I poured all my time into helping an employee … and I’m so discouraged by how it ended

A reader writes:

I’m new to managing people and am actually writing this email on the one-year work anniversary of my first job that had managerial duties. It was a learning curve of a year for certain, and I know there were times I made mistakes, but the feedback from my bosses and HR has been that I’ve overall done a good job with it. My confidence is growing and I feel I have excellent relationships with two of my reports.

However. My experience with one of my reports, Wanda, has really thrown me for a loop. When I started the role, there were clear issues that she brought up that rightfully needed to be addressed. Some of these included finding more support for her, rewriting the job description to accurately represent what she did, giving her training that she needed but hadn’t yet received, etc. I agree that these changes should have been addressed and I was happy to help make them, but even after these efforts she needed a LOT of hand-holding, encouraging, pep talks, and basic office task help. I would say easily 40% of my day to day work was just focusing on her and her needs of the day.

In the last few months, it became clear that she was unhappy to the point of job searching. She had at this point been in the role for almost 18 months and she is quite young, so I expected this and was very supportive of her efforts. I made accommodations when she had last minute “doctors appointments” and offered to be a reference. I did ask her to keep me updated on her search and consider ample notice so we could work to fill her job. In the meantime, on my end, I had her (now updated) job description ready to post.

Our office closed for spring break for one week, and she took the week before that as vacation so that she could “come back refreshed.” I had planned to post her job to start screening initial candidates when we returned, figuring it would be sooner rather than later that she departed. On Friday at noon, she emailed me, HR, and our big boss that she was resigning effective immediately and wouldn’t return on Monday. This was essentially half a day’s notice while our offices were closed, and while I was on vacation with my family. When I did return, I found her desk already cleaned out (meaning she likely knew before the break she wouldn’t be returning) and her email completely emptied (I needed access to see what projects she had left open since she left so abruptly after two weeks of vacation).

I know it’s her prerogative to “focus on her own happiness,” as she put it in her resignation letter, and it’s not like I didn’t see the writing on the wall. I’m not disappointed that she’s left, but I am feeling so jaded but the whole experience. The amount of time and energy I put into helping and finding solutions, coaching and training, being a listening ear for her, and trying to assist in her job search was not a small amount. I know this is a learning experience for me that I probably put too much emotional effort into something that I’ve known wouldn’t pay back, but I had hoped the end of our working relationship would be on good terms with her feeling supported. Instead, I feel like the amount of time and effort I spent on her was worthless; she didn’t use me as a reference or even give the courtesy of any notice. It’s making me want to just give up on pouring into people if this is the “reward” at the end. Do you have any advice for me to continue to be a hopefully empathetic and decent manager without getting or feeling burned when things like this happen?

I wish I didn’t have to say this because you sound so kind and well-intentioned … but I think the problem is the way you managed Wanda. When 40% of your day is routinely taken up by hand-holding an employee, that’s a problem — and it’s a sign that you need to be managing differently. That might have meant setting different limits on your availability to her, setting different expectations about what she needed to solve on her own, getting her more training, and/or reassessing whether she was right for the job.

To be clear, it’s good to be supportive as a manager — within reasonable limits. Each job you manage should have metrics the person needs to meet to be successful in it. If they’re not meeting those metrics, you need to be up-front about that and work with them to get them up to the bar they need to meet. If it becomes clear they’re not going to be able to do that — or to do it in the time you can reasonably invest — then you need move them out of the job (in a fair and respectful way). I’m not sure if you gave enough thought to the “in the time you can reasonably invest” piece of that! It sounds like you were prepared to endlessly invest your time and energy, and that’s where I think you went wrong.

There are a bunch of problems with managing that way. First and foremost, you’re not doing a fundamental piece of your job as a manager if you don’t step back and assess whether someone is really suited for the job they’re in and, if they’re not, what it would take to get them there and whether that’s something it makes sense for your organization to invest in providing. (I want to emphasize that it’s your organization that’s doing the investing. You’re the one choosing to spend your time that way, but they’re paying you for it and they’ll want your choices to be in service of their goals … which generally means your job is to build a high-performing team that gets results without needing you constantly involved at a micro level). Moreover, it can make your other employees resentful, especially if they’re being compensated at the same level as the lower performer, or if they wanted things from you that they didn’t get because so much of your time was taken up by Wanda. And it can prevent you from spending your time in places that will pay off more, from developing higher-potential employees to doing the sort of big-picture thinking that takes mental bandwidth Wanda was using up.

This is probably hard to hear because it felt like you were doing a good thing for Wanda! But I think your goal was the wrong one … and it also left you exhausted, burned out, and resentful.

That’s not to say there’s nothing wrong with the way Wanda left. A half-day’s notice is rude and unprofessional if there weren’t extenuating circumstances, and especially in light of how endlessly supportive you had been. But it’s also … not really that surprising, based on what else you’ve said about Wanda. And sometimes when you’re managing people, they’ll resign in weird ways or do other unprofessional things and that’s just the job. You can’t take it personally.

I think the lesson here is about looking at management in a fundamentally different way. Ultimately, you’re there to get things done through your team. That means hiring the right people, giving them good (but not endless) training and support, getting them the resources they need to do their jobs and removing roadblocks, setting clear expectations about what successful work looks like, and being honest when you need to see something different or when things aren’t working out. And because getting results is your core job and having the right people on your team will make an enormous impact on those results, just as you should put significant energy into hiring and keeping the right people on board, you’ve also got to be willing to move out the ones who don’t meet that bar.

It sounds like you saw yourself less as Wanda’s manager and more as her personal job coach — and good managers are coaches at times! But there are all the other pieces to the job that you’ve got to balance against that as well.

Read an update to this letter

{ 224 comments… read them below }

  1. Up and Away*

    I would be honest about all of this if she has the audacity to use you as a reference.

    1. Bruce*

      Clearing out her email on top of not giving notice seems like actual sabotage. That bridge is burned for sure!

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I understand leaving on short notice if you’re burnt out, I understand being frustrated when a job isn’t working out, I understand making professional missteps early in your career – but the email thing was a lot.

        I wonder if she was job searching from her work account and wanted to scrub the receipts?

        1. Dona Florinda*

          Right. Everything else is justifiable, but deleting the e-mails does sound like she either had something to hide or was purposely screwing you up.

        2. Sloanicota*

          I agree that an employee giving short notice and deleting email would make me suspicious something else was going on. Do restore those emails, OP. I’ve seen fraud cases that started this way!

        3. NerdyKris*

          I can easily see that as someone young thinking they’d clear that the same way they’d clear their browser saved data in case of passwords to personal accounts. I don’t think it was actual malice or an attempt to cover something up.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Maybe! But as Sloanicota says, a LOT of fraud cases do start that way – as do a lot of “I’m pissed and want to sabotage you” cases, which doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility in these circumstances.

      2. Khatul Madame*

        To be fair, the company should have safeguards against this. It is a hassle, but deleted email can be restored by IT.

        1. AnonInCanada*

          True. An employee should never have full control of the their company-issued address. Nor should they be able to fully delete any file they’ve created on company-issued hardware. This is a disaster waiting to happen. And I’m sorry it happened to OP.

        2. Clisby*

          I thought the same. If no one at this company is in charge of ensuring routine backups, that needs to be rectified. Not just for email, but for everything.

        3. IT Lurker*

          Yes, definitely yes, tell IT right away.

          If they are on top of it (and resourced), they should be able to restore the emails without issue if you tell them soon enough.

      3. Observer*

        Yes. The rest was not great.

        THIS is trash. OP, don’t use Wanda as an example of how people behave. Because she’s not.

      4. So they all cheap ass-rolled over and one fell out*

        Deleting all her emails is super hinky!

        The most charitable interpretation I can give is that Wanda had been using the work email address for the job search and/or other personal correspondence, and was too selfish to delete just those emails vs. nuking the whole inbox and letting LW deal with the collateral damage.

      5. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        The one caveat to this is to make sure you really know what Wanda did re: the emails. We don’t know how LW’s company sets up their tech (is it BYOD, is it a work computer but you can have your work email on your phone?). There is a universe where Wanda, say, thought she was deleting the email inbox off her personal phone but was really deleting the contents of the inbox off her phone (thus, emptying the inbox).

        The short quite is odd and even someone new to the workforce surely would have though that some sort of explanation would go a lot way to preserving relationships “I was offered a great job but I have to start the training module Monday “, “They want me to start as soon as possible and since I just finished Project X and Project Y is starting Monday/Tuesday, making today my last day would allow someone to start Project Y from the beginning. But I will be available for the following 2 weeks for any questions”

      6. Seeking Second Childhood*

        some of this will depend on whether Wanda deleted her email or if the account was purged by an IT script.

        At my company, the email accounts of outgoing employees are wiped when their IDs are deactivated.

        Theoretically it’s in the noble service of global privacy, but when entire project histories get wiped with the ID-linked OneDrive archives and email record, that’s a problem.

    2. kiwiii*

      I don’t know if that’s fair, though, given that OP literally said she’d be a good reference for Wanda. Turning around and not being that for future references (without an explicit conversation) would be a petty move imo.

      1. I Licked Your Salt Lamp*

        I would be tempted to give a negative reference, actually its not even “negative” its just being truthful. If Wanda contacts OP again then sure give her a heads up that you’ll have to be honest/tell future employers about her last minute notice and whatnot. But I think OP would be justified in giving an honest reference at this point.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Ehhh not when she leaves like this. I agree there should be a conversation IF Wanda tries to use OP as a reference, but that offer was made before the bridge was burned.

      3. Lex tak*

        She offered to be a reference before Wanda screwed her over. And yes, I see deleting all email and half a days notice as screwing her over. If Wanda does use her as a reference she should be honest and if there are negative things to say well then that’s on Wanda.

      4. Peanut Hamper*

        Yeah but that was based on the standard two weeks notice, leaving a list of projects and their statuses, etc., etc. Wanda really left OP in a terrible position. This is on Wanda, not OP.

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          Agreed. These events happened after that agreement, and pretty effectively negated it.

      5. ecnaseener*

        LW said that based on Wanda’s conduct up to that point in time, on the assumption that Wanda would keep up the same general level of professionalism. It wouldn’t be “turning around” to give an honest reference, including the positives but also the abrupt departure and deleted emails. Like, agreeing to be a reference can’t be contingent on predicting the future.

      6. Observer*

        given that OP literally said she’d be a good reference for Wanda. Turning around and not being that for future references (without an explicit conversation) would be a petty move imo.

        Nope. No petty at all.

