did my positive response to negative feedback make my boss worry I missed the point?

A reader writes:

Last year I started a new job doing exciting work at a great company. Unfortunately, in the first few months several things made my performance crater. I got Covid the weekend before I was supposed to start and struggled with brain fog for months, insurance stopped covering the medication I took for ADHD, a national shortage of all other ADHD meds has forced me to work unmedicated for the first time in my adult life, and a company reorg changed my role to focus on my weakest area. Eventually my productivity was barely reaching 30% of my peers’. I was paralyzed with fear and trying to hide since I expected to get yelled at, guilt tripped, or fired without warning (I’ve had some pretty bad managers in the past.) My manager, however, gently brought this up at about the nine-month mark because he didn’t want me to feel blindsided at my year end review.

I remembered your advice about taking feedback, and while it was painful to admit that I wasn’t doing my best, it was also an enormous relief. I thanked him for bringing it up and giving me an opportunity to address it, and we worked together to create a strategy for improvement. We now have twice-weekly 1-on-1s and a shared document outlining the long-term plan that we created together. He even proactively finds resources for employees with ADHD, and I believe he’s taking some courses on managing neurodivergent employees.

My year-end review was “does not meet expectations” and while he did address all the areas where I need to improve, he also highlighted the improvements that I had been making. At that point, I told him that I was glad for the feedback, and then I said I was “really excited about our plan and to have the opportunity to improve” and that I felt energized by the progress I’d made. He seemed taken aback, like he was expecting me to be disappointed or surprised by the review

Did I come across as too positive? Should I have acted more upset? I am genuinely excited to improve — he believes I can and I think I have a realistic path to get me to a point where I’m not just meeting expectations but actually excelling. Was he just relieved I took it well, or did I seem too flippant or not serious enough? I don’t know why I’d be disappointed or shocked when my review was exactly in line with what he’d been telling me all along. This did not come as a surprise! My performance has been in the toilet!

Anyway, I’m still gradually improving, but I feel weird about how I reacted. I want him to know I’m taking this seriously. Should I bring it up again and try to clarify the way I feel?

There are a couple of possibilities and it’s hard to say from here which one it is.

Ideally, your manager was just braced for you to respond much more negatively — maybe he’s had employees respond badly in the past or he’s new to doing this and wasn’t sure how it would go. These conversations can be nerve-wracking as a manager, especially if you haven’t had to do many of them! When you took it well, that was the opposite of what he was expecting and so he might have done a sort of mental double-take.

But it’s also possible that you inadvertently came across like you didn’t understand the seriousness of the message. I don’t think this is the case based on everything you wrote, but there are people who misunderstand what’s being said in conversations like these (even when the manager is very clear) — for example, where the manager says there’s a high likelihood the employee could be fired without a significant turnaround in the next few weeks and so they’ll be offering a lot of extra support to help them course-correct, and the employee just hears the part about extra support and blocks out the “on the path to being fired” part. You don’t sound like you misunderstood the message, but it’s possible that your response made your manager think you did. The part about being energized by the progress you’ve made is the piece that would worry the most there; that’s not necessarily wrong to feel or say, but I can imagine conversations where it could sound like you missed the larger message (for example, if your boss was saying that your progress so far hasn’t been enough).

In reflecting on the conversation with these two possibilities in mind, you might have a good idea of which is more likely. But if you’re not sure, or if you think it might be the second one, it could be smart to go back to him now and make sure you conveyed what you intended. You could say something like, “I wanted to make sure it’s clear that I understand the work issues you’ve raised are serious ones and I have a lot of work to do to get my performance where you need it. After we spoke, I worried that I hadn’t sufficiently conveyed that. I really appreciate how much support you’re giving me and I feel optimistic about the plan we’ve put together, but I also recognize how serious these issues are and will be working on everything we discussed.”

That way, if he did worry you had missed the message, you’ll be making it clear that you didn’t. And if he hadn’t been worried about that, this isn’t a weird thing for you to say — I’d appreciate hearing it from an employee who was struggling!

{ 89 comments… read them below }

  1. Alanna*

    This is a nice question because everyone in it seems to have good intentions and is doing their best. The suggested script is good. I’m curious if your boss has gotten specific with you about the timeline for improvement and the consequences if you don’t. That would be a good question to ask, both to show that you’re taking this seriously and because you need that information.

    1. Velociraptor Attack*

      This is a good point. What’s the timeline here? I’m going to presume it’s not open-ended.

      I’d also be interested in the order of things, did he start with the improvements and say but you’re still making xyz mistakes, or start with the mistakes and highlight the improvements? Those read differently to me, although I fully admit it’s very likely I’m over-analyzing.

      It would probably also be worth asking him if the improvements over the last 3 months are about what he would expect.

      1. Alanna*

        I wouldn’t read too much into order. The format of the performance review is sometimes beyond the boss’s control. Our company form starts with a positive question (accomplishments and contributions), then has the more neutral or negative questions about expectations, and then a forward-looking section for goal setting.

