CEO freaked out when a new hire quit, brilliant employee is horribly inappropriate, and more

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

1. Our CEO freaked out when a new hire quit

Got a question about something that happened at our office today. One of our coworkers (Dwight) is leaving the company after only working here about three months. He had apparently told the CEO, David, that he wasn’t using this job to leverage his previous employer for more money and that he wouldn’t leave for them, but he is leaving for his previous employer.

David ended up calling him out for this in a meeting with the team he worked for (a normal meeting about project updates) saying he “didn’t keep his word,” “the bridge was nuked,” and “he knows many people in the industry” and implied that he would trash Dwight to any contacts. He also cited examples of former employees “not keeping their word” and examples of him helping out current, younger employees such as currently helping an employee with their immigration status (which the employee was very uncomfortable with David sharing) and another employee’s grad school costs. Dwight’s direct manager also called him out during this meeting.

Is this normal for a company CEO to do? I’m considering leaving and am nervous I might have to deal with this, so how should someone handle something like this?

No, it’s not normal. It would be one thing to say privately, “I’m disappointed that I specifically asked about this possibility and you assured me you weren’t considering it” (although even that is a bit much — what’s even the point at this point?). But attacking him in a meeting, saying he’s going to trash his reputation, and acting as if a grievous sin has been committed is ridiculous. It also makes David look strangely inexperienced and naive, because this stuff happens! People say one thing and then do another. Sometimes that’s because they never planned to keep their word, but often it’s because their circumstances changed in ways they hadn’t anticipated. It’s entirely possible that Dwight meant what he said originally and then something changed — his old company offered him more money than he could pass up, or the awful manager he wanted to avoid there left, or all sorts of other things. Or, sure, maybe he was acting in bad faith the whole time … but there’s no way to know and life is generally better for everyone if you don’t default to assuming bad intent. Regardless, though, this kind of thing happens and decent managers roll with it — not try to rain down hellfire.

As for what it means for your own departure … maybe nothing. If yours will be more of a typical resignation (i.e., not after only a few months and not going back to a company you assured them you wouldn’t be going back to), there might not be anything to spur David’s weird wrath. But if he does treat you like he has treated Dwight, there’s advice here on handling it:

how do I resign when my boss is a horrible person who will yell and insult me?

2. Brilliant new hire is horribly inappropriate

I run a small team in a heavily-regulated industry. One of my new reports is a 20-something who is genuinely brilliant. The projects he has put together in his personal time are extraordinary, even when compared with experienced people in his field.

The trouble is, he’s incredibly juvenile. Just astonishingly socially inappropriate. His regard for safety is non-existent unless it’s explicit rules he’s been given. Conversationally, he’s typically very taciturn, unless it’s just the small team. Then he’s extremely talkative and usually very inappropriate.

I believe he has great potential, but him behaving like a 12-year-old boy is going to torpedo all of that. What can I do to help protect him from himself and foster the kind of growth I’m hopeful he can achieve?

You might not be able to; he might just not have the maturity for a professional environment yet. Your best bet of finding out is to have a really blunt conversation with him where you lay out what he needs to do differently. Describe what you’ve seen that’s a problem and what needs to change, and use a “you cannot joke about sex, drugs, or toilet stuff at work, period” level of bluntness. Ground it in some recent examples to make it as concrete as possible.

With the safety issues, name the problem head-on — “You have frequently engaged in unsafe behavior in the office unless you’ve been given an explicit rule to the contrary. For example, you should have known it was dangerous to drive the forklift around the cafeteria, despite not having ever been instructed not to. That behavior puts the company and your coworkers at serious risk, so no matter how good the rest of your work, we cannot keep you on if that continues.”

3. How to charge for extra communication as an hourly freelancer?

I am a private tutor. Generally speaking, my situation is very easy and relaxed. I find families through word of mouth, figure out what they want, and then I come once a week and it proceeds like clockwork.

Recently I acquired a new family that is requiring a lot more of my time. I really like them, and I enjoy their child and do not want to damage the relationship. However, the amount of extra calls, texts, and emails they ask of me is more than the time I spend on all of my other clients put together! Generally, for both good vibes (no one likes to feel like they are being surcharged all the time) and because I am already charging a high rate, all of my extra communications are gratis, and I am genuinely happy to offer them. An occasional 15-minute call can go a long way towards maximizing how well I am working with someone’s child.

However, at this point, I am beginning to feel resentful. This family is incredibly nice and I like them, I just need to either place boundaries on giving them less time or ask for payment for the extra time. However, because I have never had this happen before, and therefore have always presented extra discussions as gratis, I am not sure how to approach this without making them feel weird or singled out. What is the best way to say, “I spent 65 minutes this week on calls and texts with you, that’s basically an extra session, please pay me” when that has always been free before? Or do you think I should eat the time-cost with this client, and then just start being stricter with future clients? And if so, what would you suggest I put in my future client agreements? Currently it just includes my cancellation policies.

You shouldn’t bill them retroactively when it’s never been discussed, but you can let them know what the system will be from now on. How about saying, “I’m always happy to talk outside of our scheduled sessions if you feel it would be helpful, but my fee only covers one or two additional calls or emails a month (or whatever is realistic for you to offer). If you’d like a higher level of support, I can offer that at the same rate as I charge for the tutoring time itself. Would that work on your end?”

And yes, going forward, do add it to your contracts. For example: “I encourage families to communicate with me any time they feel the need. I’m happy to offer up to 30 minutes of calls or emails without charge per month, and will bill at the rate of $X after that.”

4. Should I quit my new job?

I just started a new job – this is my third full week in the position. I was initially excited about it, but I’m realizing the fit may not be good, and there are other issues.

Firstly, this is a job in my field, but whereas I’m used to working on bigger teams with at least a couple colleagues in similar positions, I’m a department of one here. That’s ended up being less okay with me than I thought it would be. Secondly, the work tasks are way heavier on the administration and way lighter on the actual subject matter that I have experience with. Thirdly, the hourly pay is 35% lower than my rate at my last position, and it’s part-time with no benefits. I knew this going in, but figured it would balance out if the job was enjoyable enough. It’s not.

Fourthly, the organization is a nonprofit and has an ongoing relationship with someone who was previously affiliated with the organization, and who was convicted of a very serious criminal offense. I won’t go into details, but suffice to say it involved children. The ongoing relationship is largely because the individual has donated a lot of money. Everyone in the org is aware of this. This makes me deeply uncomfortable, and I would need to work with this individual (remotely) on an ongoing project.

Basically, I want out. But I don’t know what to tell them. Is it really okay to just quit? I have additional unrelated part-time work that will continue for another two months, as well as an ongoing freelance gig. I also have a year’s worth of living expenses saved.

Yes, it’s really okay to just quit! If you feel guilty about it, remember that it’s better for them if you leave quickly rather waiting until after they’ve spent the next few months training you.

The easiest/quickest explanation is probably to just say that you expected the job’s focus to be X but it’s ended up being Y, and that’s not what you had hoped to be doing. If they try to convince you that will change, you can say, “I do think this needs to be my last day, but I wish you all the best with your work.” And then stick to that. (Alternately, you could offer a notice period if you’re willing to, but typically when you’ve only been on the job a few weeks, wrapping up more quickly makes more sense for both of you.)

5. Explaining to an interviewer why I’m leaving when my job is a crapshow

My workplace is toxic to the point it sounds fake. I honestly think you would drop one of your few F-bombs in response to what’s going on here.

To keep it short, I’m aggressively working on getting out, to the point that I’m interviewing for an entry-level position far below my experience but that pays slightly better, just because it will be a stable paycheck. All of my reasons for leaving here sound dramatic, so I’m wondering if the easiest one is to be honest and say I’m looking to leave because my last two paychecks bounced and I can’t keep dealing with that.

Yes. The thing about citing bananapants behavior to explain why you’re leaving is that it makes the drama the focus, and sometimes that can overshadow the interviewer’s impressions of you and your skills. So simple and non-dramatic is best when you’ve got that option available (meaning that if you have Dramatic Reason X, Dramatic Reason Y, and Less Sensational-Sounding Reason Z, just use Z). So, assuming it’s true, you could say, “Unfortunately they haven’t been able to pay us our last two pay periods, so I’m looking for something more reliable.”

But then pivot to what appeals to you about the job you’re applying for. You don’t want the interviewer’s impression to be just that you’re looking for any safe spot to land in, but rather than you’re specifically interested in this job and likely to stay in it for a while.

{ 299 comments… read them below }

  1. BuildMeUp*

    #1 – Given David and the manager’s behavior, I can’t help but wonder if Dwight realized this place was toxic and asked if he could have his old job back in order to get out.

    1. lyonite*

      My thoughts exactly. He wasn’t planning to go back to his old job, but when the big boss showed up wearing a whole banana three-piece-suit, suddenly it seemed like a good idea.

        1. Random Dice*

          The very first red flag was way back when he grilled a prospective or new employee about their intentions.

          It has never occurred to me as a hiring manager to ask if someone is just negotiating for a raise in their current job, or if they’ll return there. It’s like wearing red flag underwear on top of one’s pants. (I have issues! I’m going to be a nightmare! I don’t care about toxic power dynamics!)

          Instead, I focus on making the job as good for them as I can, so they don’t want to leave. I’ll fight to get them top dollar, and flexible and sane working conditions, and respect them.

          1. The Meat Embezzler*

            That’s really interesting that you don’t ask the question, “What has you looking for something new?” I’m all for folks leaving jobs for more money as…let’s be honest we all know it’s great to be compensated more. The trick is I’ve found that it can’t just be for money. Now, it’s rare that someone will just bluntly tell you that they’re looking for exactly that but when they do, I’ve found asking them, “Ok, so you’re looking for ‘x’ if I can get you ‘x’ and when you go to give notice to your current employer and they tell you they’ll match ‘x’ how would you feel about that?” I’ve gotten good mileage out of people’s responses to that question and it allows you to suss out a bit on who is serious about making a move and who is just using your company as leverage to get a counteroffer from their current employer.

            1. AmandaBentley*

              “What has you looking for something new?” is a much different question than “Are you using this position as leverage?”

              In my experience, I most always ask why the person is looking to make a change, but I’d never think to specifically ask if they were planning to return to their old employer.

              1. Rex Libris*

                I go back and forth on how worthwhile a question it is. I mean, the answer to “Why are you looking for something new?” is “Because it looks like a better situation than where I am.” I generally find anything beyond that is just details unless they give a truly banana pants answer, which tells me loads about their judgment, at least.

          2. Event coordinator?*

            Right?! makes me think that the CEO made the reason up instead of Dwight telling him that. That does not come up in interviews. Very weird; the CEO does not sound like a normal grounded person.

      1. Mister_L*

        Well, the CEO basically admitted that 1. other people have also bailed and 2. that he will hold “favours” over peoples heads.

        1. ferrina*

          Yep. The CEO sounds vindictive and nasty. Even if he seems nice the rest of the time, anyone who does a “favor” then assumes that it entitles them to XYZ (basically anything that the other person hasn’t explicitly agreed to) is not a nice person. This is definitely someone that you shouldn’t accept a favor from. Honestly, I’d keep quiet about anything personal so that the CEO can’t try to use it against me

          1. Totally Minnie*

            I saw somebody recently refer to people like this as “superficially affable” instead of nice. If everything is going his way and you haven’t had a chance to get on his bad side yet, he can seem quite nice. But he’s not actually nice, he only seems that way on the surface.

            1. Your former password resetter*

              I’ve heard it described as the difference between nice and kind.

              he normally behaves nice towards you. but he is not a kind person.

            2. Sarah M*

              Superficially Affable describes one of my worst old bosses. The master of the Aw-Shucks smile and demeanor, a lovely conversationalist who loved to chit chat with underlings, and a man who absolutely did NOT GAF about the job, the client, or anyone on his team. I’ve often wondered in the years since if he’s a Dark Triad member.

        2. MassMatt*

          …and also that he has no discretion. He blabbed about someone’s immigration status in a meeting, this was no one else’s business!

          1. Totally Minnie*

            Yeah, nobody should trust this CEO. He’s practically doing a red flag fan dance in front of everyone.

            1. Mister_L*

              On a fun trip down memory lane, does anyone remember the LW who complained that they didn’t have any leverage over an employee?

              David sounds like that LW with more employees.

        3. Momma Bear*

          Right. So if I were LW I’d just expect it to not go well, focus on my exit and remember that unless it’s in a contract, you’re not beholden. Maybe CEO will stop doing favors but that’s on him, not you. Good luck.

        4. goddessoftransitory*

          Can’t imagine why people bailed!

          CEO’s middle name is clearly “issues” and he’s trying to solve them by projecting blame onto “all those ungrateful employees who keep bailing” rather than looking at why his company resembles a parachute plane.

      2. Sloanicota*

        Yeah I’m not sure why everyone was acting like he was leveraging the offer at his old job. People don’t generally quit and work somewhere else for three months if that’s the plan in my experience; they do it during the offer stage. It’s more likely he started in good faith, hated it, and begged for his old job back. That happens to our org too and admittedly it does feel pretty bad but acting like he let *you* down or was untrustworthy doesn’t make sense to me.

        1. Antilles*

          Yeah I’m not sure why everyone was acting like he was leveraging the offer at his old job.
          I can explain why they were acting like that:
          1.) David was acting that way because the only other explanation involves admitting that him/his company are the problem. That cannot be the case, no way, no how, I’m great, so clearly it’s that Dwight was a traitor playing the super long game.
          2.) Everybody else was acting like that because nobody wants to contradict David and draw fire from the toxicity cannons. Sure boss, you’re definitely right, you’re great and it’s that treasonous Dwight, yes sir.

        2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          It’s more likely he started in good faith, hated it, and begged for his old job back. That happens to our org too and admittedly it does feel pretty bad but acting like he let *you* down or was untrustworthy doesn’t make sense to me.

          I had almost the exact situation play out with my closest friend; good faith recruitment, got a modest but noticeable raise to join us, but realized after ~3 months that remote work was not a good fit and our old employer was begging my friend to return (as supervisor/team lead of our old team). Ultimately, that was the best choice for my friend, and though I miss their company at work, proper notice was given every time and there are no enduring hard feelings.