        The OP offered based on Wanda’s performance at the time they offered. But then Wanda went ahead and did something really problematic. It’s bad enough that she didn’t give notice – although she clearly knew she was leaving. It’s not like the OP had a track record of pushing people out or being difficult to people who are leaving.

        But wiping her email? That’s a “do not ever re-hire, no matter what” level misbehavior. It’s the kind of thing that a prospective employer should take into account before hiring in most positions.

        You don’t get to be a jerk and then expect people to honor offers made in good faith based on the expectation of reasonable behavior.

      7. Qwerty*

        I think it would be fair to let Wanda know that OP no longer feels able to be a reference for future positions.

        Personally I check with my references each time I use them, but Wanda sounds inexperienced enough that she might think it is a blanket approval.

        1. Cat*

          I think it is reasonable to let Wanda learn the hard way this time if she is truly so dense as to not realize that the offer to be a reference would be negatively affected by the way that she left.

          1. Specks*

            Exactly. It sounds like there’s been enough time spent coaching Wanda by OP already. Now that she’s no longer Wanda’s manager, and was clearly rejected as a mentor or any sort of person Wanda cares to have a positive relationship with (which is Wanda’s prerogative), it’s really not her place and not her responsibility to spell out basic professional courtesy to Wanda.

      8. Antilles*

        I don’t think that’s being petty. OP said they’d be a good reference, but that isn’t a lifelong binding commitment if Wanda decides to act unprofessionally on the way out – which she did (especially deleting all her emails on the way out).
        Presumably Wanda is already at her next job and doesn’t need a reference right now, but for future searches down the line? Then yes, you be honest and describe Wanda’s positives but also her flaws honestly (which goes way beyond the departure btw).

      9. learnedthehardway*

        That’s off the table when someone pulls that kind of nonsense when leaving – ie. no notice, makes it harder for the business to function by scrubbing email, etc.

      10. There You Are*

        Nope. Fair only counts if both parties are being fair.

        Wanda bolting like she did — and deleting all of her email to make it extra-difficult for anyone to continue the work she had been doing — blew “fair” out of the water.

        Being fair to one another is a societal contract. When one party breaches it, the other is no longer beholden to it.

      11. Lana Kane*

        What Wanda did would normally make it into any reference check. If she thought that she could do this because OP had already promised her a reference, then that just adds to my impression that she has really poor judgment.

      12. So they all cheap ass-rolled over and one fell out*

        Piling on to repeat that just because you promised to be a good reference when they were a good (well, OK) performer, when that employee goes out of their way to screw you over, you can and should revise your reference.

      13. Irish Teacher*

        I’d disagree. I would take the comment about being a “good reference” to mean “based on your performance in this job, I can give you a good reference” and would assume that if the person were to do something wrong after that conversation, that would change the reference given. If somebody agreed to give a good reference and then found out after the person left that they had been embezzling, I would expect any subsequent reference to include that.

        I do think it would be kind to give her a heads up that the offer no longer stands or to let her know that the way she left will affect any subsequent reference she gets, but I don’t think telling the truth is petty just because it includes some information you didn’t have when you said the reference would be positive.

      14. BethRA*

        I don’t think it’s petty at all. OP made a good-faith offer to be a reference, but also asked Wanda to keep her up to date on her job search so they could once Wanda had another position. Wanda then not only left with no warning (despite having the time to come in and clear out her desk), did nothing in the way of handing off her projects, and wiped out her email. Being honest about that if asked is entirely reasonable.

    3. Meep*

      OP agreed to be her reference and supported her leaving. The email clearing is the problematic/possibly illegal issue.

    4. Jade*

      I’m still confused as to WHY OP would offer to be a reference to a sub standard employee who took up 40 percent of her day every day. There’s another dynamic here, possibly people pleasing. Work is rightly called work.

  2. Healthcare Manager*

    What a great lesson to get early on OP!

    You’re learning in leaps and bounds and will make a great manager.

    1. GreenShoes*

      Agree with this statement and would be the same I’d use with a new manager on my team.

      I would follow up with the phrase “You can’t want it more than the employee does” which it sounds like the trap the OP fell into. (It’s a common one!)

      For the OP:
      The next steps are to dust yourself off… figure out what could have been done different from your side (not that you did anything wrong, but all experiences can be learned from)… and tuck this experience into your manager’s toolbox.

      1. nnn*

        I think AAM’s point was that LW did do something wrong, and that’s what they need to learn from. (FWIW I agree, I’d not want someone I manage hand holding someone so much for so long.)

        1. Olive*

          The word “wrong” has a few functions here. The LW didn’t do anything immoral, unkind, or with bad intent. She did make missteps as a manager that could be changed and improved on.

      2. ponysaurus*

        It is so interesting to hear this phrase opposite of how I use it. I often tell myself, and any co-workers who will listen, that it is not a good idea for us to be more invested in my organization’s goals than our manager. This means that if we see something that could be fixed, say something. But don’t fix it unless fixing it is your job or central to your personal career goals. This often comes out when meeting deadlines and/or arranging coverage when people are on leave. If somebody asks me to alter my schedule and it is convenient to do so, I do. But my job is to be here ready to work when I am scheduled. I don’t go out of my way to solve staffing issues.

        1. Princess Peach*

          This situation reminds of my first semester as a professor. I have a responsibility to care more than the students do about the class content, meeting whatever standards the university wants, and setting up a productive learning environment. However, I initially got too bogged down chasing after individual students and trying to manage their academic performance.

          If a student won’t put in the effort with their classwork and won’t take advantage of the resources meant to help them, that’s not my fault. I need to put more energy toward the the other students who are doing the work and/or communicating their needs. It’s definitely my job to listen to feedback, be flexible, and be open about the support I can give, but I can’t pass the class for them.

          The OP cannot succeed *for* Wanda, nor should she put more effort into an employee’s future than they do.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            “You can’t succeed for someone else” is a great way of putting it. You cannot make your employee, your student, your child, your manager, your spouse, etc successful. You can offer support, but you just don’t have the power to make them put in the effort.

            I was on what should have been a 3-month project that dragged on for almost two years because the project leads who should have cared about getting it done… didn’t. Any effort I poured into badgering them, negotiating with them, or trying to figure out how to get them to put in effort was wasted.

            OP, you did a really good job addressing Wanda’s needs at the beginning (getting her the training she needed, making sure she had a reasonable workload, rewriting the job description). After that, though, it was up to Wanda to put in the effort to succeed.

          2. coffee*

            I still remember my professor in one class – we had a quite tricky assignment and lots of people wanted help, far more than the professor could see one-on-one. So she set up group appointments, and the people who had been engaging in class and already talking to the tutors about the problems got first priority. I was so thankful that my effort in the class was recognised and rewarded.

        2. Lab Boss*

          I think what’s fundamental is that there’s a little unspoken part of the phrase that makes it apply to everyone:

          “you can’t care more *about the things that are their responsiblity* than they do.”

          I can’t care more about my company’s overall success than upper management does- if they want to set poor priorities it’s not my job to work frantic overtime on the things they don’t care about just because they think it’s important. Likewise, my management chain can’t care more about my team’s success and goals than I do- they can (and do) offer me tons of support when I need it, but can’t do it themselves if I’m just letting it go.

    2. Courageous cat*

      Agreed, one of the best ways to learn in your career is to make mistakes. This might feel like a big one, so it will be crucial in your development if you learn from it – you’ll spot these issues and work on them quicker.

  3. mb*

    It sounds like either Wanda is just a crap employee or not right for the job. Should she get a similar job, she’s likely to get a good dose of reality.

    At least you can say you tried – it didn’t work out – and due to the unprofessional exit, don’t be a reference for her in the future. The letter writer sounds like a good person who’s concientious but probably needs to set better expectations of the employee once they’ve provided adequate support and training. And maybe be a little less personally invested in someone’s success – Wanda’s lack of success reflects on Wanda, not you as the manager.

    1. WomEngineer*

      If Wanda was truly that dissatisfied with the job, LW probably wasn’t going to change that.

    2. RVA Cat*

      Wanda has a lot to answer for, but I have to wonder since she needed such handholding that this isn’t really an entry-level job? This is what happens when it’s 1st job pay but 2nd or 3rd job responsibilities.

        1. Today*

          Not to excuse the bad behavior of leaving with no notice (especially since notice would have allowed the manager to have the conversation about expectations regarding email), but I could totally see an entry-level person not realizing the importance of email history to the company, and thinking they were doing the right thing by deleting them – just like clearing out their desk.

    3. Miette*

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Wanda had a job lined up and the vacation/spring break back-to-back combo was her two weeks–she just neglected to tell her current job.

      1. umami*

        This is my take, because OP says she wasn’t used as a reference. It sounds like Wanda already has a job and OP was never called as a reference and therefore didn’t know she had been offered a job and wouldn’t be coming back after the break.

      2. fhqwhgads*

        Yeah I think that’s pretty clearly what happened given it turned out Wanda’s desk was cleared out before she left for those two weeks, which they know because it was cleared out when they got back to the office after it had been closed a week. So Wanda didn’t do it sometime in between.

  4. Eldritch Office Worker*

    OP you sound so well-intentioned here. All new managers make missteps, and your instinct was to swing too far in the direction of supportive and helpful. That is not a bad thing, and I hope this outcome doesn’t completely burn that out of you and make you overcompensate by being distant, unhelpful, or chilly towards future reports. It’s hard to find the happy medium, but I have faith you’re going to find yours and be very successful at managing people.

    I also want to point out that leaving with half a day’s notice and *completely emptying your mailbox* is pretty wild and definitely an outlier of what you can expect from future employees who leave.

    Everything in your letter was fine right up until “but even after these efforts she needed a LOT of hand-holding, encouraging, pep talks, and basic office task help”. In the future, that is a sign someone won’t be successful in the role, and your job as a manager is not to make sure your direct reports will be successful in their role come hell or high water. It’s to make sure your team as a whole is successful, and that may mean recognizing that someone isn’t a good fit for the work. Helping them with the job search is a kindness, but not a requirement.

    You say ” It’s making me want to just give up on pouring into people if this is the “reward” at the end”. Yes, don’t pour into people, and don’t expect a reward. Managing people can be rewarding – I personally take a lot of pride in watching people develop over time and work towards their personal goals – but you need to put up some emotional barriers when you feel yourself getting this emotionally invested.

    You can be kind, and empathetic, but you need to put on your own oxygen mask first and remember that at the end of the day, you are being paid to do a job and do what’s best for the company. That can absolutely mean being supportive of your staff and creating a positive work environment where people succeed. But it can’t mean completely zapping your own bandwidth and enabling underperformance to this extent.