        I have been the boss in this scenario. It’s tricky to strike a balance between encouraging real improvement and holding the line — improving is better than not improving, but ultimately, there is a bar for acceptable performance and you either clear it or you don’t. And while your manager might see the improvement you’re making, I bet their bosses aren’t quite as patient. OP, I commend you for having a good attitude while getting tough feedback. That’s hard to do and I bet your manager really appreciates it. And your manager sounds supportive and helpful. But they owe it to you — and you owe it to yourself — to be very clear on how long you have to execute this plan and what will happen if you don’t.

  2. Pat*

    Alison’s wording is really helpful! I have said to my boss that I’m concerned he might be thinking that (for example) I’m not making enough progress on a project, and I want to assure him that it hasn’t fallen off my radar. He always looks confused and says he wasn’t thinking that. Alison’s script doesn’t get into what the manager might be thinking. Next time, I can just talk about where things are at and what my plan is – full stop.

  3. hayling*

    I had an employee who was really struggling and I was so nervous to have the conversation with her. Immediately I could tell that she felt enormous relief. She had been in the same position as you, she was just trying to hide it and was waiting for me to notice. She confessed that she was pretty sure she had ADHD but had never gotten treatment (she was just out of college, and her parents “didn’t believe in ADHD”). Her performance turned around once she got help. I did some research and learned about ADHD and executive function, and it really fit with her issues. (It’s also really common for it to be missed in women, especially if they are more inattentive and not the classic hyper behavior we come to associate with ADHD.)

    1. alto*

      That was absolutely the case with me! I didn’t get diagnosed until I was 21 and suddenly a lot more of my struggles made sense, especially since I have inattentive type ADHD/exexutive function issues and all I could manage before was finding various coping mechanisms to deal with it.

      My ability to concentrate definitely turned around after I started medication but it definitely won’t just make all the problems go away – good on you for doing your research to help your employee!!

    2. Avery*

      Oh, I feel for that employee. I was diagnosed with ADHD young, but it was basically ignored until adulthood because how can somebody be gifted AND have ADHD? And if the kid’s already performing well in school, there’s no use in diving into that ADHD business any further, right? We can just slap a medication on them and call it a day, right?
      Uh… wrong. Meds (the right ones, not the ones that just make me even twitchier and more anxious, like the ones I was on as a kid!), therapy, and coping strategies have been a godsend. But they could’ve come a lot sooner.

  4. HonorBox*

    I think the conversation with Alison’s script is spot on. It conveys the appropriate message regardless of how your boss took it. You might even add in some additional information about a project you’ve been working on or a question about timing like @Alanna mentioned above. You’re showing additional engagement while also giving your boss and you some clarity that you understand the seriousness of the situation.

  5. Bay*

    I got my first ever terrible performance review just recently, from a brand new boss. I then went on vacation and my first week back got three separate compliments from him. So for my next 1:1 I told him I had done a lot of reflecting while on vacation and now I see I was suffering from severe burnout, but I expect my work to improve going forward. He looked so relieved I’d brought it up! At the time of the review I was focusing heavily on “do not cry” (I cry easily, it’s a trauma symptom, but I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable) and “smile and nod” so I’m sure it came across like it didn’t sink in, but it really, really did.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      If you don’t mind, could you share how you recovered from burnout in such a short time?

  6. BellyButton*

    I wonder if the manager has softened their message too much, so he was surprised LW responded positively with “having time to improve”. We have so many letters from people who don’t word things strongly enough “If these areas have not improved by date then we have to let you go.”

  7. Overeducated*

    In my organization, if you get a “not meeting expectations” rating in your annual review, that automatically triggers a PIP. Yes, the goal is to help you improve, but if you don’t then meet the expectations within a defined time frame, you are at high risk of losing your job. There is a policy that structures the process and timelines, so the amount of time you have to improve to an acceptable level is finite.

    I’m definitely not saying that’s the case for LW, and if it is then the boss really owes it to LW to explain that MUCH more clearly. I’m just sharing because in my context, if I had that meeting and the employee seemed upbeat, I would seem taken aback because I would think it didn’t mean they understood the path they were on.

    1. umami*

      Same, so I think I would have reacted (internally, anyway) similarly if the employee sounded upbeat, because improvement in this context (does not meet expectations) isn’t a continuum, there is a finite amount of time and specific deliverables to clear the ‘meets expectations’ hurdle.

    2. Selena81*

      That sounds like a good point: when it’s in the performance review it is *official* and in any company there is going to be a very strong expectation of considerable improvement on the next review (with or without a pip).

  8. RVA Cat*

    Something that does leap on at me is the company reorg that changed the role. Did this eliminate the position the LW was hired to do? If so, if the LW isn’t able to meet expectations I wonder if the manager could structure it as a layoff instead of a termination?