    2. Uldi*

      My exact thought. Sounds like Dwight might have realized he was working for a toxic CEO and manager and decided to nope on out.

        1. Miette*

          And whatever you do, OP, don’t tell anyone where you’re going when you leave. David sounds like he’d be the kind of guy to call and badmouth you to the new employer.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      Even if Dwight had never noticed before that David is unhinged and unrealistic about loyalty, there’s nothing about a public call out that’s going to make him think “Oh no I should have stayed!” I feel so sorry for the employees David referred to as basically owing him favours.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        It’s the equivalent of burning down someone’s house to stop them moving away; you basically guarantee the outcome you didn’t want.

    4. Rose*

      Came here to say this. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. I can see getting an offer just to leverage against a current job, but I have never heard of someone actually leaving for multiple months with the intention of coming back in the near future. It just doesn’t really make any sense. What if they had already filled your job?

      My guess is he spent a few weeks there, realized it was a hot mess, and begged for his old job back.

      1. CityMouse*

        Yep, no one leaves for 3 months to leverage a return. That’s not how that goes down.

        1. The Rafters*

          Person did recently come to us in order to leverage a promo with old. First and only time I’ve ever actually seen it work.

        2. Nina*

          I’m in an industry that’s notorious for forcing people to leave if they want to get promoted and even I’ve never seen that fast a turnaround. Leave Company A as a Junior Thing, join Company B as a Thing, few years later back to Company A as a Senior Thing. Note the few years.

      2. Paulina*

        Yes, to try this you’d have to be very sure that your skill set can’t be filled by someone else. I can see the old company raising their offer for Dwight to return if they’d had difficulty filling his position, but that would still be “how it happened to work out” rather than any strategy Dwight was actually trying deliberately. And the usual caveats about accepting counteroffers would still apply (that if they had to learn the hard way how to value you, they’re going to act similarly in future). It’s unlikely to be a good move for Dwight to go back unless he also had significant regrets about leaving.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      Exactly. If you’re leveraging for more money, you never leave the old job.

      A few months, though, is just the amount of time to realize the new place is bananapants and reach out to your old manager, who’s like “We haven’t filled the role and would love to have you back.”

    6. A Poster Has No Name*

      I 100% think this is what’s going on. 3 months is a long time for a company to hold out a counteroffer. Dwight isn’t backstabbing, he’s running for the hills.

    7. Spero*

      I agree. I worked for a nonprofit that was one of the high passion/high performance agencies in our area but had a lot of culture issues, one of which was that the CEO went nuclear on anyone who left by choice (while simultaneously firing people for not being committed enough). If your spouse was moving out of state or you had a baby, ok…if you got offered more somewhere else or a shorter commute absolutely better have all your ducks LOCKED IN before telling her. I loved the work and hung on 5 years, but whenever anyone asked me about applying the FIRST thing I told them was that unless they wanted to stay forever don’t bother to apply because she will try to destroy them if they leave. It absolutely gets around in the community and you can only get applicants who are new to the area or have red flags of their own after a while.

    8. Kyrielle*

      Yeah, this or some variant of it is what I was thinking, honestly. At $PreviousJob we had a guy leave for a new job. He was excited for it and glad to go. He was also a good worker, so we were sad, and his boss told him he’d always be welcome back.

      Sure enough, we got him back, after he spent weeks in the formless sea of training that was promised but didn’t happen, equipment that arrived after he’d been there a week and took still longer to get set up right, lack of direction on what he was supposed to be doing, etc.

      $PreviousJob was a bit of a chaotic mess at times, but he at least knew what to be doing there. He made an agreement with them to stay for at least a year if he came back, and came back.

      No plan to “use” the new job, just the new job being a screaming mess. It’s entirely possible Dwight found the circumstances he was in bad enough to make returning to the previous job a good step, when it wasn’t his plan originally.

    9. Dawn*

      Yeah I came here to say this too; I’d bet good money that Dwight had no intention of going back to his previous employer prior to spending three months dealing with this asinine man who seems to think that his employees owe him absolute fealty.

    10. Moose*

      100%! Came here to comment this. I can’t imagine this is the first instance of the CEO/manager’s unprofessional behavior.

    11. Velawciraptor*

      Wish I could like comments here because this was my first thought reading that letter.

    12. Festively Dressed Earl*

      That was my take as well. I even wondered if LW#4 was LW#1’s exiting coworker.

    13. Quill*

      I have a feeling that Dwight was the guy who walked in on the equivalent of the passive aggressive “Everyone needs to be here by X o’clock suddenly because I, the Manager, am angry!” and said “oh no, that won’t work” and turned around.

  2. CoinPurse*

    #4….you can quit any time you like. It just didn’t work out. I once quit a nursing job after 2 weeks because I found out I was expected to carry adults who were dropped off by police. Physically carry an adult by myself. I called and said I was not able to meet their physical requirements which had just been made known to me.

    People leave jobs all the time. It’s your right.

    1. Emmy Noether*

      Also, this is why the concept of probation periods exists. Much like job interviews, they are not only for the employer to assess good fit, but also for the employee. It’s completely normal for a certain percentage of people to decide it’s not for them.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        I’m not really sure that applies.

        Typically a company handles it differently depending on if they get rid of you before or after the probationary period.

        You yourself don’t do anything differently whether you quit before or after the probationary period (the amount of notice you give tends to be related to how involved you are with projects, not if you’re on probation or not)

        1. amoeba*

          That’s probably a Europe vs. US thing again – where I’m from, you typically have a notice period of 3 months (employer and employee both), while it’s much shorter (2 weeks or no notice period) during the probationary period. So yeah, here it’s definitely treated like that.

        2. ecnaseener*

          Even in the US, as Alison mentioned, you aren’t generally expected to give 2 weeks notice while you’re brand-new. There’s not necessarily a formal cutoff aligning with the probation period, but I think there is a sense of it feeling more (potentially-)temporary on both sides.

        3. Emmy Noether*

          I should have elaborated that in places where probation periods actually make a difference in terms of quitting/firing, they also apply to the employee – so the *concept* that employees may decide it’s a bad fit fairly soon after starting is certainly a thing, and presumably a certain percentage of people find themselves in that situation. There’s no reason it shouldn’t happen to US-Americans as well, even if probation period is meaningless to them in terms of amount of notice.

          I’ve seen one person quit after one day, and a few within the probation period. It happens.

          1. I should really pick a name*

            What are the specific differences if someone quits during vs after the probationary period?

            1. TeaCoziesRUs*

              I worked in the US Federal government a long time ago, so I might be rusty… but from what I remember we had a 90 day probation period during which they could essentially give you notice that the next paycheck would be your last. After that time, it became nearly as impossible to fire you as it is to fire a tenured professor. Not impossible, but incredibly difficult.

              1. I should really pick a name*

                I mean differences for the employee choosing to leave, not the employer choosing to get rid of someone.

                1. Tio*

                  In the US, generally no real difference, although they may not ask you/want you to do a 2 week notice since you have nothing to wrap up

            2. Dona Florinda*

              Where I’m from, employees are required to give 4 weeks notice, or they have the equivalent amount deducted from their severance. That doesn’t happen if the employee decides to quit during the probation period, which is 3 months.

              1. jes*

                Are you saying that is a law? If so, is that in the US? Or are you just saying that is company policy? I believe there are no laws requiring severance pay in the US but I could be wrong.

                1. Dona Florinda*

                  I’m not in the US, but it is a law. Both the severance part, and the fact that employees wave a month’s salary if they don’t give notice. (It’s more complicated than that, so I’m not gonna get into details, but our labor laws are quite strong and, surprisingly, usually favor the employee)

            3. Emilia Bedelia*

              I think the point being made here is that both the employee and employer are aware that things can change during the probation period. So until the probation period is up, the manager is probably not putting the person on a big project, or signing them up for a conference in 8 months – basically, just not assuming that they’ll be there after 90 days. Once the probation period is over, everyone has agreed that they are happy with the arrangement.

              Same as if you started dating someone new – you wouldn’t start planning an international vacation with someone you’ve only gone on 2 dates with. If you haven’t agreed to be in a committed relationship, it shouldn’t come as a shock if someone says “I don’t want to go out again”.

            4. Myrin*

              Like amoeba said, after the probationary period, you’re generally required to give three months notice while during it, it’s a mere two weeks (and indeed I’ve seen several employers say the person needn’t come in anymore at all after giving notice since, well, it doesn’t really make sense for them to be there anymore).

              But more than that, Emmy is talking about the “mental” aspect of the whole thing, where the employee just as much as the employer is generally using the first few weeks to test things out and decide if they’re actually happy with the arrangement.

            5. Emmy Noether*

              For most US-Americans, the difference is probably mostly psychological. If you think of it as a trial period, then it’s expressly there for finding out if it’s a good fit, and the answer may well be no! It’s not flakiness, it’s due diligence (unless it happens really often, in which case… there’s something to be improved in the job selection process).

              In many other places, the notice period is shorter for both employer and employee during the probation period. Often way shorter.

        4. Nina*

          Where I am, the amount of notice the employer has to give and the amount of notice the employee has to give are always exactly matched, even during probation periods where the notice time is like, a week.

          Yes, you can be fired on the spot and escorted off the premises if you do something egregious, but they still have to pay you out your notice period.

      2. LW4*

        Yeah, where I live there’s an automatic three-month probation period under the law, and my employment agreement states a longer probation period. In any case, I’m well within that period. It mostly protects the employer, and not the employee, but socially speaking, it does make sense to quit within the probationary period if I already know it’s not working for me.

        1. Nina*

          Are you in Western Europe? because I’ve been applying for jobs over there (from NZ) and they all have this ‘three month probation’ thing which would be completely bizarre here. Like, we have a legal mechanism to do that, and some employers do, but it’s considered kind of weird and precious to actually use it outside of entry-level retail.

          1. Empress Penguin*

            That’s interesting to know about Aotearoa! When I worked for a university, I had a six month probaion period for a twelve month contract, which always felt a bit like overegging the pudding.

    2. londonedit*

      Yep. I mean, you can only do it once or twice or it starts to look like you bail on every new job you start, but over the course of a career there will most likely be the odd occasion where you start a new job and very quickly realise it just isn’t for you. Happened to me a few years ago – I jumped out of a bin fire of a toxic company and took a job that on paper looked fine but was actually only slightly less of a smouldering bin fire than the previous one. I left within my three-month probation period (where I am, usually the terms of a probation period allow the contract to be terminated with two weeks’ notice on either side) after a ‘this really isn’t going to work out, is it’ conversation with my boss, and they paid me to the end of the month. Fair dos. It’s long enough ago now that it doesn’t tend to come up in interviews, and in fact I now leave it off my CV altogether as it doesn’t add anything of merit, but whenever I’ve been asked about it people have been more than satisfied with ‘I was hoping the job would allow me to do X, but it quickly became clear to me that it wasn’t the sort of environment I’d be able to thrive in. It actually made me focus more on what I did want to do, and gave me the push I needed to move into Y’. Basically, interviewers just want to know that you have the self-awareness to reflect on why it wasn’t right, and if you can spin it into ‘X job wasn’t right, but I’m excited about Y job because…’ then all the better.

      1. MassMatt*

        Really short stays don’t even have to be mentioned on resumes, and probably shouldn’t be. Your resume isn’t an exhaustive list of every single job and experience you’ve ever had, it’s relevant information and experience for the job you are seeking.

        1. londonedit*

          Yep, I know. Immediately after leaving that job I did keep it on there for a while, because the alternative was a four-month gap that people were questioning. Now? Absolutely not, there’s no need for it to be there.

      2. LW4*

        Yeah, this is the first time this has ever happened to me. I did quit a job once before this, a few years ago, but I had already been with the organization for four years at that point.

        I’m very leery of being seen as a job-hopper, so I’m keen to leave this one early enough that I won’t need to put it on my resume.

    3. LW4*

      Thanks, I appreciate this.

      And it sounds like you were 10000% right to quit that nursing job; that’s absolutely an expectation they need to clear with people upfront! I wish I could say I’m surprised, but given what I know about the healthcare industry, I’m… not.

    4. MassMatt*

      #4 yes it’s their right to leave a job they don’t like, but IMO a lot of the dislikable things about this job were known ahead of time (low pay, working solo), or should have been with due diligence (actual job duties not matching description, major donor is a creep). It’s worth asking whether they paid enough attention to these before they took the job in order to avoid repeating the problem.

      1. LW4*

        I was given information about these things, yes. Unfortunately, I didn’t know until it was too late that these things would be problematic for me. Did I “not pay enough attention”? I guess you could put it that way.

        I did my due diligence – I spoke to the person who preceded me in the role. Some of the issues that I’m seeing could have been anticipated, but a lot of them were either elided, or weren’t issues for the previous person but are for me. I didn’t know that, because I’d never done some of these things before.

        I don’t know how on earth I would have known about the donor ahead of time. How do you imagine I could have had access to that information?

        Why is it worth asking this? To determine whether I’m allowed to quit, or if I’m a bad person for doing it, or… I’m just sort of confused as to what you’d be able to determine by “asking questions”.

        1. zuzu*

          Sometimes, you just can’t know how it’s going to be until you get there. You think you’re prepared for what it will be like, you think you can handle it, you think it won’t be that different from your last job, you think it will just be a new challenge, and it’s not.

          The job I still refer to as “the worst two years of my life” was like that. The interview process was a bait and switch. Within a few months, I was contacting my prior employer to see if they’d take me back (they wouldn’t; they had a very firm “you leave us, you don’t come back” policy for junior people). I had to stick it out because I didn’t have the ability to quit without anything else lined up.

          It was awful. And worse, I didn’t even get to do the things I’d been doing in my previous job; I was still a litigation attorney, but I was doing much more litigation management than actual litigation. But you can bet that when I looked for my next job, I managed to frame that in positive terms: I developed skills that many young attorneys don’t have the opportunity to develop, such as coordinating local counsel, riding herd over a whole bunch of paralegals, tracking calendars in multiple states, and negotiating settlement agreements.