    I hope you’re able to work through this and I hope you aren’t completely disheartened, and that your other direct report is doing better. Learning to manage is very difficult, and rarely are people given the supports they need to learn well. It’s hard. You got this.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      you need to put on your own oxygen mask first

      I LOVE this framing. This is a perfect way to understand this.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      “” It’s making me want to just give up on pouring into people if this is the “reward” at the end”. Yes, don’t pour into people, and don’t expect a reward.”


      I would say that my supervisor is a very good supervisor and my workplace is a very humane and supportive place to work, but if someone still needed that much hand-holding there would Be Questions about their fit for the job. You’re there to make the job work; you’re not there to make this specific person succeed in this specific job, at all costs. If you’re pouring that much into someone and that person is still struggling, it’s past time to step back and reevaluate this person, their skills, your skills as a manager, your methods, etc., because whatever is going on here is not sustainable.

    3. Lils*

      I like this comment very much. One thing I have learned: I can put a lot of effort into being a good manager and maybe even do it mostly “right”…but the outcome can still feel crappy to me. Like, good managers have to fire people sometimes. It doesn’t feel good at all, to either party, when you have to fire someone. I don’t think you should judge the success of your management actions by whether it feels good to you or whether your direct reports think you’re amazing and want to have a good relationship. Sometimes it’s just gonna suck, and you have to use other measures to evaluate whether you’re doing a good job or not.

    4. Sloanicota*

      Yeah, it sounds like Wanda didn’t see the job as a fit either and I’m not sure (?) she was even expecting OP to go so above and beyond to make it work. She may have been n0t surprised or devastated to be managed out. So OP is understandably resentful because she went so above and beyond but I’m not sure anyone was expecting that of her!

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        She possibly didn’t feel she could give notice in person because OP might have taken it badly after investing so heavily into her despite clearly not thriving in the role.

    5. Lana Kane*

      This is such a common mistake when someone is first managing. You see the struggle, can likely relate to it, and you want to help. There’s also the fear that if one of your reports is struggling, it’s because you as a manager aren’t being supportive enough – this usually happens with people who went into management because they wanted to do well, not just because they want the title.

      I think OP is going to grow into the role and be a good manager, this is just a lesson that, unfortunately most of us have to learn. Learn it early and it will set you on your way to finding the happy medium between being supportive and protecting your and your other reports’ time and energy, because you will see it again in different iterations.

    6. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      “Managing people can be rewarding –” but ultimately it is a job, like anything else. I absolutely get invested in my team but at the end of the day most of them would be successful (maybe not to the same degree and maybe not in the same ways–both positive and negative) with another manager, too.

      1. Mary*

        Very good point, and an easy area for a manager to fall down on. I have found that I needed to reflect on why people were failing over and over at the same task. It wasn’t for lack of training or hand-holding, it was more a learned helplessness.

        You probably said to her “let me know in you get stuck and I will give you a hand”. And if you reflect on your own learnings and when you got stuck you probably remember going to your line manager and saying, I am stuck on this task, I got as far as x but I can’t figure out how to get to y. I have tried a, b and c but nothing works. And you boss probably said, aha you forget about z, z needs to come before y, etc etc. and I bet you never forgot that help and never needed to ask again. You might have written a post-it and stuck it on you screen, x then z and then y.

        So if you reflect on Wanda she probably fell down on not taking notes. She may have asked questions, watched you do it and did it under supervision but never made any effort to understand or learn it herself because you were there to fall back on.

        So next employee, stop during training and ask, why are you not writing notes on the nuances of what we are discussing, or you keep getting stuck after x you need to document it for yourself and refer to your notes when you get stuck. And next time the new employee comes to you and says I am stuck, instead of solving the problem for the ask them, what have you tried? Go away and thing about what you could try to solve this yourself. What do your notes say? And when they come back, and say I tried an and it didn’t work, send them off to think more. Say you can think of 3 or 4 more actions you could take that were discussed during training. Are they in you notes, documents, etc. or say have you considered z, but don’t tell them how to do z, it was all in the training. And if the new employee comes back a third time, then say, let’s go over it a second time, but I want to see you taking adequate notes to cover all the areas we discuss. You will need to demonstrate that you can be given information and retain it. You will be more effective as a manager, the training and handholding will be shorter. And you will figure out if your employee is up to the task faster, or if you need to cut your losses during the probation period.

        All tough to implement but it pays off in that, you know you have done the training, you are getting your employee to think critically, and you can assess their ability easily.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          This reminds me of a job I had in a learning centre. There were computers with learning software installed on them, and students came in to learn on their own. Since this was back in the 90s, people weren’t used to learning stuff on a computer, so I was employed to be available to students, point them to the kind of method that suited them, help them if they got stuck etc.
          There were two students who didn’t want to use the computer and only signed up for it because it was cheaper. Then they asked for help all the time, never trying to solve a problem for themselves. The supervisor for that period spent the whole time clicking on the mouse for them, and reading instructions off the screen for them.
          Then one day I was on duty instead of him, we must have swapped shifts, and I just told them to get on with it because I had some admin stuff to catch up on and was hoping to do it while at the learning centre, as I usually did. They were very angry and complained to my boss, who was horrified to see the extent of the “help” the other supervisor was giving. He ended up converting their language centre hours into private teaching hours, because that was clearly what they wanted.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yes. I think it *feels* different than any other job because it so immediately and directly impacts another person and their ability to do their job well and support themselves. There are other jobs with that impact, of course, but management is the one the majority of people will encounter. It’s wonderful when managers take that responsibility to heart, and want to help their team succeed, but it’s much easier on your own psyche if you don’t let that responsibility crush you. And typically that distance will make you a better manager, because you can function.

  5. Capt. Liam Shaw*

    The most generous interpretation is she thought she was going to get fired anyway, so might as well cut her losses.

    But yeah you have a right to feel jaded. She could have just given you a 2 week notice and still left when she did.

    1. Observer*

      The most generous interpretation is she thought she was going to get fired anyway, so might as well cut her losses.

      Yeah. But that’s an interpretation that says that she has no sense or judgement at all. Because “cutting your losses” would be finding another job and leaving, which is sensible. How does lying, not giving notice and emptying her inbox come into the picture?

      1. Meep*

        I kind of wonder if she messed up and got nervous so she pulled the parachut last minute out of fear. No excuse, but would explain the 0 days notice.

        I would more focus on recovering the email files, because that is the major problem.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          Well no because she had already cleared her desk and inbox. It was all clearly premeditated.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      I’m pretty sure Wanda already had another job lined up and wasn’t able to or didn’t feel that she could negotiate her start date.

      In which case, she should have just been honest with LW and said, “today’s my last day”. It’s unprofessional, but something these things happen.

      But to do what she did, especially clearing out all her emails, takes her departure to a much high level of unprofessionalism. LW definitely shouldn’t take that personally.

      1. Sauce on the side*

        I have been in a similar situation to Wanda – had a job lined up at a competitor and was leaving a somewhat bad work situation (i.e. manager was abusive). The background check at my new job took much longer than planned due to Covid, and my start date was firm.

        However, I gave a week’s notice while out on PTO because in the past, my former company had a rule that if you were going to a competitor, you had to leave the day you gave notice. When I gave my notice to my manager, I put together documentation for all of my responsibilities, as well as a list of key contacts that I worked with. I offered to meet with him as many times as he needed to help transition the work. I had also worked ahead so that there was very little work he would have to do for a few months while they found a replacement.

        Wanda definitely could have handled it better; however, you never really know whats going on with someone else or their situation.

  6. Bookworm*

    I think the problem is actually more structural than just you and Wanda–if you’re re-writing the job description and giving her training she needed but hadn’t received, there was a mismatch between what she thought the job would be and what it was. If the job description requires re-writing, it’s not surprising she might need hand-holding because it might not have been what she thought it was.

    I’ll agree that half a day of notice when you’re already on vacation and the office is about to be closed was a bit much but it might have been she didn’t feel supported and as many have pointed out: when an employee is fired, they don’t get 2 weeks or whatever.

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      If a firing is handled properly and isn’t for egregious “holy carp we need to get this person out of our office NOW” reasons, there’s usually a lot more than two weeks notices. It generally takes a lot longer than that to fire someone for performance issues, and with good management, there’s plenty of communication about the issues, how they could be resolved, and what will happen if they aren’t resolved by a certain time.

      1. Zzzzzz*

        Quite an assumption….
        Since when? Every layoff I have ever had has been: thanks, collect your stuff, your computer is locked, we’re walking you all out now.

        AND you only get 2 weeks severance pay if you’re willing to sign a disclosure that you won’t sue or go to a competitor (that last part is now illegal in certain states).

        1. Andrew*

          I know this is a bit of a nitpick, but can we not conflate “firing” (for cause) and “layoffs”? Especially at time like this when there are mass layoffs in some industries, it’s not useful to group the two kinds of terminations together.

          1. Well...*

            I think the point is that employers don’t always give employees the courtesy of two weeks notice. I don’t see why firing is different from layoffs in that context.

            1. KP*

              Because when you’re fired for cause, you rarely get a severance package, unless you’re really high up in a company.

              If the company is downsizing or you’re made redundant – i.e. layoffs – the company will usually give everyone impacted a severance package, unless they want to deal with really bad press or they’re already bankrupt.

      2. YetAnotherAnalyst*

        I did sort of wonder if Wanda thought that’s what was happening here – if she were writing in and didn’t actually want to leave but the job wasn’t what she expected and her boss was being very encouraging about a job search and talking about when to post her job description, we’d probably say she was being managed out and it was leave or be fired, right?
        That doesn’t make wiping the email any better, though (but if this is LW’s first departing employee, they should check with IT to confirm that’s what happened – email where I am gets “wiped” for security reasons within hours of an employee leaving, but is recoverable).

        1. goducks*

          I’ve had a few departing employees ask if they should delete their email. They’ve all been early in their career, but they seem to be under the impression that doing so is helpful, like they’d be cleaning up their workspace or something. Fortunately, they’ve asked and been told not to, but one time one did it at some point during their notice period. Lovely person, leaving on good terms, probably thought they were being helpful.

          Fortunately, that’s why there’s software systems in place to prevent such a deletion from being a permanent deletion.

        2. umami*

          It’s interesting to think what Wanda’s side of the equation might have looked like. OP’s supportive behaviors could well have come across to Wanda as micromanaging, and the constant discussion of her job search could have felt like she was being pushed out. The is possibly a more generous read of Wanda’s behavior in leaving the job after her vacation/break time. I still don’t know what to make of scrubbing her email, though.