    1. the bat in the office popcorn machine*

      It sounds like the job covers those duties in general but their emphasis has now changed. For instance, if Llama Grooming and Llama Behavior Analysis was 20% of the job, they bumped it up to 50% while reducing Llama Wrangling and Llama Whispering, the old majority functions, were reduced to a lower % of time spent in that area.

    2. Michelle Smith*

      Even if OP is terminated though, they’re likely to land on their feet. If in the US, they’re likely to still qualify for unemployment (though I assume every state’s rules are different) because getting fired for low performance when you’re trying your best is not disqualifying. They also have a legitimate way to explain it to future interviewers that will come across as reasonable, even if they don’t want to disclose the COVID or ADHD issues: company had a re-org; position changed away from X, Y, and Z as the focus, which they always excelled in to A and B which are growth areas; shift in focus resulted in a misalignment with what team needed and what OP’s strengths are, and they are now looking for a role that’s a better fit – focusing again on X, Y, and Z with limited responsibility for A and B tasks.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        OP could also mention that their manager noted and acknowledged their improvements in A and B, just that the growth was taking longer than the company was willing to wait for. And if A and B are an essential part of similar jobs in the field that OP is going to need to apply for, they can drop some information about what they’ve done to improve in A and B so the hiring manager knows they aren’t just ignoring the issue but are actively working on skill-building.

  9. Anonymous Demi ISFJ*

    I feel your pain, OP!

    Except my boss is a jerk and disregarded my self-eval (which was short on mea culpas and focused on the situation that exacerbated my mistakes and what I’m doing to not make them again) as “a bunch of excuses.” Luckily I don’t have to interact with him very often…!

    (The mistakes were months before my review and I’d already apologized all over myself to my team but not to my boss, who as a Board President has no idea what I actually do for the org. I could write *several* letters to Alison about this job…I love my team but having a Board of Directors is very tiresome!)

  10. New Senior Mgr*

    I would be very happy to hear this response from a direct report I’d been actively working with on a forward path. Taken aback a little by LW’s response, I admit, but LW using Alison’s response would make me proud to have LW as a direct report.

    1. umami*

      What troubles me here is OP saying they appreciate the ‘opportunity to improve.’ Um, no. It is no longer an opportunity once your annual review falls below ‘meets expectations’. It is a requirement, so calling it an opportunity does sound like it somewhat misses the mark.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        “Opportunity to improve” is usually part of the framework of performance management — you get warned, you get given opportunities to improve, etc. I doubt a manager would raise their eyebrows at that; it’s pretty common lingo in that context.

        1. umami*

          Since OP was already on an improvement plan but still got a negative performance review, that would definitely be beyond ‘opportunity’ for improvement within our structure and already into ‘must quickly improve’ territory.

          1. Velociraptor Attack*

            I can’t tell, but I don’t think OP was put on a performance improvement plan. It seems to me like they were told 3 months ago to avoid a blindsiding at review time (and possibly in the hopes they could avoid the PIP).

            I think the manager’s response depends a lot on if they expected OP to get out of “doesn’t exceed expectations” before the review or not.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I don’t agree at all — “must quickly improve” territory and “giving you an opportunity to improve” territory aren’t mutually exclusive. They can be happening at the same time (and often are). In most orgs I’ve worked with, you’re considered to be getting an opportunity to improve up until the point you’ve failed your PIP and are being fired. So I think we’re using the terms differently.

            1. Sorrischian*

              And it’s totally possible in some jobs (bad ones, but unfortunately we know there are plenty of those) where “must quickly improve” comes without opportunities to show that improvement or get help making needed changes – or a boss might decide that you’re beyond hope and ignore all evidence to the contrary.

              I think it’s perfectly normal for the LW to express appreciation for getting the opportunity to improve, as long as that’s tempered with the knowledge that it’s also a requirement – and Alison’s suggested follow-up covers that potential gap.

            2. umami*

              Yes, if the supervisor were using that term, as in, you still have an opportunity to improve, I would definitely agree. But if I have already put someone on an improvement plan, then I still have to give them a poor performance review because they haven’t improved enough to avoid an overall poor assessment, I wouldn’t want the employee to think in terms of ‘opportunity’ because that doesn’t sound urgent. So I think that is why the supervisor here was taken aback by the OP’s optimism.

              1. Michelle Smith*

                No, I think you are just using the word differently than most people’s common understanding of it. Until the process for firing someone is underway, as in you have made the decision to let them go and you are processing the necessary paperwork, they literally still have an opportunity to improve. It might only be a very short opportunity, but that’s the definition of what those words mean.

      2. And the Skeletons Are ... Part of It*

        Opportunity doesn’t mean it’s optional, it means they have a chance instead of having been let go already.

      3. Happy*

        I don’t think it misses the mark at all.

        I hear it as, “I’m excited about the opportunity to improve (rather than being summarily fired).”

        Which is great! LW can both have a requirement and an opportunity and I think it’s great to focus on the opportunity and maintain a positive attitude which working on improvements.