          I did *not* mention that I was sobbing in my office nearly every day or that my boss accused me of malpractice nearly every week for things other people did before I was even hired because the litigation was so huge and so mismanaged for so long. That was fun!

      2. Zarniwoop*

        “due diligence (actual job duties not matching description”

        How does one do “due diligence” to determine if they’re describing the job accurately?

        1. LW4*

          I mean, I spoke to the person who had the job previously, and outlined my concerns (which were similar to the issues I described here, minus the donor, which I didn’t know about, and some of the work balance). My concerns were assuaged. Perhaps these were not issues for that person, but they certainly are for me.

  3. yvve*

    LW3: its a tricky bit of running a small business (or other personal event, group, etc)– the part where your interactions have been mutually friendly up to this point, instead of being strictly regulated and transactional– and then you first run into the reason why the established groups have all these strict regulations and hard edges

    (doesnt even have to be malicious, as youve found! just not working for both parties)

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      Especially when you’re in any kind of coaching or caregiving role–as you bond with the client, sometimes you can come to be subconsciously seen as a kind of therapist or counselor, outside your skill set purview.

      Tutoring often comes on tail of a lot of emotional things like failing grades and other panic-button-pushing stuff, so when your client starts making progress and feeling better about themselves, a degree of transference–the version that goes “Tutor is helping me so much in X, I might start using that to feel better about Y!” and you get a kind of emotional support creep.

      I agree totally with Alison that boundaries and fee structures can help eliminate this problem. The clients aren’t doing anything wrong, and neither are you. You both just need to re-establish parameters now that the basic relationship of tutor-student has been set.

  4. Capt. Liam Shaw*

    Disclaimer… I work in banking.
    Common—Yes, in my experience. I believe what happens is a lot of people like the idea of being able to fire or discipline someone. So if you leave and they are denied this, what happens is a lot of managers really resort to the ole; you didn’t break up with me I dumped you mindset. I have seen so many managers act like petulant children when someone departs I honestly expect it to happen.

    1. Yes And*

      This is a really good point. Some bosses have been trained by decades of employer-friendly labor markets to expect one-way transactions in employment relationships. They expect loyalty without offering any. It’s of a piece with the whole “nobody wants to work anymore” canard.

  5. Lyngend Canada*

    Wonder if the young guy is in his first white or professional environment without parents who could guide his behaviour.
    Coming from a blue colar/retail/raised on welfare background- learning professional norms was extremely hard. Especially when I started in toxic retail where you bad mouthed employees rather than trying to fix things. (not that management did anything about it, except tell you to deal with it yourself. Unless it was extremely serious).
    best thing about wfh is it gave me a reset button and let me stop the gossip habit. (but not the ober sharing one if I’m in person. That’s still a *biting my tongue hard * issue)

    1. Junior Dev*

      Some of the conversations I hear friends and acquaintances in retail and food service describe at work absolutely baffle me with how inappropriate they seem for work. This definitely could be part of it.

      Alternately, if he’s this brilliant on a technical level, maybe he has either no prior work experience or only worked one place that had sort of a weird culture, and he’s surrounded by older people and just sort of doesn’t know how to deal with it.

      None of this is an excuse at all. I think Alison’s script is good.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        Plus certain brilliant people seem to get a lot of leeway in terms of behavior, breaking rules, etc., simply because they’re smart and good at communicating that fact. So he may either have been allowed to do what he wanted before, or has seen the societal messaging that brilliant jerks get to ‘be themselves’ and doesn’t see a reason to change.

        1. Ama*

          Yes, and academia is one of the worst environments about excusing poor social behavior if you’re brilliant (I worked in academic admin for a decade), so if he’s fresh out of school he may very well have come from an environment where no one ever called him on his bad behavior, he saw senior people get away with similar things, etc.

        2. Although*

          A lot of those jerks aren’t so much brilliant, as confident of how their own brilliant-ness and able to convince others to buy in.

        3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          This was my go to. He doesn’t know boundaries because he didn’t have any. The Wunderkind and the enfant terrible overlap.
          Anyone remember Ramona Quimby? She made a joke. Everyone laughed. So she did it again.
          -Daddy: “my grandma said, first time funny, second time silly, third time: spanking.”
          Ramona thought she didn’t like Daddy’s grandma very much.-
          But that’s the vibe I’m getting. Also, the inappropriate jokes. Yeah, he doesn’t know exactly flies with other adults yet. None of us knows exactly, but you’d be helping him a lot if you tell him to err on the side of not finding out in a meeting.

        4. GreyjoyGardens*

          Plus a lot of “brilliant” youngsters are told by their parents to think of school as their “job” until they are out of college (and if he’s an only child even a more working-class household could pull this off and financially carry their kid for quite some time). So he might be very sheltered from workplaces and their norms.

          Or, as Junior Dev noted, he could have had previous experience in food service (as many young people do) and whoo boy what flies in a restaurant is NOT going to fly anywhere else!

          I’m going to go with Mr. Brilliant is probably naive and sheltered as much as anything and will straighten up and fly right with the proper mentoring.

        5. Quill*

          People who are “brilliant” in a field get a lot of leeway especially when they’re white men, and plenty of white men take that to mean that with any accomplishment under their belt they get to act however they want. So it’s even odds whether this guy is riding that kind of leeway or if he really thinks this is appropriate.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah I can always spot colleagues who’ve never done manual work or come from a working class background because they think certain professional norms or off the table topics are obvious and inherent; they’re not. We learn everything we know about cultures from somewhere. The disregard for safety has me scratching my head though. Safety is usually the first thing you learn in any working environment, especially a hands on one. Also, the guy follows explicit rules…but is doing unsafe things that aren’t covered by explicit rules (which they usually are). That is an odd combination or situation and sounds like he needs to be explicitly told to stay in his lane or keep his hands to himself perhaps?

      1. metadata minion*

        “Also, the guy follows explicit rules…but is doing unsafe things that aren’t covered by explicit rules (which they usually are).”

        I’m curious what sort of setting this is in, but I can imagine this description applying if they’re maybe in a lab and the employee will follow equipment procedures but will also zoom across the lab on a swivel chair while people are carrying hazardous chemicals nearby because, well, it’s not *explicitly* forbidden.

        1. Dona Florinda*

          I thought it was something like he’s being told once that you should always wash your hands before doing *work*, but unless someone tells him everytime before a task that he should wash his hands, he just doesn’t.

        2. Lasslisa*

          this is such a vivid and plausible image! if that’s what he’s doing I’d probably talk to him about situational awareness more generally, as well as pointing out the specifics. he seems to need to make an overall mindset shift to realizing he’s “at work” the whole time, not just when doing his specific tasks.

        3. JustaTech*

          Oh man, we had a guy at my work who was like that: he’d worked for the company then quit to do something else entierly, but was willing to be a freelancer/consultant when we needed to run the one really complicated machine.
          So he didn’t “technically” work for us, and we needed him because no one else knew how to work this thing (a mistake that was fixed), so he didn’t feel like the rules should apply to him.

          One day, on a safety inspection, I found a half-empty bottle of gatorade and a banana in the lab. A BANANA! In the lab!
          “It just says no food or drink in the fridge, it doesn’t say it on the door.” “Yes it does!” “But only on that door, not on this door.”
          (Now we have normal people to work that machine, and a lot more signs.)

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            It astounds me, the effort level people like this go to to “defy” rules. What the eff is so important about your banana that you have to argue sign placement to this extent???

          2. Emmy Noether*

            Gotta love people who think they’re so clever for finding a “loophole” for a rule without considering that the rule is partly there to protect them from their own stupidity in the first place.

          3. Anonythis*

            I once found a banana peel in the hypergolic rocket test compound where I worked. It was in the spill kit. You know, the spill kit that’s used to clean up chemicals that can and will catch fire if anything organic touches them. That one. Fortunately I was doing the preinspection the day before the actual inspector came to visit, but god.

      2. popko*

        “Yeah I can always spot colleagues who’ve never done manual work or come from a working class background because they think certain professional norms or off the table topics are obvious and inherent”

        Eh, I think this is just as much of an overgeneralization as “everyone knows XYZ,” because plenty of people with poverty backgrounds do manage to grok professional norms through various forms of cultural/social osmosis (and thus would also have that misconception of “doesn’t everyone know…?”,) and plenty of people that disregard professional norms are doing it from a place of privilege where they’ve never been held accountable for being disruptive before instead of from a place of well-meaning inexperience. (My government-housing-and-food-stamps-having teen self certainly understood professional norms better than many of my well-off peers, as an example!)

        The take-away to me is that professional norms often are something that have to be taught, regardless of why the person hasn’t already learned them, and how much grace the employee gets for needing that guidance depends on how receptive they are to that feedback.

        1. Random Dice*

          So much this. I’m willing to bet $100 that this is a white cis man, and that white male privilege is a huge contributing factor to his behavior. The option of being able to get away with this kind of thing just doesn’t exist for marginalized communities.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            You know who it reminds me of? That Titan submersible CEO who is quite probably dead right now. I read an article about him, and he was that combo of quite smart and quite rich that so very often leads to defiance of safety regs and other “annoying” red tape that “stands in the way of progress/dreams/fulfillment.”

      3. Totally Minnie*

        In an office environment, things can be a little less safety conscious than in other kinds of jobs. In food service or construction or manufacturing, there are usually a set of well defined and explained safety rules that are written in policies and handbooks and printed on posters. That’s not really as common in office jobs, and sometimes you’ll get somebody who does a completely boneheaded and unsafe thing because it didn’t occur to them that they shouldn’t.

        For example. At a previous job, we had a bulb in one of the overhead lights that was starting to go out, so it was flickering and driving everybody crazy. One of my coworkers decided not to wait for facilities to come and he stood up on his rolling office chair to try to reach it. We all immediately reacted and told him to stop, and if he really couldn’t wait for facilities to come over with the ladder, we would find something he could use as a step stool that wouldn’t roll out from under him if he leaned the wrong way.

        Our staff handbook didn’t say “don’t stand on your rolling office chair,” presumably because the people who wrote the handbook didn’t think to include it, because it seems like common sense. But someone who needs to have safety rules explicitly spelled out may not realize that on their own.

      4. goddessoftransitory*

        The safety thing was a HUGH red flag for me–you’d think any company that didn’t want to get in real trouble with OSHA and similar government agencies, sued, aquire a rep as flagrant violators of standards, etc., would already be shutting that down HARD.

        I would remind the LW’s bosses and HR department of the oldie but goodie saying–the cemeteries are full of indispensable men. No matter how brilliant this kid is, if he destroys your company’s reputation or physical existence, what does it matter?

    3. Lenora Rose*

      My thought was that it sounded like autism; brilliant but missing what seem to be simple basic social cues, and safety awareness (The safety awareness is what really clicked for me). Your theory is just as sound, though.

      The best thing is, in both cases – coming from a non-white-collar background, or neurodiversity – the advice given remains exactly as Alison said: State what is being done wrong clearly, and give concrete rules for behaviour and safety.

      The only thing I would add is that it also helps to specifically say when a thing is done *right*, especially when done wrong in the past. This can feel weird for social cues or the like, because we want to think adults already know what is right or can extrapolate correct behaviour from being told what not to do. But it does also happen that someone goes from doing the wrong thing to overcorrecting and doing a new, different wrong thing.

      1. Madame X*

        Diagnosing people is against the rules on this website. You cannot diagnose someone based on a third hand account about one specific behavior that a non-clinician has described. There are Lots of people who don’t have autism and who are socially inept yet still smart.

        1. Echo*


          That said, Alison’s rules do permit “the situation might be X, and here’s how it would change my advice”.

          I am neurodivergent (no diagnosis but suspect autism). My advice—regardless of whether this guy is neurodivergent, new to the workplace, or just new to this type of workplace—is to assume that 1) giving feedback is always more supportive and kind than not giving feedback, and 2) all feedback should be as explicit and detailed as possible, and make zero assumptions about what someone does or does not know.

          Here’s how I would script this.

          “You are one of the most talented engineers I’ve ever had on my team. You design creative and elegant solutions, and you do so more quickly than anyone I’ve ever managed. I’m telling you this because I have some difficult feedback. If you want to continue your job here, you need to stop joking about bathroom topics, sex, and religion, and you cannot disregard safety procedures. For example, last week you made a joke about Ellen’s hijab in the break room. You shouldn’t have commented on that, and you cannot comment on that in the future. You also cannot disregard safety procedures like driving the forklift in the cafeteria. No matter how skilled you are as an engineer, these are the types of things that are firing offenses in our workplace. I can’t keep you in this job if these things continue – at all. This is not a three-strikes rule or a development plan – further violations will mean I need to terminate you immediately. If there’s any support I can give you, or more examples of behaviors that are and are not appropriate, I can do so.”

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, “here’s how it would change the advice if so” is the key part. (That said, technically “it sounds like X” is not allowed and in this case I should have caught that — I saw the advice part (which is what we want) and skimmed over the diagnosis part. I’m leaving it now because it the whole discussion like useful elucidation of the nuance here. (Although maybe it’s not, I don’t know — I’m stretched super thin today trying to figure out why the site keeps going down and I’m just going to call this good enough for now.)

          2. JustaTech*

            It’s interesting you put both sets of behaviors in one conversation.

            Personally, as someone who’s been the safety officer, I would call out the safety stuff separately (and first). Your script for that part is excellent!

            I would just discuss them separately because the safety thing is way more serious “fire you tomorrow” kind of thing, but also more cut-and-dried, where the inappropriate conversation is more nuanced and might need more discussion/examples.

            Today we’ll fix the spilling phenol everywhere (or whatever), so that we’re all alive tomorrow to discuss not mocking Ellen’s hijab (or whatever).

        2. Lenora Rose*

          That is why I moved on from that one mention, and focused on the relevant advice, and on adding to and building on what I hoped would be a useful addendum to the advice (And would be regardless).

          For the record, Alison put the comment in moderation at the same time she was removing the other diagnosis based comments, then released it, meaning she’s fully aware. I would have accepted it if it was removed and rephrased the advice relevant part.

