or may not work for someone else- our strategies need to be adopted for our individual brains, circumstances and sometimes days (I’m ADHD). One motto that I love is “Try different” (instead of ‘Try harder’, which is a message a lot of us get when we are younger). BellyButton, one thing to know about ADHD is that a lot of us have gotten constant messages that we aren’t trying hard enough or that we are deficient or that if we only did X we would be able to function. So we end up not just struggling with the tough parts of ADHD, but also with social messaging that we as people aren’t good enough (studies show that ADHD children get a LOT more criticism than their neurotypical peers and that often has a profound impact on our self-image and/or self esteem; depression is a common co-morbidity with ADHD)

        I’m really glad that your friend found the work strategy that works for them, but it definitely won’t work for all of us. Scheduling doesn’t work for me, because I end up over-scheduling then feeling guilty when I space out for half an hour and now my schedule is FUBARed. My brain is either on warpspeed (I can literally work twice as fast as my peers) or on Nope Mode. My individual strategy needs to compensate for both of those possibilities simultaneously; sometimes I’m in the headspace where a schedule is great, but sometimes it’s another thing to make me feel like a failure. (side note- I am extremely successful in my role, so my strategies do work for me. I’ve had neurotypical peers ask me for my strategies, which I always have to caveat with “this is what works for my brain, and it may or may not work for you. Please adopt, adjust or ignore as appropriate for you!”)

        GooglyMooglies, your boss failed you when she failed to manage. I’ve managed ADHD employees who weren’t meeting expectations (they disclosed their condition without prompting during the performance conversation). My options as a manager was to either put them on an improvement plan (formal or informal) or to part ways– getting visibly annoyed and treating them like dirt is never a good management strategy (or a strategy to be a decent human being). I’m glad you left and found a better place!

  41. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

    I wonder if for the employee in letter 1 if some sort of project management tool would be helpful? Something like Asana or something so that the OP can have him reference that. I also think the OP should have the employee repeat back what he needs to do in case there is something he is not understanding

  42. Fit Farmer*

    OP1, this may be off-base but based on the comments here, my sense of the task is that edit requests might come in the body of an email, in sentences, in email format. That isn’t quite “working from a list”—when I think “list” I think 1-2 words per line-item, which someone could then check-off to ensure the edits are complete. You (and many others) can easily extract this 2-3 word line-item list from the body of the email almost without thinking. Perhaps he cannot. I wonder if something to try could be to assign him to make his OWN 2-3 word line-item list from the contents of the email while he reads it the first time, make the changes, and then use his list to verify each change was made. Ie, when he’s done, he looks at the product and asks himself, “Is the dinosaur now purple? Check! Etc.” Assuming the “shopping list” is correct, there’s no need for him to refer back to the text-filled email. Then—key point here—he turns in his own 2-3 word list to you with the work. Perhaps that could isolate any conversation to, “Why did you check off that the dinosaur is purple; it is still red?” or “This edit from their email didn’t make it onto your list.” I wonder, if he were transcribing the edits from the emails into his own list, if they would all make it onto the list—and then he just wouldn’t do some of them—or would he simply not perceive some of the line-items that needed to get on the list in the first place.

  43. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

    FYI Alision the link to the comment from LW 1 doesn’t do anything.

      1. Elspeth*

        FYI, I had to have the comments “expanded” to have the page jump to the correct comment.

  44. Abominable Snow Woman*

    LW2 I’m so over it with coworkers who have a reputation for being hostile and rude, and management that’s as effective as a wet paper towel. I firmly believe that we choose how we treat people. I know it’s extreme to say but if this coworker is someone you have to work with a lot and her behavior isn’t changing, then it’s time to look for a new job where your management doesn’t expect you to accept abusive behavior as the norm. It completely warps your perception of normalcy and it’s not worth the stress.

  45. Dust Bunny*

    LW1: Are you telling him, verbally, or are these emails?

    I’m notorious for my three-item memory: If you tell me something verbally I will not remember all of it. I’ve been this way my whole life. But if you email them to me, I’ll not only remember them better but I’ll have a written reminder. So, if you’re not doing that, ask him if it would work better if you did.

    1. Aelfwynn*

      OP has given him both verbal and written instructions. See Alison’s pinned comment at the top.