        1. Sloanicota*

          I dunno, if the read of “meets expectations” is correct, I think ‘grateful for the opportunity to improve’ makes more sense than ‘excited.’ Right? It’s like if you get a bad diagnosis from a blood test and you tell the doctor you’re excited for the opportunity to undergo chemo. Like, you may be willing or hopeful or grateful, but … excited? Thrilled?

          1. NL*

            I think that is a level of nit picking that does not serve the letter writer who is a real person reading this :(

            1. Sloanicota*

              Was not intending to nitpick, just exploring the possibility that the bosses’ perspective is “I just told my new employee they were failing to meet expectations (expecting them to understand that this basically meant they were moving towards firing / were likely to be fired barring a complete turnaround) and they said they were ‘thrilled by the opportunity.'” It’s not the spirit of the response that is wrong – they are hoping to rise to the challenge and believe they can do so, that’s great – but that specific wording does read awkwardly to me given the context. I might suggest OP reference that explicitly when they have the recommended here.

              1. JustaTech*

                I got the impression that the manager had to give a “does not meet expectations” for the OP not meeting expectations a few months ago, not only for the period *after* the OP and their manager had the serious conversation about the OP’s performance.

                Like, if you do performance review every 6 months, and 6 months ago your performance was poor, but three months ago you started getting it together, then the performance review will still probably be poor because of the 3 months of not good work, but the manager can also see the improvement in the more recent 3 months.
                It’s the “not being summarily fired 3 months ago” that I’m seeing as the “opportunity to improve”.

      4. Clare*

        See, I was reading it as: “I hear from you that I haven’t improved enough in 3 months to meet expectations, so I’m really glad you’re giving me the opportunity to improve instead of firing me now”.

        And yes, it might have been a bit of a superfluous statement since this seems like the kind of boss who wouldn’t go back on their word and fire someone at a review without warning, but we all phrase things poorly under stress sometimes.

    2. Ray B Purchase*

      I completely agree. I have a report who is in similar shoes to the LW and as her boss I’m constantly wondering if she understands that her job is at risk, so it would really help my confidence in her to hear that she understood the gravity and is taking active steps toward improvement.

      1. Alanna*

        Have you explicitly told her her job is at risk? It’s a hard thing to say without softening language, so I don’t blame you if you haven’t. But I had an employee in the same position earlier this year, and while I gave her tough feedback, I think in retrospect it would have been kinder to tell her exactly where she stood.

        1. Ray B Purchase*

          Alas I am not her career advisor (in my office we work under multiple managers and the CA is the appropriate person who conveys this type messaging), but I have been pushing for her CA to be more explicit as I agree it’s not only a kindness to her but also allows us to start moving the ball forward if we need to put her on a PIP or start termination!

  11. mytummyhurtsbutimbeingbraveaboutit*

    The ADHD med shortage is so crippling and a bunch of BS.
    Imagine it were another medication. “Oh my productivity is low because the government limits the amount of inhalers that can be sold and I can barely breathe”. Wonder how managers would react to that.

    1. Uh Oh, HR*

      Ugh. I was put in the tricky situation earlier this year of having to go to my boss and be like “there is no good way to tell you that I am off my meds.”

      Lucky for me, I have a boss who is also just a fundamentally good person, so we were able to go over what I needed (really just…breathing room, and extra safety rails for the fact that my short term memory had gone from ‘bad’ to ‘a spectacular tragedy’) and come out the other side more or less unscathed. Now I just have to agonize month-to-month over whether my meds will be in stock or if I get to go into another exciting round of unplanned withdrawal.

    2. Margo*

      This is the crux of the issue. I would not have been able to hold down my corporate 9-5 without my ADHD meds. This is a disabled individual who is being punished for losing access to the disability aids that they need to function. So frustrating.

    3. QuinleyThorne*

      Same hat here too. I can’t tell you how many times in the last year I’ve had my meds delayed due to the shortage. Both me and my partner have ADHD and get our meds from the same pharmacy and the meds we take only get shipped there once a week on Wednesday afternoons, but it’s in such high demand that by noon on Thursday they’re already fresh out. The longest stretch we went without was back in March, for nearly three weeks. We were so desperate for it that when we got the call that some finally came in and was ready for pick up at 8:45 PM, we didn’t even wait until the next day and just hauled our asses over there (we live within walking distance from the pharmacy and practically sprinted over).

      1. Panneni*

        This… seems absolutely unacceptable to me. That pharmacy will have to do better planning at the very least.

        They *know* how many customers they have on regular repeating scripts, so they should at least be able to give all of those people *some* of their meds.

        Even half your regular dose would be better than none at all. This isn’t like other meds where you have to take the precise dose, or not take it at all. They can find ways to distribute evenly. Even just half the amount of pills in the right dosage would be better than nothing. Other brands, lower doses, less pills. Anything is better than first come, first serve.