      2. Anonythis*

        Yeah, no thanks.
        I’m autistic. I’m also the health and safety rep for my workplace and the person responsible for figuring out what needs to be signposted and what we can trust people to work out on their own.

        We’re wired different, not stupid. God knows I’ve seen plenty of neurotypical folks do insanely dangerous stuff (stick your entire bare head and arms under the still-dripping nozzle of a machine full of corrosive and flammable oxidizer? stick your entire bare face over the opening of a drum of outrageously toxic volatile chemicals? that wasn’t the aspie, that was the NT guy)

    4. ursula*

      I don’t know if I’ve had an unusual experience with this, but all of my worst experiences with this kind of behaviour have been from nice-white-professional-parents people with good educations who are determined to seem edgy. In my experience, people who genuinely don’t know about workplace etiquette take correction easily and adapt quickly if they have someone being honest with them. The people who can’t seem to shake it are the ones who are trying to prove something about themselves. (Not saying we can necessarily tell which one this guy is, just an anecdotal observation.)

      1. Lasslisa*

        yeah, I keep thinking it sounds like someone who hears you’re supposed to be relaxed and bring your authentic self to work and have friends at the office, and just doesn’t realize all of those things are still supposed to be doable within professional behavior boundaries.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        And honestly, I don’t think one can assume that being from “nice-white-professional-parents” means a person will understand the norms of a professional office. I mean, it sounds like they people who worked with have every opportunity to know but were just being edgy, but I do think people sometimes have a tendency to assume “from a middle-class background” = “grew up with norms similar to those of this office” and…that isn’t necessarily true for a whole host of reasons.

        For one thing, there aren’t one set of norms that apply to all middle-class jobs, another set that apply to all manual/trade typed jobs and a third that apply to minimum wage jobs with little or no crossover. Somebody raised by teachers isn’t more likely to be able to get any more advice from them on the norms of say a tech company that somebody whose parents are waiters or mechanics. Heck, there are some norms mentioned here as “white collar office norms” that are closer to what I experienced when I had a student job in retail than what I experience in teaching.

        And “coming from a working class background” doesn’t mean not knowing people in office jobs, etc. I grew up on social welfare and had plenty of friends with parents who were teachers, doctors, engineers, etc.

        And even within the same profession, norms can differ quite a bit. I’ve worked in schools where it is expected that everybody will be in a minimum of 15-30 minutes before school starts and will remain in the school maybe 30 minutes to an hour after school finishes. I’ve also worked in schools where people are habitually rushing in the door as the bell rings and everybody leaves the minute the final bell rings. Now, the sensible thing to do is to plan for the first and if you see everybody else getting in after you and leaving before you to change based on that, but if somebody’s parents worked in a school where it was find to arrive in the staffroom at 9 and have a cup of coffee before arriving to your first class 5 minutes late and then to leave as soon as your final class finished, I could see them assuming that applied in all schools.

        And that is assuming functional workplaces (though, OK, one could debate how functional the school where people were habitually walking in the front door as the bell rang for first class, was. That was a good indication of how organised the place was. But even the well-organised schools have varied greatly in how much expectation there is to arrive early/stay late even if those would all agree that you should be in you class when the first bell rings!). If the parents worked in dysfunctional white collar jobs, they may well have given their kids advice that isn’t helpful.

        And then there are people who don’t have a good relationship with their parents and/or whose parents have never discussed work with them and people who immediately dismiss anything their parents say as “pfft, it was different in their day”.

        Honestly, I don’t think having been raised on welfare made it any more difficult for me to learn the norms of my profession than it was for any of my friends from middle class families. Maybe those who had parents who were specifically teachers might have had an advantage, but I don’t think somebody whose parents worked in an office or say as a lawyer had any particular additional insights.

        This isn’t to say we shouldn’t make allowances for young people starting in the working environment, but rather that no matter what their background, it is likely they aren’t going to be 100% familiar with professional norms at first.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          “And then there are people who don’t have a good relationship with their parents and/or whose parents have never discussed work with them and people who immediately dismiss anything their parents say as “pfft, it was different in their day”.”

          To be fair, Alison and our fellow commenters are always warning us not to take our parents’ bad and outdated career advice! No gumptioneers need apply!

          But your point that there are all kinds of reasons why someone might not know professional norms, or a particular professional norm (teaching is not lawyering is not tech work) definitely apply, as do “working class people can still have middle-class contacts and support.”

          Whatever the cause, being unfamiliar with professional norms, or the norms for a particular type of work or workplace, are something that is fixable, as long as the person violating the norms is willing to listen and learn. It’s when they are bullheaded, and double down on their behavior, that it starts becoming a real problem. But most aren’t, and they are willing to learn and glad to know what’s what.

    5. Sloanicota*

      The only other thought I had on this letter was, for a truly exceptional employee, it may be worth it to offer to rearrange some things, like having this person work remotely on a role that plays to their strengths but not be in the office doing whatever weird things they’re doing. Or having them report directly to you and only you and not work with the rest of the team. The employee would have to accept this, of course (and ideally you would have explained the problems you’re seeing all along and make it clear that the alternate option is dismissal). OP may also decide the employee’s good qualities aren’t worth this level of hassle, and that’s fair too.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        That would be good, if it turns out he is unteachable. It would be awful to make an accommodation that hurts more than helps him.
        OP hasn’t determined yet if he can and is willing to adapt.
        Like Alison always writes, the first step is to talk to the person.
        It will be awkward, but it’s the job.

      2. Boof*

        If they’re new/young it’s really best to try to shore up / spell out / work on weaknesses first rather than trying to work around/accommodate them (unless there’s a specific ada/medical/pre negotiated issue at play). I say that because it’s worth attempting to learn the norms and rules prior to bending/breaking them. Also will make life much easier for managers i would think.
        Honestly all the behaviors described sound like they are coachable if the person is willing to learn and will ultimately really help the employee to improve on whatever their ultimate trajectory

        1. Paulina*

          Yes. This employee has done some exceptional things in private projects on their own; not making the effort to teach them workplace norms, especially these common to many workplaces, may cut him off from professional growth and doing great things as part of a team.

          His behaviour sounds like someone who shuts down when he’s uncomfortable and lets loose when he’s more comfortable, where both of those are being taken to extremes and as such are problematic. It may be easier in some ways to try to work around his tendencies, but it’s really not in his best interests.

      3. GreyjoyGardens*

        I agree, it’s better to assume that Mr. Brilliant can learn and is willing to put in the effort. I would not write someone off this quickly, especially in their first job. Most people can learn, want to learn, and are grateful to know where the boundaries lie.

        Rearranging things or remote work should be a last resort if Mr. Brilliant proves to be too stubborn or clueless to wrap his head around office protocol. Most people aren’t.

    6. NeutralJanet*

      I really hope that you meant “white collar or professional” here, but if not, please don’t conflate white with professional—while it may be intended as a way of discussing unconscious racial biases, it is in fact super racist to imply that people of color are inherently unprofessional!

      Also just want to note that if he comes from a blue collar work background, he would probably be, if anything, more conscious of safety than someone from a white collar background, as many blue collar work environments have strict safety protocols.

    7. Momma Bear*

      I worked for a small office with a lot of fresh grads and at one point HR did a “how to behave at work” refresher for everyone under the guise of being compliant with EEO/anti-discrimination type stuff. There were behaviors that were borderline and it needed to be spelled out specifically what the code of conduct was. If LW’s employee hasn’t gotten a refresher on that or needs the guideline of “this is the general expected behavior”, then someone needs to talk to him before it becomes an HR nightmare. Regardless of why he’s doing it, he needs to stop getting away with it. I’d start with the safety issues. If he can’t follow rules or realize what’s still not safe even if not on the list, maybe he needs to be moved to another department or have his duties changed.

    8. Farm Kid*

      Seriously, “the poor blue collars are feral” comments that come up regularly here are insulting. Just because we didn’t grow up with the super special privilege of parents that worked in a cubicle doesn’t mean us savages can’t figure out how to exist amongst the civilized folk. (That’s what you’re really saying, even if you add a whole bunch of softening platitudes.)

      I grew up on a farm in a rural community and am a first generation college graduate. I didn’t do any of the kind of shit the LW is describing, even when brand new to the white collar work force. While there were norms to learn in the white collar professional world and I made some stupid mistakes, figuring out how to be polite and respectful of people is not impossible.

      My experience, it’s mostly been the privileged frat-bro types that act this way.

    9. What?*

      Uh, I’m really hoping I misinterpreted your first sentence. People of color know how to behave in a professional environment–please don’t infantilize us or conflate “white” with “professional”.

      1. Joron Twiner*

        I read it as “people from a privileged background with qualities such as these who want to seem edgy.”
        Not that only people with some of those qualities can have the other qualities.

  6. Certaintroublemaker*

    … And now I’m picturing LW2’s employee driving a forklift around the cafeteria telling potty jokes!

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      Does anyone else remember the “Fugitive Alien” episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 where they kept singing “He triiiiiiied to kill him with a forklift (ole!)”

      Because I have that stuck in my head now.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        I can NEVER even look at a forklift without singing that.
        Keep circulating the tapes.

      2. Some words*

        And now it’s stuck in my head too.

        And yes, my spouse and I sing out that line fairly regularly.

      3. AngryOctopus*

        I have a cross stitch pattern for that, although I’m more likely to make the “Watch out for snakes!” one.

  7. Chocolate Teapot*

    LW 1. At my previous job a new Director was announced with great fanfare, who was going to lead a new business line. He left after 3 months, and the office rumour mill suggested it was because he didn’t like the new culture.

    Senior Management just said he was “Pursuing other business opportunities” and wished him all the best.

    1. ferrina*

      This is the normal/healthy way to deal with this! Even when there’s been some drama involved, the senior management at my company usually just says “We wish them the best; they are pursuing other opportunities”

  8. Skytext*

    Awww, come on LW5, you can’t tease us like that and leave us hanging! Toxic enough to make Alison drop f-bombs? You’ve got to give us at least a few examples.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Nah. There’s absolutely no reason to expect someone to relive their trauma just for our entertainment.

      I’m just glad they recognize the situation for what it is and are proactively working to get out.

      1. Observer*

        Yes. If “bounced the last 2 paychecks”, unaccompanied “even though they profusely apologized” is the GOOD stuff, it’s pretty bad.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Honestly, no more detail is required after a paycheck bounces. You’re working for money, and the company isn’t holding up their end of the deal. That’s pretty darned bad.

          1. popko*


            “All of my reasons for leaving here sound dramatic, so I’m wondering if the easiest one is to be honest and say I’m looking to leave because my last two paychecks bounced and I can’t keep dealing with that.”

          2. Antilles*

            Paychecks did bounce. Directly from OP’s second paragraph:
            I’m wondering if the easiest one is to be honest and say I’m looking to leave because my last two paychecks bounced and I can’t keep dealing with that.
            And that’s all the explanation OP needs for why you’re leaving your last job. Even companies which are otherwise awful are going to nod right along and move along to their next question at that answer.

          3. Lenora Rose*

            They did. The letter ends “… I’m looking to leave because my last two paychecks bounced and I can’t keep dealing with that.”

            I had a moment of confusion, two, because LW4 is a similar enough question and pay is not part of their concern, so I had to check back, too.

            1. LW4*

              Pay is partly my concern – I’m in a part-time position where my pay is significantly lower than my previous jobs (by more than 35%), which I mentioned in my letter. I could have dealt with that if the job worked for me otherwise, but it never would have been good for me.

      2. HR Friend*

        Can you chill with the hyperbole and thinly veiled scolding? LW emailed an advice column. Providing detail isn’t going to traumatize someone whose recalling a situation voluntarily in the first place.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          They chose to omit those details for a reason.

          And yes, they emailed an advice column. Because they want ADVICE, not to entertain the peanut gallery. If they felt they provided enough details to get an actionable response, then good enough.

          Providing detail isn’t going to traumatize someone whose recalling a situation voluntarily in the first place.

          You have absolutely no way of knowing that. Thus, my response was not mere hyperbole. And my response was not meant as scolding but as a reminder that there are real people with real issues on the other ends of these letters. None of them owe us anything, least of all entertainment.

          If you want entertainment, I suggest YouTube.

          1. Totally Minnie*

            Exactly. The LW shared what they were comfortable sharing, and we don’t really need the other details to answer their question.

            In fact, if they *had* shared the details, I’m guessing the comments would be full of people marveling at the office toxicity rather than giving good scripts for them to use in interviews. Yes, it would be more fun for us to know. But it would probably derail the conversation and be less helpful to the LW.

    2. MadCatter*

      Yes, OP5 if you will it would be therapeutic to vent – we are all ears to the specifics!

  9. Jinni*

    LW1, I feel like your CEO said the quiet part out loud.

    It reminds me of dating someone, who later turned out to be…a problem. At the beginning of the relationship, they said, people leave me, promise me you won’t leave. Then some months in, I found out why others left. Unless your CEO’s behavior in your example is a WILD departure, his behavior in that meeting speaks volumes as to why Dwight is ready to flee.

    1. Harper the Other One*

      Yeah, the fact that Dwight felt he had to tell the CEO that he wasn’t just using their job to get more money from his old employer had probably raised a yellow flag for him at minimum. Then he arrived and his worst suspicions were fulfilled.

      OP, even if the CEO demonstrates similar behaviour when you leave, this is genuinely not about you but about someone who’s gone off the rails.

    2. ferrina*

      Ugh, yeah, it’s a red flag when someone says “Promise you won’t leave” or “Reassure me you won’t leave because someone once left me and it was awful/I have a sad backstory/I have insecurities/insert compelling emotional story here”. They’re setting themselves up to be a victim, and setting you up to be the bad guy when you look out for yourself. This is someone that will tear you down when you advocate for yourself and will likely call you “selfish” when you state a basic need. No matter how kindly you leave them, it will never be enough for them. You promised that one time before you had all the information, and it won’t matter to them that they held back information or that things changed- all that matters to them is that their feelings got hurt, and in their mind, their feelings should be everyone’s biggest priority.