      1. A person*

        To me that sounded like LW only gives verbal instructions and has insisted on the report writing stuff down Vs giving the task list in writing in the first place. If they’ve only tried giving verbal and insisting on notes being taken then they haven’t actually tried written instructions and should probs try that too.

  46. Nancy*

    Re #2 This was reply all so did OP2’s manager see it? If so why the need to go to “… to my manager, my manger’s supervisor, and HR”? The manager knew about it. Honestly, if as a peer, I saw that I would think the co-worker was a absolute asshole and feel bad for OP and admire the grace in which they did not rise to the bait or lower themselves to that level by responding in kind. If I then found out the OP went to their manager, their manager’s supervisor and HR, I would still think the co-worker was a absolute asshole but I would also think the OP was a whiny little tattle-tale. Wouldn’t simply going to their manager have been enough? But to go to their manager, their manager’s supervisor and HR is some serious over-kill, unless they were really looking to get the co-worker in trouble. OP2 even sounded vaguely disappointed that there were no apparent serious repercussions.

    1. Lizard the Second*

      Calling someone a “fucking idiot” at work had damn well better have consequences. It’s not “whiny” to insist that abusive language is unacceptable.

  47. Don't Call Me Shirley*

    LW1 – when you talked to your report about the issue, what did they say?

    You have one report, you need to give feedback, and set expectations. What that looks like depends on specifics.

  48. anonma*

    OP1: From the comments, it looks like you work at a creative agency. You also mention in a comment that the employee also forgets to do complete about half of specific revisions when a client has written them in an email–this is crucial context!

    I’ve been a PM at a creative agency, so I recognize, as I assume you do, that being able to follow written client directions is a *fundamental part* of this employee’s job. And he is not doing it. And frankly, many of the solutions commenters are offering are not feasible in an industry with high workloads and tight deadlines.

    Now, it would be one thing if these were lists of 25 directions and the employee were following 22-23 of them. That’s about what most people can manage, and that’s part of why you hire PMs to check the work before delivery. But if this employee is routinely only completing half of an emailed list of client revisions (particularly if the list is only 5-6 items long?! I wish we’d had clients that easygoing), he is jeopardizing client relationships. That’s serious.

    You can’t know for sure why this employee keeps missing stuff, and it doesn’t ultimately matter. Can you fire this person? If so, I would be very blunt with him that his job is on the line if he doesn’t start hitting the mark. If he can’t fulfill fundamental aspects of the job, he doesn’t belong in the job. That’s not a reflection on his moral character–*everybody* is a terrible fit for the vast majority of jobs that exist, and we have to find the few where we’re a good fit. But the situation you have is unsustainable.

    1. a clockwork lemon*

      Seriously! I’m not even a creative but someone who can’t handle 5-6 item task list delivered via email wouldn’t even be able to finish the trainings at my company. The employee in question is a working adult in a professional job, not a high school freshman shoving all his homework into the bottom of his backpack.

      The degree of coaching some of the comments seem to believe is appropriate is bonkers to me.

      1. OP1*

        I’ll admit I didn’t do a great job at fully articulating the situation in the first draft of my message (totally agree that missing things from a verbal checklist and missing things from a direct client email are very different in scale), but yeah, it surprised me how many people are saying “Just make him a list”. He is on the younger side but we’re actually close in age; he got a late start in the industry while I got a very early one. I worry that sometimes maybe that’s the issue, I’ll admit I’m new to having a direct report but sometimes it does seem like he thinks he can just squeak by on being mediocre because I try to soften the blow and be understanding. Guess I’m not really helping either of us.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s the big thing I hope you’ll take away from my response — you aren’t doing either of you any favors by softening things; he deserves to get clear feedback about what he needs to change so that he at least has that opportunity before things get to the point where you’ve got to fire him (which you might get to anyway, it sounds like, but you’ll be doing him a disservice if you don’t give him clear, unmistakable, not watered down feedback first). If it helps, imagine his next boss being less patient than you and him being blindsided by getting fired because he never got this feedback clearly before.

        2. Happily Retired*

          “sometimes it does seem like he thinks he can just squeak by on being mediocre because I try to soften the blow and be understanding.”