    2. ecnaseener*

      Yes, I think that’s probably where LW went wrong — they fixed the structural issues and (correctly) didn’t hold those against Wanda, but then they stayed in that mindset of “do everything necessary to set Wanda up for success” where they should have pivoted.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Seconding this. Sometimes there is more than one problem and when you fix the ones that are on your side, you find out what’s out of your control.

        I slightly wonder if Jane was right, but if Jane was also using nitpicking about job descriptions and things to stall or avoid a job that she realized she couldn’t or didn’t want to do, until she could find something else.

        1. Sloanicota*

          I feel like OP’s fixation with the course of Wanda’s job search (where she was in the process, monitoring her interviews, trying to time it all just right) is another example where she’s maybe trying to control something beyond what is possible. It’s understandable in a new manager, but it really is better to just accept that people are going to leave at inconvenient times without giving you a lot of heads up! When you’re confident as a leader you’re also able to let go just a bit.

          1. Sally*

            Yeah reading about her managing was kind of excruciating… imagine how awful it would be if your manager was spending literally 40 percent of her day directly micromanaging you and giving you pep talks at the job you already knew you were struggling with. Even before she got to the end and the terrible way the employee left, she had way lost the plot on what was required of her as a manager. Like, whew girl you have to see that sometimes it’s not about you, trying to force Wanda to succeed at a role she was not a good fit for was not really helping her or the company in any way, sometimes you gotta know when to walk away.

    3. Peanut Hamper*

      I don’t know–actual jobs change all the time, but getting a job description updated is usually not on anybody’s list of high priorities. And sometimes hiring is just “here’s a job description; we’ll update it once we figure out what this job actually entails” because if it’s a new position, it’s hard to envision exactly what that job will entail.

      So possibly not structural, but still good on OP for getting that job description sorted pronto. I went six years at my last job without one.

    4. Observer*

      I’ll agree that half a day of notice when you’re already on vacation and the office is about to be closed was a bit much but it might have been she didn’t feel supported

      Eh. She was getting plenty of support. Sure, there seem to have been structural issues. But the OP most definitely did work of dealing with those things. And the OP was also spending an excessive amount of time on handholding and supporting her. If that’s not “supportive” then Wanda has bigger problems.

      And even if someone is not getting the support they want or even need, giving notice is a simple thing to do. It’s not like she had reason to fear being pushed out.

      But if it were just the lack of notice and lying about it, that would be one thing. But wiping her email? That’s way out of bounds and tells me that the OP was not the problem.

      PS Many (probably most) workplaces do give notice for layoffs and even performance issues.

      1. AD*

        Exactly. And none of this excuses or explains her deleting her emails. That one thing would destroy any remaining sympathy I might have felt for her — that’s straight up destructive behavior.

      2. Well...*

        Bookworm is saying that LW couldn’t support Wanda more because the problems were structural. She wasn’t saying LW should have supported Wanda, she’s saying the structural changes to the job (like for example it not matching the description nor Wanda’s skills) meant Wanda wasn’t going to stay around no matter what LW did.

        It seemed like LW worked very hard to fix these problems, but one person can’t change the fact that the job didn’t match what Wanda wanted to do.

    5. Fuel Injector*

      “if you’re re-writing the job description and giving her training she needed but hadn’t received, there was a mismatch between what she thought the job would be and what it was.”

      More likely that there was a mismatch between what the company though the job should be and what role was actually needed. It’s pretty common for people’s roles to morph over time as they pick up additional duties and/or other people pick up some of their duties. If they hired a quality control person who found themselves taking on more data analysis duties until they were basically an analyst instead of a QC person, then it makes sense to rewrite their description to be an analyst and give them JMP training.

  7. I should really pick a name*

    I’m not sure you would have been a great reference for her if she needed a LOT of hand-holding, encouraging, pep talks, and basic office task help.

    1. I Licked Your Salt Lamp*

      This made me wonder if OP was planning to fib or exaggerate Wanda’s competence a bit to help her even more. Hopefully not but sounds to me like OP was too invested in trying to help Wanda succeed and grow and should have been more focused on what’s best for the company

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        That does sound very possible given the context. But in a situation like this I could also see taking a little blame, especially since it sounds like the job description changed – “unfortunately the scope of the job changed from what we originally hired Wanda to do, and in the end the reimagined role wasn’t a good fit, but we hired Wanda based on xyz attributes and I think she would bring those to your company if given the opportunity”.

        But not after the way she left.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      Also, the LW mentions “she didn’t use me as a reference”. This really isn’t something to be offended by. Some jobs don’t even ask for references. Also, is she knew things weren’t going well, the LW probably wouldn’t be her first choice.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        And who would use their current boss as a reference, unless they had already discussed the end date of their position? That is SUPER risky.

    3. Well...*

      Yea I’m not surprised Wanda didn’t use LW as a reference if the job wasn’t working out this much. It sounds like LW is a great person, but also that LW didn’t see Wanda’s best side. In Wanda’s shoes, I would do a lot of things differently, but one thing I’d do the same is that I would likely not use LW as a reference.

  8. Lizzy May*

    Obviously Wanda was unprofessional in the way she left but OP, you were way too invested and your expectations are off. Coaching and supporting your employees shouldn’t be emotionally draining. It can have an emotional element because we’re humans but it should leave you feeling spent and if it does, you’re not setting up appropriate boundaries.

    Wanda doesn’t have to tell you about her job search. She doesn’t need to keep you updated. She doesn’t have to use you, her current supervisor, as a reference if she doesn’t feel like it. She was right to move on; you were about to post her job. If Wanda had written in month ago, the advice she would have received would have been to keep her job search to her self as much as possible to avoid getting pushed out before she had something lined up. It would have been to cut off information to you and set up boundaries about it. Wanda handled her departure wrong but the expectations you have are off.

    1. Bunny Watson*

      Yes, I keep coming back to the fact that the OP was getting ready to post a job when Wanda had not yet given notice. Wanda didn’t handle the departure well, but maybe she felt that she was being pushed out and didn’t see the point in sticking around as OP was already making plans to replace her. I’m guessing with this amount of “support” the OP may have let that slip that she was ready to move on with the posting and Wanda took that to mean she needed to get out sooner rather than later. I agree with your last sentence completely.

      1. Employee of the Bearimy*

        Except that it sounds like OP had actually pivoted to managing Wanda out of the organization recently, which is honestly a kindness (as opposed to putting her on a PIP and letting her go, which is what many managers would have done). I think the OP should get some credit for that, and if Wanda were a decent person she would’ve repaid that kindness with an appropriate notice period.

      2. WellRed*

        I was so weirded out by that. Was there any actual communication around Wanda leaving or were you just assuming?

    2. Dona Florinda*


      Wanda handled this whole situation terribly, but OP expectations are a bit off base. We’ve seen letters of employees who disclosed their job search and were pushed out earlier than they intended to, or whose plans fell through, employees that for whatever reason couldn’t give appropriate notice…

      OP, I know you think Wanda didn’t have cause for worrying about any of this, but maybe she saw things differently. Now, I totally agree that her departure was unprofessional (the mailbox thing is just so so bad), but in the future try to keep in mind that your perspective as the manager is different than your employees’.

    3. Silver Robin*

      Yeah, LW saying they were about to post the job on the assumption that Wanda was probably leaving soon is not great. Was that something discussed with Wanda? Something like, “Hey, since you are close to getting a new job, I am going to post your position to minimize disruption, maybe you will even have a chance to personally hand off your projects!” could be okay but that is still a stretch. Too much reliance on timelines working out well.

      And if Wanda did *not* know LW was about to post their job, that is functionally pushing Wanda out (you would not keep two people in that role indefinitely, would you?). It is exactly why Allison advises folks not to talk about leaving until they have accepted an offer from somewhere else or are otherwise 100% certain about leaving.

      LW, the rest of your letter absolutely indicates that you care deeply about your team doing well and that you are willing to help them in any way you can. Which is great! And the other advice about boundaries will serve you well. Just this one thing felt off.

    4. Sloanicota*

      This is the right take. Wanda was being paid to do a job during the time she was with you. If you weren’t satisfied with what you were getting for the money, it was on you to find a way to add value, or cut bait. OP needs to dial back the emotions about 50% here.

  9. EPLawyer*

    OP — especially take to heart what Alison said about setting the priorities of how you spend your time. You may think high performing employees don’t need your attention because they are, well, high performing. But they need it just as much as the Wandas Just in a different way. You don’t want good employees being resentful because their hard work gets ignored or they even end up with MORE work because you are so busy trying to make sure Wanda succeeds.

    Not every employee is going to succeed. Not every employee is gong to work out. That doesn’t mean you check out and stop caring. It just means that your support is not working yourself to death to make sure they succeed, it means recognizing that and helping them move on to where they can succeed.

    1. NotAHotMess(Yet)*

      YES thank you so much.

      I left a job that was, on paper, perfect for this very reason. It was deeply demoralizing to see coworkers who were hot messes get hours of support, training, one-on-ones with the manager every week, and regular check-ins. As a high performer, I got a bonus and a card at Christmas – almost zero face time with my boss, zero support when there was an issue, and no access to training to advance my skills.

      It wasn’t even that I was doing anyone else’s work – our jobs were structured in such a way that I wasn’t taking on their tasks or anything like that. It was purely watching colleagues who were terrible at their jobs get every benefit of the doubt and every resource possible, while I literally didn’t even get a performance review.

      During the interview process, I asked the manager what metrics they would use to assess whether I was doing a good job in the position or not. The answer was, “If you’re good, I’ll never hear from you.” I should have seen that for the red flag it was.

      1. Lab Boss*

        People would be astonished at how demoralizing and demotivating a lack of feedback and development can get over time. Yes, I would rather be benignly neglected rather than pickily micro-managed or needing constant coaching to reach the minimum, but being left to my own devices entirely isn’t great. I had a fantastic boss who I finally needed to tell flat-out, “It’s great to hear that I’m doing well and you don’t see any weaknesses. But I’m asking you to help me get BETTER, and telling me everything is fine doesn’t help with that.” To her credit she worked with me there, although she did always laugh (kindly) at one of her stronger employees constantly asking to be told to do better.

  10. Colette*

    The way Wanda left was disheartening and disappointing – but I think the OP is taking it more personally because she invested so much emotional energy in Wanda – not just spending 40% (!) of her time helping her do her job, but offering to be a reference and investing pretty heavily in her job search.

    One of the things that can be hard to recognize when you’re a manager (or coach) is that you can only do the stuff that’s yours to do. The person you’re managing has their own part to play, and they’re going to do it differently than you would. And that’s theirs to own.