  10. Adam*

    For LW5, any reasonable company would take missing payroll as an ironclad, no-questions-asked reason for leaving a job. Payroll is should be one of the few completely nonnegotiable factors in a job.

    1. MassMatt*

      Yeah in this case I think LW is burying the lede. Bounced paychecks are serious! I can’t imagine any interviewer hearing that and not going “OK, gotcha, that makes sense, I’d leave too!”

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I’m guessing they have been dealing with so much dysfunction that that seems comparatively minor/unexceptional.

      2. The Rafters*

        There was the LW in the not too distant past who wrote AAM about her employee not being “respectful enough” after HR messed up at least one paycheck (possibly more, but I’d have to dig that one up). These types do exist.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          I remember that one. “You want to be PAID? How very dare! You do this for love and get paid in sunshine!” Sunshine won’t pay the rent, pal. They want dollars and so do I.

          1. LW #5*

            That letter really hit me hard because my boss and I got into a disagreement because he also fired someone for being disrespectful about him messing up her pay and I told him that he should realize how lucky he is that he has employees that will even show up on Monday when paychecks were no good on Friday.

            1. Enai*

              Wow @ your boss. Just… wow.

              Run, don’t walk, away from that trainwreck waiting to happen. Also, “paycheck bounced twice” is more than enough reason to leave. The company could be perfect in every other way, even provide brunch and kitten snuggling parties, and all that wouldn’t outweigh your need to pay you.

      3. Paulina*

        It should be a very clear reason to leave, easily understandable. Also one that shouldn’t make an interviewer wonder if the interviewee was at all complicit in the problem or might be part of a similar problem should they be hired.

    2. Observer*

      , any reasonable company would take missing payroll as an ironclad, no-questions-asked reason for leaving a job. Payroll is should be one of the few completely nonnegotiable factors in a job.

      It’s a terrible spot to be in, of course. But in terms of talking about why you are leaving? I can’t think of a better, more unarguable reason. And if someone DOES try to argue? Or tries any version of “Weeeellll, MAAAYBE…”? That tells you all you need to know about them!

    3. I have RBF*


      All joking aside, if my employer bounced one paycheck I would be on a high intensity job hunt immediately. Bounced paychecks are what I call a “resume generating event”.

      Q: Why are you looking to move on from your current job?
      A: The company bounced two paychecks. I’m definitely ready for a new opportunity to grow my career.

      1. LW #5*

        I was already searching when the pay issues arose, but I was taking my time to find something that I thought would be a good culture fit and pay me appropriately (besides currently not being paid when I’m supposed to, I haven’t had a raise since 2019 and I’m making probably 50% of what someone should start at in my position.)

        If anyone is wondering why I put up with this, I was in an abusive relationship when I got this job. I got out and I’ve been learning to value myself, but it’s a journey.

    4. LW #5*

      Things here are so off the walls bananapants that I honestly think my boss (the owner of the company) is going to be confused when I cite the pay issues when I quit. I’m kind of at the point where I think I’d tell an interviewer that my pay was messed up twice (probably 3 times, since tomorrow is supposedly payday) and they’ll think I’m being precious.

      Things are so bad that I’m interviewing for an entry-level position when I have a decade of management experience, just so I can get out sooner rather than later. (I’m in the interview process with some higher positions that I’m actually excited about, but it’s taking so long that I don’t think I can make it if the process takes much longer.)

      1. Fran*

        This is late so I’m not sure if you’ll see this, but why would they think you’re “precious”? You mentioned before that you’re learning to value yourself- you’re standing up for yourself. It takes time to find a new job and it looks like you have been applying since pay issues started which is good!

        Your workplace is messed up and good luck with everything!

      2. JustaTech*

        It’s not even slightly “precious” to expect your paychecks to clear, and no reasonable employer would think less of you for leaving a place that isn’t paying you.

        Years ago I was interviewing for a new lab job. When the interviewers asked why I was leaving my current position I said “We lost our grant” (ie, the money was gone). And they said “oh, that’s too bad” and moved on, because *of course* you need a job that pays.
        If even academia doesn’t expect you to work for free, then industry will completely understand as well.
        I hope you find a good solid, stable job!

      3. Hlao-roo*

        To add on to Fran and JustaTech’s points, if you do run into a (very rare) interviewer who thinks you’re “precious” for wanting to be paid…. that job will be a bad fit for you, because that company/manager is highly likely to mess up your pay while you’re there. So in addition to being a totally understandable reason for most interviewers, it’s also an answer that screens out places that don’t pay their employees on time/correctly.

        1. Observer*

          Yes, if an employer gives you even *WHIFF* of thinking you are “precious” for leaving over messed up paychecks, do NOT take the job.

          Please understand that only *abusive jerks* (and that’s the KINDEST way to describe them) actually think that people who want to get paid for their work have a problem. So, if you don’t want to get stuck in yet another terrible job, please stay away from anyone who doesn’t just take it for granted that OF COURSE you are looking for another job since your current employer messed your paycheck up.

      4. goddessoftransitory*

        If being precious is wanting your GD paycheck to not resemble a red rubber playground ball, than I’m an effin’ Ming vase!

      5. Zarniwoop*

        “I honestly think my boss (the owner of the company) is going to be confused when I cite the pay issues when I quit”
        From your description of him elsewhere I don’t think there’s much point trying to explain or justify anything to him. I think the normal rules of professional behavior can be adjusted when dealing with a screamer. So when you find a new job I’d suggest bringing all your personal stuff home one afternoon, then call in the next morning to say yesterday was your last day. That way if he starts screaming or being abusive you can just hang up. This is not how I’d resign from any normal employer, but this isn’t a normal employer.

        1. Observer*

          This is a good point.

          OP, if you feel like you MUST give 2 weeks, still bring all your stuff home before you give notice. And do NOT “discuss” this with your boss. Just “XX/XX will be my last day.”

          “but WHHYYYYYYYY?!??!?”
          “Because that’s what works for me.”
          “But WHYYYYY? Don’t realize how fantabulous we are?”
          “This is what works for me”

          No matter what he says, that’s all you answer. And walk away / hang up if he gets too bad.

  11. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    2 paychecks bounce … see the large splash as I jump ship

    1. Grey Coder*

      Yeah, this is always and forever a good enough reason to leave a job. No further explanation required, and if it’s not enough for an interviewer, then you have learned something extremely valuable about that workplace (and should run away asap).

      1. ferrina*


        An interviewer is usually just asking that question to make sure that they aren’t incompatible with what you need. For example, if you left your old company because it was too rigid and you’re applying to work at a red tape factory, as an interviewer I want to know that because I know our culture won’t work for you. I don’t want to set either of us up to fail.

        If you’re leaving your old company because they won’t pay you….yep, that’s not going to be an issue here.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          Thank you for this framing! Right now I am looking to leave my current position because it is all numbers and I definitely need something that is words and numbers. This is useful for me to keep in mind.

        2. Ama*

          I’m in the nonprofit sector and more than once I’ve interviewed someone who has given me the nonprofit equivalent to “they haven’t paid us” which is “we’re losing our grant funding.” That’s an instant “of course — well, let’s talk about why you’re interested in our specific position then.”

        3. LW #5*

          I think this is exactly what I needed to hear. I was worried that this reason would make me seem high maintenance. I’m absolutely in the situation Alison talks about where a toxic environment distorts your perception of normal.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            I promise and avow that having paychecks bounce TWICE is the opposite of high maintenance.

        4. LW #5*

          I really, truly needed to hear this framing. I had reached the point where I thought this would signal that I’m high maintenance.

          1. Paulina*

            “Will not work for free” is an excellent impression to give potential employers. Anyone who thinks that it makes someone “high maintenance” is trying to exploit people.

            Besides, repeatedly bouncing paycheques is a sign that there is a major problem with the organization. Either they don’t have the money or they can’t figure out the logistics essential to getting it into the hands of the people who work for them. Neither of these bodes well for the organization even if the employees are all independently wealthy.

          2. Gathering Moss*

            You’ve heard this, but frankly, any employer who would think ‘I want to receive my pay in an orderly and predictable way’ is high maintenance is the same clusterfuck as your current one, just in a different hat.

    2. I have RBF*

      Bingo. Bouncing a paycheck even once is a reason to start an immediate job hunt. Twice is call up every contract house I can to get a new gig ASAP.

      Payroll is once of the first things a company should allocate their cash flow to. Also, if they do not have the in-house expertise to process it correctly and in a timely manner, I suggest the retain the services of a firm like ADP, and pay the money into the payroll account first.

      1. LW #5*

        We actually *do* use a payroll company, but the problem is that in order for the paychecks to cash… there has to be funds. I’ve realized recently that the reason he wants to do so much himself is so no one catches the shady things he’s doing.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          Yeahhhh….RUN, and make sure he doesn’t have your signature on anything legal that could cause you trouble later!

  12. Madame Arcati*

    #4 I’m surprised that a charity is still linked to someone with a serious criminal conviction, involving kids or not, purely on the grounds of company reputation. My perception is that companies dependent on donations and therefore goodwill and good standing, would drop somebody of that ilk like a hot brick no matter how hefty their monetary contribution – and LW’s letter is one of the reasons. Good employees won’t apply or want to stay because they don’t want to work with, be associated with, or feel like they are implicitly condoning, that person’s behaviour. So your recruitment and retention is problematic. And surely if it’s public knowledge, their donations will suffer? They could lose more than they would by ending the relationship with the dodgy person. If it’s a secret, it will get out eventually and people will be raging. And then the charity’s reputation will be comprehensively tanked. I’m not sure this is helpful to LW except possibly to politely give this reason when they have an exit interview.

    LW5 even if you feel that basically this new job will do, and that’s it, could you put a positive spin on the reasons why it will do? Eg if you are feeling, i have a lot more experience in this area so it won’t be difficult, you could be all, I’ve spent many years working in otter farming and learnt a lot so I feel I could perform really well in this role and be a safe pair of hands to provide excellent otter care. Or turning round a reason why hypothetically you’d reject a company; eg supposing you’d not like to work at a business that trashes the environment or supports the erosion of a marginalised group’s rights, you could say, I admire the company’s standpoint on xyz and see that have done blah blah to reduce their carbon footprint/support Golgafrinchan rights and that’s the sort of organisation I want to work for.

    1. Coffee Break*

      I had the same thought re. #4, and it made me wonder if the CEO and/or the board are particularly incompetent. I also wonder how their other funders would feel if they learned the org is retaining such ties. Seems crazy to me.

      1. MassMatt*

        Unfortunately, I was not surprised. Look at all the universities happy to cash checks from Jeffrey Epstein. Including universities such as Harvard that already had enormous endowments. Harvard already had an endowment over 53 billion dollars—the largest in the world. They risked their reputation for eight million, less than two hundredths of one percent of what they already had.

        Longer term, many universities were accepting tobacco company money to legitimize the industry’s spurious doubts about the harmful effect of smoking and the addictive qualities of nicotine.

        It’s not easy for non profit organizations to to turn down money, many give in to the temptation.

        1. TeaCoziesRUs*

          I was thinking any charity tied to Prince Andrew (Pedrew) of Britain… gag a maggot.

    2. LW4*

      It’s not a charity per se, just a not-for-profit. I don’t want to disclose more about the org for privacy reasons, but I figured I should be clear about that. Regardless, I agree that it’s seriously problematic for ethical reasons, and also perhaps for legal ones – though that’s beyond the scope of my knowledge.

      In any event, I’m not sure I’d want to give this reason when I resign, but it is of course a major factor in my decision.

      1. Elsewise*

        I’m in the nonprofit sector, and it’s unfortunately a very common problem where a big enough check can handwave away any sort of behavior. Not all organizations think this, of course, but it’s a big enough topic that it’s something we discuss pretty frequently. For employees in direct contact with donors, there is often a lot of sexual harassment, racism, or abuse that they’re implicitly expected to tolerate in pursuit of funding.

        A good nonprofit has a really solid gift acceptance policy that covers these kinds of things, and sometimes also a donor code of conduct. In a really good nonprofit, this donor wouldn’t be a problem, much less your problem. I’d probably be quitting too if I were you, and that’s without all of the other stuff you’re dealing with. (I’ve also been a department of one at a previous job with very little contact with the rest of the organization, and it was miserable. I lasted five months, and should have left sooner.)

        (fwiw: I do believe in rehabilitation, and if the donor issue was more “Bob knocked over a convenience store when he was 16, spent the next ten years in prison, and is now an activist advocating for prison reform” I’d probably be approaching this differently than “Jeffrey has done awful things, but his money still spends so we don’t care”. But it’s not, so that’s not really relevant here.)

        1. LW4*

          Thanks, I really appreciate this. I’m a huge believer in rehabilitation and restorative justice, but a crime of this nature is very different for me than a situation motivated by poverty, addiction, or something else mitigating, and where it involved vulnerable people.

          I know this problem is endemic in non-profits in general, but tbh I don’t really even care much about the mission of this org. Again, I can’t get into specifics, but it’s not, like, poverty-relief or food insecurity or animal welfare or the environment or something else that I consider worthy enough to overlook something like this, even without the practical issues inherent in the position, and the fit.

  13. Literacy, numeracy & tech for all!*

    #3 While it might seem logical, from long experience of teaching & tutoring, I’d be wary of explicitly saying “I’m happy to offer up to 30 minutes of calls or emails without charge per month, and will bill at the rate of $X after that.” to all clients. I got the impression most of yours do not require that much extra time and wouldn’t expect it. But if it’s offered in this way, many will think, oh brilliant, didn’t realise that was included, and start making use of the maximum you’ve offered them. Which could end up being more in total. If you go this route, recommend tracking your time carefully for a while to see exactly what the range of additional time is.
    Ofc not saying you should offer anyone unlimited free time – this case definitely sounds like a negotiation is needed! But children and their families are so diverse in their support needs and the ways one works with them, that addressing it on a case by case basis may be better than trying to force quantitative equality (of hours worked) over a more qualitative equity.
    Also, this would make the service more expensive to any families who need a bit more time than others due to complications resulting from disadvantageous circumstances, i.e. those who would benefit the most. I appreciate that’s not how you described this particular family (and certainly wealthy privileged parents can treat teaching professionals’ time as unimportant!), but the kids in more difficult and complicated loving circumstances would be disproportionately affected by a future hard rule. And you might not be ok with that. (But then, I taught a very diverse population, so don’t know how well experience translates…)

    1. Rosie*

      I’m a tutor and I would tend to agree with this; each family is unique and making rules that cover everyone is very difficult. One of the things I like about my work is being able to allocate my time where I think it should go, and not having to track myself down to the minute!