        1. QuinleyThorne*

          Part of the issue is one OP actually mentioned in the post: a lot of insurances, for whatever reason, aren’t covering the generics or alternative brands under their plans anymore. I used to only get the generic brand for my meds, it was literally the same thing just 10 bucks cheaper. Then about a year ago I got a notice from my insurance that they no longer cover the generic and ONLY cover [Brand Name]. The brand’s only $5 bucks more, but with my insurance not covering it the generic is now $72-80 dollars for a month’s supply at 1 pill/day. There have been times where I just bit the bullet and coughed up the $80 bucks because I NEEDED my meds, but that time in March the shortages were especially bad, and they were out of BOTH (my partner’s
          insurance plan still covers the generic).

        2. Nightengale*

          The lower doses are in really short supply now too. . . also individual pharmacies have very little control about whether the product they order actually is delivered by their suppliers.

          Source – doctor who prescribes these medications and has a lot of desperate conversations with pharmacies about when their order will come in and what other alternatives they have in stock (that are covered by insurance)

    4. QuinleyThorne*

      Same hat, it SUCKS. My partner and I both take the same meds, and the longest we went without was about 3 weeks back in March. When we finally got the call at 8:45 PM that they got some in and was ready for pick up, we practically sprinted over there (we live walking distance from the pharmacy). It also seems like the pharmacy only get the ADHD meds delivered once a week on Wednesday mornings, and if you don’t call in the refill before the end of that day, they’re already out by Thursday and you’re S.O.L.

    5. Twix*

      Same hat. It’s awful. I’m a senior-level mathematician/software engineer, so lots of directed thinking and focus is required. Not having my meds is killer and it’s impossible to plan around when they’ll be available, and being off my meds is the absolute worst time for me to be trying to call half a dozen pharmacies to find out who has what in stock today. And one of the worst parts is my state passed a law a few years ago intended to combat the opioid epidemic that requires patients and doctors to jump through a bunch of extra hoops for controlled substances that are a pain in the ass and regularly cause delays even under normal circumstances. I’ve used up a ton of my PTO in the last few months on days when I knew I just wasn’t going to be able to perform and/or needed time off to coordinate my medical care.

    6. Blue Moon*

      I’m so glad that someone brought this up. For some reason things like ADHD and other mental health issues are treated differently than illnesses or disabilities that have a physical, visually observable side effect. OP is in a medical crisis but is supposed to feel lucky for being granted the time and grace to improve their work output.

      I have ADHD and have had to go without my meds multiple times this year due to the same issues OP has encountered. I am barely a functional human without my medication and the withdrawal from having to suddenly stop the medication is gnarly. I can barely eat or focus well enough to drive safely (thankfully my spouse can drop me off if needed). But I am still expected to show up for work each day and perform well and act like I’m not falling apart at the seams. I can’t imagine asking the same of someone who had their treatment for other illnesses or disabilities suddenly ripped away from them.

      1. DivideAndConquer*

        If you think people with other disabilities don’t get that attitude too you’re not paying attention, and IMO that attitude adds to the problem for all.

        I’ve heard a ton of people complain that mental health, behavioral, and developmental disabilities suck all the oxygen out of the air and leave no room for dealing with other disabilities and don’t think that’s valid or helpful either.

        I don’t think any of us win by pointing to the other disadvantaged group and saying you treat them better than you treat us even if it’s somewhat natural to think you have it worse, whatever your particular issues are. They screw over all of us. We all need to be treated better. All of the issues should be talked about and addressed.

      2. Twix*

        Speaking as someone who has been through this with both mental and physical disabilities, it’s absolutely true that there’s an additional stigma attached to mental and invisible illnesses, but it’s absolutely false that people with more visible illnesses don’t face the same attitude and expectations.

    7. NotJustADHDMeds*

      Actually, there have been major supply chain issues for various breathing meds each of the last three summers (both prescription allergy meds and asthma meds) that just haven’t gotten the same level of attention as the ADHD shortages. I have been in this situation and I can honestly tell you that it’s not taken well. Not functioning is not functioning; when push comes to shove they don’t really care why you aren’t being productive or need more sick time.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Yeah. Before I understood my autism diagnosis I floundered a lot, but ultimately — unfortunately — employers need to be able to rely on your functioning presence and aren’t really responsible beyond reasonable accommodations. There weren’t many accommodations that could change my whole psychological make-up in a few weeks, so I did have to be let go in order to build things up a bit more solidly.

        I’m not 100% sure that this is something that an employer should be expected to carry indefinitely. There might be a bit of leeway in terms of short-term issues, but just like a manual labourer could find themselves suddenly disabled in an accident and thus unable to do physical labour (I know quite a few people who are one bad injury away from having to give up their job, and I also saw my husband effectively laid off because his cancer made him unable to work; there was one guy hubby knew who was hurt in a freak accident and basically couldn’t work in construction again), some severe neurological issues that lead to a lack of function in a particular job can’t be wholly carried by a specific business.