  11. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    LW, you will burn out rapidly if you don’t strengthen your emotional boundaries between personal stuff and work stuff. Being a manager means that sometimes, no matter how well intentioned you are or how hard you try to help a report be successful, they’re still not going to pan out. Now you know from experience that you need to be able to see this coming a lot sooner, and be ready to manage someone out instead of just trying to force it to work out. Not a fun lesson but an important one. You sound like you have the makings of a great manager. Keep learning and growing.

  12. Bob-White of the Glen*

    Wanda is entitled and not self-reflective, and this will catch up with her at some point. Doing this to a manager who was supportive and tried to help her succeed is short-sighted and rude. If she has the audacity to use you as a reference, just be very honest. But don’t absorb this, or allow it to think you managed her poorly and there was more you could have done. And hopefully this is a good lesson in why good managers don’t try to save everyone, and will help you draw better lines.

    This is her, not you, and you don’t need to spend one more moment hurting over her behavior. It was her. And you will learn and grow, and be an awesome manager to good employees who need and deserve one! I know it’s easier to say than do, but let her go and recognize life will eventually catch up with her. And manage/mentor your staff to the best of your ability, now knowing a new set of boundaries to create. This feeling will pass, I promise, and you will have successes in the future if you don’t give up!

    1. L. Bennett*

      Yep. One thing I learned early in management is that some people, no matter what you do, will see you as the enemy because you’re the manager and they will act accordingly. It’s not about you, it’s about them.

  13. Heidi*

    I hope the OP can get to the point where she realizes that it’s a good thing Wanda has moved on. She gets 40% of her time back by not having to do Wanda’s job for her. It also sounds like Wanda was really struggling in her role. The feeling that you’re never doing well at your job is really stressful. The way she left isn’t great (especially deleting emails about her projects), but I understand a little bit why it seemed like the least bad option for her.

  14. Howdy*

    My guess is that Wanda couldn’t or didn’t want to push her start date at her new role and also wanted to take a full 2 weeks of vacay before starting. She may have felt that if she gave notice, LW wouldn’t have approved her pre-break vacay. Absolutely not a good excuse, but in case LW couldn’t figure out why it went down that way, this could potentially be the reason.

    1. Observer*

      That would explain the vacation / lack of notice thing.

      But deleting her emails? That’s just so bizarre, to be honest.

      1. subtle*

        Could have just been bad advice and Wanda followed it. She sounds green, as it is.

      2. DocVonMitte*

        Yep, I see a lot of folks here assuming malicious intent in deleting emails but when I left my first job I asked my boss if I should. I genuinely thought it was a favor (like cleaning out my desk).

  15. CityMouse*

    One of the hardest lessons to learn as a new manager is boundaries. You have to focus on doing your job, even if that means you aren’t going to have as much availability for each employee.

    Here helping Wanda on a personal level wasn’t doing your job exactly. Your job was to manage her, including potentially cutting her loose if she couldn’t do her job. And hyperfocusing on a single employee can be a huge detriment to everyone else you manage.

    Basically, have boundaries and focus on your team more than any one individual.

  16. Anonymous*

    It seems like you are taking Wanda’s leaving very personally, and I understand. You spent an inordinate amount of time trying to be helpful and hand-holding and she paid you back in a very unprofessional way by deleting her email. But sometimes people act unprofessionally and it has really nothing to do with your actions, helpful or not. Don’t take it personally! It’s hard when you are such a new manager, and I think getting some new people on board will help you overcome it. You are not the problem here (other than as Alison described, helping perhaps too much), and don’t take Wanda’s problems to heart.

  17. Melissa*

    I’ve never been a manager, but boy can I relate to this mistake. There have been many times in my (younger) life when I would absolutely bend over backwards for someone, invest a great deal of time in whatever their problem was, and then I felt betrayed when they didn’t respond the way I thought they should. It is truly an opportunity for reflection. I’ve learned to think through the outcomes as I go: So, Will I be upset if she ghosts us after all this? How will I feel if she never shows up for XYZ that I am planning to arrange for her? If the answer is “I will feel resentful and betrayed,” then I need to pause and really consider how much time I should invest.

  18. Qwerty*

    It sounds like your timeline and Wanda’s actually lined up! You were planning to post her job *and* start interviewing people when you got back from break. That’s usually something done after an employee has given their notice – doing so when she was still around would have looked like you were firing her but being shady about it by getting a replacement first. Imagine how awkward the screening calls would have been when candidates ask why the previous person left and you have to respond that she is still there with no end date!

    I think you got sucked into Wanda’s life too much and became invested in her as a person/friend rather than as an employee. While it was kind of you to offer to be her reference, it would also have put you in a weird position had you been used. She wasn’t doing well in her role on your team – if you were honest about that, it would tank her chances. And I’m assume you weren’t planning on lying! Wanda probably used someone who could give her a positive reference without having to be careful with their words (and a good reference checker can read between the lines) OR maybe she wasn’t asked for references at all! In the rare case when I get asked for references lately, they call at most one of them rather than the 3 requested.

    Take a little time to wallow and feel your feelings at a personal level. Then remind yourself that you can’t let this make you jaded. Look at ways to improve the hiring process so the next person is a good fit (in a “what do we need” way, not a “avoid another Wanda” way). Figure out how to be more clear and how to support someone while maintaining boundaries. Pay attention to the rest of your team and see if any of them missed out on support while Wanda was taking up 40% of your time. You can do this.

  19. CheeryO*

    Ah, this hits close to home. I have a couple problem reports who take up a lot of my time and mental energy. My recent mantra has been, “You can’t care about someone’s success more than they do.” Once they’ve been given the tools, they need to do the work and meet the standards of the job without hand-holding. If that’s not happening, then a larger conversation has to be had. “Pouring” energy into someone is not good, especially someone who is not brand new. You are right that it will lead to burnout in the long run.

    I will say that this might be a good opportunity to lean on your own bosses and de-brief to see if you can identify opportunities for improvement in your hiring and onboarding. Even a good employee can get demoralized fast if they’re not given an accurate job description and halfway decent training (within reason). It sounds like that all pre-dated you, so it’s not your fault, but there could be some structural issues that need to be addressed.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “You can’t care about someone’s success more than they do.”

      This was a very difficult lesson for me to learn early in my career. Now, it’s very much how I decide how to allocate my energy. If someone is really trying and struggling, I am way more likely to give them extra resources than someone who is not making that effort. And even then, learning how far to go with “extra resources” is an ongoing battle, because I have very similar tendencies to OP if I don’t check myself.

      This will be lifelong learning, OP. But you’ll find your balance and you will get rewards from it from the not-Wandas.

    2. CommanderBanana*

      Great point. I’ve also learned that I can’t care more about someone’s job than they do.

  20. Another person again*

    The way Wanda left was wrong and definitely not normal, so please don’t think you’ll see that often from future employees, if ever.

    But I want to ask, is it possible she felt she was being forced out and reacted poorly? You said you rewrote and were preparing to post her job for new applicants because you figured she’d be gone soon, but it sounded like she hadn’t given you notice yet. If she knew her job was about to be posted and she hadn’t even told you when she was planning to leave, she could’ve misinterpreted that and quit before she could be fired.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Similarly, I wonder if Wanda felt smothered by 40% “support” and reacted poorly. The OP may have thought they were being helpful, but were actually making Wanda miserable.

      1. Employee of the Bearimy*

        Except that if Wanda couldn’t do the job without this level of support, then she wasn’t going to succeed. The OP was going to lose her one way or another.

  21. YetAnotherAnalyst*

    Definitely don’t take not being a reference personally, LW! There’s a lot of excellent reasons not to use a current boss as a reference, even if everything’s great with that relationship. Add in that she’d only been in this job a year and a half, and you’d only been her manager for about a year of that, and that the work was apparently not what she thought she was signing up for (hence, the new job description only six months in) or prepared for (the need for training, six months in), and that she felt the need to lie about her interviews even with her manager openly encouraging her job search. I would assume she’s not planning on including this job on her resume going forward. Who knows what the actual issue was (maybe something before you started managing her? maybe something at her last job?), but this wasn’t going to be a graceful exit no matter what you did.

  22. Llama Llama*

    For my first manager role, I was hand holding and dragging one of my reports to the finish line each month. His situation didn’t end great either. (There were layoffs and he was basically number one in the list. Most other people just found new jobs in the company. He did not).

  23. Jojo*

    I already see this coming up in the comments, but I just wanted to give some advice I was given once. If you are feeling resentful, it’s probably time to establish better boundaries.

    I also want to comment on the “rewards” part of this. When you invest in employees, it’s part of your job, not a transaction you have with that employee. She didn’t really owe you anything for the time and energy you invested into her. Your reward for that was they pay you receive, not an obligation on the part of the employee. (Well, I mean, she owed you two weeks notice, but that was out of your control.)

    Investing in people and relationships is about doing your job well and you do it for that reason. I hope instead of being bitter about this, you’ll be able to look back and say, I tried to help her, and it didn’t work. You just can’t fix some people. That doesn’t mean that it’s never worth it to invest in anybody, just maybe use this as a lesson to learn how to help while establishing good boundaries and not getting so personally invested.

    1. Melissa*

      Absolutely agree that if you feel resentful, it’s a sign to re-evaluate. The times in my life when I have stewed in resentment, it’s often something like: “I spent hours lining up that opportunity for her, and then she didn’t even show up to it.” (Well, did she ask me to spend hours on it? Often, the answer is no. I take things on, then feel resentful that people don’t respond as I prefer.)

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        I’ve been there! Captain Awkward’s theme of “how about you do less?” was genuinely life-changing.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Yes to all of this!

      LW, supporting an employee isn’t a quid pro quo– it’s fantastic when you invest in someone and they are grateful and attribute their success to your support, but they don’t owe it to you. You have to stay conscious of what you’re giving and why: if you find yourself expecting something in return, you need to dial it back and reset because that’s not a fair expectation to put on someone and it’s not part of your job or theirs.

    3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Came here to say something similar. A big part of a manager’s job should be supporting employees and helping them grow professionally. When staff get more skilled and knowledgeable, they are able to contribute more to their organizations. Supporting them in this isn’t a favour managers doing for their employees, it’s an essential part of that role. So I’d encourage you to do a little mental reframing about the role of management as well as taking Alison’s good advice about distributing your time and attention around your team.

      It’s good that you wrote in, LW, even though Alison’s answer and some of the comments may not be quite what you were hoping to hear. (For the record, I agree that Wanda made some questionable decisions about her departure). Anyway, I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that you seem like a generally conscientious, supportive person. Those qualities mean that I’m hopeful that you can continue and grow in your management role.

  24. learnedthehardway*

    Please don’t take it personally – it’s not about you, it’s about your employee who wasn’t a good fit for their role, wasn’t happy, wasn’t performing well, and who wasn’t professional about how they left the organization. They did you a favour, in the end.