    2. Melissa*

      Very good point! My son takes math classes at the Russian School of Math. When you enroll they have a policy that says something like “if your child has trouble with their homework, they can get up to X free tutoring sessions.” MOST families only use this a couple of times, as they need it. But there are always a small number who go “Oh, X free tutoring sessions?? Sign me up!” and they use up the time whether their child needs it or not.

    3. ProfessionalTutor*

      I’ve been a tutor a very long time. I agree that if you offer this to all in your contract, people will want to take advantage of it – and if they don’t, you’ll end up with “We never used our 30 mins of free calls this month, we should get 30 mins of free tutoring” conversations, and everything will become nickel-and-dimed and exhausting.

      I’ve found with families like these, the best bet is to re-route to in person so that you can charge for the time. They send big email/text/voicemail with questions for you, you respond with, “These are all great questions! I’m swamped this week, but I’ll schedule an extra half hour into our Thursday appointment so we can discuss in person!” (and respond over text or email so you don’t get roped into phone conversations. If they keep texting, you ignore for a while and then text back at 9 or 10 pm – “So sorry, I was with clients all day! We’ll address everything when I see you.”)

      1. online teacher*

        I agree with this! I teach online in a public school, so I don’t bill anyone for anything, but when I have a family that starts reaching for more time than I can give them, I slow my communication with that family down a bit. So, I might wait until the end of the day to respond to their email even if I have enough time to get to it right when it comes in, or tell them I can return their phone call the next day rather than squeeze it in as soon as possible, just to limit how much of my time they can have and set reasonable expectations that I’ll be able to maintain given my other tasks. (If I’m not genuinely swamped, I will read the email as soon as it comes in to make sure that it isn’t about something that’s a “drop everything” issue of some kind, but really there should not be very many of those given how I structure my classes.)

        For example, I tell all of my families that I generally answer emails/messages/etc. within 24 hours on school days, but that it might be as much as 48 hours as it gets closer to the end of the grading period or the first day back after the weekend depending on how much has built up. In reality, unless I’m slammed, I tend to go through and answer email/messages twice a day (in the morning and again in the afternoon/evening), and if I have down time in the middle of the day I’ll clear out messages again, but will sometimes let certain things sit for closer to the 24 hours if someone is trying to deal with too involved of a situation by email rather than by making an appointment. (I also tell everyone up front that the best way to get in-depth help with the subject I teach is to make an appointment rather than send a message. In my case as a public school teacher the appointments are free but are at the times that work for my schedule that week and may need to be booked several days out.)

        Tutoring for pay is a little different because if you are charging more than a tutoring center you are also making that additional pay worth it by being more high-touch, but think about what boundaries you can set with just time and availability to start with.

    4. MassMatt*

      There was an example of this in the book Freakanomics. A preschool (or day care?) was having issues with some parents arriving late to pick up their kids. They announced a policy that late pickups would incur a fee. The result was an explosion of late pickups, as the parents previously thought “I can’t be late, it’s against the rules” now thought “I can be late, it just costs X dollars, it’s a service I’m paying for”.

      LW should definitely factor this in and make sure she doesn’t wind up getting more calls without pay than she can handle or wants.

      1. Lenora Rose*

        Every day care I’ve encountered (All 3 of them…) has charged a fee for late pickups, and it’s in the contract if you look… but there’s also a firm warning that late pickups can lead to losing all service, and that’s the part that gets emphasized when first introducing the parents and signing the contract, and it’s the part that is mentioned first.

        Somehow, this works to derail the “A fee just means the service is available” mentality.

    5. Amanda*

      As a tutor I agree with this. I think the LW in this case needs to gently set some boundaries with this individual family, rather than having limits on communication spelled out in a contract.

  14. Rebecca*

    LW3: I know your pain.

    I was a teacher in schools for 14 years, tutoring on the weekends, and recently stopped working in schools and opened up my own online school. Parent communication can ALWAYS be a time suck.

    I have never found that charging for extra time to talk to me worked well. Part of what I am selling is a relationship. They care about their kids and want to know that I care about them too – there is an element of the personal in there that isn’t strictly professional, and it’s a really hard balance to strike.I have found that strategic unavailability is really helpful.

    I use phone communication very rarely and try not to give out my phone number, and tell them that I am most reliably available on email – which is true, I teach, I can’t pick up the phone while I’m teaching other kids. Then, I answer their emails when its convenient for me – if two emails come in before I answer, then I answer them both in one email. I’ll say things like, “Yes, I definitely see the issue there, I’ve got a slot on Tuesday for a zoom call to chat about that, are you free?” Once I’m on the call, “Just to let you know, I have a class at 2, so I’ll have to go then.” They don’t see my calendar. They don’t know if that’s true or not.

    I essentially train them into when and how I am available by just….only being available then.

    Rather than make them feel like I am limiting contact with them, I make it look like I am really very busy and am working hard to make time to talk to them because it’s important. I have boundaries on my time, they feel like they are getting the relationship that they are paying for, you get to triage what problems actually get your focus and attention. Win win win.

    1. And I'm the alchemist of the hinterlands*

      That is what I was thinking. Just make yourself way less available. You do not have to take all those calls.

    2. Tiny clay insects*

      I’m in a completely different industry (travel advisor) but have been struggling with this same issue. I agree–I wouldn’t want to state how much free chatting time I have, because I might end up working more. But your approach of strategic unavailability and training them how to reach you is really clicking for me. I love that way of thinking of it. Thank you for sharing this!

    3. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Training is so, so key! The client who is willing to pay for all phone calls and e-mails is often the same client who feels entitled to instant responses because they pay for all phone calls and e-mails. The only way to nip that entitlement in the bud is to train it away.

      Lots of good strategies in the comments so far.

  15. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    The first letter is a good example of how toxicity breeds dishonesty. Even if Dwight did lie… OF COURSE people end up not being fully honest when they speaking to someone this wildly unreasonable. That’s what happens if you behave this way.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      It’s like yesterday’s Pam the Admin Assistant letter. She lied about denting the company car because in her previous job, that would have meant being fired on the spot, no ifs, ands or buts. So she trained herself to lie in order to not lose her job due to the toxic environment.

      Punish people for telling the truth and of course you will get liars.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        It’s like the millions of letters to advice columns where parents bewail the fact that their kids are so distant–and come to find out, they were so controlling/unreasonable/outright abusive they had basically trained their kids to avoid them as much as possible and never tell them anything important.

  16. Turingtested*

    LW 1, I remember being a new manager at a “well thought of” restaurant. We had a new hire who worked one shift and then called out a few times in a row. Eventually he admitted to me he found a job in his field. I basically said congratulations, I take it you won’t be working with us anymore? He got uncomfortable and said that “maybe” he could work out the schedule but he didn’t want to. I assumed he’d just call off anyway so I told him he didn’t have to.

    the more senior managers were pissed! why didn’t I try harder to make him work? well cause he’d attended 25% of scheduled shifts, obviously he’s not coming back whatever he says. but we gave him work shirts! we made a bad call. but who will cover his shifts? guess I’d better make some calls, at least we aren’t dealing with a last minute call out.

    It was like they couldn’t accept that he’d essentially quit and it seemed very emotional. it’s work, people come and go under more and less ideal circumstances. ultimately it doesn’t matter why they do it.

    sorry I just find it wild that this is a problem from the CEO to the low level manager.

    1. Observer*

      but who will cover his shifts? guess I’d better make some calls, at least we aren’t dealing with a last minute call out.

      Yeah, that’s wild. You’re going to have to cover those shifts regardless. Would you rather have some notice or do it last minute – assuming he even bothers to call out!

    2. Turquoisecow*

      Sounds like the CEO and your management took things very personally. It’s kind of a disconnect that happens especially in smaller companies, where the CEO and maybe their upper level managers are Very Passionate about the work they’re doing, but the lower down the chain you go the more people are doing it for a paycheck and don’t care about the work. And often the CEOs of such small companies are like insulted that others don’t share their passion and might even quit to take on jobs that pay better, like it’s a personal insult.

    3. Ama*

      I hired a new staff person during the pandemic at a time when I was a team of one and completely overloaded …and she quit after five months because an old boss came to her who was starting a new company and gave her an offer she couldn’t refuse (it was more money than I made). It really really sucked for me personally — I remember telling my significant other and bursting into tears because I knew how much the next several months were going to suck at work. But I did not, and still to this day, do not blame her — I sometimes blame my company for keeping my department so understaffed that I wound up in that position (my department was supposed to be a team of three but the person in the third position had resigned right before the shutdown and they had opted not to fill it right away), but I don’t blame her for taking a great opportunity.

      My CEO on the other hand, has made some snide comments about her (not publicly but when I’ve had one on one meetings with her). I think she thinks she’s being sympathetic but to me it is part of a troubling pattern with her where she says all the right things about professionalism and employees leaving on good terms but if you don’t leave on *her* definition of good terms she talks crap about you afterwards.

      1. JustaTech*

        The snide remarks about departed employees by senior people is rarely a good feeling. I have a director who is still pissed, 10 years later, that one person in our department (one!) gave notice right after getting back from a conference at a nice location.
        Like dude, first, both of those things started a long time in advance, and she probably didn’t want to give notice that way, but what was she going to do, skip the conference because *maybe* she was getting a job offer?
        Second, we did two rounds of layoffs that year, why would you think we weren’t all keeping an eye out for new opportunities?

        Like, my boss and I joke about everything being LongDepartedManager’s fault but 1) he was a manager, 2) some of these things were his fault, 3) it’s very clearly a joke and we don’t wish this person ill (but please god don’t come back).

        If the company doesn’t have any loyalty to us, why should we be loyal to them?

    4. goddessoftransitory*

      It sounds like they ran their last restaurant out of a Skinner box manned entirely by kittens, honestly; this is the restaurant business! People bailing on shifts/the job entire are kind of the baseline of what is common to deal with.

      Now, I don’t think this guy dealt with his resignation gracefully or well, but it wasn’t like he became President of Earth and then decided a week later it wasn’t for him.

  17. Harper the Other One*

    OP3: you might also see if there are ways you can minimize the need for contact between tutoring sessions. Here are a few suggestions that worked for me when I was teaching music lessons!

    -set aside the last 5-10 minutes of each session explicitly for parent contact/questions if you’re not already doing so
    -have a handout or send an email the day after the session that they can reference; sometimes 15 minutes prepping that can save 30-45 minutes of calls with individual questions
    -respond at designated times (although you don’t have to tell them what those times are.) If you block out a little time and answer all questions you’ve received over the past 36 hours at once it’s usually less time consuming for me than answering individual emails

  18. Glomarization, Esq.*

    I think the advice to LW#3 misses the mark of how to maintain and preserve a cordial relationship with the family. This isn’t a contract where a professional or a consultant comes in to fix a problem. This is much more interpersonal.

    In my retainer agreements, because most clients expect and understand it, I include a rate for phone calls and e-mails. (I don’t do texts, but other lawyers’ mileage may vary.) But if a client is less sophisticated than most when it comes to using legal services, or the nature of their matter requires some level of communication where it’s not reasonable, in my view, to charge for all communications, then I won’t do so.

    If this problem were to come up with one of these clients for me, I’d proceed in a businesslike way: point to my retainer agreement and lay down the law that we can’t chat this much all the time, going forward. For LW#3’s business relationship, I would proceed with more friendly but still businesslike language. I’d name the problem for the parents and ask them to participate in the solution. I’d say that, hey, I’ve reviewed my time over the past month on the child’s tutoring efforts, and I can see that we spent n minutes on phone calls, texts, and e-mails during that time. This is beyond what I anticipated when we came to an agreement on my services and rate, and it’s actually unusual across my client base, honestly, so if we can be more efficient with our communications, to save my time and yours, I’d appreciate it.

    Then I’d train ’em: Don’t answer the phone each and every time. Answer multiple communications in a single e-mail. Respond to any communications from this client only once per day. Mention other tutoring commitments in passing, as in, “I see have a spare hour after another client on Thursday at 4:00 to catch up on phone calls, I’ll write your name in for that time and we’ll speak then.”

  19. I should really pick a name*

    I suggest making yourself less available.

    You don’t always have to take the calls, or you could say “giving you a heads up that I’ve only got about 15 minutes free” or “let’s discuss this during our next scheduled session”

  20. Melissa*

    Another option for #3 is to discuss it with them as though it is a problem with all your clients, not just them. So, for example, “Recently I’ve realized I’m spending a lot of time each week on all the various texts and questions that families have each week. It gets to be a little much! So I am going to start asking everyone to try to limit their calls to about one per week” or something. If this were a different situation, you’d need to be much more direct, but you said several times that the family is wonderful. That makes me think that a very general, broad attempt to draw their attention to the problem might work.

    1. RedRuby*

      I see your point, but I feel like the parents need to know that their level of communication far exceeds that from other families. They may need to temper their expectations.

    2. Hazel*

      Often naming a behaviour is encouraged, so what about dealing with it somewhat head-on, as in ‘we’ve been having a lot of calls etc. so rather than many smaller conversations, what overall questions or concerns do you have about the tutoring’? If the family is either needy or oblivious, it may need to be gently stated that this is unusual and try to get to the bottom of it. It might actually improve the relationship, not just defensively manage it.

  21. T*

    LW 1, will Dwight just make a scene or actually trash your reputation? What is the extent of his threat? I’m about to give my notice (accepted an offer, waiting for everything to be finalized) and I expect my boss will handle it with grace but she trash talks people all the time and I’m worried about my reputation (obviously didn’t use her as a reference). SO annoyingly inappropriate for HR, part of the reason I’m leaving.