          Stop softening the blow! It’s not nice; it’s not kind! and I know that you’re trying to be these things.

          You need to tell him that you want to work with him and help him become a great employee, but it is absolutely HIS responsibility to take notes on what he is expected to do, read them back to you for verification, and then do every single task.

          And most of all, he needs to understand that if he doesn’t properly address this, there’s an excellent chance that you’ll have to fire him (not “let him go”, “manage him out”, “find something else” – FIRE him.)

          I’m a retired Federal employee. Different issues, but we always complained about being on the “mushroom diet” – kept in the dark and fed BS, and then expected to accomplish something we weren’t aware of. Don’t do that!

          Good luck! Managing is hard, ugh.

          1. Happily Retired*

            Whoops, Alison said this so much better than I, lol.

            Also, I’m ADHD, and I was always anxious and hyperaware of whether I had done everything I was supposed to do. I would have loved in my early years to have had a manager who tried to help me learn professional strategies like this.

        3. Miss Curmudgeonly*

          OP1, I recently had a report like this – exactly like this. It was a bizarre situation and I kept trying different things to work with him. It went beyond just doing only some of the tasks needed. We’d discuss at length a new project that he was assigned, I’d make sure he was clear on what needed to be done….and then he’d do the opposite (e.g., “write an email with two intro paragraphs, then a few bullet points, then a closing paragraph, and make it less than 250 words.” He’d come back with an email that was five lengthy paragraph, 500+ words, etc.)

          Or I’d explain how to do something simple in PPT, like how to resolve a comment – and he’d resolve it without addressing it. And would do this over and over. As well as only doing partial work, which I then had to point out to him.

          I don’t think he was being lazy. The only way I could explain it was to think that he was acting like someone that had had a brain injury (source: I had a brain injury and this was me, with zero short-term memory and no attention span). He hasn’t, but that was what was analogous. It never got better.

  49. a clockwork lemon*

    I’m surprised at the number of people who seem to think making lists is a workable solution for
    the problem of an employee not completing the tasks on the list.

    It seems like LW1 would be best served by definitely talking to the employee and spelling out that his job (and possibly his career in the field) are at risk then getting explicit answers from him about why tasks are being left unfinished. “I just didn’t do it” needs to be coached very differently from “I thought I did that” or “Susan told me not to bother until I showed you the other bits first.”

    A few other people in the comments have mentioned that if he’s on the younger side, the employee might be thinking of work-product in terms of school, where you can turn in half an assignment and still squeak out with a C- if the rest of your work is solid. This seems pretty likely to me, and it would probably help if LW1 spelled out exactly what C+ work looks like in this particular workplace (for example, every project doesn’t need to be a master piece but every project DOES need to be fully completed).

  50. Lulu*

    This reminds me of students (and professionals) who forget to refer back to the original instructions when writing a paper/grant application/etc. It’s really a learned skill that you should have the instructions right next to you, and read through them multiple times throughout the project. There have been plenty of times I’ve gotten instructions for an assignment, gotten close to completing it, and then realized that I’d missed a step or a nuance in the instructions. This happens all the time in the classroom when students complete a project/paper, but kind of missed what the project/paper *is*.

    I was initially going to share that one of my early bosses did exactly what Alison suggested, and at the end of each meeting would ask me to repeat back what we’d identified as action steps. It’s helped me since then, because I’ve realized that it’s very easy to miss a step when you’re having an ongoing conversation and coming up with those steps as you go. I now know to go over those steps in my head/verbally at the end of a meeting, to make sure I’ve gotten them identified and ready-to-go.

    However, with your added information, I think you may need to talk to him about keeping those instructions handy, referring back to them, and only turning things in once he’s done that. It may require some reaffirming: “Before I look at this, did you return to the client email and make sure all steps have been completed?” “I saw that not all steps have been completed. Please go back to the list of steps we completed, and finish the task.” Doing it this way, rather than jumping to the step he missed “you missed the scarf”, will help him build the habit. I think you should do this in addition to a big-picture conversation about his performance, where you name what is wrong and what you’d like to see going forward.

    1. Bang Pow*

      “It’s really a learned skill that you should have the instructions right next to you, and read through them multiple times throughout the project.”

      Bingo. Not having this skill doesn’t make someone lazy, forgetful, or willing. It’s just a skill. It can be learned.