    While you were definitely doing too much to support your employee, I’m guessing that without that support, she would have seriously under-performed and affected the overall success of your role as well. In future, you’ll know to balance being supportive with performance management – in fact, that might be a good thing for you to talk with your own manager about, as it sounds like it would be a development area for you to learn.

    Please take heart that you were a caring, supportive manager – that’s going to be a good quality over time, and you just need to develop the ability to balance caring with expecting and getting good performance.

    The first person I managed was underperforming, disengaged, and borderline insubordinate, ignored directions/requests, and really wasn’t doing his job. But I had been told he was a strong employee when I joined the company, so my initial approach was very supportive and caring. Took me a while to realize he was really upset that he hadn’t gotten the job I was hired for (he wasn’t qualified for it, classic case of over-estimating his contributions and abilities), and it turned out that my manager (who had previously managed him directly) hadn’t dealt with his lack of performance under her management. I had to have a heart to heart with him about how to progress in the company (ie. do your job, help me succeed, and I will also help you) and when that didn’t work, I ended up moving into cc’ing my manager on every directive, and then giving him a “needs improvement” on part of his performance review – which was nerve-wracking for me, but necessary and deserved. In the end, he left the organization. That was a relief, honestly. It was so much easier just doing his job for awhile than dealing with him NOT doing it. I wasn’t happy about it, but realized later that it was a success – the replacement was a much better employee, my indirect report (who was a gem) was much happier, and I had seen through the issues and figured out how to deal with them.

  25. annonie*

    I thought the point of AAM’s answer was that the OP did mess up significantly, which was my take reading the letter too, so I am interested to see so many comments telling the OP they did nothing wrong. Am I misreading the response? Or does everyone else disagree with the answer? I do think the problem was one of management, although that is very very understandable since the OP is a first time manager.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      I’m not seeing people saying the LW didn’t do anything wrong, so much as confirming that Wanda’s actions weren’t great (and both can be true at the same time).

    2. L. Bennett*

      I don’t think the comments are telling her she did nothing wrong. They’re merely empathizing with the fact that OP tried to do a kind thing in helping Wanda and it failed.

    3. Melissa*

      Most of us feel terrible for the OP, and also recognize her error in investing this much time in her employee. (Many of us recognize the error because we have made it ourselves!)

    4. learnedthehardway*

      I think people are recognizing that the OP made mistakes, but are seeing that they are a good-hearted person who needs to learn how to performance manage employees, not just be caring and supportive as a manager. The mistakes are quite understandable – honestly, the OP’s manager should have been coaching them about how to handle the employee. That might be another learning point for the OP, actually – if something isn’t working with an employee, and you’ve done what you can, talk to your own manager or a mentor about how to deal with the situation. Have some ideas about what to do next, of course, but also get them to do their job of teaching you how to manage.

    5. YetAnotherAnalyst*

      My understanding of the answer and the comments is that OP did not do anything to damage the relationship with Wanda or to cause Wanda to leave in the manner that she did, but that OP was overinvesting in Wanda and needs to change how they understand their job as a manager.

    6. Qwerty*

      I think there is a lot of desire to reassure a new manager that sounds incredibly disheartened. Wanda was unlikely to work out – better management could have changed how it happened, but Wanda was either going to quit or be let go. Alison gave good advice on how to manage the situation better.

      Commenters are latching onto where the OP wants to give up on supporting employees. (Not sure if that means leaving management) It’s kinda like when a friend swears off dating forever after a bad breakup – your instinct is to focus on how their ex was not a good fit for them rather than point out what the friend also did wrong in the relationship. Any feedback about OP’s management style is being brought up gently in later paragraphs of posts.

    7. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I think the reason that the comments are skewing towards supportive (and you can be supportive while also pointing out fault, which is what I’m largely seeing in the comments) is because

      a) Most of us have been first time managers. We empathize.
      b) OP is coming off so deflated and disheartened, and we don’t want them to give up based on one bad experience.

      And those go together! Making mistakes is not the end of the world. There are aspects of how OP approached this that are admirable, but need to be scaled back. There appear to be misunderstandings of what a manager’s job is, that’s correctable. What I’m seeing is a commentariat that doesn’t want to pile on unnecessarily, but give personal anecdotes and encouragement to someone who could be a really good manager (something we see there being a shortage of on this column).

  26. Cynan*

    OP, I had a similar experience as a first-time manager. It ended differently – the “Wanda” in my situation ended up being fired by my higher-ups after I fought to protect her job – but I can absolutely related to putting so much time and effort into a single employee who was clearly struggling.

    I don’t really have much else to add that others haven’t already said more eloquently, but just know that it’s a valuable learning experience, your heart is in the right place, and you’ll be a fine manager if you recalibrate your expectations and approach.

  27. Boss Scaggs*

    I’m not an IT person so I don’t quite understand why it’s that big of a deal that Wanda deleted all her emails. Obviously she had issues but not sure why that aspect is seemingly way over the top.

    When I leave a job I go through the computer and clear out anything I don’t want left for others to see, forward stuff to my personal email etc… Don’t we all delete dozens of emails every day?

    1. Tracy Flick*

      I think people are assuming that this means “deleted all of the email in her inbox,” when I read it as, “got her inbox down to zero before vacation, indicating that her hasty departure was planned well in advance.”

    2. L. Bennett*

      Because Wanda still had ongoing projects she was working on and the emails are indicators of where things are in those projects and contain valuable information. Deleting EVERYTHING makes it very difficult for someone to pick up the job where Wanda left off.

    3. Observer*

      If what you don’t want people to see are your work emails, then you are flat out wrong.

      Your work correspondence and all of your project documents belong to your employer and you don’t have the standing to decide that you don’t want them to see it.

      1. Boss Scaggs*

        I’ve been deleting work emails every single day I’ve been working – I think the company has granted me the standing to do so by enabling the delete function and never telling me not to use it.

        Plus, depending on a few things the emails may be retrievable.

        All that said, managing people is really hard – LW now has some good experience and advice to help moving forward.

        1. Observer*

          You have the standing to delete work emails that need to be deleted (eg spam). You do NOT have the standing to delete work emails because you don’t want your work to see them.

          Just because you have the ability to do it does not mean that it’s ok to do it.

    4. YetAnotherAnalyst*

      Forwarding stuff to your personal email would be grounds for dismissal and possibly legal action in my current job.

      1. Boss Scaggs*

        I’m talking about things I’ve created and would reuse in a new role such as onboarding timelines, training documents, coaching tips, ideas for team building and so on.

        I don’t know what your job or industry is but this wouldn’t be an issue in mine. ‘

        But I get the point – ymmv on these things

        1. Nadiatan*

          If you did this at work, that work belongs to that employer. I mean, of course you would remember things, but any document you generate for work should stay there. I believe you when you say your industry is fine with this, but caution other people it could be a serious problem.

        2. Eldritch Office Worker*

          It’s good to be aware that even if it’s generally okay in your job or industry, *legally* (in the US) you’re not protected there, and if you left on bad terms or found yourself with an employer you didn’t know was litigious, you could still end up in hot water.

          99 times out of 100 it’s probably fine in your job or industry, but it’s good to have that in the back of your mind just as a CYA.

          1. Boss Scaggs*

            Thanks – in this case would it actually be illegal, or would it come down to a company policy? Or if it’s truly against a law, would that be a state by state matter?

            Or is it more that you couldn’t forward an email that contained something confidential, or client related, financial info etc. ?

            I’m thinking for example if a boss had written something disciriminatory, or racist to me in an email, it doesn’t seem right that I couldn’t copy it or forward that along to a lawyer

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              It’s the fact that you’re forwarding completed products, like training documents, that you created and would use in a new role. If it was developed at your current job, you’re stealing the IP from that company. Anything you developed while employed there in service to performing your job duties legally belongs to them.

              Something like a racist email wouldn’t be covered as IP, and even it was if you’re doing something like submitting it to a lawyer to show discrimination that would supercede even an NDA, in most cases. You can’t use company policies to cover up illegal activity.

              1. Boss Scaggs*

                Ok got it – most of those things were developed by me years ago in between jobs so I could show employers in an interview. The specifics change of course for each situation, but all I’m forwarding to myself are the overall frameworks.

                Maybe that gets me in the clear?

    5. subtle*

      Agree. The “deleted her emails” sadly is turning into an Area 51 concept. People delete their emails for various non-nefarious reasons. Good grief…

      1. Observer*

        They don’t wipe their entire email box, including emails regarding status of active projects for “non-nefarious” reasons, though.

        1. DocVonMitte*

          I 100% thought I should do this as a courtesy when leaving my first job. I have no idea why and looking back I cringe. But it’s very possible this was an inexperience/stupidity not malice.

      2. londonedit*

        Usually when I leave a job I forward immediately important emails to whoever’s looking after things in the meantime, and package any other important archive stuff into folders in case it’s needed, but apart from that I’ll delete anything that isn’t relevant. I’m not sure whether that would look like ‘clearing out my email’ – probably! It depends what’s happening after you leave – where I work now, the new employee will be given access to their predecessor’s email account, so I’d definitely go through and clean up anything personal (like emails about appraisals, pay slips and pay rises, HR stuff etc) and make sure only emails that were relevant to my recent work were in there and easy to find. I wouldn’t keep all the thousands of emails that I just haven’t bothered to delete!

  28. Biff*

    LW, you sound like a compassionate person who dedicated a lot of time to being a good boss.

    But I’m wondering if this hit differently for Wanda.

    I have a boss who could have written much of this letter (the only different thing is I didn’t clean out my email.) At that job, I never had the resources I needed to do the job. Let’s say my job was quilt-making. I’d go to my boss and explain I needed specific fabric for the design being requested. And the boss would thoughtfully listen to my concerns about the fact we had two yards, not three. And I’d ask my boss to order that fabric, but it never came. Then they would hold my hand as I strategized how to piece together tiny scraps of fabric to make it work, but the truth was, I just didn’t have enough fabric to do the design as planned. So they’d set me up for extra training on piecing, and that person would show me piecing basics, but I was already beyond that. I’d end up subbing another fabric, and the final product would be rejected, even though my boss had okayed the subbed fabric. I easily ate up a lot of my bosses time because I always felt like I was three inches away from success (the rest of the team had long since accepted that they would make a quilt, submit the quilt, have it rejected, wash-rinse-repeat.)

    It was crazymaking. On any given day I felt micromanaged with all the extra support, but weirdly unsupported because I couldn’t get the thing I needed — more fabric to actually deliver the requested product. They really thought that I could just work harder to close the gap. I couldn’t. Again, it was crazy-making.