    1. NeedRain47*

      Whenever someone says they will trash your reputation, there’s a good chance that *their* reputation is already trash and they’re known as someone who’s vengeful, mean, or a gossip. Meaning that whoever they trash you to probably isn’t going to take them too seriously.

  22. Triangle*

    Just want to echo the other tutors. Do NOT put that in your contract. Learning how to enforce boundaries with parents in the name of the game in this business—the best advice another full time person ever gave to me was to tell the parent up front on a call “I have a student in 10 minutes, so we can talk for 5” and stick to it (no matter if you mean it or not). This is why so many tutors ultimately also become IECs and you might want to consider thay yourself!

    1. Triangle*

      Also, not sure which type of tutoring you do but I would highly recommend joining Test Prep Tribe or NTPA so you can ask these sorts of questions among people who get this weird business!

    2. Imtheone*

      Please explain what IEC means. Googling it leads to International Electrotechnical Commission.


      1. ProfessionalTutor*

        Independent Educational Consultant. There are some great organizations that “regulate” IECs (not official regulation, but there’s a vetting/application process, ethics codes that IECs sign, etc) so you know you’re getting professionals.

        1. ProfessionalTutor*

          Oops! Forgot to mention the orgs: IECA and HECA are the largest, I think, but there are regional groups as well.

  23. François Caron*

    #4: I was once a department of one for a very long time. While it did offer me a huge amount of control, the workload was often excessive and a bit chaotic. I now work for a proper team with proper goals for more money.

    It’s good you’re discovering this early on and not allowing the situation to drag on.

    1. LW4*

      Yeah, it would be hard enough to manage all these diverse projects in a full-time position, but I only have so many hours per week. It’s too much for me, especially when I don’t like much of the work tasks.

  24. Irish Teacher*

    LW1, the CEO’s response was completely unreasonable. We had a situation a bit like that in our school, where our last principal took up the job, then about three months later, informed us he had been offered the job of principal in a school he had previously taught in and was leaving. (It seems like he always knew the previous principal there was approaching retirement age, but didn’t expect it to happen for another few years and wanted to have experience as a principal before applying, but…the previous principal left earlier than expected.) Yeah, I think the chairman of the Board of Management was annoyed and it was rather inconvenient for us on the staff too, but…the general attitude was “well, he has the right to do what is best for him.” As far as I know, nobody yelled at him and I’m quite sure nobody planned to trash him to colleagues.

    To be honest, if the CEO were to do the latter, I think it would likely look worse for him than for Dwight. It would just seem so over the top for a CEO to “trash” an employee who’d only been there a few months.

    It does seem like the CEO’s anger was about the specific situation and feeling like he was lied to, so it seems less likely that he would do that to you.

    LW2, how much hope I’d have with regard to your employee depends on how young he is. If he is around 21 or 22, it’s possible this is just immaturity and inexperience with the professional environment (though most people have enough awareness of social norms in their first job to look around and see what others are doing; I think that is how most people learn professional norms, but some people do find this more difficult than others). If he is 28 or 29, then I’d be more concerned this is a personality thing rather than a “hasn’t fully left the teenage mindset yet” thing.

    Of course, it’s now occurred to me that if this is his second professional job, he may have learnt poor professional norms in his previous job. Most people probably learn a fair few professional norms from just seeing what happens in their first job and taking cues from those around them, so if he was in a very toxic or very bro-culture environment, he may have learnt some inappropriate norms (thinking of the intern whose manager? wrote in to say people were saying she should stop flirting with him and who was very much encouraging him in completely inapproriate workplace conversation).

    I definitely think a clear conversation about workplace norms might be a good idea, if you haven’t done that already. But honestly, the safety stuff sounds non-negotiable if he continues with it. Something like a PIP might be your only option if he continues to ignore safety stuff.

    LW3, this is a really difficult thing about tutoring. It can be hard to enforce boundaries because to a degree, we are “doing it for the children” and as somebody mentioned, most parents want a tutor who cares about their child’s education and wants them to do well and of course, most teachers and tutors genuinely do. Which can make it hard to say “I need you to pay me for any additional help I give.” It combines the difficulties with boundaries that can apply in teaching with those that can apply in freelance work.

    I do like some of the advice given about how to enforce more subtle boundaries. I didn’t do tutoring (called “giving grinds” here) to any great extent, but I did have one student that I ended up working with and had different issues with boundaries. So I don’t really have any advice about enforcing them as I didn’t do it enough or as an actual career.

  25. HonorBox*

    OP1 – This is very familiar to me, unfortunately. In my first professional job, things were NOT GOOD. I was working in sales and the company kept changing our sales goals and cutting our commission structure. I was interviewing, but hadn’t gotten an offer when the GM of the company brought myself and another sales person into his office and asked us to confirm our loyalty to the company. We both assured him we were on board (what else would he expect us to say) because neither of us knew what would come of our interviews. A couple of weeks later, I got an offer from another company (one that I was at for 15 years!) and gave notice. I got a call from the GM who proceeded to give me hell for lying to him. He also told me that when I told him that I was on board, he KNEW I was lying to his face. Funny thing was, I gave notice as soon as I had the offer, so at the time of the conversation, I was truthful. I was on board because I didn’t have another option. He badmouthed me to my former coworkers, too. He was subsequently fired for a variety of reasons. A small person holds job changes against employees and his approach to me has guided my approach to employees taking new jobs in my career. While you’d love loyalty and people who stay with a company for years and years, that only happens if you’re equally (or more) loyal to your employees.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      > He also told me that when I told him that I was on board, he KNEW I was lying to his face. Funny thing was, I gave notice as soon as I had the offer, so at the time of the conversation, I was truthful.

      He sounds like a jerk, but actually he was right about this part. When he asked if you were on board, you said yes but were actually already interviewing/applying…

      1. knitcrazybooknut*

        Not necessarily. Offers can come from various places, even without interviews.

    2. JustaTech*

      I had a director do this to a coworker and I (on the day after the 2016 election in the US, so not a day anyone was in a great headspace). The director takes us out for sushi (nice) and talks about the state of the company and so on and then as we’re walking back to the office he asks if we’re staying.
      And my coworker told him that she had been “looking around” some, since there had been so much instability recently.
      She got an offer that afternoon and was gone in two weeks. (I may have cried a lot reading her text when I got home.)
      But at least the director didn’t hold it against her.

  26. Observer*

    #2 – Inappropriate employee

    You sound like a good and conscientious supervisor. So I want to highlight 2 things.

    One is the smaller issue – Don’t worry about his taciturnity. Unless he’s being rude or failing to communicate necessary information, it’s a quirk that you really should ignore.

    The really important thing you need to remember is that you most important responsibility here is not to this young man, his potential and his future. Yes, it is absolutely a good thing that you are thinking about that. And this is a framing that could be helpful in getting through to him.

    But your main goal needs to be the welfare of your team and the needs of the business. If you don’t succeed in getting him to change your behavior, do NOT protect him from any negative results that come from that. If he gets fired for stupid stuff, whether safety related or because his “inappropriate” conversations are deemed harassing or whatever, so be it. He may be brilliant. But you still can’t have that kind of behavior.

    1. I have RBF*

      When I think of the cringe-worthy stuff I did in my first job, I am embarrassed. But my managers and leads set me straight – firmly, but not in a blamey way. “This is not appropriate to do in a professional workplace because …” went a long way to clue me to professional norms that I didn’t know, even though I was from a middle-class professional family.

      If he’s a brilliant 20 something, he probably just doesn’t know that stuff that he got away with in school or with his friends doesn’t always fly at work. The solution is to tell him, without rancor or judgement, what the problem is, why it’s a problem, and finally, what behavior to change. Don’t assume he knows any part of it.

      Example – inappropriate jokes: “Do not make jokes about sex, gender or race in a professional environment. It leads to a hostile work environment. Please refrain from jokes at work that bring in race, gender, sex, religion or politics.”

      1. Observer*

        Sure. It’s not helpful to approach this with a blamey attitude. Be clear and kind. And make sure to TRULY be clear – Alison is completely correct that you cannot do any sort of sugar coating. But do so without rancor or a “what kind of idiot” are you vibe.

        But ultimately, if you provide this kind of clear guidance and he’s not getting it, you need to focus on the rest of your team.

  27. HonorBox*

    LW3 – Boundaries versus charging seems to be the name of the game here. The old “give them an inch, they’ll take a mile” may be appropriate here. This family may take advantage of that extra time you’re offering in a contract, and that may put you in a position where you feel you NEED to be available to them any time they contact you because they’re paying for it. If you limit your availability, and even tell people that with the amount of clients you currently have, your time is more limited, you can set yourself up to answer when you can. Do you have a few minutes at the end of each day to respond to questions? Can you set aside an hour a couple times each week to respond? You can easily communicate that your scheduled customers are going to take priority at the times you’re scheduled with them and that you’ll reply as your schedule allows, within ____ period of time (24 hours, 48 hours, etc. whatever works best for your current schedule). Then you’re not feeling like you HAVE to reply in real time to every inquiry and not trying to set a new policy for all your current/future customers when it is really just this one family that is causing the issue.

  28. RedRuby*

    As a teacher, boy do I feel this one! Being a special educator really compounds this. I’m out for the summer and have received several emails from parents that I felt obligated to respond to. One asked me, at the end of my last day of work, to email all of her child’s raw data to her. We don’t keep that year-to-year and it had all been shredded and the data put on progress reports and sent to the parents. Do they think teachers work all year?

    1. Irish Teacher*

      I suspect they don’t think about us at all. They just think of themselves as e-mailing “the school” and don’t consider that they are asking people to actually work.

    2. Rebecca*

      I have a lot of parents who just don’t think about the ways my schedule is different from theirs. The forget, for example, that the fact that their kids are in class on Tuesday afternoon means that I am not available for meetings on Tuesday afternoon. They aren’t rude, or even that entitled, they’re just applying their view of how a job works to me without thinking that other jobs are different. They’re usually pretty embarassed when I say, “I’m teaching then.”

      Though I did have one parent stand in a hallway as a herd of grade 1 cats were doing their hallway-to-classroom thing first thing in the morning to ask for a meeting. Hip deep in tiny humans who all needed a coat unzipped, I said, “I’m pretty free during lunch times this week, send me an email and we’ll set something up.” She was annoyed and asked if we could do the meeting then since she was there already. I looked at 17 squirrels running around the room I hadn’t entered yet, one of whom was attempting to climb a book case, and said, “Uh, no.”

      1. lw3*

        What’s crazy to me is that presumably her child is present in that group? So she like wants you to stop watching her child to meet with her … So then … No one is watching her child? smh!!

    3. Insert Clever Name Here*

      As a parent of a school aged kid and the spouse of a teacher…I don’t actually know the schedule for my kid’s teacher. I don’t know what data is kept, what data is kept that is not easily transmittable, and what is or is not an easy question to answer. I don’t know how long she responds to parents after the official end of the school year (when they have teacher work days), if it’s the same as last year’s teacher or different, if it’s dictated by the school, if she even has access to her email. So if I needed that data I’d email and ask for it but (because I’m the spouse of a teacher) make sure that I phrase it along the lines of “I’m looking for this, is that something you are able to send me?”

      I know some parents are absolute jackwads (see: spouse of teacher) but some of us literally just don’t know what to expect and the only way to find out is to email and ask :/

  29. Jay*

    #2: Is there any possibility that your brilliant new hire is, in fact, neuro divergent in some way? I ask this as someone who very much is and sees a lot of the same traits in this young man. Seeing social cues can be somewhere between difficult and impossible and it took me far too long to realize that I should just keep quite in most situations. What I did do, all too often (to my older self’s everlasting shame) was to just re-use the stuff that worked before, without changing it for the audience in any way. Which translated to me going full steam ahead at a group of real live grown ups with the exact same jokes and conversation patterns and topics that got junior high bullies to stop punching me when I was 13. This played no small part in fact that, until I was 26 I never had a job last more than about 8 months at a stretch. The fact that he does not follow rules expressly stated and then, once they are, follows them exactly, is another thing. I just had no common sense, literally. If a rule was not spelled out for me, I could not see it. I have a lot of scars from doing things like trying to use a paper towel to pick something out of a campfire.
    Anyway, enough with the story time.
    The way you solve these things if he is someone like me is fairly simple. You explain that these are rules and he needs to follow them. You tell him certain topics are inappropriate and that it is a rule that he is not to discuss them. Be prepared to be very detailed and specific, be prepared to answer very strange sounding questions, and be prepared for someone who actually, physically, cannot tell that he is making you uncomfortable.
    You can also just accept that he is weird and just let it go at that.
    Or you can fire him and this will just be another step on his journey to learn that adulthood and junior high have very different rules of behavior.

    Hope this helps.

    1. Boof*

      “Weird” is fine, “inappropriate and unsafe” is not, whatever the reason. I as i think you and most neurodivergent people who i think have chimed in on this site have said at times, most really don’t want to be the latter and usually seem to find direct discussions and coaching on problem behaviors helpful!
      (So yes one very direct convo is worthwhile, but consider moving on to firing if there is a lot of resistance rather than interest in improving)

    2. Random Dice*

      That’s an interesting take. I was reading in huge white male privilege, but neurodiversity could be a factor. (Or both together: a lot less pushback for violating social norms because of being white and male, maybe)

    3. Observer*

      You can also just accept that he is weird and just let it go at that.

      No, the OP *cannot* do that. It’s one thing if he thinks that his pet rock is the COOLEST thing evah! It’s another if he’s making people uncomfortable with jokes of sexual nature, as an example. I can’t imagine the OP using terms like “astonishingly socially inappropriate and very inappropriate for going on about their pet rock or being a bit obsessive about trains, etc.

      Also, ignoring safety is not something any responsible boss can overlook. If the boss can remedy that by giving him explicit rules, that’s well and fine. But either way, the OP absolutely CANNOT treat that as just being “weird”. Not legally, not morally.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        Yes, agreed. Pet Rock Fan would just be a crashing bore, not inappropriate. People might think “oh there goes Fergus talking about his pet rock again” but wouldn’t be creeped out. To me, “astonishingly socially inappropriate” suggests something racist, sexist, homophobic, or pushing religion on people. Or uncomfortable TMI about one’s personal life or bodily functions.