        This isn’t to say that there are worse situations but that accommodations can’t always be found if the job requires something, physical mobility or mental function, that the person suddenly lacks. Even if it’s no-one’s fault, there’s a point where there has to be someone in the position that can work to the standard needed.

        It sucks but it’s not going to change so long as things go wrong with our bodies and minds that can’t be compensated for to the point that understanding or accommodation can be infinite. Accommodations are tools to make things easier rather than fundamental changes to the job, and it’s down to the individual in many cases to find a solution for themselves.

        1. JustaTech*

          The only problem with finding solutions for ourselves is that we *did*, and now that’s been taken away by an entity too large for anyone to fight on their own (the DEA).

          What we need is to figure out how a bunch of people with ADHD off their meds organize to demand that Congress force the DEA to re-assess their manufacturing limits on ADHD meds, particularly in light of major failures at the manufacturing level. That’s most of the root of this problem, artificial scarcity because of Puritanical belief systems at the DEA. (They’re not doctors or scientists, why do they get to dictate medication choices?)

        2. Katherine*

          And this is why we need Universal Basic Income: so people who are too sick to work (temporarily or permanently) arent forced to attempt it just so they can afford to live (also the US needs universal healthcare that isnt tied to insurance/employment)

  12. el l*

    Sometimes – when people act surprised and either pull back or prompt you – what they’re hoping is that you’ll say something particular.

    In this case, what I suspect they were hoping to hear from you was some version of, “I understand I still have a lot of work to do, and it will have to happen.” Expressing positive vibes as to progress made is good, but it sounds like it’s not going to be enough and that you’ll have to do much better to not just stay on but excel. That understanding needed to be clearly communicated.

    Just say that – or use Alison’s script.

  13. NeverALabRatAgain*

    I really hate to post with what could be a negative perspective, but speaking from experience.

    I’ve had a boss respond similarly, and it later turned out that the die had already been cast for me – I was going to be let go, regardless of my work or positive attitude. I sincerely hope this is not the case for you.

    1. umami*

      I do think that people can underestimate just how much ‘consistent improvement’ is required once they are following below baseline expectations. You can be improving, but if it isn’t ‘consistent’, then it’s very likely you will be let go. This OP has been improving over three months, but it wasn’t enough to meet expectations in their formal evaluation, so it truly is highly unlikely they are going to be improving to a level that keeps them in their role when even they say they are ‘gradually improving’. It’s tough, because no one likes to let go of a hard worker who also has a good attitude, but if they aren’t good at the job …

      1. Ticotac*

        To be fair though, hasn’t the ship for a “meets expectations” in this specific annual review sailed by now? If you spend nine months severely underperforming, I feel like there’s no amount of improvement in the next three months that can get you a positive review. It could very well be the manager is happy with OP’s progress but was worried that OP would be disappointed they didn’t manage a miracle.

        1. amoeba*

          I also wonder when the evaluation is actually put into the system? In our company, three months before the talk, it would pretty much already be fixed. So here, it would be very, very normal to not turn it around during that time – because it would be basically impossible!
          (I think it’s not quite three months, but certainly more than two? The first draft of performance evaluation is done in November or so, then goes through manager +1 approval, HR, calibration, and is finalised in December. The talks take place end of January or February.)

        2. umami*

          I was reading it as the OP was underperforming and had been talked to about it, and they were on an improvement plan 3 months before their annual review, ostensibly to avoid having to give them an overall ‘does not meet expectations’. IOW, the three months was meant to get them to improve at least enough to where there may still be areas where they don’t meet expectations, but they could be outweighed by other areas where they were meeting expectations. But that hasn’t happened. At least in my organization, it takes A LOT to have an overall rating of ‘does not meet expectations’. So once you get to a point where someone isn’t meeting expectations overall, and they are already 3 months into an improvement plan (and probably only have another 3 months to really turn things around), I would be troubled if their takeaway was to be ‘excited by thee opportunity to improve’. I do truly hope OP’s situation isn’t that dire, but the supervisor’s reaction leads me to think that a follow-up conversation is a good idea so OP can make sure.

          1. Ticotac*

            I don’t think the OP was given an evaluation at the end of a performance plan, I think they were given their annual review. The OP mentions that the manager bought up his doubts so that OP would know that the year end review would be negative, and then the OP says “my year-end review was ‘does not meet expectations’,” which… yeah, that should come as no surprise.

      2. Alanna*

        Yep, I’ve had someone on my team in this situation and what made it click for me was MY boss saying to me “We don’t need improvement, we need someone who can do the job. Is X that person? Because if not, we need to find someone else.”

        1. Selena81*

          If someone is nice and is trying hard it can feel good to support their journey and constantly say they are improving, and maybe lose sight of the bigger picture (will they be were they have to be within a reasonable timeframe).

          I hope that isn’t the case for OP and they are actually growing into the job.