    Whether or not this is how it went down, this might be how Wanda felt about it. Sometimes when an employee needs a lot of your time, it’s because they aren’t getting what they actually need. In my experience employees usually need one of the following:

    1. Shielding from upper management.
    2. Actual workload priotization that allows something to fall off their plate at the end of the week because there’s not enough time or resources. (And they need to not be punished for not delivering on the thing that they were told could fall off their plate.)
    3. A graceful exit strategy.

    Personally, I get the feeling that Wanda was angling for the third thing. If at all possible, if an employee needs lots of help, hand-holding, has made it clear they are looking, etc, etc, like Wanda did, see if you can offer to let them go with severance and without contesting unemployment. It can be a really straight-forward conversation. “I’m getting the impression that this job just hasn’t been a great fit for you, but I think you do X and Y well. Because of that, I’m absolutely willing to continue working on making this role fit you and your talents. But if that’s not the right approach, we can also call it quits, and I’m able to offer you this package, a good reference, and of course we won’t contest unemployment.”

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I think this falls under not believing the LW–the LW said she addressed the issues that Wanda raised.

    2. Snell*

      Even if—and based on what we know from the letter, this would be a huge speculative if—Wanda wasn’t getting what she needed, it’s simply not sustainable for the LW to be spending 40% of her working time dedicated to assisting Wanda in such an involved manner. If Wanda needed different things, she also needed to say so to the LW. Since LW didn’t mention anything of the sort, there’s no basis for speculating about what Wanda actually needed.

      Also, I think you too readily brush off the fact that Wanda wiped her email, because you sympathize with the rest of her situation. However, Wanda is not you, and you are not Wanda. You didn’t wipe your email, but Wanda did, and that’s where she lost a lot of sympathy from me. Even the egregiously short notice, I could attribute to high-pressure, stress, inexperience, etc. But the deleted email indicates that Wanda wanted (or at least, she was A-OK with) a messy, explosive exit, not a graceful one.

    3. Observer*

      Whether or not this is how it went down, this might be how Wanda felt about it

      The OP is pretty explicit that this is NOT how it went down, and nothing the OP says gives any cause to believe otherwise.

      So, if this is how Wanda felt that is a sign of monumentally bad judgement.

      Also, it doesn’t come close to explaining her wiping out her mailbox. Leaving without notice is one thing. This is a whole other thing, and really reads like intentional sabotage.

      3. A graceful exit strategy.

      Personally, I get the feeling that Wanda was angling for the third thing.

      In what universe does angling for a graceful exit strategy translate into leaving without notice and trashing your work?

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          How is Observers scolding? I read their post as disagreeing, which I would hope is allowed.

          1. RagingADHD*

            The all-caps-ing, which Alison has specifically asked Observer to knock off recently, and the hyperbole of “in what universe,” and the over a dozen comments of increasing vehemence, picking arguments with anyone who suggests Wanda may not have had nefarious intentions.

            Including telling other commenters that they are doing their own jobs wrong because their email protocols don’t match what Observer thinks is the One Correct Way.

            I think “scolding” is a pretty fair descriptor, yes.

            1. rayray*

              Yeah, they are weirdly angry about Wanda deleting emails, going off on anyone who dare suggest that it could’ve been for any non-nefarious reason.

    4. Phil O'Neill*

      Agreed, I have a manager that could have easily written this letter word for word. They spent so much time “supporting” an inexperienced employee and were completely blindsided when the employee suddenly quit. If you ask the employee however, they felt insanely micromanaged, and in their opinion they were basically forced out through lack of trust and real support to do the job.

      Obviously it’s impossible to tell if the circumstances are the same for the letter writer, but I think the way their employee suddenly quit suggests they don’t agree with the letter writer’s assessment of the situation.

      I’m also not fully sure why so many people consider deleting emails “malicious”. Seems unlikely that no other staff would be CCd if the employee really was that inexperienced, and in any case IT will have backups. Many people I know delete their emails as soon as they’ve responded to them and have empty inboxes regularly.

  29. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

    LW, I’ve been managing people, and a lot of first-career-job people, since 2007, and what’s really rewarding is mentoring good employees to be better employees. It’s helping someone’s talents blossom into skills.

    Also, it’s rotten behavior to quit with no notice, but it’s especially rotten here where it appears she quit with no notice so that she could be paid for a week where the office was closed and she wasn’t even using her own vacation time.

  30. Observer*

    You’ve gotten some really good feedback.

    I want to highlight something that I haven’t seen addressed.

    Please talk to IT *immediately* about whether they can rescue the contents of her mailbox. If there are backups or archives, you want them to find them and put them somewhere safe. Her wiping her email is so bizarre, that I suspect that there might be something there that you might want or need to find at some point.

    Also, and probably more importantly, please talk to IT about making sure that mailboxes are backed up, so that if someone tries this again you have that in place.

  31. Prospect Gone Bad*

    I think this is generally the downside to being in management. People talk as if we wield all of this power but on a day to day basis, it can sometimes feel like everything is held together by safety pins and staples and you’re relying on a bunch of people to do their part 100% so the ship doesn’t sink.

    You try to make people happy but end up getting disappointed again and again. You fight for someone to get a large raise and then they’re slacking off a few months later and then quit. Or you fight to keep someone shielded from a horrible project but instead of being thankful they want you to do the same on the next project that isn’t actually bad and then act like you’re unreasonable when you say no. Or someone begs for opportunity and you give it to them and they do lackluster but want praise as if they did it really well. All of these little things can be disillusioning, and I wish I had an answer beyond commiseration.

  32. Manom Anon*

    OP – you approached this with kindness and I can relate to a lot of your frustrations. This type of experience is so, so common for new managers and Alison’s advice on how to adapt in the future is spot on. But one thing may help you to reframe – I don’t think that all of your actions were wasted energy. It seems updating the job description, establishing training, etc was needed. In the months that followed you gained experience in managing someone for the role, and you learned more about you want from the next person to be successful in the role. It may feel painful now – totally understandable given the manner in which she left – but I think once you start interviewing for her backfill you’ll see how much experience you’ve gained and feel more confident for the next step. Good luck!

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      This is a great point. You have useable products, like the job description and approach to training. And I imagine you’d be a lot gentler with an employee who made understandable-but-sub-optimal decisions than you seem to be with yourself. So be gentle to yourself while you learn from this.

  33. Ellis Bell*

    I wonder if this is a hard skills vs soft skills issue? I think OP, that while you’d given up on Wanda becoming competent and skilled at the work, you thought you could at least get some professionalism from her, and set a good example of business relationships for her. One issue is that soft skills are still skills; they aren’t inherent, and they don’t get mirrored back to you because some people just didn’t learn them! The other is that it’s just business. If the job is unrewarding and unimportant to her and she just wants to cut bait, she isn’t going to give you any of her skills. I do think you should probably heave a sigh of relief that she’s gone however; it clearly was not a match in either the hard or soft skills level.

  34. Betty Flintstone*

    My hot take: sometimes, employees tell you they are going to find a new job because they want to begged not to leave and get very upset with a response like OP gave (“great, let me help you find a new job somewhere else!”). I wonder if that’s what happened here.

    I say that because I once had an employee 2 deep to me tell his manager he got another offer. Manager called me freaking out because he didn’t want to lose him. Talked to employee and I said “are you taking this other job and resigning?” He said “uh, yeah”. So I congratulated him and told him how it’s a small industry so I hoped we crossed paths again. Then I reached out to HR to create a backfill request. Apparently he flipped out to his manager about my supportive reaction because it turns out, he did not have another job offer, he just wanted a raise (which he did not get).

  35. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    Wanda’s behavior overlaps a lot with the insider threat briefings we get. Be friendly but incompetent, and clear out ALL your emails?

    Please lean forward with getting IT to recover them to see why it was she found it necessary to delete that. Makes no sense and could be sketchy/nefarious.

  36. NYtimer*

    I’ve just had someone in another company that I mentored for 5 years poach someone that I’ve trained from entry level up to manager over the last 9 years. I’m torn between professionally wishing her well and personally feeling betrayed by both of them.

    It’s a shame I can’t claim a percentage of her future earnings as recompense for the work I put into her!

    1. Relentlessly Socratic*

      Remember–one cannot poach someone who isn’t open to leaving. 9 years is a long time to stay one place these days.

      Wish them well–and who knows, be open to hiring back a boomerang employee. External experience can be a benefit all around!

      Source: Me. I’ve been poached when I was ready to leave anyway, I’ve overstayed places for far too long out of loyalty, AND I’ve boomeranged after switching things up. (not all at the same time).

    2. I should really pick a name*

      Framing it as “the work you put into her” kind of feels dismissive of the work the employee would have also been doing herself to improve.

      As the letter shows, you can put work into someone but without effort on their part, it amounts to nothing.

    3. Ccbac*

      you should wish her well! there was no personal betrayal here.

      you aren’t owed anything here. not personal loyalty or a percent of her future earnings and it is super concerning that you think you ought to be compensated for this and I wonder if similar attitudes caused your employee to be open to moving companies.

    4. Parakeet*

      It’s completely fine and not a betrayal for her to sell her labor to someone else. She certainly doesn’t owe you money for it, and she’s not some product that you made and have a claim on just because you provided training. It’s also not a betrayal for someone you previously mentored to have offered her a job.

    5. LilPinkSock*

      One of my former managers tried that.

      I moved to a different department (motivated in no small part by a desire to get away from her), and she told everyone I’d betrayed her even though I was too stupid to do the job well. Then she actually did ask our Payroll department to essentially garnish my wages and give her part to pay her back for all the “mentoring” she’d done.

      She really tried to justify it by saying that I’d have to pay the company back for coursework they’d sponsored and this was the same thing. Uh, no. The programs my org paid for were genuine professional development leading to a certification. Her only contribution was racism, small-mindedness, and a stellar example of what not kind of manager or person to ever be.

    6. The Charioteer*

      Sorry, what did you just say… ? You are aware you don’t own her in any way, right?

  37. IT Lurker*

    OP, I mentioned in a thread above, but if you have not told IT about the deleted email, tell them right now. Restoring this kind of thing is a central part of their job.

  38. Disheartened LW*

    Thank you Alison for posting my question! The feedback here has honestly been so helpful and encouraging already. Now that I am a bit removed from the situation, I have definitely been able to separate my emotions of feeling angry and annoyed (and yes, taking “business” too personally), and finding what I could learn from this situation.