  51. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

    Regarding LW #1, as a former teacher, manager with direct reports, parent, and just person in general; having someone repeat something back to you is a GREAT and easy way to check for understanding. If they can’t repeat it back, they don’t understand.

  52. Heffalump*

    #1: I don’t know how much it will help in this case, but some years ago Carolyn Hax got a letter from a woman who had a similar problem with her husband. She’d signed it “Tired of repeating myself.” If they were going somewhere and she asked to bring certain items out to the car, he’d bring only some of them. Carolyn suggested that instead of saying, “Bring items A, B, C, and D,” she say, “Bring 4 items–A, B, C, and D,” in the hope that actually saying the number of items would help.

  53. Strugglin' Sarah*

    Great timing as I’m dealing with it, too. I work in a field that requires a keen attention to detail, but my employee, Beth, will not complete tasks I ask, take grand logical leaps, or miss steps. I’ve tried recapping to do’s in writing, having her recap verbally at the end of the call, and asking her to send an email after the meeting recapping requests. I’ve coached and provided feedback. Two weeks ago, after a string of complete misses and errors, we had another chat and Beth was completely combative and claimed my expectations were unreasonable. We’re both around 30, but she switched to this career 5 years ago (6 months here). She has enough experience, education, and training. Sometimes there is a bad fit, and there comes a point where not acting is costly to the performance and morale of the team. We are there.

  54. Mild Accountant*

    1) So, I saw Alison’s note (and read the comment) and…oh boy.

    I agree that a) this is a serious problem and b) the problem is the behavior regardless of his intentions. So, since you’re both new (him to work and you to managing), I’d suggest spelling out to Fergus (I don’t care if his name isn’t Fergus, he sounds like a Fergus to me) that this is a problem, that this needs to be addressed, and then putting the ball in his court. Here’s how I (a guy who unironically says “bro” way too much for his own good and would also rather go live on the surface of Pluto than offend someone, take that as you will) would say it – adjust for what feels most natural:

    “I’m going to be blunt: when I give you tasks to complete, you [often/usually/almost always] miss several on the list and I have to remind you to complete the rest of them. This is an issue because our clients need you to complete their tasks exactly as specified. I have tried writing down tasks for you, and this doesn’t seem to help – do you have any other suggestions to help you complete work accurately?”

    (Okay, the “almost always” is a bit of a hedge – I believe you that he always misses tasks, but it’s giving him a chance to get it right like 1% of the time. Can you tell that I’ve worked with…um…sensitive direct reports?)

    And yeah, if he doesn’t improve after giving him a reasonable chance to improve…then yeah, the role isn’t a good fit for him. Am I saying fire him? Maybe.

    2) Honestly, are there other documented instances of Fergusina (she is the Fergusina of all Fergusinas) being abusive? And yeah, this is well outside of norms in most workplaces (or at least it’s notable – even in combative workplaces, people usually aren’t that vulgar). If not, I hope this instance is the flag that her boss (or whoever is involved in discipline) needs to address this.

    And that said, I originally thought going to HR was a bit over the top (it usually takes a lot for me to say “go to HR” – basically for me, there has to be a law potentially being broken, and I think in all 50 states and most of the EU, it’s legal to hurl obscenities at your coworker in a reply-all), but then you said that she’s Like This All The Time. Yeah, maybe I wouldn’t have gone to HR, but your decision wasn’t unreasonable in this case. If she’s rampaging around throwing abuse at everyone who’s crossing her path, she needs to be stopped (either by figuring out how to be a halfway decent person or – again – by losing her job).

    (Also, I saw the comment thread about how nursing specifically is…ah…a worker’s market due to various factors I will not be detailing here. And I’m in agreement with the comment saying that she still needs to be dealt with, even if she’s hard to replace. Like, she may be ONE FTE. But you’re keeping her on as she eventually scares off five FTEs? Granted, administrations in general can have short term thinking, but also: don’t let this lady burn the entire setting down. And yes, the things in italics are euphemisms.)

  55. No no no all the way home*

    Where on earth are red carpets public events? I know some can be watched at a distance, but as far as I know there are no legitimate events that allow members of the public to be up close or actually walk red carpets themselves.

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