        2. CupcakeCounter*

          I just had to let someone go and I swear we have the same boss. I liked my employee and she’d been through hell at the company before I started (whole new management team for the group). Between Covid, the management change, other employee turnover, and a few other items, she was never able to get up to par. My first week we had a conversation about her workload, task assignments, etc… She had goals that were important to her so we did some realignment of task assignments, a TON of process improvements that saved hours and “idiot proofed” some of the processes, but she was never able to hit any milestones and in many cases, areas got worse. We talked extensively about it, got her training in areas she identified being weak in, and also leaned into the burnout of it all and made her take some PTO with full coverage of all of her duties during that time.
          Every time she was gone, things got better. Tasks were completed on time and without errors, issues were found and corrected, etc… It was eye opening that individuals that already had a full plate of their own work (plus me and another manager handling some of the harder tasks) and only did these items a few times a year were doing it better than someone who did them full time for years.

  14. Working*

    I’ve had meetings like this in the past, and watched employees respond with cheery comments even though it was made clear that they were at risk of losing their job.

    And I finished the meeting thinking ‘did you just hear what I said?’

    I would suggest sending an email to your manager saying that you recognise the seriousness of the issue and want to do better.

  15. Coin_Opperated*

    Tell me if I’m off base, but ADHD is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, so wouldn’t it make sense for them to request accommodations? Especially considering there was a medication shortage…

    1. LawBee*

      For me, there aren’t a lot of accommodations that would work for my job. The only ones that would “help” would also reduce my job satisfaction and (because we are in part paid on commission) my pay.

      Sometimes we just gotta gut it out.

      1. Alanna*

        Yeah, unfortunately, the only accommodation I’ve found that really works is “have a boss I like who stays on top of me about the small stuff without letting it affect their opinion of my overall competence.” Unfortunately this is not something HR can always provide.

    2. Avery*

      In theory, maybe.
      In practice, going to your boss and saying “I have ADHD and am off my meds so I need X Y Z as accommodations now”… is a daunting task. Sure, legally they’re not supposed to treat people with disabilities, including ones focused on the mind like ADHD, any differently. But in reality, so many bosses will see you in a different light and respond accordingly upon disclosing a disability, and it’s only illegal if you have proof and the money to sue.

    3. Twix*

      The problem is that it’s a bell you can’t unring. Maybe you don’t normally need any special accommodations, but right now you do because of the shortages. If you disclose to your boss to request that, now your boss knows that forever. Some will be wonderful about it, some will see you as a liability and try to get rid of you or sideline you, and many will want to be supportive but have a subconscious bias when it comes to time decide things like raises and promotions. Yes, the latter two are both illegal, but they can also be extremely hard to prove unless your company is stupid enough to put in writing that it’s happening, and even then you have to take on the time and expense of navigating the legal system. Unless you’re really, really sure about how your manager\HR\company handles these things, disclosing a mental health diagnosis is a huge risk that can have life-altering consequences.

      1. Selena81*

        yeah, it’s scary because there is a lot of (conscious and subconscious) bias, so being ‘out’ can create ripple-effects years down the line.

        Being able to hide a disability is both a blessing and a curse: it saves you from the immidate discrimination that f.e. someone with a speech impediment faces, but you find yourself often weighing ‘getting accomodations’ versus ‘facing prejudice’.

      2. GythaOgden*

        After my experiences, at least in the UK, I’d prefer to disclose rather than not. I’m fortunate to work in the NHS, which does a lot of very progressive things very well, but other people can only do so much to understand our issues and it helps to have people on the same page as us.

        I felt able to disclose to my new boss last year when she and I started working on the professional development plan that led to me getting a new job. It was the honest answer to ‘what’s a London School of Economics graduate with an additional Masters doing on Reception?’ (answer: my autism makes me very good at theory but terrible at practice) and helped her tailor the specifics of my goals to things I could do rather than those I couldn’t. She immediately identified data analysis as something I could work towards, and the new role gives me some work with reporting to the regional management as a whole while being WFH and thus helping me conserve spoons to think about further study.

        I get that there’s still a stigma, but look at it this way — people aren’t mind readers, and they can’t make decisions about accommodating your issues without your consent. Also, if you’re excelling in what you do, you act as a role model both for those who come after you and for those who still make negative assumptions about neurodivergence. Being a trailblazer is hard, but in my case several generations of women in my family have been trailblazers, and I kind of owe it to them to continue that tradition so my nephews and their children live in a world changed for the better.

        1. Parakeet*

          I’ve mentioned (multiple disabilities, including usually-invisible physical ones as well as mental and neurodivergence-related) to my boss, but I felt comfortable with that because she started her career as a disability advocate. I never did it with any other boss though. I was late-diagnosed with pretty much everything for reasons too convoluted to explain here, so I never had to make the choice with early bosses, but I don’t think I would have unless it felt really necessary. I like that I can do it at my current workplace though, both because of my boss and because of being more professionally established now.