        And safety is definitely a legal workplace issue that a boss HAS to address. Ideally there’s a company handbook (or, these days, “hand document” on a computer) that goes over safety. Even when I was working temp jobs, one of the first things whatever agency signed me on would do, before sending me out to any assignment, was make me watch this little film on workplace safety (how to safely lift boxes, don’t stand on rolly chairs, etc.). If a temp agency that was going to send me to some filing job could do this, Mr. Brilliant’s workplace can.

  30. Angstrom*

    #1 is a good reminder that you don’t owe your employer an explanation of why you are resigning or where you are going. “I found another position” is plenty. You don’t HAVE to explain anything. An employer who insists on prying should reinforce your decision to leave.

  31. Mango in the cereal*

    #4 – Sometimes there is a phenomenon with new jobs. The first few weeks are exciting and different. Then, the newness wears off and the next few weeks are terrible. Then, the job settles down to what it will really be like.

    However, working with someone who was convicted of a serious criminal offense is different.

    And, in general, yes, it is ok to quit a job.

    1. LW4*

      I never actually had a period where things were “exciting and different” with this job – and in any event I am only a few weeks in. So far I am feeling like I don’t have the support necessary to get things done, since I’ve received virtually no training and many of the tasks are new to me.

  32. Government worker*

    LW #2 – You will be doing your employee a favor by telling him that safety is non-negotiable at most companies. I work in the unionized public sector and safety violations are fire-able offenses.
    And inappropriate comments can also result in being fired. (It just takes longer.)

    1. Angstrom*

      As a supplier rep, I’ve worked in many facilities where a safety violation would result in being walked out of the building. Safety is not a place to normalize deviance.
      The caveat is that the employee must be trained on the safety rules. You can’t discipline for “Everybody knows that” stuff unless everybody really does know it.

  33. knitcrazybooknut*

    #4 – I once quit a job after one day. I didn’t realize ahead of time that I would, like you, be a department of one, and the office and the atmosphere (about an hour of training with me sitting around trying to organize things for the rest of the day) convinced me that it would not be a successful job for me. I came back in to let them know, so at least I didn’t ghost them. It’s a tough thing to do, but sometimes it’s necessary.

  34. GreyjoyGardens*

    LW #2: I wonder if this is Mr. Brilliant’s first job out of college. Though most students have some kind of internship, maybe he didn’t. And fewer kids have part-time jobs in high school. So maybe he was one of those very smart people who was encouraged to think of school as his job, and got through his early life without knowing about workplace norms. It happens! Many parents these days who can afford to do so keep their kids on very tight leashes all through high school and college. So what we curmudgeon Xers learned at our after-school Mickey D’s jobs, Kids These Days have to learn in the more white-collar workplace.

    I think this is definitely something fixable. The fact that Mr. Brilliant is “taciturn” most of the time but really loosens up, and inappropriately, with his small team, sounds like he just plain has not learned workplace etiquette and is on some level aware of it – hence the “taciturn” behavior most of the time. He might *know* he somehow sticks his foot in his mouth but doesn’t quite know what is going on. So. Can he be assigned a workplace mentor to guide him through the issues of etiquette? He might need an “explain like I’m five” guide to what is and is not appropriate at work. “No fart jokes.” “No standing just a little too close to Helen from Accounting and staring at her body; give people proper space and look them in the eye (or at their ear if you’re uncomfortable!)” That sort of thing.

    Tongue in cheek, tell him to read Ask A Manager! There’s a lot about workplace etiquette and proper topics of conversation on here and maybe Mr. Brilliant could benefit from a Friday afternoon going through the archives.

    I think he’s fixable, just clueless and maybe overwhelmed.

    1. Observer*

      You might be right, if it were just the inappropriate comments. But the disregard for safety is another kettle of fish. You don’t need to have spent time in the workplace to develop some regard for safety.

      1. TranMod*

        You don’t have to have spent time in a workplace, but you do have to have spent time in an environment where safety was a concern. Plus, there are cognitive skills and non-cognitive skills, and being cognitively brilliant doesn’t mean that just being in an environment means they can pick up the necessary safety behaviors. I have seen people with no real safety background try to implement safe work procedures and go both overboard and underboard on the measures. If he learns well from rules, give him the rules.

        OP doesn’t give any information on what exactly his lack of regard for safety is. If there are gaps in the procedures, which leads to situations where there are no rules, that’s a different problem that should be solved. If it’s more of a “we shouldn’t need a rule to prohibit driving the forklift in the cafeteria” situation, then that will need a different approach. An approach is still possible, though.

        1. Observer*

          If he learns well from rules, give him the rules.

          This, I agree with. If it’s possible. Sometimes you simply cannot cover everything. And in a workplace with adults, having to tell someone something like “No, even though it’s not in the handbook, you can’t drag race in the parking lot while people are coming in to the office” may mean that you’ve got to go into too many details to be practical.

          Now, without more detail we don’t know if it’s that kind of thing or “I don’t care if it’s dangerous. It’s FUN!” in which case, you COULD give him an explicit rule. And it might work.

    2. I have RBF*

      Tongue in cheek, tell him to read Ask A Manager! There’s a lot about workplace etiquette and proper topics of conversation on here and maybe Mr. Brilliant could benefit from a Friday afternoon going through the archives.

      Actually, this is a really good idea, especially if he is neurodivergent. The tags “mortification”, “work habits”, and “workplace practices” would be a good place to start.

      I wish I had something like this site when I was starting out.

  35. Risha*

    LW4, I don’t have any additional advice. I just want to tell you to never feel bad or guilty about quitting a job. I think many people feel like they’re letting the employer down or not upholding their end of something, but a job is a business relationship. You are trading your time/skills for payment and you can choose to go somewhere else at anytime.

    Years ago, I used to feel guilty when I wanted to quit. I thought I was letting down my coworkers and my boss. Then I realized they would lay me off/fire me in a second, without any concern for if I need the money or not. Just give the proper notice (if you’re able to) and move on to a job that fits you as well. You have to do what’s right for you and your life.

    1. LW4*

      Thank you, Risha – this is really helpful. I do feel guilty, and am afraid of them thinking less of me. But it is a business relationship, like you say, and I’m allowed to end the relationship.

      1. Zarniwoop*

        “afraid of them thinking less of me”
        A really cynical view would be: “You’re unlikely to ever see them again so it doesn’t matter what they think.”

  36. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    #5 I might go with the phrasing “I have concerns about their financial stability so this feels like the right time to move on” and then pivot to why THIS job sounds good vs “They haven’t paid me the last 2 paychecks” The first sounds more like you are serious about leaving but not so desperate to take anything as a temporary measure.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Eh, that sounds like gossip and innuendo instead of something factual. That might tarnish the OP’s reputation more than just being factual about bounced paychecks, then pivoting to their qualifications for the job.

      1. Moose*

        Yeah, I think the matter-of-fact specific that they haven’t been paid is fine to explain if they do indeed pivot to why this particular job interests them afterwards. Any interviewer would understand wanting to get out of that. The comment about financial stability isn’t necessarily gossipy but is at least very general and might leave the interviewer with questions.

  37. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    Kudos to David for not nuking back though (at least the OP didn’t indicate it) but how tempting to announce in the same meeting, since there’s really nothing to lose at that point, “I guess the whole room now knows why new hires leave this place after 3 months … and you might find it harder and harder to hire and retain qualified applicants to this position if public tantrums and indiscretion are your standard operating policy.”

  38. Moose*

    #5 Please consider an update explaining the bananapants behavior! I am so curious now. (But bounced paychecks are more than enough reason to leave on their own.)

    1. LW #5*

      I could honestly write a novella about all the nonsense going on here.

      I’m happy to tell more or go into detail if anyone wants it, but for the sake of not emotionally vomiting all over the comments:

      – as of yesterday, he has not let me replace anyone that has quit or been fired in the past year. Those positions were not eliminated, the workload has not gone away, he just expects me to figure it out and delegate it as needed.

      – the co-owner (who is the managing partner’s father) has a medical condition that impact memory. He has completely forgotten that he is not my father, which has led to him calling me during the day and screaming at me.

      – the day of the first bounced paycheck, he was out because he was going on a trip. He took half the cash deposit to have “walking around money” for his trip.

      – the week following the second bounced paycheck, he was at the Stanley Cup game. Before he left for the day, he said he turned down an offer of over $10k for his tickets. He had not made payroll right by this point.

      – we got into a screaming match about a month ago (yes, I know I shouldn’t have participated) because he called me his “bitch” since I’m salaried and further said federal labor laws don’t apply to him.

      – we recently spent six weeks with no electricity in one of the office suites because of some issue with the power bill and he refused to either handle it himself or get on the phone and authorize them to talk to me about it.

      – we refuse to use the bathroom he uses because he’s gross. He will throw a full on temper tantrum about it not being clean when he is the only one that uses it. I don’t have the heart to ask someone else to clean it, so I scrub his poo off the toilet seat in his bathroom weekly.

      There’s much, much, MUCH more, but I feel like this is already getting long.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        That’s an entire workplace full of bees wearing bananapants. Wishing you the best luck in finding something better, soon! (You definitely don’t want to tell this whole story in an interview, but “I’m looking for something more secure, because my last company could not meet payroll” is perfectly OK, IMO, and not drama-mongering or badmouthing. Businesses can, or should, expect to meet payroll.)

      2. Observer*

        I don’t have the heart to ask someone else to clean it, so I scrub his poo off the toilet seat in his bathroom weekly.

        And in the meantime, stop doing his dirty work, literally.

        If he’s going to behave like this he can pay someone extra to do this for him.

        When he yells about it, don’t engage.

        But, get out of there ASAP.

  39. Risha*

    LW2, I see some comments here are saying your employee may be ND, which is very possible. I would like to give you another take on this, which doesn’t excuse his behavior, but may be an explanation.

    I grew up in a very abusive, neglectful home. My parents also did not respect my boundaries and they parentified me. They would tell me adult jokes and have very sexual/adult conversations with me. They never taught me appropriate behavior/normal behavior. So when I became an adult, I had the maturity of a 14 year old in an adult body. You just don’t magically learn how to be an adult when you turn 18 if you were never taught anything. You also don’t know how to respect boundaries/read the room/act appropriate if no one ever showed you how.

    All throughout my 20s, I was highly inappropriate at work. I told jokes that were not for a work setting, I was overly talkative and didn’t know when to stop or pick up on signals that the other person didn’t want to have this discussion. I was the type that you would dread seeing at work. I even went so far as to talk about people badly behind their back, but one time the person I was talking about was right there (I didn’t realize it) and heard everything I said. I was totally clueless. But I was a rockstar with my actual job duties.

    This may be the case with your employee as well. Of course, it’s not your responsibility to train him workplace norms or teach him how to be mature. But if you feel inclined to do this, it would be a huge kindness to speak to him privately about the way he’s coming across/carrying himself at work. I truly wish someone would have done that with me and saved me years of embarrassment. If he’s in his early 20s, he may not know how to act in a professional setting. He may be aware that he’s not appropriate, but he may not know how to change.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      I feel like that’s what should be done in the situation regardless of the employee’s background.

      Speculating on how the employee got where he currently is doesn’t actually accomplish that much. It pretty much always comes down to:
      State the behaviour that you want to stop.
      State the behaviour that you want to see.

      Their background could be anything, but the manager should always be approaching from a standpoint of correction, not punishment, so it shouldn’t make a difference.

    2. TranMod*

      “Of course, it’s not your responsibility to train him workplace norms or teach him how to be mature.”

      I want to push back a little on the “of course.” Depending on the workplace structure, mentoring and coaching are part of the management role. That’s not universal. Some places have mentoring programs in lieu of management mentoring and some places just have no mentoring at all.

      A soft skill is just another skill. If a brilliant but junior recent hire didn’t know, say, how to fold scarves, then it would be up to their manager to figure out how to develop their scarf folding skills–either by training them personally or sending them to a training class or some other option. This is no different.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        I think it’s a pity that more workplaces don’t see mentoring or training new workers as something they should be doing – it’s up to parents, or college, to socialize the worker, and, as we’ve seen, that is not always possible. Besides, college is vastly different than the workplace.

        Especially since this person is brilliant and has great skills, I think the company SHOULD invest in his soft skills so he can use those skills better.

  40. Heather*

    To the freelancing tutor, tell the parents that you like to keep open communication but that the level of communication they are requesting requires focus and specific analysis to answer and is therefore eating into your preparation time for their child and moving forward you will need to pull back that communication or charge them at x rate for the time.
    Most parents like this are anxious and don’t realize that it takes time, effort, and focus to answer specific questions that they are throwing out willy nilly.

  41. Nom*

    LW3 is somewhat similar to a question i’ve had in my mind. Some coworkers are just… extremely needy. Constant questions and a lot of support. For example – a colleague of mine recently assisted with travel preparations for a group of travelers from my company. One traveler asked for help with each stage of the process, bombarding my colleague with questions and hypothetical scenarios to the point my colleague wasn’t able to get other work done. How do you shut this down?

  42. I was stupid when I was young*

    LW2. I absolutely did this to myself when I was working my first “grown up” job (all prior roles had been after school jobs then door bitch at the local nightclub three nights a week while I was at uni). I thought I was being edgy & quirky when really I was being unprofessional & obnoxious. I was given a talking to by my manager, which I did not heed & ended up being let go. At the time I could not be told. Thankfully I learned a really good lesson that day & have not made the same mistake again.

  43. Luna*

    Mr CEO from the first letter should remember that, much as he talks and knows people in the industry, so do other people. They may not know as many people (in the industry) as he does, but they do talk and this CEO will have a reputation of ‘that guy that freaks out if you quit’. Very unprofessional behavior, and rather immature, as well.

    Since Dwight left after three months, he likely was still under the probationary period and that’s a time for both sides, employee and employer, to see if the position is a good fit. The CEO needs to be reminded on that two-way-street thing.

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