    I absolutely spent too much time and emotional energy on this, and when I reflect I think I had a misprioritization of my job. When I started the role, I was told that helping and supporting her to get to a more stable place was a top priority. I think I achieved that to an extent, but then didn’t take a step back to recognize that I had “done” it. I was entrenched in “her happiness is top priority” without being able to see that wasn’t going to happen as long as she was here, and without realizing that I really have no control over her happiness (and shouldn’t try to!).

    A couple of things have come up in the comments that might be good context. IT WAS able to restore her inbox, so I was able to find her open projects. The org is clear that IT is able to restore information, and she had talked about previous employees who had left and how their inboxes would be fascinating to read. Her deleting it seemed like just a final FU to me, knowing it would slow me down in covering for her.

    Regarding her feeling like she would be let go/saw the writing on the wall, I don’t imagine this was the case. In my industry we have annual letters of appointment with salary/bonus/job info or changes, and hers went through June. She had made clear she wouldn’t re-sign it for another year, but would continue in the job until June or until she had a new offer. It was in this context that I emphasized I would assist her when and where I could with a job search, but to please consider a two week notice. This is why I had the job and was ready to post it, so that there could hopefully be overlap in a new hire and her should she stay until June.

    Ultimately, with distance, I now see this was clearly not the right kind of job for her, and reflects less on what I could or couldn’t have done to help her succeed. I have been working on creating healthy boundaries with anyone I manage and trying to learn when the issues that are brought to me are above my pay grade, so to speak. I have enrolled in some professional development around managing. I’m definitely less discouraged about management in general and have been really taking my time with the hiring process for her replacement, to find the “right” person not just any person.

    Thanks again for all the advice and encouragement posted here. I’ve been saving so many of these comments and the post, they’ve been really really helpful.

    1. Hiring Mgr*

      I don’t think any of this is uncommon. I’m old now but when I was a fresh faced young manager, the first employee that I had who didn’t work out felt like a huge failure on my part for the same reason – I poured ALOT of time and energy into helping him succeed.

      After he left and with some distance and talking w/my bosses, sometimes the fit just isn’t there. It doesn’t mean anyone did anything wrong, sometimes jobs and employees don’t work out and there’s nothing anyone can do.

      You definitely seem to have the right attitude and learning process here!

    2. higheredadmin*

      LW, thanks for writing in because this can be a very classic new manager mistake. Your job is to create the environment in which your staff can succeed. You cannot control beyond this, and it is a hard lesson to learn that you can be the best manager ever and someone can still fail at their job for endless reasons that are outside your control. (And if you are keeping a failing person around out of a need for them to succeed so you can prove you are doing a good job, you are in fact not being a good manager for the rest of your team.) It’s great that you are getting some professional development training! And it looks like you’ve figured out the true secret to being an amazing manager, which is to hire amazing staff who are smart, a good fit for the role and will work with their colleagues as required.

    3. Observer*

      This is a really good update.

      I’m glad that your IT was able to restore her mail box and that you’re getting some healthy distance.

      You sound like you are turning into a really good boss!

    4. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Thanks for the great update! It sounds like you took the right lessons from this experience.

    5. Fuel Injector*

      “Her deleting it seemed like just a final FU to me, knowing it would slow me down in covering for her.”

      I encourage you not to engage with this thought. It will just feed your disheartenment.

      I also encourage you to rethink equating “helping and supporting her to get to a more stable place” with “her happiness is top priority”. You can give someone a stable, supported role. You cannot make another person happy. As a manager, you should only be thinking about the former anyway.

  39. Forrest Gumption*

    My bet is that she was not on vacation during those two weeks – she probably started the other job at the beginning of week 1 of the time off – and was collecting two paychecks during that time. She probably wiped her email because there was evidence of her intent to double-dip in there.

        1. Forrest Gumption*

          That was my thought too Eldritch. I thought my hypothesis was pretty reasonable actually.

          1. Fuel Injector*

            You are assuming malintent when there is nothing in the letter to indicate that Wanda is a dishonest person. Art is being hyperbolic, but you are making a leap there as to Wanda’s intentions.

            1. DocVonMitte*

              I’ve seen this trend a lot over the past (maybe) month or so in the comments here. People just assuming the absolute worst of others. It’s really hard to read the comments when everyone seems so intent on figuring out some “story” on how the other person is actually a terrible person/committing secret crimes/a malicious narcissist/etc.

              I get it when someone is writing in about a bananas workplace or abusive coworker, etc. But often people see things they don’t fully understand or personally would not do and interpret it in the worst way possible.

              Sometimes people are weird or chaotic or make unprofessional choices. It’s ok to call that out for what it is. But it’s weird to invent a story in which they are a complete villain.

              It’s making me not want to be a part of this community anymore, which is sad as I’ve been commenting for years.

  40. Caliente Papillon*

    I think Alison’s advice is so great here- when I read the “pouring into” and the “reward” I kinda physically recoiled a bit and that’s rare for me. OP these relationships at work are BUSINESS relationships, you don’t need to “pour into” anyone. You need to train and try to help someone understand what they need to do, be fair, etc but pep talks to get someone to do their own job? No. I don’t care what job someone is doing if they don’t take ownership and decide they want to do it, there’s nothing you can do to make it happen for them.

  41. Simone*

    This is also one of the reasons I generally like to avoid having new managers manage only one or two people, it is easy to get sucked into one odd direct reports way of working and doesn’t give you a rounded team to manage.

  42. Megarita*

    For some reason today I found the clarity of the statement, “you’re there to get things done through your team,” incredibly helpful. Sort of an angels-sing illumination moment. Thanks!

  43. Ama*

    I can totally understand how disheartened you found this. From what you said, she acted pretty badly, even without you having put in so much effort to making this work for her.

    You asked about how not to end up feeling jaded, and I think there’s a couple of things to consider. Firstly, she acted badly despite your support, so it’s very likely she’d have done this even if you hadn’t tried so hard. So at least you’re not left wondering if you should have done more to help her. This is all on her.

    It’s also probably not as wasted as you think. While I agree you shouldn’t go this far in future, it’s very likely that your other reports will have seen that you approached her situation with kindness and empathy, and will feel more confident in trusting you to treat them well in the future.

    Lastly, as new manager mistakes go, being too caring is definitely not the worst. Kindness and empathy are important traits in a good manager, and you’ll almost certainly find it way easier to learn how to balance the needs of yourself and the business with your instinct to be kind, than someone would find learning to be kind if the bit that came naturally was the needs of the business.

  44. Office Manager slash Miracle Worker*

    This hit home with me today. I have been a newly manager and poured time and efforts into training. But at the end of the day, it’s a job and people will look at it that way and you need to realize the limitations. I really appreciate the response and will take that to my next training/new hire.

  45. negligent apparitions*

    Just commiserating with you, OP. I don’t think this is an uncommon mistake to make. It wasn’t my first time managing, but my first time managing a poor performer (poor fit, maybe?), I managed it like you – what I thought was kind and compassionate was actually detrimental and demoralizing to the rest of my team (who honestly had their own issues, which compounded and complicated… everything). They were shocked after months of coddling when they wound up on a pre-PIP and they quit before the evaluation period was up. It was mostly my fault and I still think back regularly on all the things I should have done differently.

  46. Addison DeWitt*

    You know, I always left jobs in a professional manner. I may have privately expressed the notion that I’d work there again only if there were locks on all the trash cans and they closed all the soup kitchens, but I never burned a place on my way out.

    Yet the reality is that the ones that were run by decent people, treated me well post-job (I’m still Facebook friends with several of them), and the ones that were run by scheming jerks tried to slime me on my way out no matter what I did.

    So that’s how seriously I take about complaining about how people who left jobs acted on the way out.

    1. Rainbow*

      Something is fked up here, and while OP sounds like a really good person, it’s either Wanda, or the company, or just a horrible mismatched intersection of both.

      Honestly if they closed all the soup kitchens and my last job was the only place left, I’d put serious consideration into starving, though

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I get the impression – and realize this has some level of conjecture – that Wanda got bait and switched to some degree. The job description changing was my first red flag. The second, if I’m reading the timeline right, is that Wanda didn’t seemed to be managed at all those first six months, or was at least managed poorly. In the update above OP says helping Wanda be successful was given to them as a priority – what was going on before that?

        I don’t think OP did anything malicious, and I don’t approve of the way Wanda left. But there’s something in those initial six months before OP entered the picture that would help with the overall framing. I’m almost positive.

    2. Cat's Paw for Cats*

      Off topic, but I love your username. All About Eve is one of my all-time favorite movies. Bette Davis at her best.

  47. Cat's Paw for Cats*

    I once worked for one of the largest employers in our community and they had a strict policy: if you failed to work a full notice, you were not eligible for rehire. This came to bite a large number of people over the years.

    Also, in my very first management job, I had an employee who was very bright and potentially capable, but who, in my opinion, was bored and underutilized in her lower-level job to the point of not doing it well, absenteeism, etc. I tried to encourage her to prepare herself for a job that allowed her to use her intellect, but she wasn’t interested. I lamented the waste to my supervisor who told me something I never forgot: you cannot fulfill someone’s potential for them. It proved to be very true over the years.

  48. Pip*

    OP – I assume you’re sure she didn’t save any emails to your system before deleting them? My firm really stresses saving key emails to the appropriate electronic case file, and then deleting them to save room in our inboxes.

  49. SupportiveOfLeaving*

    Honestly, if I had a boss who made it clear he thought I’d be job hunting I’d be freaked out and assume I was imminently about to be laid off or fired. I would be doubly freaked out if he was supportive of the idea.

  50. BB*

    My perspective here is that employers do not hesitate to fire employees with no notice so the expectation that employees give employers notice is an unreasonable one.

  51. ExtremeActuator*

    I agree with the official response to the OP, but do want to add: it sounds like the OP was going to post the job before the employee gave notice. I understand and agree with being prepared, but I can’t help but wonder what signals the employee was receiving from the OP if they were that ready. In light of that, I find the employee’s response normal, if not predictable.

    I wonder too if the OP has considered that the employee felt smothered or otherwise disallowed from acting on their own with all the attention? I’ve seen employes before who won’t take initiative and will make questionable decisions because of a manager that micromanages. In fact, I’ve even been that employee at one point.

  52. Chelsea*

    I also managed a trash human like this. She joined the company about 4 months before I did, and after I joined, she wanted to go to Pakistan for six weeks for a wedding with her family. I let her go, got reprimanded over it, and then she proceeded to stop doing all work. She told my other team member and I that she was working on things for the other, but didn’t do any of it.

    Moral of the story: some people just suck, and will take and take and take, and it’s not a reflection on you. You’ll have many more people in the future who will ask you for a reference and will be good employees. Keep an open heart. You’ll see :)

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