  16. the bat in the office popcorn machine*

    I think maybe you were too positive. It sounds like it’s been 3 months since you were first informed of the issues and given a direct heads up that your year end review wasn’t going to be positive. So maybe your boss is a little “frown face emoji (:\)” because he wanted a promise for continued growth in a less hand-holdy way. Essentially, you may have came off as if you were going to be on an indefinite PIP and improvement will come at this same pace. I do think maybe a more somber response would have been better. “I understand, and thank you. I’m happy to see some improvement, XYZ strategy has really been working for me. I will continue to work on the problem areas and I feel I can make the same turnaround in those areas in the next three months like I have in the others.”

    Respectfully, you’re not in a good spot and your manager is doing everything they can (actually going above and beyond) to support you, but improvement doesn’t seem to be forth coming. Two 1:1s in a week is a lot of time to spend on one employee. At one point, they (and you) may recognize this job is not a good fit — ADHD or otherwise. You already said, somewhat, that this might be the case: ” a company reorg changed my role to focus on my weakest area.”

    I really don’t want to be negative, but it’s best to be realistic. However, It sounds like you have a good enough boss that you wouldn’t be fired out of the blue, but unfortunately, the best you might get is a warning it’s happening to get your affairs in order.

  17. LawBee*

    Ah, OP, I actually could have written this letter. I’m hopefully coming out of what has been the most stressful and worst year of my life, while getting a brand new at age 49 ADHD diagnosis AND a new job that I expected to do very well at from the jump.

    I did not do very well, I came close to crashing and burning. My annual review experience was very similar—a mixed bag, appreciation and acknowledgment of the good things I did but also a lovely detailing of where I’ve fallen short.

    My boss even had the same reaction when I agreed with it. I knew I’d been a mess since the hire date. I wasn’t going to fight him on it! But he was like “oh…ok” when I agreed with the assessment.

    So—fist bump solidarity. We’re surviving and coming through.

    1. Iris Eyes*

      I think a lot of people just have no frame of reference for people who deeply and intimately know just how much they are messing up but also are somewhat unable to just fix it. The most common scenarios are “has no idea just how bad they are” or “knows they made a mistake and has course corrected.” They’ve heard “I’m my own worst critic” but have NO idea just how tragically true that is, waiting for the shoe to drop and someone to find out about it, and the feeling of utter relief when they see the problem and stick with you to help.

  18. KR*

    This is such a nice question! I’m so happy your manager is being so good to you, OP. I do not have ADHD but I have anxiety brain and I totally understand how hard it can be to force yourself to focus, and the paralyzing fear that comes with slowly falling more and more behind and feeling like you just can’t win. Sending internet hugs if you want them and to anyone else who is in this predicament

  19. Tiger Snake*

    We’ve seen a few managers on here before asking for help because their employees weren’t understanding the message of “for real you may be fired” and about those employees being in denial.

    It’s with that memory I see where you’re coming from worrying that you’ve been misunderstood.

    Perhaps it’s a matter of coming back to your boss to reiterate “I understand why I’m not on track yet. I genuinely trying my best to try and improve, but I know I’m not there yet. My question now really is; what is the timeframe we’re aiming for me to get there? I want to stay accountable to for us both to keep on top of seeing that I am moving towards those goals in the timeframe we need.”

  20. Eviltwinjen*

    One other possible take–is there any chance that you have a tendency to ruminate on or overanalyze people’s reactions to you? I know I do! If anxiety or rejection sensitivity is a facet of your ADHD, or if you often spend a lot of time trying to parse people’s facial expressions or body language, there’s a possibility that you might be reading something into the interaction that wasn’t there (or putting an excessively negative spin on it). Either way, you can’t go wrong checking in with your boss about it.

  21. Charles*

    In a program where we essentially had multiple internships over the years, after the first one I was pulled into a meeting (with one person I had never officially met but knew who they were in the hierarchy and another I had never seen before nor understood their position); they went through all the ways I had gone wrong. Nothing that they would see first hand, and nothing that was a discussion.

    To communicate that I was hearing/absorbing what they were saying I responded with “okay”, “I understand”, or a nod after every few. The women who I never even knew of snapped at me “no it is not okay”. When I was going to be forced to squeeze my schedule because they delayed placing me to get my hours a second time while others had been given flexible schedules again along with other ‘do as I say not as I do’ aspects of the program–I left.

    Some people just–don’t

  22. Trisha*

    just wanted to add that you don’t have to give up hope on meds! concerta for me is fine with me just having to call a few pharmacies every 3 months or so when mine is out. if you go to a smaller pharmacy you can even ask for them to make sure they keep a stockpile for you ( alot of big pharmacies only order adhd meds when they run out but smaller pharmacies can make sure they have more to prevent disruptions to patients)

    if you ever find out that your insurance stops covering a med you can work with your pharmacy and doctor to find solutions. name brands often have coupons on their website and for generics pharmacies often how discounts they can offer as well!

    there is hope out there!

Comments are closed.